The United States Congress designated the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness in 1978 and it now has a total of 943,648 acres. Montana contains approximately 920,365 acres. Wyoming contains approximately 23,283 acres. The Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness is located in south central Montana, with a small portion in northern Wyoming, just north of Yellowstone National Park. The Wilderness is home to Montana’s tallest peak, the steep rocky mass known as Granite Peak.
Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness
At 12,799 feet, Granite Peak towers above the Beartooth Plateau. It anchors the Beartooth Range, which stands higher and more rugged than the Absarokas, with many peaks exceeding 12,000 feet (one of them resembles a bear’s tooth).
The Beartooth portion of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness is dominated by vast, treeless plateaus, which fall off sharply into surrounding canyons, much like the Alaska Range. Lakes are much more numerous in Beartooth than in the nearby Absarokas. The lakes are small and tucked high into glacial cirques.
The Crow Indians called themselves Absarokas, hence the name of the mountain range that, along with Beartooth, that is the prominent feature of this Wilderness. Active glaciers, sweeping tundra plateaus, deep canyons, sparkling streams, and hundreds of alpine lakes combine to make this one of the most outstanding Wilderness areas in America.
The Absarokas, unlike Beartooth, have ample vegetative cover, including dense forests and broad mountain meadows crossed by meandering streams. Mt. Cowan is the tallest peak in the Absaroka Range, topping out at 11,206 feet.
Bighorn sheep and mountain goats roam about the mostly rugged country, along with elk, deer, moose, marmots, coyotes, black bears, wolves and a substantial grizzly bear population. The harsher Beartooths accommodate far fewer animals. Trout populate many of the lakes and streams in both ranges.
Adjoining Yellowstone National Park on the park’s northern edge, this Wilderness extends down into Wyoming. More than 700 miles of hiking trails provide access to this area, a backpacker’s dream.
Both ranges offer opportunities to wander off-trail for an unsurpassed Wilderness experience. Wilderness pack trips have a long history in the area, often supported by outfitters.
Only a relatively small portion of the extensive Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness lies in Wyoming. The area is dominated by the high granitic alpine plateaus of the Beartooth Mountains, a starkly beautiful country of expansive views, hidden lakes among bald rocks, and wildly unpredictable weather.
Cold and wind may strike any day of the year. Boulder-strewn Beartooth Plateau lies between 9,000 and 10,000 feet below bare crags and peaks streaked with red and yellow.
The plateau is cut by deep canyons and carpeted in wildflowers when the snow melts in early July. This is an extremely fragile environment, with large expanses of tundra habitats, rare to the lower 48 states.
The lakes are rich in trout, and the air teems with mosquitoes in summer. Wildlife is abundant in the forested valleys: moose, elk, and mule deer live here with grizzly bears.
On barren ridges you’ll see little except pikas and the occasional mountain goat and bighorn sheep. An extensive network of trails is often under snow until early July.
Restrictions in the Absaroke-Beartooth Wilderness
o Party size throughout the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness is limited to no more than 15 people per party. Groups larger than 15 people must split into two or more smaller groups and camp a minimum of 1/2 mile apart.
o Storing equipment, personal property or supplies (caching) is prohibited in the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness.
o Camping or otherwise occupying a single location for a period longer than 16 consecutive days is prohibited. The term “location” means the occupied undeveloped campsite and the lands within a five mile radius of the campsite. After leaving a location, a minimum of seven days is required before any group or person (s) from that group may reoccupy their original location.
o Shortcutting a switchback on a trail is prohibited.
o Disposing of debris, garbage or other waste is prohibited.
o It is prohibited to possess or use a wagon, cart, or other vehicle (including game carts).
o Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness visitors are required to store all food, refuse, animal carcasses or other wildlife attractants acceptably (so as to make them unavailable to wildlife) from March 1 through December 1. These attractants are required to be acceptably stored anywhere in the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness. See the Gallatin National Forest Website at: http://www.fs.fed.us/r1/gallatin/?page=resources/wildlife/expanded_food_storage for specific information on proper storage of attractants and food. In summary proper storage means:
1. All food, refuse or other attractants must be acceptably stored or acceptably possessed during daytime hours (either in certified bear proof containers or hung 10 feet off the ground, 4 feet away from the trunk of the tree or pole).
