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Jun 09 2016

Steer Clear of the Crowds

Yellowstone is going to be packed this summer. We offer some nearby alternatives.

Exploring Montana, Featured

With the celebration of the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary, Yellowstone is bound to be crowded this summer. So here are a few trails where you can avoid the crowds and beat the heat, courtesy of MWA’s new online hiking guide, hikewildmontana.org.

Bacon Rind Creek Trail

Be prepared for in-your-face views of Cone Peak, Redstreak Peak, and White Peak as you crest Red Mountain Saddle. The Bacon Rind Creek Trail starts with 2 miles of flat, easy hiking through grizzly and moose habitat in the far northwest corner of Yellowstone. The serious climbing begins when the trail leaves the park and enters the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, but there are lots of opportunities to stop, catch your breath, and turn around to drink in the views of the Gallatin Range or the carpets of spring wildflowers.

Round-trip distance: 11 miles
Total elevation gain: 2,400 feet
Land Management: Yellowstone National Park, Lee Metcalf Wilderness, Custer-Gallatin National Forest

Sheep Lake Trail

Enjoy a variety of terrain in the Lionhead Recommended Wilderness, just northwest of West Yellowstone. The Sheep Lake Trail follows Sheep Creek through shady forest, detours to a waterfall, then pops into lush open meadows before reaching Sheep Lake, nestled in a cirque framed by numerous peaks. To learn more about the geology of the Lionhead area, tour the nearby Quake Lake Visitor Center to learn about the earthquake that created Quake Lake.

Round-trip distance: 13 miles
Total elevation gain: 2,630 feet
Land Management: Lionhead Recommended Wilderness, Custer-Gallatin National Forest

Buffalo Horn Trail

Watch for marmots, mountain goats, and petrified wood on the long, gentle climb up Buffalo Horn Trail to Ramshorn Lake. The trail meanders along creeks, through thick forest, into high alpine meadows. Fortress Mountain and Ramshorn Peak loom above the lake and provide habitat for mountain goats.

Round-trip distance: 12.5 miles
Total elevation gain: 1,900 feet
Land Management: Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area, Custer-Gallatin National Forest

Pine Creek Lake Trail

Soak tired feet in alpine Pine Creek Lake. Although many families explore the easy 2.5-mile, round-trip hike to Pine Creek Falls, far fewer hikers continue on for the much steeper trek up to Pine Creek Lake. Those who make the effort are awed by the picturesque views of this alpine lake surrounded by 10,000’ Mount McKnight and Black Mountain. Soak up the sunshine on the granite slabs around the lake.

Round-trip distance: 10.5 miles
Total elevation gain: 3,826 feet
Land Management: Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area, Custer-Gallatin National Forest

These are just a few of the trails featured on hikewildmontana.org. With the help of more than 70 MWA volunteers who hiked, photographed, and mapped 200-plus trails, hikewildmontana.org offers a one-stop shop where you can discover new trails, view inspiring photos, get up-to-date trail conditions, and add your own trail descriptions or trip reports. Explore it to find your own special places to get away and cool off this summer. While you’re there, give thanks for the quiet and solitude of our wilderness areas.

- Barbara Geller, MWA volunteer & contributor to hikewildmontana.org