Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness

Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, Montana
In the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness
East Ridge of Granite Peak

The Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness covers some 943,626 acres: 920,343 acres in Montana and 23,283 acres in Wyoming just to the north and northeast of Yellowstone National Park. This is a truly superb wilderness area with active glaciers, deep canyons, large tundra plateaus, hundreds of lakes and sparkling clear streams. Moose, elk, deer, coyotes, marmots, wolves, black and grizzly bear... this is wilderness the way it was, and should be.

Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness straddles the line between the Gallatin and Custer National Forests.

The Beartooth Mountains (so named because one high peak resembles a bear tooth) run along the eastern side of the wilderness. These peaks are higher and more rugged than the Absarokas to the west as they are made up mostly of granitic rock. The Beartooth Range is mostly a huge, treeless plateau that drops off sharply into surrounding canyons. The main boulder-strewn plateau varies between 9,000' and 10,000' with many stark crags and peaks rising above that to 12,000' and more. These mountains have been glacier-carved to resemble the Alaska Range. Granite Peak, a large granite monolith, rises to 12,799', the highest point in Montana. The numerous glacial cirques in the Beartooth Range hide many small lakes, and there are more lakes in the Beartooth than in the Absarokas.

The Absaroka Mountains run down the western side of the wilderness and aren't quite as rugged as the Beartooth as the Absarokas are composed mainly of metamorphic and volcanic rock. The Absarokas top out at Mt. Cowan (11,206') and tend to be more amply covered with vegetation. They also carry more wildlife, although both ranges have excellent trout fisheries in the lakes and streams. On the barren ridges you'll find bighorn sheep and mountain goats while the really big game is under the trees and foraging in the big meadows.

There are more than 700 miles of hiking trails giving access to the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. For those who might like some assistance in the wilderness, there are quite a few outfitters in the area who know the place well. As the snow doesn't really melt until early July, this is an area where it can snow on any day of the year. But when that snow does melt in mid-summer, the wildflowers are just incredible.

The people of the Crow Nation call themselves "Absarokas," hence the name.

Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness area map
Area map of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness
Upper photo of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness courtesy of the National Park Service.
Map courtesy of National Geographic Topo!
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