Short Hikes |
Off the Beartooth Highway
There are many miles of trails in the Beartooth Mountains and the Wilderness Area. Most of these trails vary in elevation from about 5,000 feet to over 10,000 feet above sea level. Visitors from lower elevation areas should consider this before taking any strenuous hikes, since the body is slow to adjust to high elevations. Also in the Wilderness area are NO mechanical transportation devices allowed, not even bicycles. Be aware that the weather at high altitudes may be much colder (snow in July!) or windier than in Red Lodge, take warm clothes along and rain gear. Be absolutely sure to pack out ALL your trash.
The Lake Fork Road (Road #346) is off to the right of the Beartooth Highway (US Highway #212) as you travel south out of Red Lodge (approximately 10 miles) and well before coming to the switchbacks. A sign saying"Lake Fork" warns you of the turnoff (Mile Marker 59). The road crosses Rock Creek going up Lake Fork Creek about 1.25 miles to the trail head of the Lake Fork Trail. From this trail head you can either head upstream or down-stream. Upstream about 5.0 miles is Lost Lake and about 1:5 miles farther up is Keyser Brown Lake. The trail continues over the Sundance Pass and into the West Fork of the Rock Creek. Go as far as you like before returning to the trail head. Downstream (from across the foot bridge at the trail head) the trail parallels the creek and goes to the Lions Camp (about 1.2 miles). When you get to the camp, make a sharp left turn, cross the bridge and you are again on the Lake Fork Road.
As you continue up Highway #212 on the Beartooth Highway, turn right into the campground area (this is approximately 12 miles from Red Lodge). There you will find Parkside, Limber Pine, and Greenough Campgrounds and the Parkside picnic area. About 100 yards up from the Limber Pine Campground turnoff is a road that makes a sharp turn to the left (which continues up to the Hellroaring Plateau). On your right you will see a little-traveled trail heading down the valley. This trail parallels the Main Rock Creek going downstream about 2.5 miles to the Lake Fork Road. You can come back along the highway or have someone meet you at the Lake Fork Road.
A trail that begins at the Parkside Picnic Area is the Parkside National Recreation Trail. This 2.2 mile trail heads north up the canyon, past Greenough Lake and up to M-K Campground. At this point you will have to decide whether to follow the road or take the trail back to your vehicle.
From the up-stream end of the Greenough Campground, park and walk the 0.2 miles to Greenough Lake (another access to the Parkside National Recreation Trail). The small, shallow lake is stocked and is a favorite fishing place for children.
The road to Glacier Lake starts just after the Limber Pine Campground. Drive 7 miles up this Rock Creek Road to the trail head. The last few miles of this road are narrow and rocky, but passable for a high wheel base vehicle. DO NOT tow a trailer on the last few miles. From the trail head the trail climbs quite steeply some 2.0 miles to Glacier Lake. This is a beautiful area and well worth the hike. Take a lunch and be sure to take drinking water.
Just beyond the start of the Glacier Lake Road is the Hell Roaring Plateau road. DO NOT try to tow a trailer on it. The road is steep in spots, rough, narrow and with numerous tight switchbacks. Part way up you will find on your left a small, heavily-treed pond nestled in a pocket. Beautiful! Further on you will see signs of mining for Chromium ore (from the 1940's). The road ends as you break out onto the Hellroaring Plateau at the Wilderness Boundary. DO NOT drive beyond this point even though you can see car tracks wandering over the alpine plateau. Those tracks predate the establishment of the Wilderness Area and at that elevation nature is slow to heal old scars.
If your body is already adjusted to higher elevations, drive up the Beartooth Highway. Views from the switchbacks are just fabulous. At the top of the switchbacks is the Vista Point visitor area. Walk out on the short path to the overtook for a spectacular view of the Rock Creek Valley and Hellroaring and Silver Run Plateaus across the valley.
Up the road about 3 miles from Vista Point you will take a left hand turn. There is a parking lot and a trail, an old jeep trail to Line Lake (close to the state line). It is approximately a 2 mile hike to this little lake.
