A Trip To Earthquake Lake

VW Bus Oru Kayak

By Becca Skinner

Light poured through the windows as we drove down the bumpy backroad in Montana. 

Natalie, the VW Volkswagon bus that my boyfriend, Eduardo owns, is the classic
adventure-mobile. She comes with a couch-convertible, fold-out bed in the back, plenty of room to chop vegetables on the cooler, and enough space to hide from potentially rainy afternoons.

We found a place to park for the night, coupled up next to the lupine, Indian paintbrush and sage that filled the backcountry. From the bus you could hear the faint sound of the creek that was down the hill, full of native trout. Summer in Montana is by far my favorite season- despite the oftentimes ruthless mosquitos.  

Kayaking Misty Morning Montana

Our mission was to paddle through sections of Earthquake Lake the next morning, a hauntingly beautiful body of water in the middle of Southwestern Montana.  

Earthquake Lake, or more casually known as “Quake Lake,”  got it’s name from the geological event that happened in 1959. The earthquake caused a landslide into the Madison River and created a natural dam. I had read that the sediment in the slide was 80 million tons and traveled at a rate of nearly 100 miles per hour. It was the largest earthquake to hit the state of Montana and had tragically killed 28 people who were camping along the banks.  

Now, at a depth of 190 ft., dead trees stand out from the water as a reminder of where the ground once was. It’s nearly 6 miles long and it’s wild to kayak around the bases of the trees. 

Eduardo cooked us dinner the night before our paddle. The steelhead trout cooked in a cast iron lid and vegetables simmered over the coals of the fire. My dog, Vedauwoo, eagerly waited for us to hand the plates for her for dish duty.  

Paddling with the dead

It’s been on both Eduardo and my bucket lists to find out more about Quake Lake. It’s only a short drive from our hometown of Bozeman, and the kayaks gave us a good excuse to explore it by water. We had also heard it made for some challenging but unique fly fishing.  

The next morning, we drove to one of the overlooks at the lake with a kayak set up in the back. It was sunrise and as Ed started to paddle out, we spotted a big bald eagle stationed on one of the trees. The eagle chattered- one of my favorite sounds of wilderness- as he kayaked around the bases of trees in a space that used to be grass covered forest floor.  

When our stomachs started growling, we packed up the boats and hiked back to Natalie, parked at an overlook of the lake. Eduardo made seriously delicious elk chorizo and duck egg tacos, and then we pulled out the fly rods to cast the line before we had to race back to town to enter the real world.  

The trip was too short, but it definitely won’t be our last time to Quake Lake to explore and fish it’s wilderness.  

Hiking with a kayak