Red Lodge, MT: Wood Lake

Cross the Stillwater Plateau to trout-rich ponds at the foot of Montana's second highest peak.
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Cross the Stillwater Plateau to trout-rich ponds at the foot of Montana's second highest peak.

If you crave solitude, world class fly-fishing, and trekking off trail more than peakbagging, head for Wood Lake at 9,622 feet. Begin this 19-mile, two-night trip at the Golf Course, an open field at the crest of FS 2421, above the old Benbow Mine (about two hours southwest of Billings). Take the Stillwater Plateau Trail across a low ridge through white pine and a carpet of whortleberries, a sweet red fruit that grows on ankle-high shrubs.
After traversing a string of meadows—brightened with Indian paintbrush in summer—and gaining 400 feet on long switchbacks, you’ll clear treeline and begin traversing the massive Stillwater Plateau. Just beyond the wilderness boundary, at mile 3.1, the trail peters out atop the rim of a steep cirque.
From here, the route is off-trail. Head southwest across the 11,000-foot plateau, periodically crossing ribbons of talus. Green gentian and blue harebells peek from among the rocks and sedge. Four miles from the trailhead, Woodbine Lake appears to the west, nestled in a high notch. Veer south, staying on the exposed plateau. At 8.3 miles, arrive at a vast boulder slope where the plateau piles up against the face of Mt. Wood. Descend .4 mile southeast to a grassy shelf 400 feet above Lake Wilderness.
The next morning, hike an easy .3 mile west to cast for cutthroats. Then head southeast, up through scattered trees, to a rock perch above the lake for a killer view. Continue southeast .3 mile to Wood Lake and more life-list fishing.
Rather hike than cast? Bushwack from your campsite up the ridge on the left (east) side of the lakes, onto the massive shoulder of Mt. Wood (the climb to the peak is technical). Return the way you came.

Conditions: Beartooth Ranger Station: (406) 446-2103

Gear Up: The Fishtail General Store in Fishtail has basic camping supplies, food, bear spray, maps, and fishing licenses. (406) 328-4260; fishtailgeneralstore.com

-Mapped by Lisa Densmore, Densmore Designs.com

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 30.6

Waypoints

WPT001

Location: 45.36497, -109.815057

Start near the Golf Course, where the road ends, and hike southwest.

WPT002

Location: 45.354091, -109.824027

Head south on the Stillwater Plateau Trail.

WPT003

Location: 45.339828, -109.820943

Trail clears the trees at roughly 9850 feet.

WPT004

Location: 45.336629, -109.828238

Trail ends; start bushwhacking.

WPT005

Location: 45.332264, -109.835663

Head south-southwest along the Plateau, staying above the westernmost cliffline.

WPT006

Location: 45.313449, -109.848961

Hike south.

WPT007

Location: 45.284104, -109.838443

Top of boulder field; descend to unnamed tarns above Lake Wilderness.

WPT008

Location: 45.279437, -109.83379

Small campsite above Lake Wilderness.

WPT009

Location: 45.27507, -109.836112

Best place to cast for trout.

Camp under Mount Wood

Location: 45.278963, -109.833519