Beartooth area hiking in September

Old Jul 8th, 2010, 11:28 AM
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Beartooth area hiking in September

We are flying into Billings on Thursday night after Labor Day, will stay there for the night, then pick up rental car to spend Friday/Saturday/Sunday before heading back to Billings to fly out early afternoon on Monday.

My goal is to enjoy scenic mountain views and easy to moderate hikes, preferably both alpine and in the woods, We have been to Yellowstone once and had a great time. We drove out the NE entrance only as far as Cooke City. This time I want to focus on the Beartooth Highway and surrounding areas that you would recommend. Lodging is available most everywhere except not much inside Yellowstone, but that is not a priority this trip.

I am searching for trail information, but I am still sketchy as to where the best destinations are for our preferences--hikes of up to 10 miles at most, easy to moderate at that elevation. I've found a few descriptions, but haven't got them matched to a map yet.

I am not sure where to base ourselves in Red Lodge or Cooke City for 2-3 nights or whether to be mobile day to day to reduce mountain driving after a tiring walk.
Does anyone have walks/hikes they recommend so that I could see if they are closer to Red Lodge or Cooke City?

Good idea to go from Billings to Cooke City to Cody then to Billings to travel the Chief Joseph as well as Beartooth?

Has anyone explored the area north of Red Lodge -- Roscoe area?

Thanks for any help getting me focused. It all looks beautiful.
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Old Jul 8th, 2010, 11:44 AM
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I will top a trip report I did of our stay in the Red Lodge area. I cannot recommend highly enough the fantastic cabins we stayed in, Blue Sky Cabins (closer to Roscoe than Red Lodge). Great trip, great hiking.
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Old Jul 8th, 2010, 11:46 AM
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Let's see. Red Lodge over Cooke City - definitely. RL is a charming little town. CC is a cluster of buildings along the road.

Re hiking in the Beartooth - I'm not an expert in the area by any means. We just drove through it about three weeks ago. But, it was completely frozen over. Frozen lakes. Snow deeper than the car on the sides of the road. I can't imagine finding a trail for hiking. Snowshoeing maybe. But not hiking. Maybe there's a lot of melting in a couple of months, but it's hard to imagine.

We came out of Yellowstone through the Beartooth to Red Lodge and spent the night. Then drove down to Cody. Didn't do the Chief Joseph leg. The RL - Cody route was beautiful. We then drove from Cody to Little Bighorn to Billings.

We were completely blown away by the drive east out of Cody! Maybe someone has written about it but I missed it. I just picked a route that wouldn't have us backtracking.

Hwy 14 out of Cody is a pretty ride through Burlington and Greybull. But once you are in the Bighorn National Forest it is spectacular. I thought we were in Sedona! Red rocks everywhere. Gorgeous canyons then climbing again to alpine terrain. The drive back down to Dayton was gorgeous.
At Ranchester we got on the expressway (for the first time on the trip) and enjoyed making time to Little Bighorn and then on to Billlings.

I'm not sure if you are interested in Little Bighorn but I highly recommend that drive if you are.

We hung around west of Billings for a few days after that. I'm sure the drive south out of Billings to Red Lodge would be pretty as well.

I'm not sure I'd circle back from Red Lodge to Cody and the via Chief Joseph - unless it would be to hike in the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone. Now, THAT would be pretty (and unfrozen) hiking.
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Old Jul 8th, 2010, 01:26 PM
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Chief Joseph is a very pretty drive if you can arrange it.

We camped at Island Lake C.G., about midway between Cooke City and Red Lodge. We hiked from there along a chain of lakes and past a really pretty waterfall. It was pretty level the whole way.
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Old Jul 9th, 2010, 05:04 AM
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Definitely Red Lodge. But take a 7 minute drive to Bearcreek while you're there and eat at the Bearcreek Saloon. Fantastic steaks, extremely entertaining pig racing (proceeds go to a winner and a college scholarship for local kids) and walls covered with framed articles on the devastaing coal mine disaster that pretty much ruined the town. The mine processing buildings still stand up the road (you'll pass them on the way from Red Lodge) and the cememtery holding many of the miners is up the road on the other side. For more information on the disaster and what it did to the fine people of Bearcreek and Red Lodge (including some who built the Beartooth Highway!), I recommend the new book "GOODBYE WIFES AND DAUGHTERS." You can get it at Red Lodge Books while you're there, or on Amazon to prep for your trip.
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Old Jul 9th, 2010, 06:57 AM
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Connie,
I am finding Island Lake CG area is a consistently recommended trailhead and I've located it on the map.
Thanks.

