We have so many fabulous rides that we have enjoyed over the years, that it is difficult to decide which ones we want to share with you first. Those of you that follow us on Facebook will attest to that 🙂 So we decided let’s choose just our top five rides of our 2015 summer. While that still proves to be difficult, we are going to give it a shot anyway. So the ride that we decided ranks #1 is the Black Butte to Daly Creek ride.
Last summer we decided we wanted to explore new trails. We love the Tetons and for us that will always be a place we call home. However, we became curious about some trails in the northwest region of Yellowstone National Park. We did some research, found some descriptions and pictures of trails that we thought sounded interesting, and created a map that we could download to our Suunto Ambit2 watch.
Finding the Black Butte Trailhead
From West Yellowstone: From the center of town drive north on route 191 towards Bozeman for approximately 28.8 miles. After entering the Park you’ll pass the following trailheads: Bighorn Pass, Fawn Pass and Specimen Creek. The Black Butte trailhead parking lot is on the left a few miles past the Specimen Creek trailhead.
Black Butte Trailhead Description
Although Google Maps calculated this to be about a 14 mile loop, it is definitely closer to an 18 mile loop. This is a tough trail that leaves you riding on a ridge at 10,000 feet elevation for roughly five miles. The views however are spectacular and you have a 360 degrees of pure bliss at the top.
The parking lot for the Black Butte Trailhead is actually located across Hwy 191, so be prepared to do a little sprint across the highway with your horses. Good news is the highway isn’t too heavily populated so it really isn’t that big of a deal. As you are tacking your horse remember to be ready for any kind of weather, it can change awefully quick. The day we did this trail we went from being hot and wearing tank tops, to putting on a long sleeve shirt, to adding our rain slickers because it got cold and windy when we hit 10,000 feet. Once you are ready to hit the trail you will see a little trailhead marker across the highway labled Black Butte, aim for that and you will be on your way to an incredible ride before you know it.
The trail starts out with a steady, yet easy climb through a small meadow and sections of pine forest. You will hear the Black Butte Creek trickling to the right of the trail and periodically you will catch a glimpse of it. At approximately 1.9 miles into your trek you will come to a junction with the Daly Creek cutoff sign. With any luck this is the spot you will loop back into at the end of your journey.
Continue on towards Bighorn Peak. You will be traveling about 3 miles before you hit your next junction. During this section you will be gaining almost 2,000 feet in elevation. Most of this section will be spent meandering through the forest. Make sure you stop and let your horses drink often because once you are out of this section there won’t be any water up on the ridge and your horses will be doing lots of climbing. As you start gaining your elevation in the forest you will be seeing some pretty awesome views of the Taylor Hilgards/Madison Range to the west and Lone Peak and Big Sky further to the north and west. The massive summit of Sphinx Mountain in the Madison Range will first appear as you reach this section of the trail.
The trail will start to open up and that is where we picked for our lunch spot. The view was extrodinarily breathtaking and it literally did take our breath away. We thought man it can’t get any better than this. We spent a lot of time at this lunch spot taking in the views and of course taking our fair share of pictures. It was hard to leave it and was a place that felt almost sacred. However, we knew we still had a long ways to go.
As we left our lunch spot the trail did an immediate climb up a hill. The trail disappears here for a moment, so head in a straight line towards the ridge. You will notice the rock cairns that will guide you up the remaining incline to Sky Rim Junction. Here you will nearly be at 10,000 feet. Once at the top it will be a flat wide overlook with signs welcoming you to Yellowstone National park and another sign that tells you which directions to head. If you want to continue on, follow the Sky Rim Trail that goes in the opposite direction of Bighorn Peak.
However, we parked the horses and hiked a little ways up the Bighorn Peak trail. The Bighorn Peak trail is not the best trail to ride a horse on, because this trail gives the true meaning to sidehill. It is rocky and a sheer drop off on a narrow trail with a lot of loose rock.
After we finished exploring the Bighorn Peak trail, we got back on our horses and continued on toward the Sky Rim Trail. The trail headed down a very steep hill. It was a wide open field with trail markers, but a very deceivingly steep trail. We got off our horses at this point and walked down in a zig-zag pattern. From here the trail continued on for about five miles on an up and down rollercoaster type terrain. It makes you feel like you are literally in the sky, so for it to be called Sky Rim trail is very fitting. The views here are 360 degrees of beauty. No matter what direction you look it is absolutely stunning. However the weather did start to get iffy, with thunder and lightening and high winds. This was a little intimidating when you are up in the sky at 10,000 feet.
Eventually you will come to a sign that says you can either continue on with the Sky Rim trail or take a left and start switchbacking down into Daly Creek Trail. You want to head towards Daly Creek. The trail for this section is about 3 miles. The trail here starts off with narrow switchbacks down the hillside into a forest with pretty rock walls. Once out of the switchbacks you continue through forests and meadows before you come to the cutoff trail that joins you back in with the Black Butte Trail.
The cutoff trail is about 2.2 miles and it takes you past a patrol cabin before you connect back in with the Black Butte trail that you started on. There are lots of streams for the horses to drink at this point. We hit this section of the trail just as the sun was starting to go down. Riding during this time of night is so tranquil and the sunset was absolutely beautiful. It was a perfect ending to an amazing ride.
At the end of the cutoff trail you will see a sign that will point you back to the Black Butte trailhead. Congratulations! You didn’t get lost and made it back to that sign that you saw at the beginning of your trek. Take a right and you will be on the final stretch to your truck and trailer.
Where to Camp?
If you are looking for a campsite to pack in to. There is a campsite located within the first 2 miles of the Black Butte Trail and livestock is permitted. You can contact the West Yellowstone Visitor Center to obtain more information on this site as well as what permits you will be needing to camp in the backcountry of the park. You may contact them at (307) 344-2876.
While there are lots of campsites around the area, most of them don’t allow livestock. However you might want to check out Taylor Fork Road. It is open all year and located approximately 5 miles north of the Bighorn Peak Trailhead on US 191. Campsites are free. There are no facilities. The first few sites are located about a mile from US 191. Forest service road (FSR 134) follows Taylor Creek west and extends deep into the Madison Range/Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area. Because this campsite is located on a service road it may allow livestock, but you would have to do some further checking to be certain.