Farther up the highway (just after you cross the Wyoming State Line) you will see a vast, steep downsloping meadow on your right. Park at the small parking area. Down in the tight pocket below the meadow lie the jewel-like Twin Lakes. You cannot see the lakes from that parking spot but a little farther along the highway is a"Twin Lakes" sign and pull-off parking area. You may want to look at the lakes from there before returning to the parking area above the steep meadow. Hiking down is easy, but realize that you will have to hike up again. There is room to wander through the woods and along the lakes. Wild alpine flowers flourish. Carry drinking water, a picnic lunch, sweater and rain gear.
DAY HIKES off the West Fork of Rock Creek Road-Road #71
West Fork of Rock Creek Road #71 is west off Highway #212 on the south side of Read Lodge (before you get to the Red Lodge Beartooth Ranger Station). Approximately 3 miles west on Road #71, the road turns sharply left. A road sign lists Wild Bill Lake. The right fork leads to the Red Lodge Mountain ski area. Note: The ski area is closed May through October.
The Silver Run Trail is located about 4 miles from Red Lodge on the West Fork of Rock Creek Road #71. This trail will take you up to the Silver Run Plateau, then it will give you a choice to walk across the plateau to connect to the Timberline Trail or over to the Bear Trap Trail (which is off Highway #212 just south of the Lake Fork Road turnoff).
Wild Bill Lake is a barrier-free picnic area visited by wheelchair and other mobile-handicapped people. A gentle, smooth, 5% grade trail that leads up on a hard path to the lake and continues along the north side of the lake. There are two barrier-free decks over the water so that even wheelchair bound people can fish. We ask that non-handicapped people do not monopolize the fishing decks. At the picnic area adjacent to the parking area there are two barrier-free toilets and barrier-free picnic tables.
This area was developed with the help of the Youth Conservation Corps and a local Seabee Naval Reserve Unit. The lake is stocked with fish by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks. A Montana State fishing license is required to fish. Note: - Fishing License for both Montana and Wyoming can be purchased locally at the Red Lodge True Value located one street over from Broadway to the west.
There are no overnight camping facilities or sites at Wild Bill Lake - it is a day-use picnic area only. There is no developed water supply and there is no fee charged for day use. For camping, continue on one mile up the road to Basin Campground.
There are other undeveloped paths around the lake for visitors that are not wheelchair bound.
The trail head for the Basin Creek Lakes Trail (Trail #61, a National Recreation Trail) is just beyond Wild Bill Lake on the left side of the road about 6 miles from Red Lodge. This trail is a good"conditioning hike" before a person tackles more rigorous and longer hikes. It is about 2-1/2 miles from the trail head up to the lower Basin Creek Lake and another 1/2 miles beyond that to the upper Basin Creek Lake. The upper lake lies in a glacial cirque. There are no developed campsites and no tested water sources so you must practice the 'Leave No Trace', Outdoor Ethic and carry your drinking water or boil surface water.
The route follows an old logging road, then old and new sections of switchback trail up the tight Basin Creek valley. A quarter mile before you get to the lower lake, you will come upon the remnants of an old logging camp left over from the horse-logging days of the 20th Century. Later a forest fire heavily burned the area and much of it now is second or third growth timber. After the lower lake the trail goes around the south side of that lake, climbs a ridge, and joins Basin Creek again for the last steep 3/4 mile.
The Basin Creek Lakes Trail is closed to horse use except during the fall big-game hunting season.
If you want to continue up the West Fork Road, the Beartooth District map will show you where to access the East Rosebud, the West Rosebud, the main Stillwater and the West Fork of the Stillwater roads and deadened at the trailheads into the Wilderness. All of these areas are worth exploring.
As shown on the Beartooth District map and the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness map, there are many trails in the Beartooth District and over half of them access the Wilderness. In most cases these begin at one trail head and end at another many miles away. This necessitates your arranging to be picked up at the end of your hike or leaving a vehicle at the exit trail head before you start. The Rangers do NOT make such pickups or car deliveries.
Some longer hikes include the East Rosebud to Cooke City Trail, the Stillwater Trail to Cooke City. These trails can be a 26 or 28 miles hike, depending on the trail head where you end or begin your trip. These are not loop trails.
For local information, please contact the Beartooth Ranger District of the Custer National Forest at (406) 446 2103. They are located 3 miles south of Red Lodge on Highway #212.
More about Vacationing around Red Lodge
Horseback Pack Trips June 1st to September 15th - 4 and 5-day horseback pack trips.
