By Andi Bourne

Take a hike: Crystal Lake – Mission Mountains Wilderness


Andi Bourne, Pathfinder

Crystal Lake in the Mission Mountain Wilderness offers three options for access with varying levels of difficulty for hikers. This glacial lake is a great day-hike or overnight adventure.

At a Glance

Length: There are three trail options: Crystal Lake North Trail #351 (2.3 miles one way), Trail South #351 (4.4 miles one way) and Lindbergh Trail #490 (2.8 miles one way from the head of Lindbergh Lake) that includes a four-mile boat trip to the head of Lindbergh Lake. Day hike or overnight backpack experience.

Elevation gain: Crystal Lake sits just over 4,800 feet. Crystal Lake North Trail #351 starts at 5,770 feet; Crystal Lake South Trail #351 starts at 5,080 feet and Lindbergh Trail #490 starts at 4,330 feet.

Usage: Trails are usually clear of snow and blow down by mid-June. Trails are in the Mission Mountain Wilderness which allows hiking and horseback (horseback prohibited on the North Trail #351). Motorized and mechanized vehicles, including bicycles, are prohibited. The Flathead National Forest reports heavy usage on the Crystal Lake Trails #351 while Lindbergh Trail #490 usage is light.


• North Trail #351: From Highway 83 turn west onto Lindbergh Lake Road (Forest Road #79) near mile marker 35. After three miles bear right instead of straight, following signs for FR 79 and the Lindbergh Lake Campground. Travel 0.6 miles from here and turn right, following signs Trailheads/Bunyon. It will be a total of 11 miles (or an additional 7.4 miles) to the trailhead at the end of the road.

• South Trail #351: From Highway 83, turn west onto Beaver Creek Road (Forest Road #906) near mile marker 31, just before the cell phone turnout site with the Lolo National Forest sign. Continue up this road for 7.4 miles to the Crystal Lake Trailhead South, located on the right.

• Lindbergh Trail #490: Boat Accessed. From Highway 83, turn west onto Lindbergh Lake Road (Forest Service Road #79) near mile marker 35. After three miles bear right instead of straight, following signs for FR 79 and the Lindbergh Lake Campground. After an additional 0.6 miles, continue straight following signs for the Campground. Launch the boat and continue four miles to the southern end of the lake for the #490 Trailhead.

Hike Overview

The Crystal Lake Trail accesses the lake from both the north and south sides.

• From the north, the #351 Trail winds 2.3 miles through flat forests and fields and then sidehills dropping 1,000 feet to Crystal Lake. The grade of the trail is steep in multiple areas as it drops through old-growth ponderosa pine and western larch forest. It is also on a south-facing aspect that can be hot during the heat of the day. The trail crosses numerous perennial (year-round) streams and bogs that can keep the trail muddy in these areas all summer long.

Andi Bourne, Pathfinder

The vegetation is tall and green in June on the hike into Crystal Lake in the Mission Mountain Wilderness. Be sure to be prepared for the bugs and bring bear spray.

• From the south, the #351 Trail drops gradually into Crystal Lake over 4.4 miles except for one steep area. Views are limited on this trail as it drops through dense fir and spruce forest types. The bridge over the river that is three-quarters of a mile before Crystal Lake is currently out. The crossing is potentially dangerous during high water so use caution when fording the river. At Crystal Lake, due to swift currents and high water at the outlet, it is extremely dangerous to cross to the north side until late summer.

• From the north end of Lindbergh Lake, Trail #490 gains little elevation the 2.6 miles to Crystal Lake. There are no views except at Lindbergh and Crystal Lakes. The trail crosses numerous small springs that can create muddy trail conditions, especially in early summer. A half-mile below Crystal Lake is an impressive stretch of rapids on the Swan River that can be seen by leaving the trail and hiking down towards the roar. One of the largest diameter western larch trees in the wilderness can be found on this trail. The trail ends at the north end of lake.

At Crystal Lake: A number of rocky beaches are found along the shores of Crystal Lake that afford great views down the length of the lake and the mountains beyond. A sheeting waterfall covers much of the cliff face at the far west end.


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