Climbing Wilson Peak in the Madison Range Near Big Sky, Montana
Location: Wilson Peak, Spanish Peaks, Madison Range, Montana
Rating: Grade II Class 3
Trailhead: Dudley Creek
Distance: 12 miles
Time: 5 to 9 hours
Elevation Dudley Creek TH: 6360′
Elevation Wilson Peak: 10705′ | 3263 meters
Total Vertical: 4750′
Lat/Long: 45° 19’36” N; 111° 19’34” W
Maps: Gallatin Peak, Hidden Lake
If you’ve been to Big Sky, you’ve seen Wilson Peak. It’s a striking summit located in the Spanish Peaks Unit of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness in the Madison Range. Its rocky summit towers over the skyline of the Spanish Peaks and it beckons to be skied and climbed.
On a misty morning in July, Jeremy Wood and I decided we were up for an adventure and chose to summit Wilson Peak. We were unable to find too much beta on Wilson Peak so we got out the Beartooth Publishing Big Sky Area map and made a plan. In the winter, the traditional ascent route to ski Wilson Peak is from the North Fork trailhead ascending the southwest face. In the summer, the obvious route is to ascend the East Ridge.
There are several approach routes to reach Wilson’s east ridge. We chose to start at the Dudley Creek trailhead at 6360 feet. The trailhead is surrounded by private property, so you have to continue on the dirt road for half a mile past the parking are to reach the actual trail – FS 404.
The trail weaves through thick forests, mountain meadows, and criss crosses Dudley Creek. Due to a thick inversion, the trees were coated in wet dew making for a surreal misty walk until we broke through to blue skies. As we steadily ascended the trail, we were quickly soaked. I think it’s the wettest I have been on a sunny day.
At about 8400 hundred feet we chose to leave the trail and ascend through some stunning alpine meadows littered with wildflowers. This added a few hundred feet and maybe a mile to our route, but the scenery was well worth the extra effort. This is also an easy way to link up with Trail 81 and head to Table Mountain, Deer Lake, or Hell Roaring Lake. It’s easier to go all the way to Dudley Lake before veering off trail.
We gained peak 10213 just north of Wilson Peak and then descended to the saddle on the East ridge. The saddle sits at about 9850 feet and the views are stunning. The East ridge is steep, but a faint climbers trail weaves through the frost shattered granite, lingering snow patches, and loose scree. It’s easy walking.
As we approached the summit at 10,705′ or 3263 meters, beautiful couloirs lacking snow dropped off the north face. The final 100 feet to the summit was a bit of a scramble up the large and loose rock, but was it was easy to move quickly and efficiently.
We reached the summit it under four hours. The winds were howling and our blue bird day looked as if there was a storm on the western horizon. Glad to have my Patagonia Simple Guide Hoody to protect me from the wind, we grabbed a quick drink of water, ate some snacks, and admired the views.
It seems like you can see forever from the top of Wilson Peak. You have stellar views of Big Sky, the Taylor Hilgards, the Spanish Peaks, Beehive Peak, the Gallatin Range, Dudley Peak, Dudley Lake, other unnamed wilderness lakes, and the surrounding area. Outstanding. And the skiing potential is unbelievable, as long as you’re willing to walk a bit!
Due to a bit of a time crunch and the darkening clouds, we quickly descended the East ridge. Instead of returning by the same route, we descend down to Dudley Lake. It was easier walking than our ascent route, and would be recommended for most people heading up to climb Wilson Peak.
Thirty minutes after leaving the summit of Wilson Peak, we were back on the trail. From Dudley Lake it’s 4.5 miles back to the trailhead. Jeremy and I hit cruise control and flew down the trail back to the car to ensure we could get to work on time.
Car to car our adventure to climb Wilson Peak took 6 hours 20 minutes. We covered 12 miles and 4750 vertical feet. It was an incredible way to spend the day. I’ll happily climb Wilson Peak again. It’s always fun to explore in your own backyard. What should we climb next?
Watch the summit panorama video of Wilson Peak. (This is from a different trip to the top of Wilson.)
See Our Route On HillMap:
Here are some additional photos from hiking Wilson Peak in Big Sky, MT:
This trip report for climbing Wilson Peak is from July 16, 2015.