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Contrary to its name, hikers will not encounter lava while making the trek to Lava Lake. They will experience a picturesque lake at the end of a heavily forested trail.

The lake was formed following a landslide, which dammed Cascade Creek between Jumbo Mountain and Table Mountain. Interestingly, it’s the only lake in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness that was not formed by glaciers.

I would consider Lava Lake Trail, which is 5.5 miles roundtrip, to be a moderate hike as it climbs nearly 1,600 feet. But the rocky trail can make footing a challenge at times as it parallels Cascade Creek.

On a recent weekday morning I decided to revisit the lake (it’s a hike I’ve done a couple of times). It’s one of the more popular trails in the area, so as expected, it was crowded.

From the parking lot, the trail begins an upward trajectory toward the lake. There is a private cabin less than a half mile into the hike on the left side of the trail, and Cascade Creek will become visible shortly thereafter.

The trail crosses the creek three times beginning at the 1 mile mark (over rocks and then over logs) before a bridge crossing at the 1.9 mile mark. The lake will be reached at the 2.75 mile mark.

Once at the lake, hikers are rewarded with beautiful view in all directions.

While many tend to rest on the large boulders on the southern portion of the lake, I suggest following a trail around the western side where it won’t be as crowded. It’s easily accessible on the right side of the trail once the lake has been reached.

Chipmunks and rock pikas are common around the boulders and I’ve had some accept food from my hand during past visits. The lake is also a popular destination for anglers seeking to catch rainbow trout.

For those who would like to extend the hike, Table Mountain Trail splits off just before the lake and climbs more than 2,000 feet in about 2 miles. I’ve done this portion of the hike before and it’s strenuous, so be forewarned.

However, hikers will be rewarded with a fantastic panoramic view on the 9,840-foot summit of Table Mountain.

As always, remember to carry bear spray, share the trail, and enjoy nature at its finest.

How to get there: From Four Corners drive 20 miles south on Highway 191. The trailhead is located on the right side of the road just prior to crossing the Gallatin River Bridge.

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