Hiking Big Horn Peak In the Northwest Corner of Yellowstone National Park
Location: Big Horn Peak, Gallatin Range, Yellowstone National Park, Montana
Type: Out and Back
Rating: Grade I, Class 1
Trailhead: Black Butte Trailhead
Distance: 12.8 miles total
Time: 4 to 8 hours
Black Butte Trailhead Elevation: 6,845′ | 2086 meters
Big Horn Peak Elevation: 9930′ | 3026 meters
Total Vertical: 3245
Maps: Big Horn Peak, Mont.-Wyo. or Beartooth Publishing Maps
Forecast: Big Horn Peak Weather
After a brief hiatus from getting out and about in the mountains, the wildfire smoke cleared out and blue skies welcomed in another adventure. This time I was off on a solo mission to hike Big Horn Peak in the Gallatin Range of Montana. It’s just inside the boundary of Yellowstone National Park.
Big Horn Peak, the 259th highest peak in Montana, is located in the northwest corner of Yellowstone between Ramshorn Peak and Electric Peak along the Gallatin Skyline. The Gallatin ridge line separates the Paradise Valley and the Yellowstone River from the Gallatin Canyon and the Gallatin River. This mountain range is volcanic in origin, is grizzly bear friendly, and always offers up good views and fun adventures.
The hike starts from the Black Butte Trailhead, which is located off of Highway 191 about 2.5 miles south of the Yellowstone Park Boundary – the park boundary is about 16.7 miles south of the Big Sky turnoff. Black Butte Creek is situated between Dailey Creek and Specimen Creek on the east side of the road. It’s not very well marked, but you’ll be able to find it.
The parking for the Black Butte TH is located on the west side of the road. The actual TH is located about 100 meters north of the lot on the east side of the road. A small (maybe 12″x12″) sign marks the trail entrance, while no sign marks the parking area. Once you locate the trail, you’ll see the actual trailhead sign about 100′ in to the woods. Once you get here, you’re good to go.
The Black Butte Trail roughly follows Black Butte Creek into the mountains. It wanders across meadows and through pine forests as it slowly climbs. After 1.9 miles and about 600 feet, you reach a trail junction with an engraved sign telling you where to go and distances in both miles and kilometers.
The trail continues to skirt across meadows and through forests. Shortly after the trail junction, you’ll see a sign for WF1 – a campsite about .2 miles off the trail. You need a backcountry permit to camp within Yellowstone Park boundaries.
At about 3 miles, you cross Black Butte Creek and the trail gets steeper. Be sure to make noise as the this whole area is prime grizzly bear habitat. Ideally, you should hike in a group of 3 or more.
Soon the trail begins to switchback and the views of the Taylor Hilgards to the west will make you smile as they pop out over the distant skyline of the Madison Range. Eventually the trail hits the ridge line offering up views deeper in to Yellowstone National Park.
In the last mile or so of trail, the pitch ramps up and you quickly cover about 800 feet. The forest opens up into wide open meadows at about 9700 feet. This is also where the trail ends. It’s up to you to make it from the top from here. Don’t worry there are no tricks.
The meadow is wide open and a few cairns and lingering trees mark the way. After 3250 vertical feet and six miles, you finally reach the top at 9,888′. This is where you intersect the Sky Rim Trail – a 20 mile lollipop hike through Yellowstone. But I also feel that at this point, Big Horn Peak gets a bit confusing…
It all depends on what map you use. According to the Big Horn Peak USGS topo map, this rolling meadow in the sky is labeled Big Horn Peak at 9,888′. Cairns mark this location as do signs notifying you that you’re entering Yellowstone National Park. But according to other maps, Big Horn Peak also has a second, craggy summit to the west. This summit sits at 9,930′ feet. To reach it, follow the Sky Rim Trail across a rocky and exposed section for about .25 miles to the top. Whichever summit you reach, the views are spectacular, but due to their proximity you might as well bag them both.
It took me 2.5 hours to reach the summit and I was keen to soak in the views. Personally, I found the views on the meadow summit to be slightly better because I always love views of the Madison Range – you can clearly see Beehive Peak and the Spanish Peaks, Lone Mountain, the Sphinx, the entire Taylor Hilgard zone, and the Monument Mountain unit of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness.
Yellowstone National Park spreads out to the south and west. The Absaroka Range is on the far side of the Paradise Valley. Ramshorn Peak is just to the north as is the majority of the Gallatin Petrified Forest.
The views are incredible, but when you reach a summit, your day is only half over. Cell phones work at the summit so feel free to text home to let them know that you’ve safely topped out.
Driven by gravity, I headed back down the Black Butte Trail toward Highway 191 and my truck. I made good time and kept myself entertained trying new bear calls – they must have worked because I didn’t see any bears.
Car-to-car the adventure to hike Big Horn Peak took 4.75 hours. I covered 12.8 miles and 3,245 vertical feet. Any day where your high in the mountains in Yellowstone National Park is a good day. See you next time Big Horn Peak.
View Route On HillMap:
Additional Photos From Hiking Big Horn Peak In Yellowstone National Park:
This trip report is from September 1, 2015.