Why we came…
To spend time with family and friends and to explore the Beartooth Plateau and Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley.
The incredible Beartooth Mountains!
Entering Montana on 11 Aug (Hwy 120/72)
There are just two campgrounds with hook-ups in the Red Lodge area. We chose the KOA located five miles north of town. The campground was ok but overpriced at $40 a night for what you get. And though they say “great for the biggest of toy haulers” and big rig friendly up to 90 feet long, it is a tight fit for those oversized rigs. There are two tiers with a few hook-up sites along the noisy road and a few hook-up sites below in an open field. Like most KOAs, there was a well-maintained swimming pool, showers and restrooms, and laundry facilities. There are also tent sites and “kamper cabins”. The place was full on weekends and a bit quieter during the week. The Verizon cell signal was decent and the campground wi-fi was usually good, but slowed to a crawl with heavy usage. New owners and their crew were working hard to improve the campground.
We really liked the quaint town of Red Lodge, population 2,125, at elevation of 5,568 feet. It has a bustling main street with all kinds of interesting shops and restaurants. Billings, Montana’s largest city with tons of stores and restaurants, is an easy 60 mile drive to the northeast. The northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park and the incredible Lamar Valley is about 75 miles to the west. Medium sized Red Lodge Ski Resort is only six miles from downtown. And most appealing, the Beartooth Mountains and Plateau have hundreds of miles of hiking trails and hundreds of lakes filled with high-country trout. Red Lodge, Montana is on our “Potential Places to Live” list!
Most visitors spend a day or two to explore the incredible Beartooth Highway and maybe Lamar Valley and then move on. This area would be a great place for RV’ers to spend a summer. It just needs an industrious person with some capital to build a nice full hook-up RV resort. “If you build it, they will come!”
On 12 Aug we hunted for mushrooms and fished Rainbow, Fort, Hauser, and Solar Lakes on the Beartooth Plateau…
The day after we arrived in Red Lodge, we excitedly drove up the incredible Beartooth Highway to check out four lakes. Rainbow Lake is supposed to have the rare Golden Cutthroat trout. Fort, Hauser, and Solar Lakes are supposed to have brook trout. The lakes are around 9,700 feet elevation and it was an easy 2.75 mile loop hike to explore all four.
I was most excited about Rainbow Lake. It’s only a half mile from the trail head. Golden cutthroat trout are usually MUCH more difficult to get to… Rainbow Lake is a rare exception. We walked around half the lake and fished for an hour and saw no signs of fish. It was a sad bust so we headed to Fort Lake. While weaving in and out of stands of white bark pines and spruces, we found our first Beartooth Plateau king bolete mushroom! We had been in the area less than 24 hours and already found a tasty treasure. We were very excited about how many we might find over the next few weeks!
Fort Lake was shallow and difficult to fly-fish from the shore. Plus, 20mph winds made casting even more difficult. We saw no signs of the rumored brook trout and headed to Solar Lake. After finding our first yummy mushroom, Arleen had switched from hunting trout to hunting mushrooms, so she took the circuitous route. I headed straight to the lake and spotted feeding fish right away. I tied on a floating grasshopper fly and caught one small brook trout after another! Arleen, with no new mushrooms, finally caught up with me, tied on a floating grasshopper fly, and also caught a bunch of brookies. Watching “fish lips” attack floating flies is our favorite way to catch trout…it was fun!
Next we headed to Hauser Lake. We continued to see “fish lips” attack our grasshopper flies, but didn’t hook as many. We decided to hike back to the truck and trade our fishing gear for mushroom hunting gear. We spent another hour wandering around the woods looking for edible mushrooms. We found one more king bolete, a shaggy mane, and a morel. That’s not much, but it gave us hope that we’d find more!
Hike route to Rainbow, Fort, Hauser, and Solar Lakes / A fresh king bolete mushroom!
At Rainbow Lake on the Beartooth Plateau / That small brook trout hit a big ole grasshopper fly!
