The Beaten Path, Montana, 2015

Elk Lake, elevation 6800'ft. 

Busy is a choice. Stress is a choice. Joy is a choice. Choose well. 

It has become a yearly tradition to hike "The Beaten Path" once every summer. I hiked it last year - you can read a detailed post about that experience here. 

AHHHHH! I love hiking - getting up into the mountains & total wilderness — feeling like a little ant walking on the earth — the size of these rocks is awesome! Creation is amazing, & God is good. I'm super blessed & thankful to have the health & life that I have. I'm trying to make the most of summer while it lasts!

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. Colossians 1:16 

This year I hiked The Beaten Path with 2 friends - We started at the Clarks Fork Trailhead, just past the Chief Joseph Campground on July 16th & finished on the 18th at East Rosebud Lake.

This hike is "approximately" 26 miles long, not counting any side trips off trail. It is a strenuous hike, but not technically difficult or dangerous. It is also a well-traveled path, & perhaps the best way to experience the diversity & beauty of the Beartooths.

If starting at the Clarks Fork trailhead the elevation is 8000'ft - the peak elevation on the trail is just over 10000'ft, & finishing elevation is 6000'ft. You get more downhill hiking starting on the side we did. You hike uphill 90% of the first 10 miles, then from there its like 85% downhill  for the remaining 16 miles. (As opposed to starting at East Rosebud, where you hike a steep long uphill for the first 16 miles.)

In a nutshell: We hiked The Beaten Path in 3 days, 2 nights. The first day (starting at  the Clarks Fork Trailhead, 9:40am), it took us about 9 hours to hike 12 miles to Dewey Lake, our camp site for the night. (10 of the 12 miles were uphill. We hiked about 2mph the first 7 miles, & also took numerous little breaks along the way. Stopped at Russell Lake for about 30min too.) The next morning, it was an easy  7 miles downhill (9am-1pm) to Rainbow Lake & our camp site. The 3rd day we hiked 7 more downhill miles, finishing the hike by 12pm at East Rosebud Lake. We rested for about 40min at Elk Lake on the way.

Impasse Falls - around 300ft tall. 
When hiking the Beaten Path -you will get rained on, no matter what the forecast says. The forecast is hard to predict in the mountains. Two of the 3 days I was hiking were supposed to be "50% chance of rain"; but both those days were sunny. The "20% chance of morning rain" day turned into a wild afternoon thunder storm… The last 2 of the 12 miles we hiked the first day, we were hiking in a hail/sleet thunderstorm. The temperature dropped from mid 60s to low 40s.

Honestly, no one likes hiking in the rain, things get slick! Bring good rain gear so you stay dry & warm! Also, make sure you know what to do if caught on the plateau in a storm. Don't make yourself a lighting target! 

The mosquitoes are bad. Take strong bug repellent.  I brought repellent that was 25% deet, it seemed to work ok, but I still got more bites then I liked. The bugs are blood thirsty up there! They only seemed worse on the higher lakes, near the plateau. The lower we got, towards Rainbow Lake, the fewer they become. (At least during this time of year.)

All around the trailhead (Cooke City side) the bugs were bad. East Rosebud side, no bugs.

Obviously is grizzly country - proper food storage, bear spray & guns are a really good idea, & safety precaution. When I hike, I'm packing a .357 & bear spray. (Better to be safe then sorry!!!) I hang my food at night too.

Last year when I hiked in July - there were still HUGE snow drifts we had to hike over. This year there wasn't ANY snow we had to hike over. (Dryer winter….) Having a walking pole could be helpful for some people. There are 3 major water crossings, & depending on the snowmelt, the water could be over knee deep or you could "rock-hop" across with shoes left on. Hiking in "convertible" short/pants works great, & keeps you dry.

This year water levels were very low, so nothing was very hard to get across. Last year however, the water was almost thigh deep in places, so it was much harder getting across the "rivers" as the current was swift. 

I found it interesting when reading about The Beaten Path in hiking books, "river/lake" crossings were NOT mentioned…. Make sure you pack some water shoes!

There are countless beautiful lakes, several note-worthy waterfalls, endless views & wildflowers galore on this trail. I would suggest taking a longer time to hike The Beaten Path - & setting a camp somewhere near Fossil Lake - from there, there are numerous day hikes & other lakes to hike to.

Here are some pics for you to enjoy!
The trail between Elk Lake & East Rosebud - 3 miles from the finish.
Ouzel Lake, elevation 9445'ft. 
Twin Outlets Lake, elevation 9200'ft.

