Willow Lake Trail

Difficulty
This reflects the 10Adventures difficulty rating for each route. We aim to keep ratings consistent across regions.
Moderate
Duration
This reflects the estimated time the majority of users will take on this trail. If you are slower, add time to the top-end figure. If you are fast, then you may complete this route faster than this time range.
3-4h
Distance
This reflects the return distance of this route as measured by the GPS file.
13.2 km
Elevation
This reflects the total elevation gained throughout this route as measured by the GPS file. This includes all ascents and descents, and is higher than what is quoted in most route guides, which simply measure the distance between the starting-point and high-point of the route.
486 m
User Ratings
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Directions to Trailhead
Willow Lake Trail

The Willow Lake Trail is unrivaled in its beauty, boasting breathtaking views of the Bighorn Mountains from the shoreline of the blue-hued alpine lake. Granting tranquility and isolation from the real world, this hike into the clouds provides ample time for reconnection and relaxation.

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Route Description

The Willow Lake Trail offers an immersive experience, guiding eager adventurers into the heart of the granite oasis. Traveling high into the Bighorn Mountain Range, those tackling this trek need to be wary of extreme weather conditions. Check the forecast prior to departure and try to summit before noon to mitigate the probability of getting caught in a storm. Additionally, as much of the climb is over rocky and uneven terrain, a sturdy pair of footwear and trekking poles are encouraged. As with all hikes in the area, it is important to be bear aware. Hike in groups and make sure at least one person in your party has bear spray and knows the procedure to follow should there be an encounter. Note the path is poorly signposted in some areas, so we encourage adventurers to download the trail GPS for easy navigation.

Discover the thrill of high-country hiking on the Willow Lake Trail. Hidden amongst the granite crests, this backcountry route has remained relatively undiscovered, which is always a plus in our books! Enjoy the solitude and relish in the sounds of the undisturbed wilderness. Though this route boasts beautiful scenery year-round, we encourage you to explore in the spring, during the peak run-off season when mountains retain a dusting of snow, but the vegetation begins to bloom. At this time, you will enjoy a meander through montane meadows abundant with Indian Paintbrushes, red weeds, and a variety of other beautiful wildflowers before culminating at the crystalline lake. Don’t forget your camera; this lovely route boasts countless photo opportunities.

Setting out from the Circle Park Trailhead, the Willow Lake Hike travels along the westbound trail into the lush woodlands. Immediately following your departure from the trailhead, the path will begin to consistently climb into the high country. Soon after your departure, you will reach an intersection; veer left here onto Trail 046. Beyond this point, the route will progress past several ponds and small alpine lakes. These environments are magnets for wildlife, so keep an eye out for moose, elk, bears, and more. After some hiking, you will encounter another junction at Sherd Lake. From here, take Trail 087.

More intensely climbing, the tree canopy will open, unfolding views of the Darton Peak and Bighorn Peaks rising above the encompassing forestlands. Eventually, the trail will pass Rainy Lake and a collection of ponds– this is a good place to rest before the final push up to Willow Lake. From here, the path will travel northwest up a rocky ridge past Romeo Lake and up to Willow Lake. Give yourself a pat on the back for what you just accomplished, and appreciate the beauty of the surrounding environment. Notice the Bighorn Mountains peaking above the treeline. Rejuvenate your tired feet in the chilly waters and notice lily pads and fish in the water. When you are through reveling in the scenery, head back to the way you came back to the trailhead.

Trail Highlights

Bighorn Peak

Bighorn Peak is a prominent summit in the Cloud Peak Wilderness. The seventh-highest peak in the Bighorn Mountain Range, this peak looms at an elevation of 12,324 ft to the south of Darton Peak. This beautiful mountain rises above Willow Lake, boasting a breathtaking scene.

Insider Hints

  • The route is mostly exposed, so wear SPF and dress accordingly
  • Much of the path is rocky and uneven, so wear a comfy pair of footwear
  • Those with joint issues are encouraged to make use of trekking poles
  • Bring a can of bear spray with you and make sure it is readily available
  • Bring your camera, the views are picture-perfect

Getting There

The Willow Lake Trail is accessed via the Circle Park Trailhead off Circle Park Road.

Route Details

  • Backcountry Campground

    Backcountry camping, permit required.

  • When to do

    May-October

  • Pets allowed

    Yes - On Leash

  • Family friendly

    Older Children only

  • Route Signage

    Average

  • Crowd Levels

    Low

  • Route Type

    Out and back

Elevation Graph

Weather

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