Echo Peak – 11,250′ – Madison Range – Montana

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Climbing Echo Peak In Montana’s Madison Range

Location: Echo Peak, Taylor Hilgard Unit, Lee Metcalf Wilderness, Madison Range, Montana
Type: Peak
Rating: Grade II Class 2
Trailhead: Sentinel Creek Trailhead – 7,150′
Distance: 20.5 miles round trip
Time: 8 to 14 hours round trip
Echo Peak Elevation: 11,250′
Total Vertical: 5250′
Lat/Long: 44.94202°N / 111.46274°W
Maps: Hilgard Peak, Pika Point
Weather Forecast: Echo Peak Weather

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Echo Peak is the 3rd highest peak in the Madison Range of Montana. Located in the Taylor Hilgard Unit of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, Echo Peak sits at 11,250′. It’s big, remote, non-technical climb that’s well worth the effort.

Echo Peak Above Expedition Lake
Echo Peak Above Expedition Lake

Jeremy Wood and I set out to climb Echo Peak in Montana on a cool August morning. Temperatures hovered just above freezing as we drove north on Forest Service road #985. We parked at 7,150′ in the Potamogeton Park (named after a freshwater aquatic plant) area at the end of the road. We geared up and hopped on the old heel-toe express on the Sentinel Creek trail #202 at 7 AM.

Potamatogen Park - FS Road 985
Potamatogen Park – FS Road 985

Multiple trails leave from Potamgeton Park. The Sentinel Creek Trail leaves from the southwest end of the parking area. It drops down, crosses a creek, and enters the Lee Metcalf Wilderness before it heads north. It rolls and meanders through forests and meadows – prime grizzly habitat. After about 3 miles, it makes a sweeping turn to the west and begins to cross numerous streams that flow into Sentinel Creek.

Taylor Hilgard Unit - Lee Metcalf Wilderness
Taylor Hilgard Unit – Lee Metcalf Wilderness

The Sentinel Creek Trail #202 is well maintained. It must see quite a bit of horse and human traffic all though you feel like you have the entire wilderness area to yourself. Since the latest maps have been printed, the trail has been been rerouted. Remnants of old trails linger in the woods. Stick to the dusty trail and continue to gain elevation as you move uphill. After about 6 miles, the trail pops out into a wide open basin east of Expedition Pass.

Peaceful brook flowing through the high alpine meadows
Peaceful brook flowing through the high alpine meadows
Expedition Pass Madison Range
Expedition Pass

After 7.95 miles, Sentinel Creek Trail #202 splits. Hilgard Basin Trail #201 heads south and Trail #202 continues on to Expedition Pass to the W-NW. The trail split is on the ridge between Hilgard Basin and the basin east of Expedition Pass at roughly 9,800′. Take trail #201 into Hilgard Basin. We reached this point after 3 hours and 2875′ of elevation gain. FYI – this trail split is at a different location than is seen on the USGS Map.

Sentinel Creek Trail #202 and Hilgard Basin Trail #201 Intersection
Sentinel Creek Trail #202 and Hilgard Basin Trail #201 Intersection
Echo Peak
View from Pass

From this point Echo Peak is within sight. The trail drops down via numerous switchbacks into Hilgard Basin towards Expedition Lake. Before we reached Expedition Lake we ventured off trail around 9,700′ so we could beeline it toward Echo Peak.

Echo Peak and Hilgard Basin
Echo Peak and Hilgard Basin
Echo Peak
Echo Peak

The open terrain is easy to traverse across. There are numerous named and unnamed lakes scattered across Hilgard Basin. We skirted around these water features toward Point 10290, which is above Sunset Lake. In August there was a steady flow of water coming down a grassy section of moraine to the east of point 10290 and to the southwest of Thunderbolt Lake. It made for easy hiking up to a small basin below the north ridge of Echo Peak.

Echo Peak
Echo Peak
skill
Circle of Life
Options For Scrambling Up The Moraine - We went left in the grass
Options For Scrambling Up The Moraine – We went left in the grass

In this small basin there were a few patches of lingering snow, a melted out lake, and a bit of rocks to hop over. Here you can choose your own scramble to gain the north ridge of Echo Peak. We opted for a small saddle just before the final summit push. It held a bit more grass and seemed to be the least steep option.

A disappearing high elevation lake
A disappearing high elevation lake
The Summit Of Echo Peak
The Summit Of Echo Peak

After 4.25 hours we reached the ridge at 10,800′. We had covered 4,111 vertical feet and 9.65 miles to reach this point. LTE service made our phones chime to life. From here, expansive views of the Madison Valley and the Taylor Hilgards spread out before us. But there is still the final summit push.