I think we will base near Red Lodge for 1-2 nights to give us more flexibility. I'll get one of the guide books to decide on a list of alternative hikes to have at the ready. I'm looking at a couple to the north possibly for Friday (Mystic Lake, Sioux Charley Lake, Natural Bridge Falls) as well as along the Beartooth Highway (Lake Fork Trail, hikes around Island Lake CG) for Friday and Saturday. I have others suggested near Cooke City and have just started exploring down Chief Joseph (Clarks Fork).

We could stay in Red Lodge Saturday night or plan that once we finished hiking on Saturday that we continue over the pass to either Yellowstone (Cooke City and Canyon area) or Cody. Sunday we could then either look for wildlife in Yellowstone, return to the canyon or Mt Washburn, or else take the drive on 14 east out of Cody (there are a few lodges up in the Bighorn and something about a medicine wheel--I've never seen one).

We'll want to be somewhere with only a 2-3 hour drive to Billings on Monday morning to catch our early afternoon flight.
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Old Jul 9th, 2010, 10:13 AM
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US 14A from Lovell to Burgess Jct is a wonderful drive.

The Medicine Wheel is about a mile and a half hike from the parking area.

http://www.uwsp.edu/geo/projects/geo...s/medwheel.htm
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Old Jul 27th, 2010, 05:37 AM
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I received my hiking trail book and I think we have decided, dependent on weather and altitude adjustment--

Thurs - fly into Billings and spend the night (probably Country Inn, but may try Priceline)

Fri - stop at Walmart or outdoors store for bear spray and picnic supplies, drive to Red Lodge area and choose either Sioux Charley Lake hike up near Nye or Lake Fork Trail.
If weather just awful, drive down to Heart Mtn, medicine wheel, Hwy 14A and 310, and Greybull airport instead of hiking. Night in Red Lodge (going to call places this week. Pollard has rooms for sure. Also saw someone used Priceline in RL)

Sat - drive Beartooth with all the stops, views, lookout, etc. plus Lake Fork Trail if missed on Friday or Becker or Beauty Lake trail, spend night in Cooke City (so don't have to drive Beartooth Highway twice in one day). (several cabins and motels to call there this week)

Sun - open to return to hike on Beartooth or go into Yellowstone for wildlife viewing or driving trip to Greybull etc. Wait to book motel until we arrive and decide.

Mon - drive to Billings and fly home.

Based on the map and descriptions, my husband did not want to use Red Lodge for both Friday and Saturday because he didn't want to have to drive over the Beartooth to hike and sightsee, then drive all the way back over and down to RL in one day.

I'm not sure how much choice we will have about where to stay on Sunday night if the plan works out as preferred. Most of the small towns in the Bighorn Mtn area have 1-4 motels. So available rooms may dictate some of our last night plans.
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Old Jul 27th, 2010, 11:22 AM
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Just be ready for any kind of weather. Sept. snow isn't unusal there. Bearthooh is the only place in the lower 48 were I've been in a snow storm on the 4th of July.
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Old Sep 16th, 2010, 02:40 PM
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We are back from Montana/Wyoming!

The rental car agency parked the rental car at the Billings airport short term parking and put the keys over the visor (I kid you not). We fell into bed at the Country Inn/Suites paid for by combo cash/points.

Friday threatened rain most of the day, so we drove down to Greybull and managed to see the airplanes, but the museum has officially closed until the city or another entity can get funding. Plus many of the interesting airplanes are not part of the museum; they are privately owned. We stopped in Powell at a local restaurant for lunch. We drove too much between Billings/Greybull/Red Lodge, but we enjoyed the small towns. We spotted two bald eagles and pronghorn.