On 17 Aug we fished Daphnia Lake on the Beartooth Plateau…
We still wanted to see some Golden cutthroat trout… Arleen hadn’t caught one yet. Our next goal was Daphnia Lake. There is no trail and it’s a tough one mile scramble to the lake. Our route went fine until the final drop which lead us to a steep snow field. The snow field was more risk than we wanted to take, so we nosed our way south until we could comfortably make it down to the lake. It was windy, but the dramatic cliffs provided a break and a pleasant place to fish on the northwest side of the lake. We spotted trout feeding towards the center of the lake and felt that we had a shot at the difficult-to-catch goldens. We tried a few of our normal tricks and got nothing so I tied on a big, fast sinking orange scud…tug…fish on! I admired the rare and beautiful 10 inch golden cutthroat trout and released it. Arleen tied on a similar fly and caught her first golden, a small but pretty 5 incher! She was all smiles as she admired a fish that few others get to see.
Hike route to Daphnia Lake / Arleen with her first golden cutthroat trout!
About to drop to Daphnia Lake
Arleen trying to spot trout at Daphnia Lake
On 25 August we hiked to Glacier Lake with Mary, Erin, and Heather…
Arleen’s sister, Mary and her two youngin’s Erin and Heather, arrived from Colorado! The following morning we took them to Glacier Lake.
The drive includes five or six miles of rough dirt road up the Rock Creek canyon. It took us an hour to get to the trail head at 8,600 feet elevation. It was foggy and damp, but we were optimistic we’d see some blue sky. The funky weather must have scared everyone else away…we were the only ones at the trail head!
Erin and I did the initial tough 1.5 miles with 1,300 feet of climbing pretty quickly. We ascended above the clouds and were treated to an incredible view. Somewhere, way down the valley in the fog, was our truck. Now we were looking at rugged peaks lining the glacier carved canyon. While Erin and I posed for pictures and had a snack, I noticed a moving white speck high up a rocky cliff. I quickly grabbed the camera, zoomed in, and confirmed it was a big billy mountain goat! The old loner was moving effortlessly across terrain very few other critters could navigate. Erin and I watched him in awe and rushed down the hill to alert the ladies that we had something cool to show them. They were just as impressed as we were, even more so after we all watched him for a bit with Arleen’s binoculars. We all had fun posing for pictures and then started the 200 foot descent to the Glacier Lake.
Erin, Heather, and I dropped rapidly while Arleen and Mary took their time. The three of us got to the pretty lake with nothing significant to report, but Arleen had an interesting report when she caught up with us! Here is her story:
“I love hiking with my sister, Mary! We always take our time noticing rocks, wild flowers, spider webs in charred stumps, and of course chatting about everything! As we made our way over the pass and headed down to the lake, the trail closed in on both sides with tumbled boulders. In an instance, I heard something coming towards me as I rounded a big boulder and glanced at a large, white critter…I thought, a Samoyed?!?. But this “dog” had horns and was much bigger! He looked up from five feet away, saw me, his eyes got huge, and he flipped around. I cried, “It’s a Billy Goat!” By the time Mary rounded the big boulder, my new friend had already disappeared in the rocky terrain. It was an amazing experience. But not the last we would see of him that day”.
The sky was a little threatening so Erin, Heather, and I rushed to Little Glacier Lake. Most of our hike was in Montana, but somewhere along the south shore of Glacier Lake, we crossed into Wyoming. Now I was legal to fish! I spotted a few small fish feeding and got excited while I hurriedly strung up my fly rod. 25mph winds made it tough, so I only made a few casts and then continued uphill to Emerald Lake.
It was a beautiful lake tucked tight against a dramatic fifteen hundred foot high cliff. Heather spotted 15 mountain goats scrambling up the steep slope! They were nannies with their kids. The kids occasionally sprang up the rocks like they were playing… It was really cool! I saw a few feeding fish, but didn’t get any bites during the brief time I fished. The sky was a bit darker so we rushed back to Glacier Lake to meet Arleen and Mary.
