With a name like “Lost Lake,” I assumed this body of water would be somewhat difficult to find. And I wasn’t wrong. Even with a map, I found myself . . . well, lost searching for it.
My friend, Austin, and I set off for Lost Lake on the morning of July 7, giving ourselves plenty of time to hunt for it. We traveled from Great Falls to Fort Benton and then took MT Hwy 80 south toward Geraldine. Approximately 16 miles down the road, we found a sign for Lost Lake Ranch, partially obscured by a bush. I quickly slowed to a stop and took the gravel road heading west. After a few miles, the road hit an intersection forking north and south. We took the southern path and followed it through the valley, coming across a flat plain covered in water.
Thanks to Roland Taylor (the graphic designer of Treasure State Lifestyles), I knew that this was not Lost Lake. Roland told me that during his first trip here, he and some friends happened upon this uninspiring puddle and, believing it to be Lost Lake, turned around in disappointment. Only later did he learn that the actual Lost Lake was further down the road. Fortunately, Roland’s second trip was much more rewarding. Not only did he successfully find and photograph Lost Lake; one of his photos (featured on this issue’s cover) would go on to appear in numerous publications, earning notoriety.
Heeding Roland’s warning, I drove past the large puddle and followed the road over a cattle guard and up a hill. At the top, the hill leveled out into miles of cow pasture and the road forked in two directions. The right side was unmarked but on the left there were two signs that read, “NOTICE: DRIVING BEYOND THIS POINT IS PROHIBITED. ACCESS ON FOOT ONLY. THANK YOU FOR YOUR COOPERATION.” At the bottom of the signs was the logo for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. It seemed to me that Lost Lake was the exact sort of natural wonder that Fish, Wildlife & Parks would want to protect from motorists so I deduced that this must be the road to get there.
Austin and I exited the vehicle and followed the gravel road. It led uphill and we couldn’t see what was on the other side but I was sure that once we got to the top we would be able to see Lost Lake. About half a mile from the vehicle we came to the top of the incline and all we could see was more open range. Clearly, we were not in the right place.
Austin checked the GPS on his phone – surprisingly he had service – and confirmed that no, we were not on the correct path. We backtracked the half-mile and took the car down the unmarked road to the west. Cattle were blocking our path and I had to drive very slowly, as the lethargic creatures were in no hurry to move out of our way.
Finally we came across it – a turnout for Lost Lake. From the turnout it was a short quarter-mile walk to the rim of the Dry Falls, overlooking the water 250 feet below. At one time these “Dry Falls” were wet with the flood-waters of the last ice age (or perhaps the last several ice ages) pouring over the cliffs into the lake below. In fact, some geologists believe that these ancient waterfalls would have been roughly double the size of Niagra Falls’ largest cataract.
I could only imagine what a sight it would have been to see water roaring over the cliffs and into the pool below. As I looked down at Lost Lake, I stabled myself against the rock formations lining the cliff. It was a long drop to the valley below and the thought of it made me ill. Austin was much braver than I and walked up to the edge to look over. As he turned around, his foot slipped in a patch of gravel, sending me into a momentary panic. Thankfully, Austin did not lose his balance and I did not have to tell his family that I’d lost him at Lost Lake.
Austin and I spent about an hour exploring the rock formations on the cliff and observing the wildlife. We found a rabbit inside a crevice overlooking the cliffside and saw a few different species of birds. The view alone was worth the trip and we took several pictures, though we found it impossible to capture the grandeur of the place in its entirety.
Like many of Montana’s natural wonders, Lost Lake has to be seen in person to be fully appreciated. If you are interested in the area, I encourage you to go check it out for yourself. And I hope that you have an easier time finding it than I did.