Hebgen Lake is a man-made body of water located in the southwestern region of Montana. It lies just to the north of the state’s border with Idaho, and the lake and its dam are little more than 20 minutes away from West Yellowstone.
The 15-mile long and 4-mile wide lake and its surrounding area were created in 1914 by the Montana Power Company who impounded the Madison River with the Hebgen Dam.
One of the most well-known historical aspects of the lake is the earthquake that occurred there in 1959. This quake registered a magnitude of 7.5, and not only caused major damage to the dam but also resulted in the formation of another lake downstream.
It was already a popular vacation and fishing spot in 1959 when the quake hit, and the resulting 50-meter-deep body of water was christened as Lake Quake.
The area in and around the lake offers many outdoor recreational activities, especially those related to water like fishing – which the lake has something of a reputation for – as well as boating.
There are various campgrounds and hiking routes within the vicinity which is set among some amazing Montana scenery and landscape surrounded by the Centennial, Madison, and Gallatin Mountain Ranges.
Access to Hebgen Lake is pretty good. Highway 287 runs parallel with virtually the whole length of the lake on the north side, and road access is easy. Aside from that, there are also several other roads that will provide access. Most of them lead to the south side of the lake, where there are quite a few campgrounds.
Hebgen Lake Stats
- Approximately 12,000 acres
- 5 campgrounds
- Accessible year-round (not including all campgrounds)
Main Attractions at Hebgen Lake
The main attractions in and around the lake are undoubtedly related to fishing, boating and camping. Aside from that, there is the nearby Earthquake Visitor Center, 25 miles northwest of West Yellowstone. It is open between the end of May and the middle of September under normal operating conditions.
You can take a tour from the center which explores some of the main sites of the landscape relevant to the earthquake. You can also explore some of the surrounding interpretive trails from the visitor center or maybe plan for a picnic.
Things to do at Hebgen Lake
Most of the many visitors to the lake and its surrounding regions come throughout the warmer months. There are opportunities for various activities throughout the year, and there is access to many commercial services, including restaurants, RV parks, boat rentals and marinas.
Hebgen Lake is considered by many as one of, if not the best fly fishing lake in the entire North American region. Many rate it as one of Montana’s premier still-water fishing lakes, and the trout fishing reportedly verges on the legendary.
The lake is also open for ice fishing, and one of the marina resorts does rentals for ice fishing by way of various types of shelter to make that cold just a little more bearable.
At the right time of year you will most definitely get a decent catch no matter whether you use wet or dry flies. The lake also contains a fair few cutthroat, rainbow and brown trout.
Late spring is when things start to get busy fishing-wise on the lake when the hungry trout start making themselves known.
The really big ones start to make an appearance between July and September when they are feeding on the various flies and larvae like their lives depend on it. This is probably one of the reasons why fly fisherman from far and wide are drawn to Hebgen Lake in such large numbers.
Some of the best fishing spots if fishing from the shore are along the south side of the lake. If you fancy a few days’ worths of angling, the south side of the lake also has plenty of campsites.
Boats are one option for fishing at the lake, although float tubes are not recommended for anglers, mainly due to the strong winds that can hit the lake due to its elevation.
With the many boating options at the lake, it shouldn’t prove too difficult to find an ideal boat for fishing from.
The size of Hebgen Lake makes it ideal for all kinds of boating. Whether you fancy sailing under a summer sun, water skiing, or paddling around in a canoe or kayak — this is the place to head for.
There are boat launches all around the lake, whether you are pursuing the lake via powered water-craft or by paddle. As the lake is so wide, larger boats are no problem here during the spring and summer months. The lake ices over around December and starts to thaw in late March.
Boating enthusiasts usually start to indulge in the warmer waters beginning in July.
Camping at Hebgen Lake
There are a variety of campgrounds within the vicinity of the lake. You will see that some are reservable and others are not, and the campgrounds typically operate between around the beginning of May and the end of September.
Baker’s Hole Campground is a first-come-first-served site and can get quite busy on weekends and holidays throughout the warmer months. With 73 sites including 33 with electricity, visitors have every chance of finding an available site for the night if they turn up in the early afternoon.
Amenities in this campground include fire grates and picnic tables, toilets, and water. You can reach the site from US 191, 3 miles from West Yellowstone, and the fees are $20.00 per night with vehicles.
Cherry Creek Campground is another non-reservation site that also gets pretty busy during peak times. There are just nine sites at his campground, which is accessible via US 20, 8 miles from West Yellowstone. Fees per night are $16.00 with a vehicle.
Lonesomehurst Campground has 27 sites in total, 5 of them with electricity, and reservations are possible here. Amenities include a boat ramp and dock, fire grates, toilets, water, and fishing access. This is close to Cherry Creek Campground and thus can also be accessed from US 20. Fees are between $28.00 and $20.00 per night depending on electricity requirements.
Rainbow Point Campground is the largest site in the region and has 83 sites in all with 46 of them having an electricity supply. The site lies north of West Yellowstone via US 191, and its amenities include a boat ramp and dock, fire grates, toilets, water, and fishing access. Reservations are available at this campground, and fees range between $28.00 and $20.00 per night.
Spring Creek Campground is a non-reservation campground with just 15 sites, and it can get quite busy during peak months. US 20 from West Yellowstone will bring you into the campground’s vicinity, and fees are $16.00 per night with a vehicle.
Along the eastern shoreline, a large proportion of the land is located within the Gallatin National Forest. Needless to say, the area is home to plenty of deer, moose, bison, elk, mountain goat, coyote, and fox, to name just a small selection of the local wildlife species.
It’s not uncommon for someone to spot a black bear, a grizzly bear, or even a wolf wandering rather close to the lake.
Hiking Trails at Hebgen Lake
This is hiking country and it is quite literally possible to find hundreds of trails as you fan out from the immediate vicinity of the lake. However, you will be able to find these 2 trails fairly close to the lake from the day-use area which are ideal for day hiking.
Cabin Creek Trail is almost 5 miles long and is an easy to moderate trail with views of the lake. The trail shouldn’t prove too difficult for anyone; parts of the trail along the ridge are very narrow and there is a steep drop-off. The trail is used mainly for hiking, as well as trail running, wildlife watching.
Refuge Point Loop is a 2.5-mile loop trail rated as moderate. This is a scenic route featuring views of the lake and is used mainly for hiking, running, and nature trips.