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A quick hike to a backcountry lake in the Mission Mountains Wilderness.

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Point to Point

5,811' 1,771 m


5,113' 1,559 m


722' 220 m


79' 24 m



Avg Grade (5°)


Max Grade (12°)

Dogs Leashed

Features Birding · Fall Colors · Fishing · Lake · Swimming · Wildflowers · Wildlife

Family Friendly School-aged children can hike this trail, but may need some bribes during the first half mile or so as the trail is steep, and it is why I would not recommend the trail for younger children.

Need to Know

A restroom is available at the trailhead. No camping is permitted within 0.25 miles of the shorelines of the Cold Lakes. This is black bear, grizzly bear, and mountain lion territory- always carry bear spray!


Located in the Mission Mountain Wilderness, Cold Lakes Trail is a well-maintained singletrack ascending 2 miles through dense forest, and ultimately plateauing by a marsh ending at glacier-carved lakes: Cold Lake and Upper Cold Lake.

This is one of few backcountry lakes requiring very little effort to reach, and it's well worth the hike! There is no camping allowed near the lake. If you have an adventurous spirit, long pants and a map, bushwhack your way to Upper Cold Lake. Keep in mind that any trails leading away from the end of Trail #121 at the first viewpoint of Lower Cold Lake are not maintained by the US Forest Service.

The trail is of moderate grade and climbs about 800 feet (most of this is in the first mile). During fall, some sections of the trail are brushy and while easily passable are best done with long pants.

At Cold Lake, the landscape opens up to a beautiful mountain cirque and towering cliffs, where mountain goats may be seen. Around the shore, there are nice rocks for sitting and eating your lunch or taking a few casts in the lake. Kids enjoy clambering over dead fall and rocks. The lake is crystal clear and cold, as the name suggests. Camping is not permitted within 0.25 miles of either of the Cold Lakes shorelines, so probably not the greatest choice for an overnight adventure. There are fish in this lake, but you'll need a watercraft if you hope to cast many flies as there is minimal open shoreline available.

School-aged children can hike this trail, but may need some bribes during the first half mile or so as the trail is steep, and it is why I would not recommend the trail for younger children or those with bad knees. After the first third, the trail levels out and descends a bit to the lake.

The trailhead is 5 miles up a well maintained dirt road. Less than a mile in, the road crosses the Swan River where two unimproved campsites can be found. The river during late summer and fall is a great place to explore with kids as the flows are low and there are many gravel "islands". Take care crossing every bridge after the main Swan River as there are potholes on both sides of the bridge that can sneak up on you, especially if you are not driving a truck. There is a small parking lot at the trailhead and a nice outhouse.

Flora & Fauna

Small mammals, deer, elk, moose, birds.


Shared By:

McCaide Wooten with improvements by Laura Orvidas

Trail Ratings

  4.0 from 2 votes


  4.0 from 2 votes
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in Montana


8 Views Last Month
386 Since Aug 10, 2020



Cold Lake.  Well worth the hike up!
Sep 27, 2021 near Ronan, MT
Cold Lake
Sep 27, 2021 near Ronan, MT
Well maintained trail in fall
Sep 27, 2021 near Ronan, MT
The steeper section of the trail.
Sep 27, 2021 near Ronan, MT
Heading up the trail.
Sep 27, 2021 near Ronan, MT



Current Trail Conditions

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Sep 26, 2021
Laura Orvidas
Hiking with kids. 4mi — 2h 00m