Location: Petrified Tree Area, West of Tower-Roosevelt
Distance: 4 to 5.5 miles, depending on the adventure you choose and the season
Elevation Gain: 200 feet to 700 feet, depending on the route taken
Gear Typically Needed In the Winter: Snowshoes and/or traction devices, warm clothes, trekking poles, food and water
Gear Typically Needed In the Summer: Bear Spray, food, and water
The trail to Lost Lake and the upper viewpoint of Lost Creek Falls are often overlooked, much like many other trails I feature. While the Petrified Tree area remains a popular destination, few individuals venture beyond the well-trodden paved path. In all honesty, I consider the Petrified Tree to be underwhelming at best and unless you are extremely excited to see a tree in a cage, this attraction is skippable.
However, those who do make their way to the caged tree have an opportunity to expand their adventure and step off the beaten track to experience the tranquility of Lost Lake along with the breathtaking view of Lost Creek Falls. The trail to the lake is extremely easy to follow, passing through a narrow gap between hills before arriving in an open area that houses the lake. In the spring and early summer months, bull bison like to congregate around the lake, as do a few elk. Bears also can be occasionally spotted here. In the winter, the lake is frozen and covered in snow, creating a wide open expanse for you to wander and look for animal tracks. I have seen most of the major animal tracks here in the snow, including wolves.
Beyond the lake, the trail crosses a quaint little bridge over the creek enters a forest, and darts toward the top of the canyon. Keep your expectations of walking atop a canyon low, as the forest keeps it mostly hidden as you traverse around it. After crossing another small bridge over the creek, you’ll head along the opposite side of the canyon. The trees remain, but more glimpses of the canyon begin emerging to your left. Keep an eye out for clearings as you near the end of the canyon. From a few spots, you’ll be able to walk short boot paths to the canyon rim and see the majestic Lost Creek Falls.
There are two main trail variations to reach the view of the falls and the lake. The first is the Out and Back, which is 5.4 miles roundtrip in the winter, and 4 miles roundtrip in the summer to view the falls. The second is the Loop Trail, starting near Roosevelt Lodge. This option is 4.5 miles roundtrip but is for advanced hikers only. Please contact me if you’d like more information on this route.
Please note that the distance to the waterfall view varies by season. In the summer, it is 2 miles one way to reach the view of the waterfall. In the winter, the route is 2.7 miles one way, as you’ll have to park In the large pullout on the main road and walk a little extra.
What I Consider To Be The Highlights
The main highlight for me is the hidden gem of seeing Lost Creek Falls the overlooked Lost Creek Canyon. The lake is fine, but the true feeling of remoteness and adventure comes from hiking beyond the lake and hiking above the hidden canyon. As the trail follows the edge of the canyon, the views slowly increase, giving you a true feeling of being away from the masses, which are only a few miles away.
The waterfall viewpoint is one that I enjoy quite a lot and is one I did not know existed until five years ago or so. Despite visiting the park and wandering to the lake, I never went beyond the north end of the lake, completely missing the canyon and waterfall. Once I did, and saw the waterfall for the first time, frozen in the winter, I became smitten and have returned here quite often.
Another view that I strongly encourage those up for an added bit of hiking to take in is found back near the Petrified Tree. From the parking area, hike up the hill to the east. After gaining 200 feet in elevation in half a mile, you’ll be at the top of a hill, overlooking the entire Roosevelt Area, looking toward the peaks of the Absaroka and Beartooth Mountains.
This trek is also right along the boundary of a bear management area, upping the chances of seeing not just the usual wildlife like bison and elk, but also a potential to see bears. I have had quite a few trail days where I have seen bears and signs of bears on this trail, typically in May and June.
What Some Consider To Be The Lowlights
While Lost Lake may not leave a grand impression, this assessment is accurate given its small size, shallow waters, and a location lacking picturesque charm. The hike itself is not the most scenic, and if you can only explore one trail, many would choose to skip this one.
However, don’t dismiss Lost Lake too quickly. The uniqueness of this hike shines, especially when you reach the falls view and the hilltop. What makes it appealing is its brevity, proximity to amenities, and the rewarding views and potential wildlife encounters along the way. Moreover, Lost Lake Trail remains accessible throughout the year, offering an excellent option for a winter adventure.
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