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A beginner's guide to Mystic Lake in the Beartooth Mountains
North of the well-known Yellowstone National Park lie the alpine looking Beartooth Mountains. Part of the larger Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, which has around 700 miles of hiking trails to offer, they are the playground of many outdoor lovers.
Lush valleys, great views and hundreds of lakes can be spotted in the area. One of those lakes is Mystic Lake, the deepest lake of the Beartooth Mountains.
What to do
The Mystic Lake trail is a rather popular one as it’s fairly easy to get to. This means that it’s well travelled on and you won’t have any difficulties following the path, but it also means that you probably won’t have the trail all to yourself, if that’s what you’re looking for.
During the 3,5-mile hike there you might come across a mountain goat, deer or – who knows – even a bear. What you’ll definitely see as you climb 1,200 ft. in total, is an amazing landscape unfolding itself before you.
Once you reach the Mystic Lake you have two options: continuing on eastwards towards Island Lake and Silver Lake, or descending to the water to set up camp, take a well-deserved break at the largest sandy beach in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness or hike another good 2 miles around the lake.
Mystic Lake is a natural lake, but in the 1920’s and 1930’s it was lifted by man and contained by a dam to serve the power plant constructed nearby. This doesn’t diminish its appeal though, as the power company made as little adaptations to the lake as possible. In fact, probably the only thing you’ll notice besides the dam is a small house and a pipeline running along the mountainside.
Fishing is great at Mystic Lake, so if you decide to camp at one of the many camping spots you can catch your own trout and cook it over a fire at night. Keep in mind that there is a maximum of 5 fish that can be caught per person per day if you intend to keep them.
The Mystic Lake Trailhead also gives access to the West Rosebud Trail, which is one of two trails that leads up to the highest peak in Montana, Granite Peak. West Rosebud Lake is another excellent spot for fishing.
The best time for this hike is in summer, from July until September, as snow can still block the path in the early season. Make sure to bring enough water as well as some rain gear and decent hiking boots. A downpour isn’t unusual here.
Where to eat
To get the complete Mystic Lake experience you should definitely try to catch some trout, bake it over a campfire and wash it down with some of the fresh water that flows fast down from the mountain tops.
You won’t find any restaurants here, but if you’d like something substantial after your day’s hike it’s best to drive either south or east towards the Beartooth Highway (US 212), where you’ll find a few restaurants as well as hotels.
Where to stay
If you want to spend more than a day hiking the area around Mystic Lake, camping is the way to go. You can either bring your own tent and camp at one of the many campsites near the lake, or book a night at the Mystic Lake Cabin.
If you follow the Mystic Lake Trail eastwards instead of descending to the lake, that’s where you’ll find the cabin. It’s equipped with bunk beds with mattresses and sleeps up to four people. There’s also basic cook- and tableware as well as a stove, but no electricity or water. Basically, the cabin is great for people who want to camp without sleeping in a tent. Reservations need to be made beforehand.
If you’re only doing a day hike it’s best to drive down south to the border of Yellowstone National Park where you’ll find plenty of hotels along the 212. Another option is the Rock Creek Resort, also on the 212 to the southeast of Mystic Lake.