Over Labor Day weekend, we stayed away from the crowds and hit up some smaller places that seemed less busy. Jimmy and I experienced unexpected difficulty and then delight as we hiked — at random — the Bell Lake Trail in Montana. Read on to see why adding impromptu trails to your itinerary can be oh, so wonderful.
Jimmy and Sarah hike to Bell Lake in Montana.
Getting to Bell Lake
As we drove into this area, sprawling cattle ranches turned into mountainscapes filled with lush green foliage and towering trees. We didn’t look up any info about the area ahead of time — we only knew there was free camping and a hot spring on public land so figured why not! Jimmy parked Dot — our campervan — in a flat-ish and relatively secluded spot near the trailhead for Bell Lake, which we decided to hike the next morning.
Upon glancing at his GPS, Jimmy estimated that this trail was going to be 3 miles long and relatively flat since it seemed close to a creek with runoff from Lake Bell. He didn’t click on the lake to find out its stats — like its elevation or distance — ahead of time. So we started on this “short, flat trail” with an immediately steep incline, wondering when it was going to flatten out.
Shocker — it never did flatten out. We hiked upward the entire time. According to our GPS after we were done, the trail was four miles to the lake — so eight miles round trip — and had almost 2000 feet of elevation change. I was not prepared for this type of “short, flat hike” and hadn’t brought much water.
Luckily, the beauty of the hike and the lake itself made this moderately strenuous trek worth every “I-almost-rolled-my-ankle-on-those-dang-rocks” step.
Beautiful Bell Lake
“Oh my...it’s green!” were the first words out of my mouth as we finally stepped onto the beach of the lake. Surrounded by mountains, trees, boulders, and sand, the water was a stunning shade of green. It was gorgeous and we were the only ones there to enjoy it. We took pictures and sprawled out in the cool sand, resting our tired legs for a little over an hour before the trek back down to Dot.
Impromptu Miss or Must Do?
If you are in this area, you must do this hike. It is a little on the tougher side, but if you are willing to put in a little more sweat equity, you will be rewarded with a verdant forest, beautiful views, and a secluded alpine beach. Plus, the trailhead area has wide swaths of land perfect for large camping groups … for free! It would be a great place to camp with friends.
Have you been pleasantly surprised with any hiking trails or camping areas you’ve stumbled upon? Let us know in the comments below!
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