A well-traveled trail — Saw a good number of other hikers throughout the entire trail, & two horses & some mules along the way. The Beaten Path is a very popular trail, but everyone spreads out on it, so you seldom see other hikers, even though there could be dozens of hikers on the trail. 
My hiking buddies JohnRoss & Jessica! 
Hiking on the beautiful plateau, just past Fossil Lake (elev. 10,000+ft) 

- With storm clouds chasing us! We got stormed on (thunder / hail / rain / sleet) the last 2mi of the 12 miles we hiked the first day. The temperature got down to 42'F. 

Camp site 2nd night at Rainbow Lake.
 We hung our damp clothes out to dry at our camp site.  The storm soaked us pretty good the night before. There are many great camp sites by Rainbow Lake. 

Rainbow Lake, elevation 7700'ft. 
Rainbow lake displays a beautiful blue-green color (often called "glacier milk") indicative of a glacier-fed lake. The water felt wonderful on my tired feet & sore knee. :) 

Hiking around Fossil Lake, elevation 10000'ft. 

If ya have any questions, lemme know in comments below & I'll do my best to answer! 

Some good resources for hiking in or around the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness:

Happy hiking,


  1. Hi! So, you stayed at Dewey on the first night? No camp fires there, correct?

    1. Hi Josh! Yes that is correct, no fires between Fossil and the Twin Outlet Lakes. Dewey lake is right in the middle. Happy hiking!!

  2. Hi Bailey! I've been searching for an epic adventure to embark on next summer and came across this post. Great stuff! I am seriously considering this hike. Is there any sort of permit required for this?

    1. Hey Seth! Thanks for reading! This would be a great adventure - and there are no required permits or anything for this hike. The entire hike is on/through the Custer National Forest. Hope you have a blast!

  3. I have plans to do this hike in late May. I realize there will be snow in places, but I will be sure to be prepared. I am planning on doing it in 4 days, three nights. I am worried about the water crossings and finding the trail in deep snow. Any tips or warnings to offer?

    1. I don't think you'll have to worry too much about high or dangerous water crossings.... This past winter in the Beartooths, there wasn't a whole lot of snow. And the trail is easy to find! Even places where there might be a big deep drift (if there are any) - you can usually see where the trail comes out on the other side! Just be cautious when hiking on drifts, follow other's footsteps closely! The drifts *can* be hollow in places, where water has carved the inside away. .... But honestly, I don't think drifts will be a big problem.
      Hope your hiking trip is wonderful and safe! (Sorry I was so so in replying!!)

  4. Kevin here. Loved your descriptions. Thx. Novice hiker, flat lander, 55yrs old. Have hike in my younger yrs a 50 miler in Glacier, and some 20 milers in Yellowstone. Going solo hoping for about Sept 9th-ish this Tear. I'm ok with crisper temps and less bugs, maybe some color.! Was thinking about a 4-5 day jaunt.

    I've heard some risk of early snow in early Sept, but not too much. What do you think?

    1. Hi Kevin! Thanks for commenting, and reading. Sounds like you know how to hike, you have some decent Ike's under your belt, and will be well equipped and prepared. Yes, the weather will be cool in September. Warm days, cold nights. Spending 4-5 days on the trial would be awesome; a nice leisurely time. There are so many lakes, on and just off the trail - you should be able to have many of them all to yourself, if you like camping by water. As far as risk of snow - it's a 50-50% chance. Totally depends. I've been snowed on during July in the Beartooths, when around 9,000'ft. But typically, early September is warm(ish) and dry. Just have good rain gear, cold weather sleeping bag, and an extra pair of long johns, just in case. It wouldn't be more then a dusting, hopefully. You will probably get to see come color too! Aspen trees on the Rosebud side on the hike should be turning, or just starting. On the Cooke City side, it's almost all pines.

      Hope it works out for you -

    2. Sorry for the very late response but I found your writeup on pinterest. My friends and I want to do the Beaten path late august, early September 2017 and we're from out of town. we're planning on doing it from south to north - any suggestions on shuttles? we've got an email into Red Lodge taxi but haven't heard back - if there are any other people we could contact that could drop us off/pick us up at trailheads- that would be helpful -btw - great write up and info - thanks!

    3. The Red Lodge Taxi service would be your best bet. When I hiked the trail this past year 2016, a friend followed me in his vehicle to the end of the trail, we left my vehicle, then he drove me to the trailhead and dropped me off. It's an idea, if you know anyone in the area who would be willing to give you and your friend a ride. Being from out of town is probably the hardest thing about this hike! Sorry I'm really not much help here! ... Hope you have an AMAZING time on the trail!

