By Ciara Wolfe
BSCO Executive Director
The Dudley Creek Trail (FS No. 404) is an excellent day-hike adventure located close to the community of Big Sky providing solitude, as well as expansive forest and mountain views. The 10.8-mile roundtrip trail leads you to Dudley Lake, a beautiful high alpine lake, or the ability to continue on and scramble to the top of one of the nearby peaks, for a 360-degree birds-eye view of Big Sky and the surrounding mountain ranges.
Beginning at the trailhead you will follow the dirt road for 1/4 mile until the private property ends and the trail begins to the left of the entrance gate to a log home. The trail leads you through several miles of forested, rolling topography with a gradual climb throughout.
During the first 3 miles you will cross Dudley Creek three different times. The first two provide clear log crossings, while the last one requires you to wade through the small creek. This third crossing is easy to miss, so watch for the trail to start again on the other side of the creek. After the last creek crossing the trail increases in difficulty while gaining elevation, and you’ll walk through large boulder fields leaving the creek to the south. The steepest ascent is during the last mile to the lake, which is an 827-foot climb.
Once at the lake you’ll see the summit of Wilson Peak above you at 10,705 feet—which is another 1 mile and 1,605 feet of elevation gain—and Dudley Peak at 10,165 feet. Wilson Peak can be climbed along the east ridge if you would like your adventure to include bagging a peak. Otherwise the lake provides beautiful views of the surrounding peaks and a nice place for a picnic before you begin your descent back down.
The trail is used as access for hunters, and this area is also bear habitat, so remember to wear your blaze orange during the fall and also be bear aware.
For more information about Big Sky’s parks, trails and recreation programs, visit bscomt.org. The Big Sky Community Organization is a local nonprofit that connects people to recreational opportunities by acquiring, promoting and preserving sustainable places and programs for all.
Distance: 10.8-miles, out and back
Elevation: 6,375 ft (trailhead) 9,100 ft (Dudley Lake)
Elevation gain: 3,051 ft
Uses: hike, bike, horses
Directions: Drive north from Big Sky on Highway 191 approximately 1/2 mile. Turn left onto a dirt road and follow a steep embankment that parallels the highway. You will then take a sharp curve to the west and drive for approximately 1 mile until you see the trailhead parking area. Park your vehicle and begin walking 1/4 mile up the road until to you come to the trail.