Livingston, Montana Hiking Guide

Hiking Guide to livingson MontanaThere are so many hiking opportunities near Livingston, Montana  it can be a challenge just  deciding on a specific trekking destination. Countless alpine lakes, impressive vistas and vast unspoiled wilderness await the adventurous hiker willing to get off the beaten path. Unlike other popular outdoor destinations in the Rocky Mountains, most hiking trails around Livingston, Montana, are relatively uncrowded — unless you’re counting the area’s flora and fauna.

Livingston is surrounded by three prominent mountain ranges: the Gallatin Range to the southwest, the Absaroka Range (part of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness) to the southeast and the Crazy Mountains (Crazies) to the northeast. All three ranges offer hundreds of miles of hiking, with unique geographic features and distinct terrain. Beyond these three mountain ranges, Livingston hikers can easily venture out to hike in the Beartooth Mountains and the Bridger Mountains, not to mention America’s first national park, Yellowstone. For this guide we’ve focused on the more popular hikes within 45 miles of Livingston.

Absaroka Range Hikes:

With over 700 miles of hiking trails, the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness is one of America’s most extraordinary roadless areas. Stretching from the boundless tundra plateaus just north of Yellowstone National Park to the towering peaks just outside Livingston city limits, the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness is a hiker’s dream. The lack of roads and limited access points make this part of Montana prime backpacking country.

Suce Creek Hiking Trail.

Description: A relatively flat trail close to Livingston, the route climbs gradually along Suce Creek and eventually leads to Livingston Peak (Mount Baldy). Suce Creek is a perfect day-hike if you’re looking for a quick outing close to town. See Suce Creek cross country ski article >
Location: 9 miles south of Livingston. Take Hwy 89 S. to East River Road, turn left onto Suce Creek Trailhead Road to trailhead.
Distance: 8.7 miles (one way)
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Maps: Livingston Peak USGS Quad

Deep Creek Trail, South Fork.

Description: A hidden treasure of a trail with varied terrain — convenient to Livingston. The Deep Creek trail starts in the foothills above Paradise Valley. After a moderate climb through open grassland and wildflower hills, the trail drops into a lush, heavily wooded canyon as it crosses the south fork of Deep Creek. Soon after the creek crossing you’ll enter the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. From here the trail steadily climbs to Davis Pass, which offers dramatic views.
Location: 12 miles south of Livingston. Take Hwy 89 S. to East River Road, turn left onto Deep Creek South Fork Road to trailhead.
Distance: 5.5 miles (one way)
Difficulty: Moderate
Maps: Livingston Peak and Brisbin USGS Quads

Insider Tip:
Be prepared. Make sure your pack is well stocked with water, sunscreen, bug spray, first aid kit, bear spray, compass, map(s) and rain gear. Many trails in this guide are remote and less traveled so extra preparation is advised.

Pine Creek Hiking Trail.

Description: A popular day-hike trail with spectacular views of the Absaroka Mountains. The trail starts at the Pine Creek Forest Service campground and follows the Pine Creek drainage into the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. One mile up the trail, Pine Creek Falls makes a beautiful destination for those wanting an easy day hike. For those serious hikers equipped for a long day hike, the trail ends at Pine Creek lake, a beautiful alpine lake in the heart of the Absarokas. See complete Pine Creek Lake Hiking article >
Location: 15 miles south of Livingston. Take Hwy 89 S. to East River Road, drive past the tiny town of Pine Creek, then turn left on Luccock Park Road to trailhead.
Distance: 5 miles (one way)
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
Maps: Dexter Point and Mount Cowen USGS Quads

Elbow Lake Hiking Trail.

Description: Elbow Lake rests at the foot of the stunning Mount Cowen cirque. This popular overnight backpacking trail offers many side-trip hikes and mountain climbing opportunities. With a gain of more than 3,500 feet through the rugged Absarokas, Elbow Lake is a demanding hike suited for more seasoned outdoorsmen. Primitive campsites are limited at the lake and Mount Cowen is considered a technical climb.
Location: 29 miles south of Livingston. Take Hwy 89 S., turn left on Mill Creek Road, cross the Yellowstone River and East River Road, then drive about 9 miles to #3280, then another 1.5 miles to trailhead.
Distance: 8 miles (one way)
Difficulty: Strenuous
Maps: Mount Cowen, Knowles Peak and The Pyramid USGS Quads

Passage Falls Hiking Trail.

