The Beartooth and the Absaroka Mountains of Montana and the Absaroka/Beartooth Wilderness

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Copyright © Ralph Maughan

The photo is of the crest of the Beartooths as seen near Beartooth Pass on the Beartooth Highway, said by some to be the most scenic road in the United States.


The Beartooth Mountains are the highest range in Montana with numerous peaks higher than 12,000 feet elevation, and there are many permanent snowfields and a few glaciers. They lie to the immediate northeast of Yellowstone National Park. Their north face -- the Beartooth Front -- is abrupt, one of the most impressive mountain fronts in the Rockies. Their gradually-rising high southern flank, which begins in Wyoming, is referred to as the Beartooth Plateau.

Capping the Beartooths is 12,799 foot (3901 meter) Granite Peak, the highest point in Montana. There are hundreds of alpine and subalpine lakes that lie in bedrock pockets gouged out of the granite by pat glaciers. Many are great fishing. The only grayling I ever caught came from an obscure lake after a cross country hike in the Beartooths.

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The Beartooth Plateau near Marianne Lake
Copyright ©Ralph Maughan
The photo elevation is at about 10,000 feet, and above timberline.

The massive Beartooth uplift gets pounded by snow in the winter -- as much as 30 feet! Such a climate and Beartooth topography might seem quite a barrier to the wolves released in the "comparatively mild" and lower Lamar Valley to the southwest. Nevertheless, many of the Park's wolves have crossed the Beartooths at least once in the fall, winter, and spring.

Lake of the Winds on the Beartooth Plateau, Montana.
Absaroka/Beartooth Wilderness. Elev. 9850 feet.

Copyright © Ralph Maughan

Most of the Beartooths are permanently protected by means of Wilderness designation. Back in the 1970s Congress established the Absaroka/Beartooth Wilderness. This Wilderness area is over 500-thousand acres in size. Its establishment was a great environmental victory. A major controversy at the time was the attempt by some development interests to build another entrance road into Yellowstone Park -- a road from the north through the roadless country of the Boulder River and down Slough Creek. As wolf, not to mention grizzly bear and elk movements show, roadless Slough Creek is a vital part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Most folks are happy that proposal was killed. People need to be on guard, however, as the land despoilers never rest.



Not to be confused with the vast Absaroka Range of Wyoming, which lies to the east and southeast of Yellowstone, Montana's Absaroka are quite different -- a generally non-volcanic range, composed of a variety of rocks.

This rugged mountain range is also part of the great Absaroka/Beartooth Wilderness -- though it is little-traveled compared to the Beartooth Mountains which rise adjacent to the east of the Absaroka.

The Absaroka Range as seen from near Springdale, Montana

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© Ralph Maughan

The Absaroka Range presents a very bold front on its west face . . . strikingly beautiful from Paradise Valley south of Livingston. However, the numerous short canyons in the part of the Wilderness facing the Paradise Valley have few trails.

Pine Creek canyon from Paradise Valley. Absaroka Range
© Ralph Maughan

Absaroka Range Peaks, Montana
Peak in the Absaroka Mountains of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness
Copyright © Ralph Maughan

Absaroka/Beartooth Wilderness/ Jan. 1, 2009

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