Arleen excitedly relayed her billy goat story and then we anxiously headed up the trail. Sure enough, less than a half mile from the lake, the big billy was on a rock just 30 feet above the trail. The trail bottlenecked so we bunched together and slowly walked past as he watched. He barely moved…in fact he slowly paralleled us as we proceeded! Usually critters will back off, but not this big guy. It was a bit unnerving but also thrilling as he seemed to pose for our pictures! We passed with no incident, but who knows what would have happened if a lone hiker crossed his path. They can be territorial and the big guy didn’t back down when he saw the five of us.
We continued down the trail and spoke to two separate couples that were headed up…the only other people we had seen all day. They asked us about the trail and we warned them of the not-aggressive-but-not-backing-down billy goat. As we descended, Erin, Heather, and I got farther and farther ahead of Arleen and Mary. We stopped a quarter mile from the truck and passed time by picking sweet huckleberries… They were yummy! We tried to fill Erin’s hat and were eager to share them with Grandma Ellen and daddy Kendel. This was a heck of an adventure that provided memories that will last forever!
Hike route to Glacier, Little Glacier, and Emerald Lakes / Fishing Little Glacier Lake
Fog in the valley…we climbed through it / Erin overlooking the same valley…fog is nearly gone
Arrow points to big billy goat / The same goat traversing the vertical cliff walls!
Erin, Mary, Heather, me, and Arleen at the high point of the Glacier Lake trail
Having a good time on the Glacier Lake trail
Arrow points to band of 15 mountain goats scrambling up the mountain / The same nanny goats and their kids
Posing at Glacier Lake
This big billy watched us closely as we passed within 30 feet of him!
Heather and Erin picking sweet huckleberries
On 26 Aug we went to the Red Lodge Museum and Mary and Arleen’s 4H camp…
Ellen arrived late the evening prior, and she celebrated the next day by taking us all Prindy’s Place for breakfast…it was very nice. Afterward, we walked main street to the opposite end and spent a few hours checking out the interesting Carbon County Historical Society Museum.
The last thing on our agenda was to check out the 4-H summer camp that Arleen and her sisters attended in the mid-70s: at the Billings Lion’s Club Camp. We slowly walked all over the camp area and poked our noses in some of the buildings. Arleen and Mary shared their memories and it was interesting for all of us. In a perfect example of how things seem so much bigger in our younger years, Arleen was blown away by how small the dance hall was. The highlight of our visit was when we walked up a little hill and found the old bonfire pit. They sat on one of the logs and immediately started singing campfire songs! Ellen sang along, but Erin and Heather were too embarrassed to join.
Ellen treated us to a nice breakfast at Prindy’s / Checking out the weapon collection at the Red Lodge museum
Heather playing with the old switchboard / Erin talking Italian with his mom
Arleen, Ellen, and Mary learning about Red Lodge mining / Being silly with the rock magnifier / Mary and Ellen discussing rock layers and faults
Arleen and Mary attended this camp in the mid 70s / Singing “Kum ba yah” like the old days
On 27 Aug we toured the Beartooth Highway with the gang…
We filled up two cars and the seven of us hit the Beartooth Highway. This amazing stretch of road is often on the lists of the best drives in America and we agree! Snow had fallen two days prior, but it was nearly gone. Initially it was a little chilly and windy, but that didn’t stop us from taking our time and checking out the incredible views from multiple pullouts. We had a great stop at the very scenic Island Lake, elevation 9,520 feet.
Kendel and Ellen stayed close to the car while the rest of us hunted for mushrooms. We stayed together the first half hour trying to show Mary, Erin, and Heather what we were looking for. Then we split up for the next hour… The ladies went one way and Erin and I went another. Erin and I stumbled onto a few pounds of hawk wings and Erin found one king bolete. The ladies (mostly Heather) found four pounds of nice king boletes! Heather is a natural mushroom hunter and might have the bug!
