Maddie's Trails | A collection of quality hiking trails in Western Montana.

Maddie's Trails

Sanders LakeOne Way 11.0 miles, 2100 feet

Possibly the most remote lake in the Rattlesnake Wilderness. True alpine feel, complete with Mountain Goats and Bighorn Sheep.


If you are just hiking (i.e. no horse, no bike), then I think this is the best way to get into the Rattlesnake backcountry.  The trail starts by dropping 900 feet from the West Fork Gold Creek trailhead 3 miles down to the main corridor and Rattlesnake Creek.  You start by crossing a recent burn, then into the trees, past a marshy pond, before breaking out onto the canyon wall and several switchbacks down to the main corridor.

You are now about 3.5 miles above Franklin Bridge, and 3.5 miles from the wilderness boundary at the end of the corridor.  Elk Meadows is about 1 mile north and its two established campsites are fairly popular.

You cross cement bridge just before the wilderness boundary.  The creek here is narrow and fast.  Trail 515 heads due north - stay on the more established road.  Quickly you have to choose to head north up the Wrangle Creek drainage (which is what you do to reach Sanders) or south for the Lake Creek drainage (which is prettier).

The trail remains overgrown two-track but then turns into a nice single track through the trees.  There is a fun little creek crossing on a log, then the trail starts to really climb up to Little Lake.  Little lake is nice enough in July, but I have been there in September when it is way drawn down and not very attractive at all.

From Little Lake the trail climbs up into what truly starts to feel like alpine country.  You soon reach a junction - left goes to Glacier Lake, right goes to Sanders.  Climb up and over a small saddle before making a gentle drop to the lake.

Sanders seems perched on the edge of a large canyon.  There is large dam on the “canyon” side, and the wind off the water can be quite chilly here.  We camped at the “island” end of the lake to avoid the wind. This spot is kind of dark, but sheltered.  I guess those two things go together.

We saw both Bighorn Sheep and Mountain Goat on the dam here.  There is a lot of backcountry to explore to the north and northeast of here.  I have heard of people making this a base camp for climbing McLead Peak.  We made this a loop by taking trail 517, then down 534 and the Lake Creek drainage.  See the Mosquito Peak Loop description (coming soon) for details.

Getting There

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