Quake Lake [First Summer Camping Trip]

Camp Site

On Freaky Friday we took off work a little early and headed out of a rainy Bozeman towards Yellowstone National Park. We were doing a two night camping trip and the first night we were staying about 20 miles west of the park at the Cabin Creek Campground between Earthquake Lake and Hebgen Lake. I had been here a little over 10 years ago on a family trip and remember it was beautiful. It’s about a two hour drive and sunshine was waiting for us when we arrived.

We set up camp, (I recommend getting reservations, you can do it online for most campgrounds and on short notice) and after talking to the campground host, headed over to drive along the Madison River on Ghost Town Road.

Let me back up here and give you a bit of info on Quake Lake. Back in 1959 around 11:30 PM on August 17th, a 7.3 Earthquake occurred with an epicenter in Hebgen Lake, which sits on the eastern edge of Madison Canyon. The Madison River flows through the lake and continues on through the canyon. The earthquake caused a landslide at the west end of the canyon and closed off the river causing a lake to form. The earthquake also damaged the road and trapped over a hundred people in the canyon. The the water surges swept cabins away and 27 people died with many more injured.

Earthquake Lake

Earthquake Lake

As you drive along Ghost Town Road you see many cabins on the opposite side of the river. Some look fairly intact, while others are clearly caved in and damaged. All of them were moved to their current locations by the water after the earthquake. You eventually hit a point where you cannot drive any longer and we went for a little hike along the river. It was around 7:30 or 8PM while we were doing this and across the river we saw a group of Mountain Goats. There were even a few kids in the group. This is a pretty big deal cause these guys are not so easy to find, typically high up on the cliffs, not down low like we found them.

Collapsed Cabin Roof visible across the river

Collapsed Cabin Roof visible across the river and more cabins farther back

Quake Lake & Yellowstone (16)

White trees stand in the water where they were flooded

White trees stand in the water where they were flooded

Mountain Goats! In the red boxes.

Mountain Goats! In the red boxes.

Looking East along the Madison River

Looking East along the Madison River

After watching them for a bit, we returned to the Visitor Center that sits high above the river and directly across from where the landslide occurred. It is built on the boulders and earth that was moved across the canyon. It was kind of awesome to be there after it was closed because no one else was and we could walk around the trails reading about the earthquake and what happened with out waiting for others. We could also enjoy the spectacular views of the canyon alone. We decided we would check out the small visitor center in the morning before headed out to Yellowstone and returned to our campsite as the sun disappeared.

Landslide location

Landslide location

The view east of the canyon from the visitor center

The view east of the canyon from the visitor center

The view west of the canyon from the visitor center

The view west of the canyon from the visitor center

Quake Lake & Yellowstone (45)We built a fire and enjoyed a quick and easy dinner followed by s’mores while waiting for the Harvest Moon to appear. Since we were still in the canyon, we were not sure we were going to get to see it, but it did make an appearance between the clouds briefly. We decided we should probably crash before it started raining and called it a night.

Quake Lake & Yellowstone (36)Quake Lake & Yellowstone (38)

Harvest moon making a creepy appearance between the clouds

Harvest moon making a creepy appearance between the clouds

The next morning, we woke up, made breakfast and broke down camp before heading back to the Visitor Center. Most of the information they had inside, they had out on the signs that we read the night before, so we didn’t spend much time there, but there were a few more interesting facts. After that we headed east to Hebgen Lake. Just east of the dam point, there is another area where cabins are sunk in the water and were moved from their original locations due to the earthquake. This is the spot I remembered from our family trip and it was interesting to see it again not as a snotty teenager and actually appreciate what happened.

 

Coffee.

Coffee.

Quake Lake & Yellowstone (50)

Quake Lake & Yellowstone (49)Cabins damaged along Hebgen Lake

From here we went into West Yellowstone, grabbed some coffee at Freeheel and Wheel before entering the Park. I’ll follow up with the rest of the trip in subsequent posts. In the meantime, here is a link to the map I made of the places we went on this trip.

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