Description: An easy day hike to a beautiful waterfall, the Passage Falls trail is a relatively easy hike with a big payoff. The trailhead is located about 2.5 miles past the Snowbank Campground just off Mill Creek Road. The well-traveled trail follows Passage Creek for the first 1.2 miles, then veers to the right at the Wallace Creek junction. The trail narrows near the end and drops down into the drainage for a close-up encounter with this splendid waterfall in the Absaroka Mountains.
Location: 34 miles south of Livingston. Take Hwy 89 S., turn left on Mill Creek Road, cross the Yellowstone River and East River Road, then drive about 13 miles to trailhead on right.
Distance: 2 miles (one way)
Difficulty: Easy
Maps: The Pyramid USGS Quad

Insider Tip:
Gear Up! Before you hit the trail, stop in at Timber Trails, Livingston’s best outdoor gear shop, for supplies, maps and some friendly advise.

Thompson Lake Trail.

Description: A long day hike or ideal overnight hike to a mountain lake near Monitor Peak. The first section of the Thompson Lake trail ascends though an open valley with traces of an old forest fire. The trail eventually becomes more wooded as it climbs toward the lake. Thompson Lake offers many opportunities for side excursions, fishing and camping.
Location: 28 miles south of Livingston. Take Hwy 89 S., turn left on Mill Creek Road, cross the Yellowstone River and East River Road, then drive about 9 miles to the West Fork of Mill Creek, drive 5.5 miles to the end of the road and trailhead.
Distance: 5 miles (one way)
Difficulty: Moderate
Maps: Mineral Mountain USGS Quad

Sixmile Trail, South Fork.

Description: The Sixmile trail culminates deep in the Absaroka-Beartooth wilderness with outstanding views of Monitor Peak and the surrounding high country. The trail starts out along the creek with multiple crossings. At one mile the trail splits with an outfitter camp trail and crosses the stream to the north. The trail climbs abruptly above the creek and continues to the divide above the North Fork of Sixmile Creek. The trail is faint toward the end?use a good map and pay attention to cairns.
Location: 40 miles south of Livingston. Take Hwy 89 S., at 30 miles turn left on East River Road then right on Daily Lake Road and right on Six Mile Creek Road to trailhead.
Distance: 9.5 miles
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
Maps: Mineral Mountain and Monitor Peak USGS Quads

West Boulder Meadows Trail.

Description: The West Boulder Meadows trail offers some of the best backcountry fishing in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. The wide open valley, stunning views and easy river access make the area a popular destination for beginning backpackers. The trail starts at the edge of the campground on a dirt road. After about 100 yards, turn left onto the designated trail. For the first mile the trail is flat and wide before it starts climbing toward the meadows. After a series of switchbacks, the meadows appear at 3 miles. There are plenty of backcountry camping sites and opportunities for side trips. For those wanting to go farther, the trail continues another 5 miles to Falls Creek trail.
Location: 16 miles southeast of Livingston. Take Swingley Road east from Livingston 14 miles to the West Boulder Road, turn right, to National Forest campground and trailhead.
Distance: 3 miles to meadows (one way)
Difficulty: Easy
Maps: Mount Cowen and Mount Rae USGS Maps

Gallatin Range Hikes:

On the western edge of Paradise Valley, the Gallatin Range rises gently compared to the Absarokas, stretching from Yellowstone National Park all the way north to Interstate 90 between Bozeman and Livingston, Montana. With 10,000-foot peaks, alpine lakes, and petrified forests, the Gallatin Mountains offer plenty of hiking opportunities. This guide will highlight hiking trails with access points on the eastern slope of the Gallatins.

Big Creek Trail.

Description: A popular trail with hunters and outfitters, the Big Creek trail follows Big Creek to the Gallatin Crest and a network of trails. Expect creek crossings and horse traffic from Mountain Sky Guest Ranch for the first three miles. The route has several side trails leading down to Big Creek and others that head up smaller drainages.
Location: 33 miles South of Livingston. Take Hwy 89 S., turn right on Big Creek Road, drive about 5 miles past Mountain Sky Guest Ranch to the end of the road and the trailhead.
Distance: 6 miles to Windy Pass (one way)
Difficulty: Moderate
Maps: Lewis Creek, The Sentinel and Ramshorn Peak USGS Quads

West Pine Trail.

Description: A newly constructed trail that traverses through the 2001 Fridley Fire burn area. From the trailhead the trail climbs a series of switchbacks to a ridge that offers nice views of Paradise Valley. From here the trail continues on a steep incline.
Location: 19 miles from Livingston. Take Hwy 89 S 8 miles, turn right on Old Yellowstone Trail North, after half mile veer left then right on Divide Road. Drive abot 4 miles before turning left on Trail Creek Road. After 3.5 miles turn right on Pine Creek Road, continue 3.5 miles to trailhead
Distance: 5 miles (one way)
Difficulty: Moderate
Maps: Big Draw USGS Quad

Buffalo Horn Pass:

Description: A hike along Trail Creek to a mountain pass and the Gallatin Petrified Forest, with inspiring views of the Absarokas to the east. From the trailhead at Tom Miner Campground, head west following Trail Creek, keep left at the Petrified Forest Interpretive junction. Continue up the creek to a large bowl, eventually reaching a four-way junction at Buffalo Horn Pass. For those wanting to go farther, head north at the junction to climb Ramshorn Peak.
Location: 45 miles south of Livingston. Take Hwy 89 S., turn right on Tom Miner Creek Road and drive another 8 miles to the National Forest campground. The trailhead is at the west end of the campground.
Distance: 4.5 miles (one way)
Difficulty: Moderate
Maps: Ramshorn Peak USGS Quad

Insider Tip:
Creek crossings can be treacherous, especially in June and July. Many of the longer trails in this guide may be snow-packed into June/July. To check trail conditions, stop in at the Gallatin National Forest office on Hwy 89 S. just south of Livingston.