Rodeo EVERY day at 8:30 pm in Cody June-August
River Rafting on the Stillwater or Yellowstone River.
Click on these maps to see them full size or right click and save to your computer, so you can print them out.
The Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness lies on the Montana-Wyoming border on the Gallatin, Shoshone and Custer National Forests near Yellowstone National Park.
The Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness derives its name from the Absaroka and Beartooth Mountain Ranges. The Absarokas are named after the Crow Indians (Absaroka being the Indian name for Crow) who inhabited much of south-central Montana prior to the white man's entrance into the area. The Beartooth Mountains were named after the likeness between a jagged mountain peak in the range and a bear's tooth.
The Beartooth Primitive Area (225,855 acres) and the Absaroka Primitive Area (64,000 acres) plus a considerable amount of roadless lands surrounding these two areas now form the Wilderness. The primitive areas were originally set aside during 1932 to protect their natural state.
In accordance with the Wilderness Act of 1964, President Jimmy Carter signed the legislation that created the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness on March 27, 1975. Inclusion of the Absaroka-Beartooths in the National Wilderness Preservation System was a long time effort of the late U.S. Senator Lee Metcalf (D-Montana), who introduced the original bill and was its primary advocate. Metcalf died January 12, 1978, less than three months before his goal was realized.
This vast wilderness contains two distinctly different mountain ranges. To the west lie the Absarokas characterized by stratified volcanic and metamorphic rocks forested valleys and rugged peaks. The Absarokas form a chain of mountains that includes the spectacular peaks east of the Paradise Valley between Livingston and Gardiner the northeastern corner of Yellowstone Park Pilot and Index Peaks south of Cooke City and the North Absaroka Wilderness in Wyoming. The Absarokas are home to a variety of wild animals notably the threatened grizzly bear.
The eastern side of the wilderness is dominated by the high granitic plateaus of the Beartooth Mountains. Hundreds of lakes lie among the bald rock and alpine tundra of the plateaus. This country is starkly beautiful but extremely fragile with unpredictable changes in weather. Wildlife that you may see includes moose mule deer mountain goats and bighorn sheep.
The ranges that comprise the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness are different - in climate, elevation, plant communities and wildlife. As a response to variable ecological conditions wilderness managers have divided the Absaroka-Beartooth into the east and west units. The high plateaus draining into the Clark s Fork and deep glaciated valleys of the forks of Rosebud and Rock Creeks comprise the east unit the rest of the wilderness is in the west unit.
The Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness is home to many wild creatures, among them some of the large mammals that evoke a feeling of true wildness: the bighorn sheep, mountain goat, moose, elk, and bears.
The forested valleys of the Absarokas support most species of large game animals. Deer, elk and moose may be seen in much of the area. The high barren ridges of the Beartooths support relatively little wildlife, although you are likely to hear the sharp call of the pika among the rocks, and occasionally mountain goats are seen. Golden eagles, falcons, and hawks may be spotted soaring above the crags.
One of the most intractable and stirring of the wildlife species in the wilderness is the grizzly bear. The Absaroka-Beartooth is on of the last strongholds of the great bear in the Yellowstone area.
At various times in the past, trout have been introduced in many of the lakes. Some now provide fishing for cutthroat, rainbow, and brook trout. Some lakes have very large fish, but most produce trout of the pan-sized variety due to short growing seasons and extremely cold water. In the Absarokas, several streams support native cutthroat populations, and one contains a rainbow trout fishery. Five of the larger lakes also contain cutthroat. Fishing in the Beartooths is limited almost exclusively to the high Mountain lakes.
The Wilderness includes a wide range of vegetation zones, influenced by elevation and local climate. At lower elevations from 6,000 feet to treeline, broad grass-sage meadows alternate with deep coniferous forest. Some of the common trees you will see in the wilderness are lodgepole pine, Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, and douglas fir. Near treeline, whitebark pine can be found. Wildflowers abound in the lower meadows throughout the summer and into the fall.
Treeline occurs between 9,000 and 9,500 feet in most areas. Above the last of the stunted mats of Krummholt (the dwarf form that trees adopt at high elevations) is a windswept world of alpine tundra. Vegetation is low to the ground and adapted to take advantage of pockets of warmth and moisture in the rocks. Although the alpine landscape appears barren, closer inspection of the hardy plants that thrive at this elevation reveals a myriad of dwarf wild flowers, lichens, and shrubs.
