Take a Hike to Sioux Charley Lake

Take a Hike to Sioux Charley Lake

first published September 2016

Enjoy an Easy but Scenic Hike

There are a few places around the area that I hear about repeatedly, but for some reason I never make it over to explore them.  Sioux Charley Lake is one of those places.  A number of years ago I managed to get out that way, but the group I was with wasn't exactly the most determined hikers.  We only made it about a mile. 

Fortunately, this past weekend proved to be a good time to explore the area.

The trailhead is only about 2 hours from Billings.  The drive is easy, the hike is easy, and the views are exceptional.

Woodbine Falls Area

Just outside of Nye there is the Stillwater Mine.  This is important for just one reason: the road is well maintained.  Regardless of the time of year, you can be sure that you will be able to get to the trailhead.

After you pass the mine, keep an eye out to the mountains on the left.  You have a great view of Woodbine Falls as you drive to the trailhead.  And if this is your first time, keep an eye out to the right.  Those big cliffs are right at the trailhead.  So as you approach the cliffs, you know you are getting to the end of the driving and closer to the fun stuff.

As you approach the end of the road, you will see a sign directing you to the left if you want to go to Woodbine Falls campground, and to the right if you want to go to the trailhead.

The Hike to Sioux Charley

Starting out you encounter the usual signage.  Be bear aware.  You are here (on a map that is entirely too large to be of much good).  Don't spread noxious weeds.  And a little sign that gives you the miles to various destinations.  Look at the sign, and know that 3.5 miles is to the end of the lake, if you stop at the first portion of the lake it's only 3 miles.

The first section of the hike is exquisite.  You hike along the river passing by dozens of mini waterfalls, deep pools that should be ripe with fish, through the canyons, and under cliffs.  If you're into rock climbing, there are some nice looking routes that have probably experienced few, if any, feet on them.

After about a mile the canyon widens, and your trail will turn into the woods.  You pass through the trees and gain some elevation.  Not much elevation though, it's a pretty easy hike.  After about another mile (the end of mile 2) you are at the top of your elevation gain and you have a clear view of the lake below.  If you think "not much of a lake" you're right.  It's actually a wide spot in the river.

The next mile is a light slope down to a great open area where you can throw down your gear (if you even brought any) and head down to the water.  Take in the views, they're phenomenal.  Mountains all around, river to the left and right, and if it's hot this would be a fantastic swimming hole.

At this first stop you're almost exactly 3 miles from the trailhead.  Bust out the fishing poles and see how many rocks and twigs you can catch.  Seriously, I didn't even see any fish here, you probably have to go further up the trail.  Have a snack, enjoy the day, and then leisurely hike back out.

If You Go

The mountains around Nye get a lot of rain (for Montana standards at least).  Be prepared for afternoon rain.  If you go in the winter, Woodbine Falls is a Montana Classic ice climb, and I'm sure the river freezes over at Sioux Charley.  Be adventurous and take an ice auger.  Let me know how it goes.

Most importantly, be bear aware, have some fun, take lots of pictures, and enjoy this great spot in our Beartooth Mountains.

by Scott Sery
Scott is a writer, outdoor enthusiast, beer snob, and woodworker. When he is not out exploring all of the wonders around Billings, he loves to sit down for a frosty brew at one of the many great breweries we have available to us. You can read about most of his adventures, and many of the fine brews he has sipped right here. Find out more about Scott at ScottSery.com