Welcome to the Trail Well Traveled!
Each Friday, in partnership with Montana Wilderness Association we will feature a new western Montana trail and then give you some helpful details and tips to get on your way!
This weekend, we’ll start filling up your “to hike” list for next summer with hike through to a beautiful lake nestled in one of Montana’s most stunning mountain ranges.
Round Trip: 10.8 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 2,120 feet
Directions: From Missoula, you’re first going to make your way east to Clyde Park, which is just north of Livingston. There are a few different ways to get there. Whichever way you choose, you’ll start by heading east on Interstate 90. You can depart at Garrison Junction and take Highway 287 through Helena to Highway 12 – but be sure to turn right (southeast) at the junction with Highway 89.
You can also continue on I-90 to either Bozeman or just a few miles past Livingston. If you exit at Bozeman, take North 7th Avenue north to West Griffen Drive and then turn left onto Bridger Drive headed out of town. Bridger Drive will turn to Bridger Canyon Road and then eventually link up with Highway 89. Turn right (south) here. If you go through Livingston, look for Highway 89 just a few miles past town and take it north.
To get to the trailhead, you’ll head west on Cottonwood Bench Road (an all-gravel road about a half-mile north of Clyde Park). Follw it about three miles, then turn right onto Cottonwood Road – following the signs to the Ibex Cabin. Drive about seven miles and then continue straight onto Upper Cottonwood Creek Road – after another 1.8 miles you’ll arrive at the intersection with Ibex Road. Stay right on Upper Cottonwood for another three miles. A high clearance vehicle is recommended; winter access may not be possible except by snowmobile.
What to expect: The first half of this hike is an easy stroll along an old roadbed that is open to motorized travel. This is an open forest and the views are somewhat limited. The second half is single track which is very steep and eroded in some sections, and is marked by cairns across rock ledges in other sections. It generally follows Cottonwood Creek, crossing it three times, to its source at Cottonwood Lake located just west of the crest of the Crazies. This second half of the hike has wonderful views of nearby peaks and talus slopes, some open meadows, abundant wildflowers and a high alpine forest with lots of Whitebark Pines. The entire trail, with the exception of about 1/4 mile is located on USFS lands, as is the trailhead.
At 0.3 miles is junction with Ibex Cabin Trail (#271, on left). At 0.8 miles there is a bridge over Trespass Creek, followed quickly by a junction with the Trespass Creek Trail (#268, on left). At 1.9 miles there is a ford of Rock Creek, which was no problem in August but might get your feet wet earlier in the season. At 2.6 miles the Trail begins a 1/4 mile section across private land, and at 2.9 miles you are back on USFS land and at the end of the motorized travel section of the Trail. At this point you begin a steep, eroded single track for about 0.4 miles, followed by mostly moderate climbs across rock ledges (watch for cairns) and along Cottonwood Creek, which you will cross at 3.6, 4,5 and 4.7 miles. The final approach to Cottonwood Lake presents a rewarding vista where you will want to linger and explore, and where the wildflowers are spectacular.
Learn more about this trail, file your own trip report and photos, or check out some other great hikes at hikewildmontana.org. And don’t forget to tune in to the Trail 103.3 each Friday at 9:45 am for the next featured trail and your chance to win!
Big thanks to Rangitsch Bros RV for sponsoring the Trail Well Traveled. Proudly serving Missoula for over 56 years, whatever camper best suits your needs Rangitsch Bros has got it!