Backcountry hikes in Montana and Wyoming

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of March 21-27, 1996
Bike touring in Provence
Desert backpacking adventures
Hiking the Blue Ridge Mountains
Camping on California's north coast
Backcountry hikes in Montana and Wyoming

Backcountry hikes in Montana and Wyoming
Question: I am beginning to plan a multi-location backpacking trip in Wyoming and Montana. My timetable is early May. Can you recommend some areas?

Noel Austin Copeland
Traverse City, MI
[email protected]

Wyoming's Wind River Range
Adventure Adviser: Aside from the obvious places I'm sure you're considering (Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks), you'll want to spend some time chasing down a few less-trammeled backcountry routes. Keep in mind, though, that in early May, many of the higher peaks will still be snow-covered and fresh powder is always a possibility.

That said, you may want to give yourself a little leeway. Consider spending a night or two in a homey bed and breakfast before heading into the wild Montana wilderness. You can't do much better than The Bungalow B&B, about 40 miles north of Helena near Wolf Creek and only 20 miles down the trout-filled Missouri River from the Gates of the Mountain Wilderness Area, with its nearly 50 miles of hiking trails. A good place to start is the nine-mile Refrigerator Canyon Trail, which taps into a network of hiker-friendly routes that can provide anything from a quick afternoon jaunt to a four-day, 30-mile backcountry loop. For maps ($3) and information, contact the Helena Ranger District at 406-449-5490. When you're ready to throw down your pack, head back to The Bungalow and sink into an overstuffed sofa in front of the roaring fire, or spend a morning casting your line into the Missouri along the eight-mile stretch from Holter Dam to Craig. A double room in The Bungalow will set you back $65-$75 per night, including a gourmet breakfast--a crucial pre-hike fuel-up. For more information and reservations, call 406-235-4276.

Another don't-miss destination in the Northern Rockies is the 100-mile-long Wind River Range in west-central Wyoming. Much of the nearly 800 miles of backpacker-friendly terrain is well above timberline, with plenty of granite-faced precipices and glacial cirques to keep things interesting. A good entry point into the Winds is from Big Sandy Trailhead at Big Sandy Campground, about 25 miles southeast of Boulder off State Route 353. A whole maze of trails departs from that point, so you'll have your choice of short, five-mile hikes and multiday backpacking loops. Don't forget, though, that there will still be plenty of snow to contend with in early May, which is why the campground itself doesn't open until mid-June. For detailed trail information, contact the Forest Service ranger station in Pinedale at 307-367-4326.

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