Despite the signs, we did not stop for the world famous banana cream pie and headed to Chateau Rouge (condo complex) by Red Lodge for a $99 studio condo with kitchen. We had time for a short hike, so I chose one close to town that I had not researched much. The gravel road made getting there take longer than expected. It was an interesting area, much burned, but lovely stream/falls. I was exhausted by the time we went to the only grocery in Red Lodge to gather materials for dinner/breakfast/lunch before the store closed at 8pm.

The hike along Lake Fork was better the next day with some burn area, but lots of green and the stream as a constant companion. We had an enjoyable in/out walk in the morning, but met a steady stream of hikers and their dogs when we left around midday.

The drive up and over the Beartooth was interesting. I think I agree with the Congressmen who questioned its need when funding was requested to build it. An amazing feat of engineering in that terrain and climate that must be cleared and repaired every year. We stopped for photos and ate lunch in the car up on top. I was really impressed by the 3 cyclists we met at the MT/WY sign and later saw in Cooke City. The wind was howling and the temp low, so my husband was not interested in any of the hikes I had listed along the highway, including Island Lake CG (which was closed). We stopped at the Top of the World, drove off on a couple of jeep trails, part way up to the lookout tower (road closed), waterfall, etc., getting out to take short walks and snap photos. If my husband hadn't turned out to let a car pass, we would have missed the Beartooth! I realized why the hiking book listed mileages for everything--there are very few signs for trailheads, Forest Service roads, etc. and so we missed several stops I meant to make.

Cooke City reminded us of towns in Alaska. Slim pickings for commercial services, tourist center closed (I think he was at lunch), lots of ATVs and trucks. We ate good food at the cafe and got some sleep at the Super 8.

We did decide before leaving home to stay in Yellowstone at Lake Lodge cabins our last night. We didn't spend time in that part of the park before and we had time to drive to Billings the next day. So, Sunday we took our best hike of the weekend just east of Cooke City to Vernon Lake--5 mile RT with some elevation gain, but no people after .75 mile. The lake was lovely and one of the quietest places I have ever been. The dragonflies were the loudest noise most of the time. A hawk came by, a couple of ducks, a squirrel. No road noise, population noise, or airplanes. We sat there for a long time watching the insects and birds, picking some mint to sniff, and just chilling out.

We missed the major wildlife in YNP because we headed into the park in the early afternoon. We did stop for bison and pronghorn and the canyon, but not for the ranger truck with many cars near the river, which to me says bear. We saw many the last visit. We stayed in a Pioneer cabin at Lake Lodge, which is pretty sad, but relatively cheap and quiet. Dinner in the cafeteria was just fine followed by a shared pint of Huckleberry ice cream from the general store. Some lounging in the lobby and then on the porch in rocking chairs watching the bison walk by was enough for us.

The drive Monday back to Billings took as long as I had budgeted taking the speed limits into consideration. I had been kidding about how we didn't see much wildlife except bison (we hadn't tried), so as we drove out the east entrance we passed deer, elk, and a pair of moose right on the road. The drive through the canyons to Cody was scenic despite the rock hauling trucks barreling up the highway to YNP.

We had a little extra time when we reached Billings. Unfortunately the little museum by the airport was closed on Mondays. I told the TSA agent who checked my boarding pass how nice it was to go through security at a small airport....the screeners opened both my suitcase and my backpack. The suitcase contained a round cardboard oatmeal box with our leftover oatmeal and brown sugar--he told me that was the suspicious object. The other fellow did not tell me what was interesting in the backpack--flashlight, GPS, 2 sets of binoculars, digital camera, cellphone?

I would love to have access to mountains like that for hiking at least once a month, but I'm not sure we could handle the winter weather. I'll download my photos and maybe load one as my screensaver as a reminder of how peaceful and beautiful that corner of MT/WY is.
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Old Sep 16th, 2010, 02:56 PM
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Great report. If you decide to share your photos, I'd love to see them.
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