Backpacker Magazine Great Falls, MT: Renshaw Lake Loop 

This 13.9-mile backcountry getaway features a secluded mountain lake, countless stream crossings, and views across untouched wilderness.

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Author: Backpacker Magazine
Date: 22 Aug 2008 11:40:25 PM
Activity: Hiking
State: Montana (MT)
Distance: 13.86 mi  (Change units)
Survey Elevation: Total Gain: 3307 ft
Total Loss: 3308 ft
Net Change: -1 ft
Difficulty: 7 / 10
USGS Topo Map: Benchmark, Patricks Basin, Wood Lake
Tags: Augusta, Great Falls, Helena, Montana
Rating:   1 rating(s) Rate it

Get an early start to squeeze this 13.9-mile loop into one day, or savor this super-scenic trip over the course of a weekend. From the overflow parking area in Benchmark, follow Benchmark Creek Trail to the northeast. The trail parallels and crisscrosses its namesake creek—and several tributaries—for the first 3.7 miles. (Tip: Bring an extra pair of socks.) Near mile 4, the path crests an unnamed summit, then climbs to the southeast before dropping down to Renshaw Lake, a quiet mountain tarn rimmed by conifers and a steep scree field. Set up camp beneath the trees, or continue the hike, following Renshaw Creek past wildflowers and grassy meadows. After 8.4 miles, turn right at the T-junction for the return trip, paralleling Fairview Creek. The hike finishes off with an easy, 1.6-mile road walk back to the trailhead.

-Mapped by Mark Taylor

TO TRAILHEAD: I-15 N to exit 290 to MT 200 to MT 21 to US 287 to Augusta, MT. Turn right onto Manix St. In 374 feet, turn left onto Laura St. In 0.4 mile, continue on Augusta-Ranger Station Rd./Bench Mark Rd./Nilan Rd. In 14.2 miles, turn left to stay on Bench Mark Rd. In 9 miles, continue straight onto Ranger Station Rd. In 4.5 miles, bear right onto Wood Canyon Rd. In 2 miles, turn right at 3-way intersection. Drive past the sign for Benchmark Creek Trail, then turn right into the overflow parking lot.

Position Format: Datum:

Renshaw Lake

Distance: 13.86 mi Points: 477
Total Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi
Active Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi

Points of Interest


Location: 47.494494, -112.884302
From the overflow parking area, follow Benchmark Creek Trail to the northeast. Ahead, the trail parallels its namesake creek.


Location: 47.500851, -112.868536
Rock hop across a clear stream crowded with willows (the first of many stream crossings).


Location: 47.505084, -112.861948
Walk upstream and cross the creek on rocks and logs.


Location: 47.508534, -112.858901
Cross creek (easy crossing) and continue hiking northeast.


Location: 47.510665, -112.850876
Take off your shoes for this lengthy ford up Bench Mark Creek (you'll walk through a ripple at the end of the ford).


Location: 47.519157, -112.843795
Stay left @ trail fork.


Location: 47.526497, -112.835182
Crest an unnamed summit that was burned in the 2007 Ahorn Fire. From here the trail winds to the southeast toward Renshaw Mountain.


Location: 47.516215, -112.822595
From this vantage point, you can see Renshaw Lake nestled between forested slopes to the southeast. Next, the trail descends a ridge north of Renshaw Creek.


Location: 47.518186, -112.814269
Turn right @ T-junction, heading south. In 700 feet, keep left @ junction.


Location: 47.515579, -112.810989
You're almost to Renshaw Lake. Bear right @ 3-way junction, and cross the wooden bridge. Ahead: The numerous trails that crisscross the route all lead to the lake.


Location: 47.513496, -112.814072
Renshaw Lake: Drop your packs and take a break (or stay the night) at this small mountain lake rimmed by conifers and a steep scree field. During the summer, fish, relax, and take a dip. Next, go back to Waypoint 10 and turn right @ Y-junction.


Location: 47.513641, -112.800606
Hike past wildflowers and meadows on the descent to Renshaw Creek. Cross Renshaw Creek in 0.5 mile.


Location: 47.496415, -112.799377
Turn right @ T-junction. Hike west along the foot of Burn Top Mountain.


Location: 47.492100, -112.817757
Here, the dirt trail cuts across a small, grassy meadow flanked by conifers and impressive views of a rugged ridge to the south.


Location: 47.477245, -112.850716
Stay right, heading southwest above Fairview Creek.


Location: 47.476985, -112.864308
Turn right onto Bench Mark Road. Follow 1.6 miles back to the parking area.

Views of Renshaw Lake

Location: 47.516679, -112.821736
©Mark Taylor

Creek Crossing

Location: 47.500735, -112.868364
©Mark Taylor


Location: 47.502736, -112.864072
©Mark Taylor


Location: 47.508592, -112.858729
©Mark Taylor

Woodpecker Nest

Location: 47.510708, -112.854888
Woodpecker nest to the right of the trail. ©Mark Taylor

Water Crossing

Location: 47.510722, -112.850661
©Mark Taylor

Small Waterfall

Location: 47.512389, -112.849224
©Mark Taylor

Rocky Peak

Location: 47.511389, -112.850168
Stop and watch the early morning sun hit the cliffs. ©Mark Taylor

Rocky Slopes

Location: 47.515853, -112.849653
©Mark Taylor

Ahorn Fire

Location: 47.525576, -112.834225
©Mark Taylor

Trail Junction

Location: 47.515346, -112.811179
©Mark Taylor

Renshaw Lake

Location: 47.513346, -112.812982
©Mark Taylor


Location: 47.513491, -112.813540
©Mark Taylor

Rocky Peak

Location: 47.491399, -112.819505
©Mark Taylor

Trail Views

Location: 47.482409, -112.841950
©Mark Taylor


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