2. All food, refuse or other attractants must be acceptably stored during nighttime hours, unless it is being prepared for eating, being eaten, being transported, or being prepared for acceptable storage.
3. Any harvested animal carcass must be acceptably stored, unless the carcass is being field dressed, transported, being prepared for eating, or being prepared for acceptable storage.
4. Camping or sleeping areas must be established at least ½ mile from a known animal carcass (on the ground) or at least 100 yards from an acceptably stored animal carcass.
5. The responsible party shall report the death and location of livestock to a Forest Service official within 24 hours of discovery. Any Forest user finding dead livestock should contact the Forest Service.
6. Burnable attractants that cannot be completely consumed by fire (i.e., no post burning residue) must be packed out.
o Placing or possessing salt for the purposes of attracting wildlife is prohibited in the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness. Persons providing salt to pack and saddle stock in approved corrals or other approved livestock feeding locations in the immediate vicinity of camp are exempt from this provision.
o All campfires except for camp stoves fueled with liquid or propane fuel are prohibited at Black Canyon Lake and in Black Canyon drainage.
o All campfires except for camp stoves fueled with liquid or propane fuel are prohibited in the upper East Rosebud drainage above the outlet of Twin Outlets Lake. This prohibition applies to Fossil, Cairn, Dewey, Medicine, Oly and other small unnamed lakes at the head of the East Rosebud Drainage.
o Using more than 15 head of horses or pack stock in any group is prohibited in the East Half of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.
o Using more than 25 head of horses or pack stock in any group is prohibited in the West half of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.
o Hitching, tethering, or picketing horses or otherwise containing livestock in violation of posted trailhead instructions, or within 200 feet of a lake or 100 feet of a stream or free-flowing water is prohibited in the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness.
o All livestock feed must be certified weed seed free. It is prohibited to possess, store or use animal feeds, hay, grain, straw or cubed hay that are not certified as weed seed free in the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness. Weed seed free products must be certified as being noxious weed seed free by an authorized State of Department of Agriculture official or designated county official; each individual bale or container must be tagged or marked as weed free and reference the written certification.
o Free trailing of pack or saddle stock is prohibited anywhere in the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness.
o Livestock are seasonally prohibited on the trail-less portions of the Beartooth Plateau. Use or possession of live-stock including but not limited to horses, mules, pack goats, and llamas is prohibited from December 2 – July 31 on the trail-less portion of the Beartooth Plateau on the Gardiner Ranger District. Please see the Gallatin National Forest website for detailed maps.
o Overnight use of or camping with live-stock including but not limited to horses, mules, pack goats and llamas is prohibited yearlong within the trail-less portion of Beartooth Plateau on the Gardiner Ranger District. Please see the Gallatin NF website www.fs.fed.us/r1/gallatin for detailed maps.
o Use or possession of live-stock including but not limited to horses, mules, pack goats and llamas is prohibited yearlong within 1000 feet of Summerville and Castle Lakes on the Beartooth Plateau, Gardiner Ranger District. See the Gallatin National Forest website for detailed maps www.fs.fed.us/r1/gallatin under travel planning button for detailed maps.
o All pack and saddle stock are prohibited from being on or using the Mystic Lake Trail #19 on the Beartooth Ranger District from the trailhead at the power plant to the junction of trail #17 except during the fall deer/elk/bighorn sheep big game hunting seasons.
o Stock are prohibited yearlong in the Zimmer and Aero Lake areas. Possession of or camping with stock in the Zimmer and Aero Lake drainages on the Gardiner Ranger District, including the Zimmer Lake Trail #574 and Lady of the Lake Trail #31 north of the junction of these two trail in Section 32, T.8S., R.15E. is prohibited yearlong. See the Gallatin NF website: www.fs.fed.us/r1/gallatin under the travel planning button for detailed maps.
o Stock use or possession of livestock including but not limited to horses, mules, pack goats and llamas is prohibited on the Pine Creek Lake Trail # 47 on the Livingston Ranger District from December 2 to September 15.
o Stock use or possession of stock including but not limited to horses, mules, pack goats and llamas is prohibited seasonally on the Thompson Lake Trail #282 on the Livingston Ranger District between April 1 and June 15.