We wandered down to take a look at Island Lake. Ellen was sitting on a rock and lingering a bit longer than the others. She asked if I had a towel… She wanted to get in the icy cold water! I grabbed two towels while Ellen, Arleen, and Heather took off their shoes and socks and stepped in the water. Though it was clearly uncomfortable, they laughed and we laughed, and we all made another good memory.
We had a great “linner” (late lunch or early dinner) at our turnaround spot: Cooke City, Montana. Then we headed back, only stopping at the grocery store to get some Montana-made Wilcoxson’s ice cream.
Kendel, Heather, Erin, Ellen, Arleen, and Mary in the Beartooth Mountains / Erin and Heather at Beartooth Pass; Glacier Lake is center left
Heather and Erin on Beartooth Pass looking south towards the Absarokas / Mary looking for unique rocks
Ellen asking if I have a towel / Heather, Ellen, and Arleen in the very cold Island Lake
On 28 and 29 Aug we explored Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park…
Arleen’s family left and my parents were arriving late the next day. The weather was supposed to be good so we headed to Yellowstone National Park. Our plan was to check out the Lamar Valley, often referred to as the Serengeti of America because of the abundant wildlife.
We left the trailer in Red Lodge and planned to spend the night in the truck. We arrived at the Pebble Creek Campground at noon on the 28th and there were just four campsites left. We quickly paid for a site and then headed into Lamar Valley.
The Lamar River flows in a gentle serpentine through the wide open valley. Lots of critters call the valley home and we saw hundreds of bison! We also caught some genuine Yellowstone cutthroat trout in Yellowstone! I had wanted to do that since I was a teenager just learning how to fly-fish. I even had to keep a close eye on the bison grazing nearby…it was so cool!
Later that evening we hiked up to Trout Lake. The lake is known to have big Yellowstone cutthroat trout and has been used as a brood lake to stock other nearby waters. Unfortunately, Trout Lake gets fished heavily through summer making the big trout leery. As the sun got low on the western horizon, we were alone at the pretty lake…it was very pleasant. We didn’t fool any trout, but we enjoyed a very nice evening. During the drive back to the campground we spotted a grizzly bear in the distance!
We were fairly comfortable in the truck that night in spite of a couple of thunderstorms. The next morning we took our time and decided to go home. On the way back we had to stop to stretch our legs at our mushroom honey hole! We wandered around the woods for an hour or so and found a few more pounds of fresh mushrooms.
Shortly after we got home, my parents stopped to visit us at the campground! They were just pulling into town after making the 600 mile drive from Castle Rock, Colorado. We had a nice evening together and discussed plans for the next few days.
A hundred bison grazing in the Lamar Valley
Fishing the Lamar River and being watched by bison / My first Yellowstone cutthroat trout caught in Yellowstone!
Fishing Trout Lake at sunset / Just Arleen and her reflection at Trout Lake
29 Aug-3 Sep, my parents visited from Colorado…
My mom and step-dad stayed in the Irish Rose Bed and Breakfast. It was a great location on the south end of main street within walking distance of many shops and restaurants. It was very cozy, clean, and well maintained by the gracious hosts, Gordon and Leah. They cooked wonderful breakfasts and provided us a nice place to play cards…my parents were very comfortable and though we didn’t stay there, we were too!
Their first day was rainy and cool so we played cards, then had a nice lunch, and then played cards. We laughed a lot and had a nice day!
The next day was still rainy and cool so we drove to Cody, Wyoming to check out the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. This excellent museum has six sections. You could easily spend an entire day there, but we focused a few hours on the “Buffalo Bill Museum” and the “Draper Natural History Museum”. We really enjoyed it!
The weather was better the next day so my mom suggested that we go geocaching. We found four geocaches…our first ones in Montana! My mom was excited to find a couple of travel bugs and drop a couple of hers off.
We saved their best adventure for last: the Beartooth Highway! Instead of the big ole Dodge truck, I got to drive their new Volvo. It was a lot of fun on the winding road! As we climbed the amazing highway, we stopped at a few overlooks, but didn’t linger long due to chilly 30mph winds. That’s alright…we still enjoyed the incredible views!
