Hoodoo Cascade, Gallatin County

Will Beck
Last Updated: March 4th, 2023

Only nine miles from the gorgeous Big Sky and inextricably linked to the nearby Lava Lake, the Hoodoo Cascade is one of those top secret Montana waterfalls you typically have to know a local to visit.

Not anymore! Sitting right off Cascade Creek and surrounded by trailheads, campgrounds, and deep, lush forests, this cascade – a smaller waterfall typically flowing over rocks and stones – offers a glimpse into the allure of the Treasure State.

How do you get there? We recommend trekking to both the waterfall and refreshing lake via the Lava Lake Trailhead off of Gallatin Road to the northeast. Gradually climbing 1,600 feet towards the Spanish Peak Mountains, the route to the cascade is accessible for both beginners and advanced hikers, although we, unfortunately, can’t recommend it to wheelchair users.

And while this site is best explored from May to September, don’t be afraid to stretch your stay longer, especially if visiting the nearby Big Sky Resort.

Although you won’t find any attached campgrounds when traversing this Montana terrain, folks have been known to pitch a tent around Lava Lake, and the cascade is surrounded by several campgrounds, as well as cabin rentals, hotels, and resorts closer to Big Sky.

Once home to numerous indigenous tribes, this forested terrain of Big Sky Country holds a special place in our Montana hearts; it’s close to society but just secluded enough that rest and reflection come easily after a long week.

Read on for some of our favorite spots in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness to fish, swim, camp, ski, and get out of our daily routines – including our beloved Lava Lake.

Hoodoo Cascade, Gallatin County – A Complete Guide

gallatin county stats

Hoodoo Cascade, Gallatin County Stats

  • Size and Scope: 250 ft
  • Season: Year Round
  • Hours: 24/7
  • Number of Campsites: None
  • Wheelchair Accessible: No

Recreational Activities

Looking to hike and bike in the beautiful Montana summer? So are we, and we’ve got a few favorite spots to share with you.

We’ll also go over the best spots to ski down a mountain, fish in solitude, or swim in one of southern Montana’s many lakes.

There are so many things to do around Hoodoo Cascade, Montana! Off we go!

Hiking & Biking

hiking and biking

Hiking is a must if you want to get to the cascades and neighboring Lava Lake, although you’ll be happy to know that it’s a steady, continuous, and thrilling trek. Of course, we’ve already mentioned the Lava Lake Trailhead, six miles trek to and from one of our favorite southern Montana spots.

But we also love the Garnet Mountain Fire Lookout up the road, as well as the epic trails in the canyon just to the east. If you’re heading down into Big Sky, we also highly recommend the Beehive Basin Trailhead for both hiking and biking.

The entire area surrounding Big Sky is ideal for cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing, snowboarding, and all kinds of winter activities.

Further down Gallatin Road, we wholly recommend the Yellowstone Dog Sled Adventures for an entirely unique Montana adventure. (They should also be commended for their great efforts in rescuing and caring for huskies!)

Swimming & Fishing

You’ll find numerous fishing opportunities around the more accessible Lava Lake, as well as even bigger fish once you reach the less attainable mountains. And if you’re lucky enough to spend the night at one of the nearby campgrounds, they’ve been perfectly placed along waterways to get your fishing thrills.

Pioneer Lake and Rat Lake are relatively close by, as well, if you’re aiming to explore a wider diameter of the forest. And if a fishing charter is more your thing, we typically point visitors in the direction of Montana Whitewater Rafting Company’s Yellowstone Fly Fishing branch.

If you’re newer to fly fishing or just looking for some company by way of an expert with great stories, check them out. And while it’s a bit of a drive, we definitely recommend boating at the Hyalite Reservoir, which has its own day-use boat ramp and undiscovered gem campsites.

Let’s talk about swimming! We highly, highly recommend dipping in at Lava Lake, Hoodoo Cascade’s nearest ally, for a refreshing break, whether you’re camping there or not. Swimming there is absolutely beautiful – both secluded and accessible.

Can you swim in the Hoodoo Cascade? Not recommended, although it’s a great spot to dip your toes in before submerging yourself fully in Lava Lake.

And as with fishing, Pioneer Lake is an excellent body of water nearby, although we’re a bit more partial to swimming at Lava Lake and anywhere along the Gallatin River that’ll have us.

Don’t be afraid to jump on in – the water’s great!

Camping & Lodging

camping and lodging

Some of the best things in life happen off the grid – at least that’s how we feel about primitive camping here in Montana!

As we mentioned at the top, you can easily find cozy camping spots around Lava Lake, but they’re very much on a first-come, first-serve basis. But once you get to the lake, it’s a pretty picturesque spot to stake a tent into the ground, as long as you follow the campsite rule.

Head south out on Gallatin Road and you’ll meet a cluster of campgrounds ready to provide great views of the Aurora Borealis, depending on how you time your visit.

