NOTE: The last section of this hike is trailless, make sure you are comfortable with that first.
Gneiss Lake in the Tobacco Root Mountains is an amazing hike. The trail heads out from the parking lot of the very alluring Branham Lakes. These lakes are gorgeous on their own and seem to be a popular location to hang out and camp. You cross a pathway at the South end of the lake and meander several switchbacks through the forest. After a half mile, the forest opens up into a field with fantastic views of the surrounding mountain and valley you will be climbing up. The hiking is fairly easy with a gradual ascent of a quarter-mile. You soon hit a rocky valley wall and climb up through a very switchback trail. This is where you gain the most ascent (which isn’t really that long). Once you hit the mountain pass ridgeline, you are treated to some of the most incredible views of the Tobacco Root Mountains. Any direction you look features an impressive view. From here there is no designated trail to Gneiss. In order to arrive at Gneiss, you head almost directly south from the pass over an exposed high field. You will lose a little elevation while crossing over the rocky valley, but it is fairly easy to navigate. The trailless section is only 3/4’s of a mile before you reach the lake. An incredible reward for such a short hike!
Looking to add on another part to this day hike? Consider combining this with Thompson Reservoir.