This is a natural, freshwater lake with no dam, located about 5 miles from the popular Western Montana town of Bigfork.
Because of its size, and also due to the warm springs flowing into the lake, this is one of the warmest bodies of water in the valley. The whole region of the lake, which sits at the base of the Swan Range close to the Jewel Basin hiking area, is surrounded by mountains and wildlife.
Echo Lake has a 16-mile shoreline and a depth of around 80 feet, and because of its temperature, it attracts many water sports enthusiasts and swimmers, as well as anglers.
Some of the lake is surrounded by private lakefront property, and visitors who stay in one of the available lakeside vacation rentals can cast off from their own private dock, although there is also a decent-sized boat launch with public access on the north side.
If you would rather camp, campgrounds are plentiful in the vicinity of the lake and are typically within a few miles of each other.
Echo Lake Stats
- 700-acre lake
- At least 2campgrounds
- Open year-round
Main Attractions at Echo Lake
Aside from the obvious water and camping attractions around the vicinity of the lake, you will also find that Echo Lake Picnic Area is a popular stop-off for visitors passing through the area. It is located around 14 miles south of Philipsburg, and you can access it off Montana Highway 1, taking Echo Lake Road — also known as Forest Road 65.
Follow the signs to the day-use area where you will find boat ramps, picnic tables, and toilets, and there is no charge for using the area.
If you want to head a bit closer to civilization you might consider taking a wander into the nearby city of Bigfork, where you will undoubtedly find an eclectic blend of people and culture. The downtown area is home to many cafes and boutiques, as well as arty attractions like galleries, and a museum of art.
There are also performing arts, and theatre – not to mention the famous summer playhouse, as well as Wayfarers State Park, and a national bison range.
Things to do at Echo Lake
Echo Lake is a scenic outdoor recreation area with much less chance of overcrowding during busy periods than any of the much larger bodies of water in the region.
The lake is dotted with small, private islands which make kayaking and canoeing that bit more interesting, and the warm water is certainly one of the attractions for those indulging in a spot of jet-skiing and paddle-boarding.
Although this is a popular lake for boating, most of the lake is actually a ‘no-wake-zone’ for the protection of swimmers, canoeists, and kayakers.
The only exception to this rule is the fairly narrow stretch leading into Causeway Bay in the north-eastern corner of the lake, as well as the corridor leading out of Blackie’s Bay in the northwest region of the lake.
The winter months bring in the snow-capped mountain scenery, and activities turn towards snowmobiling, snowshoeing and other winter activities for anyone willing to take on the winter temperatures and terrain.
Echo Lake Beach is a popular freshwater swimming spot for both locals and visitors who like the warmer water. At the southern end of the lake is a small, sandy beach with a designated swimming area best used between May and September.
You can expect average water temperatures of between 64 and 74 degrees in the summer months of June, July, and August.
The Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) lists the varieties of fish species in Echo Lake as including Brook Trout, Kokanee, Whitefish, Largemouth Bass, Northern Pike, Rainbow Trout, and Yellow Perch.
Certainly, Fishing Echo Lake provides some top-notch fly fishing, as well as spin fishing for smallmouth and largemouth bass. Reportedly there are large numbers of all species in the lake though, making it an epic day out for many of the anglers stopping by.
Fishing opportunities are in full flow in peak season between July and September, although fall fishing from September through October is popular, as is winter ice fishing from November to March. So basically you have year-round fishing in this small and pristine lake.
Many anglers use a boat to get onto the lake from one of the public boat ramps, although there are many popular spots from which to fish including the many coves. Whatever you are fishing for, the chances of getting a bite at the lake are good.
Camping at Echo Lake
Echo Lake Campground is less than half a mile from the lake in an incredibly scenic spot situated just northeast of Philipsburg Bay, and it is somewhat on the primitive side.
It has 17 sites and is popular with residents of Philipsburg who come for a spot of extended outdoor activity or just relaxation, and you can reach the sites by following US 10A south and turning right on Georgetown Lake Road. The campground is on the left, adjacent to the lake, and has access to a boat ramp, picnic tables, water, and vault toilets.
Tent trailer camping is available, and fees are $15 per night with a 16-day limit being in effect. Reservations are possible for the sites at this location at www.recreation.gov. They must be made 4 days in advance and can be made up to 6 months in advance.
Moose Marina is in close proximity to the campground at just 3 miles away, and there are also many more campgrounds in the vicinity within 1 to 3 miles of this one like Cable Mountain Campground which has 11 sites and is $13.00 per night on a first-come, first-served basis.
Hiking Trails at Echo Lake
You can actually reach Echo Lake on foot via either the Clarks Fork Trailhead or the East Rosebud Trailhead if you fancy a decent hike into the area. These 2 trails both feature some of the best scenery in the Beartooth Mountains. Or you can make your way in using other methods and then hike the short trail around the lake.
The lake trail is out and back and covers just over 3 miles. It is quite close to Philipsburg, and is rated as moderate. The trail is used mainly for hiking as well as cross country skiing in the winter, and dogs are allowed on the condition they are kept leashed.
There is plenty of shade along the short trail, which is also dotted with various signs and markers.
This is an 11-mile hike to the lake if you fancy starting off a bit further out at the East Rosebud Trailhead. This route is shorter than the Clarks Fork Trail, and you can find the trailhead by taking Highway 78 from Absarokee, heading about 13 miles down the road and turning right at Roscoe onto East Rosebud Road.
This road runs for about 5 miles before it turns to the right, allowing you to continue for another 10 miles to the trailhead.
Elk Lake becomes visible 3 miles into the trail, and there are a couple of steep sections with rock that also heat up quite considerably in summer.
You’ll also see Rimrock Lake from a scenic overlook along this trail, and you will encounter bridges and switchbacks before Rainbow Lake comes into view, as do a couple of waterfalls and Park Lake before coming to the turn for Echo Lake over Granite Creek.
Clarks Fork Trailhead is easy to find, and just off of the paved Highway 212. One reason to start at the Clarks Fork Trailhead is that there is less elevation involved.
This trailhead is located at around 8,000 feet – 2,000 feet higher up than the East Rosebud Trail, and can be reached from Red Lodge, heading along Highway 212 for almost 60 miles.
You can also access it from Cooke City along just a 3.5-mile drive to the well-signed Clarks Fork Trailhead.