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Hike and Camp in the Taylor Fork Basin, Montana's Best Kept Wildlife Secret

South-West Montana's Wildlife Paradise... Without the Droves of Tourists.

By: Adam Parkison + Save to a List

                 Standing on a knife-edge ridge straddling a sage-brush meadow to my right, and an old clear-cut to my left, I patiently sat glassing with my binoculars. Darkness was less than an hour away, and so far only a few cow elk stirred in the distance. Movement in the meadow to my right suddenly caught my attention. Pulling up my binoculars, I watched a dark grizzly bear strut across the opening. No sooner had the bear left that yet more movement in the clear-cut to my left attracted my eyes, and out came a black bear. From the same vantage point, in no more than five minutes apart, I was watching both bear species found in Montana.

                This magical scene I am describing very well could have taken place in one of the larger national parks, like Yellowstone or Glacier- except, it wasn’t.


                For years, the old timers have known about this game rich area in south-western Montana called the Taylor Fork basin, known for a healthy elk herd. Long proposed as a viable bison reintroduction area, with potential to support up to 500 animals, the Taylor Fork has changed little over the last century. While highway 191 was cut along the Gallatin canyon, and houses and development sprouted around the range, the large basin remained virtually untouched, guarded by steep timbered hills and rugged mountain peaks. Today, only handful of small ranches remain clustered on one end of the area, dwarfed by the massive, wild, public-land playground that encompasses the rest. Here- wolves, moose, sheep, and all the other iconic mammals of the mountain west reside- completely unrestrained and outside of national park borders.

                Driving along the main access point, Taylor Creek Rd., one is immediately struck by the pristine state of the basin: the wide, ribbons of the creek flow across flat sage brush meadows, surrounded on all sides by Ponderosa pine forests. Every time I explore the basin, I take time to stop and stare at the scenery- imagining it to look exactly the way Lewis and Clark first viewed south-west Montana, two centuries ago.

                The best part about the Taylor Fork basin? There are no droves of tourists. Anyone with boots and a willing attitude can set off on any of the eight main trailheads and explore the area at their heart’s content. Though, considering the grizzly attack on a hunter in 2001, and the high density of bears in the area, carrying pepper spray while hiking is highly recommended.  

Map: Beartooth Publishing sells a comprehensive map of the area, called the "Big Sky Outdoor Recreation Map," and can be purchased at nearly any gear store in Montana, as well as many gas stations in the area. 

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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