We stopped at Island Lake and took my mom briefly into the woods to search for mushrooms. There had been two recent snow storms and a few mornings below freezing, so our confidence in finding edible mushrooms was low. My mom proved our confidence wrong when she found the first king bolete! We slowly searched the woods for a half hour and found about a pound…it was a pleasant surprise!
Our next stop was the Clay Butte Lookout Tower to find a geocache. The fire lookout tower was built in 1942 at an elevation of 9,811 feet. Fire spotters manned the tower until the 1960s. Now it’s maintained by volunteers. From the web link above:
“The newly renovated Lookout now includes a wonderful museum that includes firefighting, geography, and historical displays. The second floor observation deck features three comprehensive interpretive panels and provides visitors some of the most breathtaking views of the entire Beartooth-Absaroka wilderness found along the Beartooth Highway. A climb to the third floor lookout deck takes you to the spot where for many years observers diligently watched for wildfires in the surrounding mountains.”
Unfortunately the gate was closed about .7 miles from the tower so my parents couldn’t check it out. However, Arleen and I rapidly scampered up the closed road, checked out the tower and the views, found the geocache, and headed back to the car. If sightseeing along the Beartooth Highway, make sure to take the 2.5 mile decent dirt road to the top of Clay Butte to explore the tower!
To finish the fun adventure, we had a nice late lunch at the Beartooth Café in Cooke City, Montana and headed home.
The next morning we had a really nice breakfast at the Regis Café in Red Lodge, gave each other hugs, and said goodbye.
Posing in front of the cozy Irish Rose B & B / Playing Pinochle, our favorite card game…we were victorious!
Geology lesson at the “Buffalo Bill Center of the West” museum in Cody, Wyoming on 31 Aug
Geocaching with my mom on 1 Sep
Beartooth Highway adventure on 2 Sep
My mom found the first king bolete on 2 Sep! / Island Lake on the Beartooth Plateau
Headed up to a geocache near the Clay Butte Lookout Tower / A geocache with Beartooth Lake far below
The Beartooth Mountains from near the Clay Butte Lookout Tower / A nice lunch at the Beartooth Café in Cooke City, MT
On 5 September we did a 9 mile loop hike starting at Beartooth Lake and going clockwise on the Beartooth Creek Trail, then Beartooth High Lakes Trail, and finally the Beauty Lake Trail…
Our month in Red Lodge was nearly over and we realized we had seen only a few of the many Beartooth Lakes. It was time for a good long hike with access to some pretty lakes so we chose a 9 mile loop that started near Beartooth Lake.
Due to our poor navigation and total lack of trail signs, we chose the wrong route right from the parking lot. It was a mile detour that cost us nearly an hour and we had limited time…poop! We did the rest of the pleasant route in a hurry and only fished 15-30 minutes at four different lakes.
We crested the high point at 9,900 feet and saw a good-sized unnamed lake below. We stopped for a snack and descended to the lake. The shore was open and the drop-off was within easy casting range. Right away I spotted a couple of feeding fish, made a decent first cast and hooked a fish! The surprise “splake” (cross between a lake trout and a brook trout) was about 15 inches long and put up a good fight. Similar sized fish occasionally made aggressive splashes as they fed within 20 feet of the bank. We caught three or four in the short 30 minutes that we fished. If we had more time, I’m confident that we would have consistently hooked fish on grasshopper flies, but we needed to move on.
We saw no signs of fish in the next couple of lakes, but hooked a few in the unnamed lake just north of Grayling Lake. We failed to land any so we aren’t completely sure what kind they were. Most were 4-6 inches long with a couple that were 8-10 inches long. I had one on that was fairly colorful and am pretty sure that it was a brook trout, but we had to move on.
We saw a few king boletes along the next two miles of trail. Most were old or frozen, but Arleen brought two home. She has a hard time leaving them in the ground!
We got to the very scenic and fairly large Beauty Lake and fished very briefly in two spots and saw no signs of fish. As we walked along the steep east shore, I spotted a few feeding fish that I’m sure I could have hooked, but we raced on by.
