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On the Trail: Hikers return to East Rosebud's 'Beaten Path'

Elk Lake hike rock field
Posted at 6:40 AM, Aug 11, 2023

EAST ROSEBUD — One of Montana's most beautiful mountain hikes is welcoming visitors back to its trails, bearing the scars of last year's disastrous flooding.

After a 14-month closure, the East Rosebud Trailhead opened again on Aug. 4, allowing access to Elk Lake and other popular hikes.

East Rosebud is the start/finish point of the 26-mile Beaten Path, one of Montana's most popular thru-hikes which traverses the Beartooth Mountains from north to south. The entire area was hit hard by flooding in June 2022.

“The flood had a huge impact on the Custer Gallatin National Forest," said Morgan De Meyer, a public affairs officer with the U.S. Forest Service. "Many of our waterways were affected as well as infrastructure surrounding those waterways. This was a very rare event. We're trying to bounce back the best we can.”

As crews help the region bounce back, Montanans who love the scenic area were eager to get back on the trail.

“We’re headed back to school next week, we're both educators and my twin sister, Tasha, wanted to show me this beautiful trail,” said Nikki Salazar, a Billings resident hiking to Elk Lake.

“It was quite devastating to see all the damage, but it’s just nice to be able to be back up here again," Salazar's sister, Natasha Norby, said.

Elk Lake is a three-and-a-half-mile hike from the East Rosebud Trailhead and is one of many lakes along the Beaten Path.

De Meyer said USFS trail crews will be working to rebuild sections of the trail below Elk Lake until the end of August, but hikes can cross a large rock field to continue up to the lake.

Dust settles from a controlled explosion, as USFS trail crews blast rock away from sections of a new trail.

“We’re really just encountering the initial landscape, there’s all this new rock and the water has risen up to the trail," said Emily Walker, who hikes the trail with her family every summer.

“In fact, we were ready for our spot that we go to every year that overlooks the waterfall, but I don’t know if it exists anymore," Walker said.

The outlet of Elk Lake was blown out by flooding, turning the popular lake into a wider section of the creek.

Above Elk Lake, the trail gets hairy, reaching a point at Rimrock Lake where a bridge was destroyed by flooding and the forest service does not recommend trying to cross the area on foot.

“There’s plans to repair the damage above Elk Lake, but that most likely will not start until 2024," De Meyer said.

De Meyer says the entire trail from the East Rosebud Trailhead to Rimrock Lake is closed to stock.