Hiking Fan Mountain Via The SE Ridge in the Madison Range Near Big Sky, Montana
Location: Fan Mountain, Madison Range, Montana
Rating: Grade II Class 2
Trailhead: Multiple Options
Distance: 10 miles +
Time: 6 to 10 hours
Elevation Fan Mountain: 10,307′ | 3142 meters
Total Vertical: Depends on starting point
Lat/Long: 45° 16′ 59” N; 111° 29′ 42” W
Maps: Fan Mountain, Lone Mountain
Fan Mountain sits at 10,307′ in the Beaverhead National Forest of the Madison Range of Montana. It is directly west of Lone Mountain and Big Sky Resort and east of Ennis Lake. Fan Mountain sits on the border of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness. It’s remote and it’s worth hiking to it’s summit.
The elevation of Fan Mountain is 10,307′, but many sources say it sits at 10,253′. The mountain has 2667 ft of clean prominence. It is the 158th tallest peak in Montana and the 22nd highest peak in the Madison Range.
While Fan Mountain may appear close, it is actually quite remote due to private land ownership and wilderness area. The easiest route to the summit begins near the Diamond J Ranch on the Jack Creek Road and ascends via the Northwest Ridge. Our ascent route is the Southeast Ridge, but it is harder to access. It is possible to start this hike from Big Sky Resort’s Madison Base Area, but it’s a bit of bushwhack from there. Please respect the private land owned by Moonlight Basin and other entities. This trip report focuses on the route from Shadow Lake on Trail 317 to the summit.
Fan Mountain has been on my tick list for a while. I finally had the opportunity to climb this mountain with Jeremy Wood on a sunny day in early July. At 7:30 AM, we began our hike to Fan Mountain.
We relied on GAIA GPS on our smartphone to reach to Shadow Lake (7100′) on FS Trail 317. This trail originates from the bottom of Jack Creek Road before the gate and can be accessed from there. The trail quickly crosses two streams (last place to fill up your water bottles if you follow our route) and then heads across a few meadows.
Be sure to bring your bear spray because this is definitely grizzly country. Bear poop and large bones littered the trail. We stuck on the trail for about a mile. Above some large cliffs that drop down into Jack Creek (around 7400′), we veered off trail and started ascending to the ridgeline through some stunning wildflower studded meadows.
We climbed steadily through waist deep flowers for about 700 vertical. We hooted and hollered as we linked meadows, deadfall, and animal trails to about 8000 feet. From here we were greeted with stunning views of Cedar and Lone Mountain.
Then we ascended the obvious ridgeline. The route skirts some cliffs at about 8685′. Then we bushwhacked to the ridge at around 9000′. This was the crux of the climb. Instead of going over the cliff-like point, we skirted around the north side. It was steep and loose and a pole would have been helpful. Once we scrambled back to the ridge line it was smooth sailing.
From 9200′ to the summit at 10307′ it was a relatively easy walk up loose rock. It wasn’t too steep and there were no sketchy parts as we had predicted from a distance. No technical skills (ropes, harness, etc) are necessary to hike Fan Mountain via the Southeast Ridge. The summit was broad and and the views were outstanding. We summited at 1 PM.
From the summit you can see Lone Mountain, Pioneer, Taylor Hilgards, Cedar Mountain, Madison Valley, Spanish Peaks, and beyond. We could have spend all day on the summit of Fan Mountain, but an afternoon storm loomed on the western horizon. We took about 20 minutes, looked down the North Couloir on Fan (ski beta coming next winter?), took some photos, and boogied downhill.
We descended the same route down to Trail 317 and headed back toward Shadow Lake. At the stream crossing, we refilled our water bottles. From Shadow Lake we walked back to our car. Of course on the last mile of the day we spotted a grizzly. Got to love Montana. It was a long day that kicked my butt.
Hiking Fan Mountain was a great way to spend the day. Round trip to the summit and back took about 10 hours, 5900 vertical feet, and 16 miles. It was a big day, but standing on a summit is always worth it.
View route on from Shadow Lake to Fan Mountain via HillMap:
Here is a link to the standard route via the Northwest ridge.
Fan Mountain Summit Panorama GoPro Footage:
Additional photos from hiking Fan Mountain:
This trip report for hiking Fan Mountain in Montana’s Madison Range is from July 8, 2016.