Petrified Forest Interpretive Trail.

Description: A short day-hike in the Tom Miner area with petrified trees and fossils,  dramatic volcanic cliffs and caves. The trail starts at the edge of Tom Miner Campground. From here take the Trail Creek trail .2 miles to an open meadow, turn right at the Petrified Forest turnoff. Hike up through the petrified forest and massive lava rocks to the cliffs and caves.
Location:
45 miles south of Livingston. Take Hwy 89 S., turn right on Tom Miner Creek Road and drive another 8 miles to the National Forest campground. The trailhead is at the west end of the campground.
Distance: 1 mile (one way)
Difficulty: Easy
Maps: Ramshorn Peak USGS Quad

Crazy Range Hikes:

Considered an island range — isolated from the front range of the Rockies — the Crazy Mountains dominate the horizon north of Livingston, Montana. Often referred to as the “Crazies” by locals, the range has several unnamed peaks over 10,000 feet. The Crazies stretch about 40 miles north to south and measure about 15 miles wide. These impressive mountains are flanked by the wide open Yellowstone, Shields and Musselshell river valleys. There are plenty of stellar day-hiking and backpacking options in the Crazies for those looking to experience Montana’s rugged beauty. Public access to the Crazies is limited since the entire range is surrounded by private property. From an aerial perspective, the Crazies look like a checkerboard of private and public lands, so make sure to bring your maps and respect private landowners.  This guide will focus on hiking trails with access points on the western slope of the Crazy Mountains.

Cottonwood Lake Trail.

Description: A challenging day hike or overnight backpack to a pristine alpine lake high in the Crazy Mountains. The first part of the Cottonwood trail follows Cottonwood Creek on an old road. The route veers to the left at 2 miles and leaves the road as it climbs abruptly for about a mile. The trail levels out a bit before another strenuous climb to Cottonwood Lake. The lake has several good campsites.
Location: 34 miles northeast of Livingston. From Livingston drive 6 miles east on I-90 to Hwy 89 N. Drive 14 miles north to Clyde Park. A half mile past Clyde Park turn right on Cottonwood Bench  Road, drive 6.5 miles to junction, turn left for one mile then right on Upper Cottonwood Road. Continue another 4.5 miles and take a right at the Ibex Guard Station junction, drive another 3 miles to the trailhead.
Distance: 5.25 miles (one way)
Difficulty: Strenuous
Maps: Campfire Lake and Crazy Peak USGS Quads

Insider Tip:
We encourage Leave No Trace guidelines to minimize impact and preserve the majestic beauty of Montana. Leave what you find, minimize campfires, pack out waste and travel on designated trails.

Trespass Trail.

Description: A popular overnight backpack with unbelievable views of the Bridger, Castle and Absaroka Mountains. The route follows an old road for about a half mile before it veers left, then follows Trespass Creek for the next 5 miles through meadows and forest. Past this point the trail opens as it passes steep slopes on its way to the divide between Trespass and Sweet Grass Creek. Plan on spending some time here as the views are amazing in every direction. Continue another mile down to Campfire Lake. The lake has several good campsites. For those wanting to go farther, the trail continues another 15 miles to the Half Moon Campground Trailhead on the eastern slope of the Crazies.
Location: 34 miles northeast of Livingston. From Livingston drive 6 miles east on I-90 to Hwy 89 N. Drive 14 miles north to Clyde Park. A half mile past Clyde Park turn right on Cottonwood Bench  Road, drive 6.5 miles to junction, turn left for one mile then right on Upper Cottonwood Road. Continue another 4.5 miles and take a right at the Ibex Guard Station junction, drive another 3 miles to the trailhead.
Distance: 7.5 miles (one way)
Difficulty: Strenuous
Maps: Campfire Lake USGS Quad

About the Author:

Brad Bunkers, GoLivingston.com founder and editor, wears many creative hats. In addition to producing the Livingston travel guide, he owns the Livingston, Montana graphic design and branding company, Engine 8; maintains a Livingston fine art studio; produces the international arts journal, HoboEye; and sits on two non-profit boards. Visit engine8design.com or bradbunkers.com to learn more about Bunkers.

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