The plants in the wilderness evolved in this harsh climate over millions of years, and adaptation to the environment has made them hardy and strong. Yet they remain in a delicate balance that can be destroyed if they are disturbed.
The wilderness is a geological showcase of contrasting rock types, glaciation, and active land movement. The Beartooth Mountains are composed primarily of Precambrian granite. This granite has been uplifted and exposed, forming broad, gently sloping plateaus that rise to over 12,000 feet above sea level. Granite Peak, the highest mountain in Montana, is in the Beartooth Mountains.
The Absarokas, in contract, are dominated by stratified volcanic rocks of a much younger age. Erosion by glaciers and rivers has formed these mountains; steep rugged ridges alternate with forested valleys. Petrified wood and geodes may be found in the volcanic rock.
During the past several thousand years, glaciation has carved the mountains into deep U-shaped valleys with serrated ridges. Remnant alpine glaciers remain today on the Beartooth crest. You will find parallel grooves, or striations, on rocks, which mark the grinding passage of ancient glaciers.
The wilderness visitor can view many unique biologic and geologic features in the Absaroka-Beartooths. From the mountain peaks, tundra plateaus, lakes, and basins of the high elevations to the midslopes and deep canyons and valleys below, the Absaroka-Beartooth offers scenic panoramas. The visitor may prefer the views of the ragged rock peaks and sheer rock walls that plunge to talus slopes and canyon bottoms in the Beartooths, or perhaps the Absarokas will be more appealing where the dense forests at the lower elevations contrast nicely with the many intermingled mountain meadows before giving way to alpine meadows and patches of subalpine forest.
Glaciers: Much of the wilderness has been heavily glaciated. What were once V-shaped valleys are now U-shaped with near vertical rock headwalls exposed by the slow ripping movement of massive glaciers. Rocks and other debris have been deposited along the way. Glacial rock is strewn across many of the plateaus.
Mountain Peaks: The Beartooths contain numerous peaks above the 12,000 foot level. One, Granite Peak, is the highest in Montana at a lofty 12,799 feet. Granite Peak is actually one of a series of peaks in the Beartooths that roughly join to form a semicircle. Most of the peaks are barren, steep, rocky masses. Here, only lichens, snow algae, and an occasional wildflower can survive under these harsh conditions.
The peaks in the Absarokas are not nearly as high (Mt. Cowan is the highest at 11,206 feet) or nearly as numerous as the Beartooths: although some are very rough and rugged. In sharp contrast to the Beartooths, almost all of the Absaroka country has some sort of vegetative cover except for the very highest peaks and ridges.
Lakes and Streams: More than 640 lakes dot the landscape, most in the Beartooth country and along the high plateaus. Perched above deep canyons and tucked into basins and glacial cirques, each high lake presents a unique and idealistic setting for a wilderness experience. Many are quite small (pond size) but some do cover larger areas.
Innumerable streams wind their course through the wilderness. The clean, clear water that emanates from nine major drainages is a major contributor to the Yellowstone River system. The Absarokas are particularly abundant in streams.
Plateaus: The high plateaus add yet another dimension to the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. Many are located above timberline, usually around 10,000 feet elevation, and bear a strong resemblance to arctic tundras. These relatively flat plateaus characteristically break off sharply to intervening canyons and steep finger ridges. Plateaus below timber line are characteristically open and grassy.
Arctic tundra plateaus such as Beartooth and Hellroaring provide a unique, but extremely fragile, ecosystem. Most of the vegetation can be found around lakes and along stream courses, or in the few small parks situated in the lower areas. Several plateaus are quite scenic and contain high mountain lakes.
Plant Life: Buttercups, Shooting Stars and other wildflowers literally follow the retreating snowbanks each spring. The growing season in the Beartooths is particularly short, usually lasting a scant 6 to 12 weeks (June to August). In the Absarokas spring bloom arrives a little earlier and lasts a little longer.
Despite nature's harsh elements, the wilderness still supports a variety of plant communities. From the rock outcrop, snowfields, and alpine ridges that stand high above the forests, grasslands, and mountain meadows, the diversity in vegetation represented by each ecosystem is characteristic of this land.