The Absaroka Range (pronounced ab-ZORE-kuh) is a 150-mile-long sub-range of the Rocky Mountains. The range stretches from northern Wyoming to Livingston, MT. The range forms the eastern boundary of Yellowstone National Park and the western edge of the range is sharply defined by the Yellowstone River.
The Absaroka Range area has been home to humans for thousands of years. The Crow Peoples were the first known inhabitants of the area, and the range is named for them. Absaroka is the French interpretation of the Hidatsa name for the peoples of the area. The word roughly translates to “children of the crow” or “children of the large-beaked bird.”
The Absaroka Range is one of the most primitive mountain ranges in the western United States and is almost completely protected by Federal land designations. The Montana section of the Absaroka Range lies within the Shoshone National Forest and the Custer-Gallatin National Forest.
A large portion of the Absaroka Range resides in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. This area is protected by the Federal Government due to its pristine ecosystem and importance for protecting certain wildlife and plant species.
This area of the range has limited recreational opportunities and motorized vehicles and hunting are not allowed in this part of the range.
Absaroka Range Statistics
- Highest Elevation: 13,153 feet (4,009 meters) – Francs Peak, Wyoming
12,807 feet (3,904 meters) – Granite Peak, Montana
- Most Recognizable Peak: Granite Peak
- Season: Spring, Summer, Fall
It is important to note that with so much of the Montana section of the Absaroka Range being tucked within the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, recreational activities are relatively limited to those that you can do on foot.
Additionally, the Wilderness Area is closed during the winter so activities like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are limited to the parts of the range that reside only within the National Forest.
Hiking is by far the most popular activity within the Absarokas. With much of the Montana portion of the range being within the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness area, hiking is about the only option you have for seeing some of the most spectacular peaks within the United States. There are ample hiking trails within the Wilderness area as well as in the National Forest.
Within the National Forest areas, mountain biking is allowed and there are some really great opportunities for mountain biking in this section of the Absarokas. Keep in mind that mountain biking is prohibited within the Wilderness area, so be aware of boundaries and for best practice, carry a map of the range with you when mountain biking.
Backcountry camping is highly popular in the Absarokas. Since many of the hiking trails within the Wilderness areas take travelers to pristine glacial lakes and remote locations with some of the most amazing views, camping is highly popular in this area.
Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are popular winter activities for areas within the Absaroka range that reside within the National Forest boundaries. Many of the trails along the eastern side of the Absaroka range will be accessible through the winter. Trails within the Wilderness area are closed during the winter months.
Fishing within the Absaroka Mountains is another widely popular recreational activity. Many dedicated fishing enthusiasts will hike many miles into the backcountry of the Absaroka Mountains to fly-fish in pristine glacial lakes.
The Yellowstone River which runs along the western edge of the range is popular for fly-fishing and is the only place where you can catch a Yellowstone Trout.
There are plenty of trail options within the Absaroka Range. Most of the trails have limits to their use, and in general, most trails are designated for pedestrian and horse use only. It is also important to note that many of the trails in this range pass through bear (both grizzly and black) habitats.
Visitors to this area should be aware of safe hiking practices for bear territory. Additionally, visitors to the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness area should check the wilderness-specific regulations on the National Forest website.
East Fork Boulder River
A perfect hike for all skill levels of hikers, the East Fork Boulder River trail is a really popular hike within the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area. This busy trail is 6.4-miles out and back with only 892-feet of elevation gain.
The trail follows the valley of the east fork of the Boulder River. This trail has great views and is a favorite for beginner backpackers. From this trail, you can also pick up the Lake Plateau trail for some added distance.
Pine Creek Falls
A really short hike to a pretty waterfall is what you get with the Pine Creek Falls trail. This trail is very busy and is popular with families due to the short distance (2.5-miles out and back) and minimal elevation gain (390 feet).
Though short, this hike is rated as moderately difficult due to the number of down trees across the trail. The road to the trailhead can be a bit rough, so it’s best for SUVs or trucks with higher clearance.
The Thompson Lake trail is really popular in the Absaroka range for backcountry camping. With some nice, well-established camping spots around Thompson Lake, this is a great trail for beginner backpackers. The trail is relatively flat with only 1,801 feet of elevation gain, most of which is over the last couple of miles.
The total out and back distance for this hike is 11.7 miles. If you leave early you can do some exploring around the lake. Bears have been seen in this area, so be prepared with bear spray and bear bells.
The hike to Passage Falls is another short, relatively easy hike. Out and back the Passage Falls trail is only 5.1-miles making it a nice half-day hike. Many people don’t take this trail because it passes through the burn area from the Wicked Fire.
However, if you are OK with minimal trees, this is a nice hike with great spring and summer wildflowers. The end of the trail to the falls has some pretty steep switchbacks which can be daunting for some hikers.
West Boulder Meadows
Located outside of the Absaroka Wilderness Area in the Custer Gallatin National Forest, the West Boulder Meadows trail is a nice, family-friendly hike. The 8.5-mile out and back trail has minimal elevation gain and nice views of a creek and valley.
