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Twin Lakes: Off-the-beaten-path in Montana’s Bitterroot Mountains

If you’re looking for off-the-beaten-path fun in Montana, Twin Lakes in the Bitterroot National Forest certainly qualifies. Twin Lakes sits at 7,200 ft. with fishing, canoeing—no motorized boats allowed—and hiking available, making this a fun day trip or overnight camping getaway.

Since Alan and I aren’t backpackers, we appreciate the opportunity to experience day hikes along the alpine trails leading into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. Both Moose Creek Trail #421 over Lost Horse Pass and Wahoo Creek Trail over Wahoo Pass leave from the Twin Lakes Trailhead. Of course these are also excellent trails for overnight backpacking trips.

We use Hiking the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness (Flacon Guide) and Montana Road & Recreation Atlas (Benchmark) when planning Bitterroot Valley adventures.

This is one of the only alpine lakes in the Bitterroot that’s accessible by vehicle. Most of the lakes in the area require a long hike and are best experienced on a backpacking trip.

Visiting Twin Lakes in the summer

Blue sky, evergreen trees, wildflowers and a crystal clear lake in the Bitterroot Mountains.

Blue sky, wildflowers and a crystal clear lake in the Bitterroots.

Our first trip to the area was on a pretty summer day in late June. With wildflowers blooming everywhere, and the waters of the lakes reflecting a bright blue sky, I was immediately smitten. Alan parked the jeep at the Twin Lakes Trailhead. After the long ride up Lost Horse Road—it took us about two hours—it was time to stretch our legs with a stroll around the lakes. 

Twin Lakes is a fun spot to cool off in the summer, although it can get quite buggy. Several folks were camping in Schumacher campground but it wasn’t crowded. And we enjoyed a short conversation with a Jobs Corps work crew headed out for a week-long trail cleaning project.

On our summer visit, we didn’t find insects to be a problem, but we weren’t camping overnight. I certainly recommend bringing bug spray and bear spray.

A fall day trip to Twin Lakes

Fall colors reflected in Twin Lakes, Montana

Do you see the smattering of snow on the mountain?

On a fall drive to Twin Lakes, we arrived after Schumacher campground had been closed for the season. Being the only humans around, exploring the fall colors was a little bit spooky, especially knowing that bears were in hyperphagia preparing for winter. And there was also the worry that archery season had started and we weren’t wearing orange or yellow vests.

So we drove back to Lost Horse Road and turned right, following it a mile to the end. A clearing, surrounded by forest and limited views of the Bitterroots made for a good picnic spot. Outfitters depart from here for guided trips into the Bitterroot-Selway Wilderness. There are also pit toilets—I’m counting that as a bonus.

How do you get to Twin Lakes in the Bitterroot Mountains?

A trail bordered by fall wildflowers next to a lake.

The trail around the upper lake.

Driving south of Hamilton, Montana, on Highway 93, turn west (right) on Forest Road #429, Lost Horse Road, and travel approximately 18 miles on a rough road. The bumpy ride parallels One Horse Creek for much of the way. Getting there is definitely part of the fun if you like dodging potholes and negotiating washboard on dirt roads that are best driven in a high clearance vehicle. 

It’s tempting to pull off on one of the turnouts to sit in the shade, listen to the creek and chill out. In fact, on our last trip to Twin Lakes, Alan and I made a pact to return one day to do just that.

During wood cutting season, you’ll see lots of folks cutting and gathering firewood—permit required—especially on fall weekends. So beware of extra traffic.

When Lost Horse Road reaches the Lost Horse Cabin, turn right onto Forest Road #5605 for approximately 2 miles to Twin Lakes.

Where to stay

Golden shrubs and evergreens border a lake.

Fall at Twin Lakes

Schumaker campground has 21 designated campsites, water, and vault toilets. It’s the prefect location for those who want to get an early start on hiking, fishing or commune for a bit longer with nature (and abundant wildlife). The campground has never been crowded during our trips. And we’ve observed a fifth wheel or two, however best to check about road conditions at the Darby ranger station before driving that road with an RV.

If you’re vacationing in the Bitterroot Valley, here are two bed and breakfasts that are convenient to Lost Horse Road and other recreational opportunities in the southern end of the valley. 

Exploring Twin Lakes is one of our favorite Bitterroot Valley day trips. Enjoying the quiet and beautiful scenery is well worth the effort the drive.

Would you rather hike?

You’ll enjoy learning about Kootenai Creek Trail, one of my favorite Bitterroot Valley hikes.

While researching, I discovered that there is also a Twin Lakes campground in Wisdom, on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. Maybe you should try it, too.

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How to visit Twin Lakes, Bitterroot Mountains, Montana

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