We got back to the truck pretty worn out. Too bad we had limited time. The weather was great and there were fish to catch… This route offers too much to be rushed!
Hike route / A splake caught at unnamed lake
Arleen crossing Little Bear Creek near Beartooth Lake / The first unnamed lake
Mushroom hunting is one of our favorite hobbies. We are always on the lookout for edibles like king boletes, chanterelles, hawk wings, hedgehogs, shaggy manes, and morels. We pick them for our own enjoyment and consumption. We eat a few of them fresh, but dry the majority so Arleen can add them to recipes all winter long. We leave all mind-altering mushrooms alone…our reality is great the way it is!
Morels are a spring time mushroom. In the Rockies, that can be anytime between May and July, depending on the elevation. Shaggy manes can pop up nearly anytime after a good rain with the temperature above freezing. The others sprout after monsoonal thunderstorms in late summer and early fall…our favorite time to hunt!
Here is our report for the Red Lodge area…
12 Aug: Found two king boletes, one morel, and one shaggy mane on the Beartooth Plateau
Arleen with our first king bolete in the Beartooth Mountains! / Me with a shaggy mane and morel
17 Aug: Found one hawk wing and had a good day for king boletes on the Beartooth Plateau!
Me with a hawk wing mushroom / Arleen with two nice king boletes
18 Aug: It was an ok day for hawk wings and good day for king boletes on the Beartooth Plateau
Fresh king bolete under a spruce tree…one of our favorite sites! / Twin king boletes
20 Aug: It was a good day for hawk wings & great day for king boletes on the Beartooth Plateau! Nearly all of the mushrooms were fresh.
Hawk wing mushrooms & lupine flowers…pretty! / A full basket of king boletes, and a nice one under the spruce
23 Aug: It was an ok day for hawk wings and great day for king boletes on the Beartooth Plateau
27 Aug: It was a good day for hawk wings and great day for king boletes on the Beartooth Plateau
Ellen with a huge king bolete that Heather found / The gang posing with the treasures
29 Aug: It was a great day for king boletes and ok day for hawk wings on the Beartooth Plateau…mix of fresh and old shrooms; some showed signs of frost nip.
2 Sep: Quick, ok search for king boletes with my mom on the Beartooth Plateau. In spite of a couple of mornings below freezing and some snow, we found small, fresh mushrooms and none had worms.
Fresh king boletes on the Beartooth Plateau on 2 Sep
4 Sep: Great day for hawk wings and great day for king boletes on the Beartooth Plateau with Anne… Her first time shroom hunting. She said, “best day ever”. We converted another forager. Most boletes were past their prime and some showed signs of being partially frozen. We spread a bunch of spores from the old boletes.
Arleen and Anne crossing a stream / Two fresh king boletes on 4 Sep
A clump of pretty hawk wings and an old king bolete / Baskets full of hawk wings and king boletes
This is a 6-8 foot long line of bolete spores that I spread under spruce trees. We always leave a few mushrooms and spread spores to ensure that there will be more in the future!
Arleen and her mom, Ellen, at the Red Lodge farmer’s market on 22 Aug
Linda, Ardie, Anne, and Arleen on 24 Aug
Anne, Mary, Linda, and Arleen getting reunited in Red Lodge on 24 Aug (high school friends)
Mary, Erin, Heather, and Arleen / A big BBQ on 24 Aug
Arleen and Anne on the Beartooth Plateau on 4 Sep
We will spend one month in Cody, Wyoming camped on the North Fork of the Shoshone River. We plan to fish some lakes known to have big trout, hike to high country lakes in the Absaroka Mountains, and experience Yellowstone in the fall.
A turkey visiting Ellen’s hotel in Red Lodge / A moose bedded near the Lost Creek trail head
Erin at The Bistro in Cooke City / Prepping mushrooms to be dried
Maybe we shouldn’t take my parents new Volvo any further!! / Snow half way up the mountain on 24 Aug!