Hike The Beaten Path from Cooke City to East Rosebud

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Added by Patrick Rooney

Magnificence of Glacier N.P. with a fraction of the trafficExcellent 20+ mile hikeTypically hiked in one to four daysBears, wolves, moose, etc.: you name it - you'll see itTrailhead is eight miles from the NE entrance to Yellowstone N.P.

The Beaten Path, Cooke City to East Rosebud Lake, is regarded as one of the crowning jewels of Montana's vast trail network. Although typically skipped by those on their way to Yellowstone or Glacier, this trail has quickly become yearly must for local outdoorsman. Whether hiking or riding with a team of mules, the 26-mile journey is certainly a memorable one.

Enough lakes to require only a small water bottle/filter combined with fish that would appear to have never seen a man-made fly results in endless fishing and side adventure opportunities.

One of the greatest institutions founded by Montana is the Fish, Wildlife & Parks department. One of their fantastic programs focuses upon thorough yearly trout stocking, and the close management of Montana's streams, lakes, and rivers. Regardless of nymphing or utilizing surface water flies, the fish of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness have a hunger unlike any other.

With a bounty of chances to bag peaks and lakes along the hike, some will take upwards of a week along to trail just to insure none of iconic peaks and lakes are missed. One gentleman we chatted with even discussed taking a twenty-mile detour to stand on top of Montana's 12,799ft highpoint, Granite Peak.

With a choice of entering from the Red Lodge/Roscoe side at East Rosebud Lake, or the western Cooke City/Clark Fork entrance, our party decided to begin outside of Cooke City because of the smaller initial elevation gain (2000') and the longer descent (3,900').

Once at the Clark Fork Trailhead across from the Chief Joseph campground, saddle up and begin the hike meandering through lush coniferous forest. Within the first half hour, Kersey Lake will mark the beginning of the gradual ascent. Continue heading up Russell Creek, passing Fox Lake, and cruise along for another three miles up to Russell Lake. Here lies some of the most bodacious fishing I have ever experienced. Although you may not hook a marlin, you very well may catch two beauties simultaneously while running a hopper-dropper fly setup. After 30 min and too many fish to count, we made the long push to our intended campground at Dewey Lake, the approximate halfway point along the trail.

Along the path to Dewey Lake, many high alpine lakes and streams present amazing overlooks and campgrounds. Wood can be a little more scarce once above 9,500ft so either plan accordingly or be willing to pack wood. Because the Absaroka/Beartooths are considered wilderness, this means no camping within a hundred feet of most lakes, and no fires closer than two hundred feet. The frail and pristine nature of this impeccable area encourages every party to leave no trace behind.

Just east along the trail beyond Dewey Lake exists one of the most magnificent 200'+ waterfalls, Impasse Falls. The main input for Duggan Lake, the falls provide for prime photo and shower potential. Although our party quickly navigated the remainder of the trail in order to reach East Rosebud Lake before dark, it is highly recommended to spend at least one night at Rainbow Lake because of its magnificent beauty and fishing potential.

The afternoon on our second day revealed not only sunshine but also a quick collection of thunderstorms just as we approached Elk Lake. It is worthwhile noting that this is the final body of water (and prime campground) before reaching East Rosebud Lake. Just as the myriad of previous lakes, Elk Lake contains hungry fish, and arguably one of the best views throughout the hike.

The remaining three miles of single track meander through a beautiful valley making the return to civilization even more difficult. After a quick dip in East Rosebud Lake, cruise into Roscoe for a local brew at the Grizzly Bar. With a kind staff and a great selection of eats and spirits, the Griz provides for an excellent accouterment to the end of any backpacking adventure.

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Stand Up Paddle
Dog Friendly
Cliff Jumping
Swimming Hole


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