First, check out Greek Creek Campground which offers scenic canyon views, pristine forests, and wildlife viewing – moose, bald eagles, you name it. And we won’t steer you the wrong way, folks: Greek Creek has an exceptionally clean bathroom, something we will never take for granted in the wilderness!

Next up in the Custer Gallatin National Forest? The Swan Creek Campground, is just slightly to the right of Greek Creek. We love the little trail around Swan Creek, and of course, since it’s right on a creek, you’ll get a great night’s sleep. (Watch out for mosquitos here in late June – they can be vicious!)

Then, there’s Moose Creek Flat Campground, which you can probably guess is ideal for water activities and wildlife viewing, including moose. Bring your fishing pole for this one, because you just might get lucky with dinner!

Looking for something a bit less rustic? We know – not everyone is outside searching for Jupiter in the sky like we are. (Guilty!) You’ll find some great cabin rentals off Highway 191, including Crooked Canyon Lodge Cabin and numerous other cabins along the Gallatin River.

All of these spots offer fantastic amenities and professional communication with hosts, but if a hotel is more your style, we love The Inn on the Gallatin, a quaint, well-designed little boutique inn right off the riverfront a bit north of the cascades. Further south, you’ll hit Big Sky with its plentiful hotels and resorts, including our favorite wintertime escape, Big Sky Resort.

For something to please someone’s creature comforts and need for adventure, check out the glamping experience at Collective Yellowstone, a Retreat at Moonlight Basin! A backcountry experience and modern-day amenities? Sign us up!

Trail Routes

trail routes hoodoo cascade

Lava Lake/Cascade Creek Trail

Length: 6 miles
The star of our show, the hike out to Hoodoo Cascade and Lava Lake is truly worthy of the top spot on this list. Visit the falls on the way to the lake, and take thirty minutes to an hour to just sit with nature. (Bring your bug spray and some hydrating snacks!).

While you probably won’t see too many equine friends on the trail, do be mindful of horse riders on the trail. This trail is clearly marked, so we wouldn’t recommend straying too far off course, but you’re welcome to try your hand at hiking even further into the mountains.

Just be aware: you’ll need great shoes and proven hiking experience at this point, as well as a few moments to sit with the gorgeous Deer and Moon lakes.

Table Mountain from Lava Lake Trail

Length: 16.3 miles
Let’s tease this one out a bit more. You’ve gotten to Lava Lake and you took a dip in its gorgeous waters. Now what? As we said above, only experienced hikers should make this trek, due to the numerous steep and rocky areas.

As you continue east on the trail, however, you’ll eventually get to Table Mountain, which – as its name suggests – is a welcomed flat respite from the steep grade below it.

Even more important, it offers fantastic views of the canyon – wave to Swan Creek! – and the numerous nearby mountain peaks. Then, gather all your strength for the downhill trek back towards Lava Lake, where you can take another dip and visit the cascade before heading back towards the trailhead.

Afterward, we recommend driving into Big Sky to check out Beehive Basin Brewery, a great little microbrewery that serves a fantastic Baltic Porter. You’re welcome!

Rat Lake Trail

Length: 1.3 miles
Shifting down to a different gear, the picturesque Rat Lake Trail is relatively easy – despite its rocks! – and extremely family-friendly, especially for a shorter weekday hike. We like to take our dogs here to wear them out, although we wouldn’t recommend swimming in Rat Lake.

Fishing and paddle boarding? Yes, definitely! Another thing we want to point out is that you’ll probably be sharing the road with ATVs, hence the adventurous terrain, but the rangers do their best to keep things separate so you can enjoy a nice stroll.

Garnet Mountain Trail

Length: 7.7 miles
We’d like to round out our list with an absolutely beautiful out-and-back hike: Garnet Mountain Trail, just a bit northeast up the Gallatin River from Hoodoo Cascade.

With a gradual and challenging incline, it aligns best with intermediate and advanced hikers. Depending on the time of year you visit, you may be one of the only folks on this trail, which can be either a good thing (wildflowers!) or a bad thing (bears!).

This trail is narrow, so you’re better off hiking with three people at most, as long as you give each other ample time to stop and eat huckleberries. We recommend this route for people who are less heat-tolerant, as it’s well-shaded and well-maintained all throughout.

And keep in mind that despite all the beauty, there are no spots for dogs to drink water, so it’s imperative that you be water-prepared! Overall, this is one of our favorite spots along the Lee Metcalf Wilderness next to the Lava Lake Trail, so you’re sure to have a great experience.

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About The Author

Will Beck

Will is a true digital nomad, taking his work on the road at every opportunity. His first love is coffee, with travel a close 2nd. He loves nothing more than hitting the road in his self-build campervan and visiting off-the-beaten-path places, away from popular tourist destinations.

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