Hilgard Basin
Hilgard Basin

The last push up the north ridge is very straightforward. There is little exposure and it is a non-technical climb. As we followed the climbers trail, we both agreed it was one of the easier summit climbs in the Madison Range. Grassy and mossy ledges mixed with solid rock made for a mountain-stairstep like experience. In no time we reached the summit of Echo Peak at 11,250′. A large cairn marks the summit of Echo.

North Ridge Of Echo Peak
North Ridge Of Echo Peak
North Ridge of Echo Peak
North Ridge of Echo Peak
Echo Lake
Echo Lake

On most maps of Echo Peak something called the “roof” is labeled at 11,211′. The Roof is a triangulation station that is southeast of the true summit – allowing it to be sighted from the East. Many maps show the elevation of Echo Peak as 11,214′, but close examination of any topo map shows a full contour line at 11,240′. Montana.gov lists Echo Peak as the 45th highest peak in Montana at 11,250′. This meshes with the GPS readings I had on multiple devices when we summited Echo Peak. So in my opinion the elevation of Echo Peak is 11,250′ – the third highest point in the Madison Range.

echo peak cairn
Cairn Marks The Summit
Echo Peak
Easy To Enjoy The Views

The top of Echo Peak is wide and grassy as it flows down to the west. It’s sheer and exposed to the east as it drops off steeply into Hilgard Basin far below. There is certainly some good ski potential in this fun zone, but today it was all about the views. We reached the summit of Echo Peak in 4.75 hours, 4,595′ and 9.9 miles.

Grassy slopes of Echo Peak
Grassy slopes of Echo Peak looking north

We wandered around the summit plateau of Echo Peak and soaked in the sights. Hilgard, and Dutchman were off to the south. Someday I’d like to do the Hilgard-Dutchman-Echo Traverse – a cool, technical ridge traverse adventure. Hilgard Basin and it’s numerous lakes dotted the immediate landscape. To the north you can see Peak 10930, Sentinel Peak, Woodward, Imp, Koch, Sphinx, Lone Mountain and numerous other noteworthy mountains. In the distance to the East Sage Peak, Hebgen Lake, and Yellowstone National Park were visible. Impressive.

Echo Peak
Views Of Hilgard and Dutchman to the south
Looking West From Echo Peak
Looking West From Echo Peak
Woodward, Peak 10930, Sentinel Peak and Hilgard Basin
Woodward, Peak 10930, Sentinel Peak and Hilgard Basin
Hilgard Peak From The Summit Of Echo Peak
Hilgard Peak From The Summit Of Echo Peak
Hilgard Lake, Clear Lake, Tallus Lake, Gnome Lake, Cataract Lake, Painted Lake
Hilgard Lake, Clear Lake, Tallus Lake, Gnome Lake, Cataract Lake, Painted Lake
Do I see a future ski line?
Do I see a future ski line?
Koch Peak and Imp Peak
Koch Peak and Imp Peak
Dutchman and Hilgard
Dutchman and Hilgard

After a leisurely 45 minute summit session, we decided it was time to head back to the car. We began our descent 5.5 hours after we left the car. We boogied down the north ridge, down climbed the moraine, and stopped to refill our water bottles in the flowing water on the lower moraine. The Steripen worked great to purify our water.

Heading Down the North Ridge Of Echo Peak
Heading Down the North Ridge Of Echo Peak
Steripen at work
Steripen at work

The top of Echo Peak is wide and grassy as it flows down to the west. It’s sheer and exposed to the east as it drops off steeply into Hilgard Basin far below. There is certainly some good ski potential in this fun zone, but today it was all about the views. We reached the summit of Echo Peak in 4.75 hours, 4,595′ and 9.9 miles.

Expedition Lake
Expedition Lake

Round trip our adventure to climb Echo Peak in Montana took 9 hours – 7 AM to 4 PM. We covered 20.55 miles and 5,253′ according to my Suunto Ambit3 Peak watch. Highly recommend this summit to add to your bucket list. Might be good to camp in Hilgard Basin for a night or two also!

Read more about Echo Peak in Tom Turiano’s Select Peaks Of The Greater Yellowstone.


Watch panorama views from the summit of Echo Peak:


View route of our climb of Echo Peak Montana on HillMap:


Additional photos from climbing Echo Peak in Montana:


This trip report for hiking Echo Peak in Montana’s Madison Range is from August 5, 2016.

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