  5. Grace, thank you for posting this trip report -- I really enjoyed reading it. I will be hiking the Beaten Path in August of this year. I plan to start at the Clarke's Fork trailhead and hike up to East Rosebud (3 days and 2 nights). I was wondering what the bug situation is typically like during the 3rd week of August. I know you can't say for sure, but is the mosquitoe population typically winding down at that time of year? Thanks!

    1. By mid August the bugs are winding down. They are still there, but it's not terrible. The worst time of the year is June-July when the blood thirsty mosquitoes all hatch out and swarm/chase hikers! There are more bugs around the trailhead and fewer to no bugs at East Rosebud. Happy hiking! You'll have a blast I'm sure! It's such a beautiful trial.

    2. Grace, thank you for such a quick reply. I'm doing the trail with a friend from PA (Dane - he posted a question on your other Beaten Path blog entry). He's the one who discovered the trail and invited me. I know that we're both looking forward to this hike. The scenery looks spectacular!

  6. Hello Grace, my family and I will be hiking this trail the third week of July. How busy do you think the trail will be? Will we have any trouble finding campsites? Thank you for your help!

    1. There will probably be a good number of hikers on the trail, but you probably won't see too many people. Usually everyone is spread out along the trail. Russell Lake has limited camp spots, I think there are 2, maybe 3 good places, right along the path, near the lake. Dewey is limited too, with about 4 good camp spots. Rainbow Lake has numerous camp sites. Those are the 3 places I have camped at along the trail. Fossil lake is huge has has lots of space. Usually when I've camped at Dewey, there has been only one other hiker camped there. Honestly, I would be really surprised if you had trouble finding camp sites.

      Hope you have a wonderful time with your family!

  7. Hi Grace! Thanks for the information you provided on your blog. We just got back a few weeks ago and had an amazing time on The Beaten Path. If you're interested, here's a video that I did: https://youtu.be/F4qdXyfa148

  8. Hey, Dane! Thanks so much for sharing your video! You and Brain did a fantastic job videoing, editing and sharing information about the Beaten Path! My husband and I watched both videos, "Superlatives", and "Trip Planning and What We Learned". It was fun seeing the familiar beautiful scenery of the Beartooths, and hearing about your trip. Thank you for coming back to my little blog and commenting. You're the first person to do so; quite a few people have commented here with questions, or saying they are planning to hike the Beaten Path, but I never know if they ended up hiked or not. Thanks for taking the time! Your video and observations were great - can't imagine how much time it took to film while hiking... I sadly didn't get to hike the Beaten Path this year - summer was very busy and two weeks ago, the weather suddenly turned cold - lots of snow in the mountains now! The Beartooth Hwy is currently closed, but it might re-open before winter really gets here... So glad the weather was nice for you and that y'all enjoyed your time in Montana. August is a great month. Come again!

    1. Hey Grace! Thank you for your kind and encouraging comments. Actually, the thanks goes to you! While planning this trip I had reached out to quite a number of people who had hiked the trail. Once in a while I would get an abbreviated response. Most of the time, however, I got no reply. You, on the other hand, were very gracious to respond to multiple questions. Your replies were key to helping us plan for the trip. Pennsylvania is a long way away from Montana, and so it's not easy to plan a trip from so far away. Your help was crucial. Thank you.

      If you ever get out to PA, we have a great, 70 mile backpacking trail here. I'd be happy to return the favor and help you plan!

      I had heard about the early snow. I'm glad we got our trip in!



  9. Grace,

    Thank you for all the info that you have shared about The Beaten Path! Two others and myself are planning to visit in early July this year and are worried if the snow will have mostly melted away by that time. Has this year been a heavy winter for you thus far? We are planning a hike from East Rosebud side to Cooke City. Any input would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    1. Hey Derek! So sorry for taking forever to respond!
      The IS a lot of snow in the Beartooths. We've had a very snow-filled winter! Beartooth Basin, the summer specific ski area in the Beartooths, up Hwy 212 is going to be open this May-July. There has to be a lot of snow, if they are going to be open. I would expect there to be snow drift remnants on the higher parts of The Beaten Path, and the water levels of the streams will probably be higher. (One year, the water was over knee deep, and the next year, (due to a dryer winter), the water was only ankle deep when I hiked.) The drifts are very navigable. When I've hiked this trail after a snowy winter, a walking pole (or two!) can be very helpful when crossing drifts and streams. By early July, there will already have been a fair amount of traffic on the trail. Just follow other's footprints across any drifts, and you should be fine!

      I hope you have a wonderful and safe hike!