Wilson Peak – 10,705′ – Madison Range – Big Sky – Montana


Climbing Wilson Peak in the Madison Range Near Big Sky, Montana

Location: Wilson Peak, Spanish Peaks, Madison Range, Montana
Type: Peak
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.

Wilson Peak
Wilson Peak As seen from Lone Mountain

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.

Dudley Creek Trailhead
Dudley Creek Trailhead

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.

Wilson Peak, Big Sky, MT
A misty morning
Wilson Peak, Big Sky, MT
First glimpse of Wilson

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.

alpine meadows montana
Alpine meadows
Wilson Peak, Big Sky, MT
Almost there. Not quite.
Wilson Peak, Big Sky, MT
The East Ridge of Wilson Peak, Big Sky, MT

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.

Wilson Peak, Big Sky, MT
The East Ridge of Wilson Peak
Spanish Peaks
Admiring our backyard – the Spanish Peaks
Wilson Peak, Big Sky, MT
Dudley Peak
Wilson Peak, Big Sky, MT
Where are we?!
Wilson Peak, Big Sky, MT
The East Ridge Approach
Wilson Peak, Big Sky, MT
Loose, frost shattered granite

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.

Wilson Peak, Big Sky, MT
The summit of Wilson
Wilson Peak, Big Sky, MTv
The Final Scramble
Wilson Peak, Big Sky, MT
The Summit

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.

Wilson Peak, Big Sky, MT
Derek on the summit
Wilson Peak, Big Sky, MT
Scouting ski lines for next winter

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!

Beehive Peak
Beehive Peak and Bear Basin
Wilson Peak, Big Sky, MT
Gallatin Peak
Wilson Peak, Big Sky, MT
View to the south with the Gallatins and Yellowstone in the distance
Taylor Hilgards
The Taylor Hilgards In The Distance
Spanish Peaks
The Spanish Peaks
Wilson Peak, Big Sky, MT
Table and Jumbo Mountains with the Bridgers and Crazy Ranges in the distance
Wilson Peak, Big Sky, MT
Sphinx, Cedar, Lone Peak, and Fan

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.

Wilson Peak, Big Sky, MT
Descending from  the summit
Wilson Peak, Big Sky, MT
Dudley Peak and an Unnamed Lake
Wilson Peak, Big Sky, MT
Looking down Dudley Creek to the SE
Dudley Lake Wilson Peak, Big Sky, MT
Dudley Lake with Wilson in background

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.

Dudley lake and Dudley Peak
Dudley Lake and Dudley Peak

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.


  1. Bob4242 Good question… I think it would depend a lot on the dog. I’d imagine that some dogs could make the summit of Wilson via Dudley Creek. If they couldn’t get all the way, they could get mighty close! The last little push to the summit is the crux and requires a bit of a scramble. Let me know if you try it.

  2. Last Thursday 4 of us set out to tackle Mt Wilson. Your post was the only guide we found in searching for a trail. Parking at the Dudley Creek trailhead we set out for Dudley Lake. Unfortunately I was effected by the altitude and couldn’t continue the climb. We turned back after reaching a beautiful lookout before descending to Dudley Lake. Our Gps trackers showed this at 5.3 miles. This threw us off as we thought we would reach Dudley Lake at mile 4.5. Other trail guides also show Dudley Lake at about 4.5. Not sure why the discrepancy. Obviously we were very disappointed to turn back without reaching the summit. The trail to Dudley Lake is a lot steeper than any of the trail notes – which are few – indicate. I would rate this very strenuous vs moderate to difficult which Is what we had read. Having climbed to the Cinnomon Mt lookout several times we rate this hike as a lot steeper and more challenging. Not for the average hiker.


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