Overview: Just north of Yellowstone National Park in Montana lies the vast Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. Containing almost one million acres, this wilderness is the largest single land block above 10,000 feet in the contiguous 48 states. This region also boasts the highest mountain in Montana, Granite Peak, which rises to 12,799 feet in elevation. And nearly 1,000 miles of trails lie within the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.
Outfitters: If you’d like, Hell’s A-Roarin’ Outfitters in Gardiner, Montana, will guide you through this vast area. Your hosts will be owners Warren and Sue Johnson. The Johnsons have been outfitting for three generations. Their son, Jeremiah, is a saddlemaker and an outfitter. Their daughter, Aimee, helps with the business.
Guests may stay right at the Johnson’s picturesque lodge overlooking the Yellowstone River valley and participate in rides ranging from an hour up to all-day picnic rides. The Johnsons provide pack trips to a base camp in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area. At the base camp, guests are provided with wall tents, woodstoves, wholesome meals, cots with foam pads, and a primitive shower.
Top day ride: Make sure your horses are in shape and used to difficult trail conditions. If you get in trouble, there may be no one around to help. For a Rocky Mountain high, take a day ride to the 10,016-foot Hummingbird Peak. Go about a half-mile south from camp to the intersection with Trail # 84, then take that trail going left. It’s a climb of 2,800 feet and about 2? hours to the top. The trail goes through subalpine and, finally, alpine conditions.
We tied our horses and walked the last distance to the mountaintop, where we enjoyed expansive views in all directions. Peer into the cirque-like Telephone Basin, across the Buffalo Fork, and to the Absaroka Divide.
Horse packing: We packed in ourselves. Our route into the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness was via the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park and the Hell Roaring Trailhead. Since it was July, the wildflowers were out in full force. Brilliant shades of yellow, pink, and blue were splashed generously across expansive meadows. Below our trail, a scarlet rivulet of Indian Paint Brush cascaded down a dry streambed.
Horse camping: Beaver Creek Camp is located where the trail crosses Beaver Creek. From our starting point, we rode about 14 miles, dropped 200 feet to the suspension bridge, then climbed up to 7,500 feet elevation. This camp is an excellent spot to spend several days. There’s ample grazing, and water is nearby. It’s centrally located with a number of day rides radiating out from camp
Horse-camping tips: Keep stock in electric corrals, picketed, or highlined 100 feet from streams and 200 feet from lakes. Protect trees, leave a clean camp, and spread manure. Limit group size and the number of days at one campsite to reduce impact on the land. If additional feed other than grazing is needed, use processed or certified weed-free feed to help limit the spread of noxious weeds.
Be bear aware: Be grizzly bear aware! Grizzlies and wolves frequent this region. Sleep at least 200 feet away from your campfire and cooking area. Hang your food and garbage at night. Keep food odors off clothes, tents, and sleeping bags. Avoid fresh, perishable, or smelly foods, such as bacon and sardines. The smell of fish can attract bears. Don’t clean fish in or near camp.
Kent and Charlene Krone combine their interest in photojournalism with a passion for horses. They enjoy sharing their horseback adventures in the United States and Western Canada.?When riding season starts, you can usually find them on the trail, checking out new places to ride.
Gallatin National Forest
Hell’s A-Roarin’ Outfitters
Montana Horses, Inc.
(888) 685-3697; (406) 285-3541
Trails Illustrated Maps
(Order Yellowstone National Park, Tower/Canyon map)