Hiking To The Summit of Hardscrabble Peak In the Bridgers
Location: Hardscrabble Peak, Bridger Mountains, Gallatin National Forest, Montana
Type: Out and Back
Rating: Grade I, Class 1
Trailhead: Fairy Lake Trailhead
Distance: 5.75 miles total
Time: 2.5 hours
Fairy Lake Trailhead Elevation: 7,635′ | 2,327 m
Hardscrabble Peak Elevation: 9,575′ | 2,918 m
Total Vertical: 2,300′
Maps: Sacagawea Peak
Forecast: Hardscrabble Peak Weather Forecast
When it’s beautiful outside, why not go outside and climb a mountain? That’s what I decided to do on a quiet Tuesday in October. After a bit of work in the AM, I hopped in the truck and headed to the Bridger Mountains north of Bozeman to do a quick hike to the top of Hardscrabble Peak.
Hardscrabble Peak, 9,575′, is located in the northern Bridger Range and can easily be accessed from the super popular Fairy Lake Trailhead from May to October. In the early and late season, call the Bozeman Ranger District to ensure the road is open. Hardscrabble can also be accessed on the east side of the range via Corbly Gulch. I opted for the Fairy Lake approach as the drive up Bridger Canyon and along the bumpy Fairy Lake road are absolutely beautiful – plus the hike is way shorter.
I pulled into the Fairy Lake Trailhead around noon. As always there were plenty of cars in the large parking lot. It’s a popular spot because of it’s proximity to Bozeman, access to the stunning Fairy Lake, a cool campground, and it’s the main access point for Sacagawea Peak, 9,666′, the highest and most popular peak in the Bridgers.
At the parking area, I slipped on my Vasque Sundowners, started my Suunto Ambit3 watch, and hopped onto Trail #534 toward Sacagawea Pass aka Bridger Divide. The well trodden trail heads west into the woods and soon starts to switchback up into the alpine. You can soon see the steep pass looming in the distance.
Switchbacks cut back and forth across the slope to the Bridger Divide. I always am amazed at how many different trails exist. Instead of one there are several. It’s incredible what a bunch of human traffic will do to an area. After 45 minutes and 1.75 miles, I reached the pass called Bridger Divide at 8,963′. There is a massive cairn that welcomes excited hikers.
The pass marks the crossroads. If you turn to the south, the trail takes you to the top of Sacagawea Peak. If you turn north, the trail leads toward Hardscrabble Peak. I turned north.
To reach Hardscrabble Peak, there are two unnamed summits you have to reach (or at least pass) first. It’s easy to summit Peak 9562 and Peak 9394 en-route to Hardscrabble Peak, but it’s also unnecessary. It’s easier to skirt the summits on the west side of the ridge by following a rocky climbers trail. The ridge is easy to follow. It is quite mellow to the west and offers steep drops to the east.
In 1.25 hours I reached the top of Hardscrabble Peak. I covered 2.9 miles and 2400 feet by the time I got there. It’s a quick and easy summit to bag. Most books say the round trip hike is only 4 miles and 1900 feet. I have no idea where they got those numbers, but maybe they know a secret?
As always the views from the top our outstanding. You get a clear view of the Crazy Mountains, Beartooth Mountains, Absaroka Mountains, Gallatin Range, Madison Range, Tobacco Roots, and the Big Belts. You can see the shininess of Bozeman in the valley below. A keen eye can spot Frazier Lake Buttress and Summer of Our Discount Tent, Sacagawea Peak, Northeast Slabs, and Naya Nuki Peak.
After soaking in the views, it was time to turn around and head back to the car. I took the same route back along the ridge, down to the Bridger Divide, and down the trail back to the car. Car to car this adventure took 2.5 hours, covered 5.75 miles, and climbed 2400 feet. It was a fantastic way to spend an afternoon. I’ll be back, but hopefully with skis next time!
View route on HillMap:
See a panorama video from the summit:
View additional photos from hiking to Hardscrabble Peak:
This trip report is from October 6, 2015.