Because this trail is in the National Forest, you will see more people, and more use types, including hunting and horseback riders. The trail follows the valley, so over the 8.5-miles, you’ll experience less than 1,000 feet of elevation gain.
The Glacier Lake trail actually starts in Wyoming and crosses into Montana. This trail is quite popular thanks to its amazing views, moderate climb, and short distance. At only 4.6-miles out and back the Glacier Lake trail is a perfect half-day hike for families.
Besides Glacier Lake, this trail has a couple of creek crossings and smaller lakes along the way. The total elevation gain on this trail is 1,492 feet, which is respectable but not too difficult.
Granite Peak is the highest point in the Montana Absaroka Mountains. The 22.6-mile, out and back trail is highly popular as a multi-day trail for backpackers wishing to do some backcountry camping. Along the way, you’ll get many glimpses of mountain goats, wildflowers, and the rugged Absaroka peaks.
There are a number of offshoot trails along this hike if you would rather not take the full 22-mile trek. The last bit of the trail (approximately 200 feet) is considered a technical climb due to the steep and rocky incline. If you are planning on making it to the summit, we recommend that you bring a rope and appropriate safety equipment to make the final ascent to the summit safe.
Lake Plateau Trail
This loop trail is a great option for backpackers that want to do some backcountry camping. At 24.4-miles long and 5,442-feet of elevation gain, this trail will challenge you but isn’t terribly difficult. This trail is relatively busy and is popular with those wanting to experience summertime wildflowers.
The views on this trail are also quite amazing. One thing to note is that with so many lakes on the loop of the trail, the bugs can be pretty aggressive. Make sure you bring bug spray, and even a head net to reduce the annoyance from flies and mosquitos.
Hellroaring Plateau Trail
Perhaps the most difficult part of the Hellroaring Plateau trail is the road to the trailhead. The dirt road to the trailhead is pretty rough and requires a high clearance 4WD vehicle or ATV. However, once you get to the top and the trailhead, you won’t be disappointed.
This 18.2-mile, out and back trail takes you past some of the most amazing views of the Absaroka Mountains. Much of the trail follows the ridge of the plateau, so once you get up the switchbacks to the top, the trail is quite moderate. Over the 18.2-miles you can expect 3,753 feet of elevation gain.
This seems like a lot, but much of it is on moderate climbs. This is a pretty popular trail, and there are some designated camping areas near the trailhead, so you could use this area as a base camp for other hikes.
Quinnebaugh Meadows uses the West Fork trailhead, which is also the same trailhead as the Lake Mary trail. This trail remains fairly flat with minimal elevation gain through the valley. This hike will end at Sundance Lake, a small glacial lake in the valley. This trail is relatively busy because it is so easy.
It is also heavily used by horse riders. The views of the Absaroka Mountains on this trail are quite impressive, especially after you pass the turn-off to Lake Mary. Many hikers on this trail will take a short excursion off of the West Fork Trail to Calamity Falls. It is a less than 1-mile-long hike to a nice small waterfall that is a popular rest point.
The hike to Lake Mary follows along the West Fork trail. It is a fairly manageable hike for most users, at 11.8-miles out and back. It is an easy day hike and ends at Lake Mary.
This spot will give you some spectacular views of the Absaroka Mountains and their rugged peaks. The trail takes you through some pleasant meadows and has a pretty steep, but manageable climb over the last mile or so of the trail. The total elevation gain on the trail is 2,276 feet.
Beartrack trail is considered by some to be difficult but not so hard for others. This trail is an 18.2-mile, out and back hike that takes you from Highway 121 to the top of the Silver Run Plateau. The trail is not very busy, so it is a nice option if you’re looking for a hike with minimal traffic.
This trail has some really amazing views, especially on the return hike. There are plenty of opportunities for wildlife and wildflower viewing along this trail. Most of the elevation gain on this trail occurs at the beginning of the trail. The total elevation gain for this hike is 4,475 feet.
Not a terribly popular trail, but one that really gives you everything you could want in a hike, the Suce Creek trail starts near Livingston, MT, and takes you 6.7-miles out and back along a path with amazing vistas, plenty of wildlife viewing, and some nice creek crossings.
This is not a terribly difficult trail, however, it does have a pretty good climb near the end of the trail. The total elevation gain for this trail is 1,443 feet.
Hiking to George Lake is a great summer hike for visitors that are in good hiking shape and are OK with doing a bit of uphill hiking. With 3,274 feet of elevation gain, this 10.8-mile hike offers some nice views and a peaceful hike through the forest.
Due to lingering snow on the trail, this hike is best during the summer or fall months. The trail ends at George Lake which is a nice place to stop for a snack.
Red Lodge Creek
Maybe not the most beautiful hike in the Absaroka Range, this hike will get you moving, and your heart pumping, if that’s what you’re looking for. The trail starts near Red Lodge and takes you out and back 14.8-miles.
The first few miles of the trail are pretty easy, but the bulk of the trail has 4,356 feet of elevation gain. This trail is popular for wildflower viewing in the spring.