Great Falls, MT: Renshaw Lake Loop

This 13.9-mile backcountry getaway features a secluded mountain lake, countless stream crossings, and views across untouched wilderness.
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This 13.9-mile backcountry getaway features a secluded mountain lake, countless stream crossings, and views across untouched wilderness.

Get an early start to squeeze this 13.9-mile loop into one day, or savor this super-scenic trip over the course of a weekend. From the overflow parking area in Benchmark, follow Benchmark Creek Trail to the northeast. The trail parallels and crisscrosses its namesake creek—and several tributaries—for the first 3.7 miles. (Tip: Bring an extra pair of socks.) Near mile 4, the path crests an unnamed summit, then climbs to the southeast before dropping down to Renshaw Lake, a quiet mountain tarn rimmed by conifers and a steep scree field. Set up camp beneath the trees, or continue the hike, following Renshaw Creek past wildflowers and grassy meadows. After 8.4 miles, turn right at the T-junction for the return trip, paralleling Fairview Creek. The hike finishes off with an easy, 1.6-mile road walk back to the trailhead.

-Mapped by Mark Taylor

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 22.3

Waypoints

REN001

Location: 47.4944943, -112.8843015

From the overflow parking area, follow Benchmark Creek Trail to the northeast. Ahead, the trail parallels its namesake creek.

REN002

Location: 47.5008514, -112.8685355

Rock hop across a clear stream crowded with willows (the first of many stream crossings).

REN003

Location: 47.5050841, -112.861948

Walk upstream and cross the creek on rocks and logs.

REN004

Location: 47.5085339, -112.858901

Cross creek (easy crossing) and continue hiking northeast.

REN005

Location: 47.5106645, -112.8508759

Take off your shoes for this lengthy ford up Bench Mark Creek (you'll walk through a ripple at the end of the ford).

REN006

Location: 47.5191571, -112.8437948

Stay left @ trail fork.

REN007

Location: 47.5264969, -112.8351822

Crest an unnamed summit that was burned in the 2007 Ahorn Fire. From here the trail winds to the southeast toward Renshaw Mountain.

REN008

Location: 47.5162152, -112.8225946

From this vantage point, you can see Renshaw Lake nestled between forested slopes to the southeast. Next, the trail descends a ridge north of Renshaw Creek.

REN009

Location: 47.5181861, -112.8142691

Turn right @ T-junction, heading south. In 700 feet, keep left @ junction.

REN010

Location: 47.5155792, -112.8109894

You're almost to Renshaw Lake. Bear right @ 3-way junction, and cross the wooden bridge. Ahead: The numerous trails that crisscross the route all lead to the lake.

REN011

Location: 47.5134964, -112.8140717

Renshaw Lake: Drop your packs and take a break (or stay the night) at this small mountain lake rimmed by conifers and a steep scree field. During the summer, fish, relax, and take a dip. Next, go back to Waypoint 10 and turn right @ Y-junction.

REN012

Location: 47.5136414, -112.8006058

Hike past wildflowers and meadows on the descent to Renshaw Creek. Cross Renshaw Creek in 0.5 mile.

REN013

Location: 47.4964153, -112.7993774

Turn right @ T-junction. Hike west along the foot of Burn Top Mountain.

REN014

Location: 47.4920998, -112.8177567

Here, the dirt trail cuts across a small, grassy meadow flanked by conifers and impressive views of a rugged ridge to the south.

REN015

Location: 47.4772453, -112.8507156

Stay right, heading southwest above Fairview Creek.

REN016

Location: 47.4769849, -112.8643084

Turn right onto Bench Mark Road. Follow 1.6 miles back to the parking area.

Views of Renshaw Lake

Location: 47.516679, -112.8217363

©Mark Taylor

Creek Crossing

Location: 47.5007354, -112.8683639

©Mark Taylor

Woods

Location: 47.5027358, -112.8640723

©Mark Taylor

Creek

Location: 47.5085918, -112.8587294

©Mark Taylor

Woodpecker Nest

Location: 47.510708, -112.8548884

Woodpecker nest to the right of the trail. ©Mark Taylor

Water Crossing

Location: 47.5107224, -112.8506613

©Mark Taylor

Small Waterfall

Location: 47.5123892, -112.8492236

©Mark Taylor

Rocky Peak

Location: 47.5113891, -112.8501678

Stop and watch the early morning sun hit the cliffs. ©Mark Taylor

Rocky Slopes

Location: 47.5158529, -112.8496528

©Mark Taylor

Ahorn Fire

Location: 47.5255763, -112.8342247

©Mark Taylor

Trail Junction

Location: 47.5153457, -112.8111792

©Mark Taylor

Renshaw Lake

Location: 47.5133457, -112.8129816

©Mark Taylor

Campsite

Location: 47.5134907, -112.8135395

©Mark Taylor

Rocky Peak

Location: 47.4913989, -112.8195047

©Mark Taylor

Trail Views

Location: 47.4824087, -112.8419495

©Mark Taylor