2 Free Issues and 3 Free Gifts!
Full Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
Zip Code:
Email: (required)
If I like it and decide to continue, I'll pay just $12.00, and receive a full one-year subscription (9 issues in all), a 73% savings off the newsstand price! If for any reason I decide not to continue, I'll write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing.
Your subscription includes 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Or click here to pay now and get 2 extra issues
Offer valid in US only.

Also on

Enter Zip Code

Backpacker Magazine – October 2011

Rip & Go: Hilgard Basin - Lee Metcalf Wilderness, MT

Climb to a wonderland of tundra, rugged peaks, and dreamy lakes.

by: Jason D.B. Kauffman

Expedition Lake (Photo by Doug Roane)
Expedition Lake (Photo by Doug Roane)
Hilgard Peak from Echo Mountain (Photo by Martin Scott Wilson)
Hilgard Peak from Echo Mountain (Photo by Martin Scott Wilson)

Take it With You
Download a printable PDF of this entire weekend.

GPS-Enabled Trip Report
See this trip on a map, download it to your phone, GPS, or computer, and more.

Do it
Take Montana’s steep corrugated mountains, add Yellowstone’s grizzlies and meadows, and you get this 260,000-acre wilderness in the Madison Range. You’ll trek straight to the best camping on this 17.4-mile out-and-back. From the Potamogeton Park trailhead (1), hike southwest to a bridged crossing of Beaver Creek at the wilderness boundary (2) in .2 mile. Tackle a steady climb through thick forests of aspen, lodgepole pine, and spruce (“See This,” next page) before breaking into the first of several narrow meadows (3) at mile 2.5. Just past this point, the trail bends west along the tumbling Sentinel Creek. Don’t take your first long break too soon; wait until the first blown-open views (4) of the Madison Range’s hanging snowfields and ragged peaks at mile 4.4. Emerge into a large meadow (5) in another .3 mile, and scan the open slopes to the north for elk or mule deer.

Reentering the forest, continue climbing to the runout of a large avalanche chute
(6) at mile 5.9. This is where the author spotted fresh grizzly tracks in a layer of early snow last year. In fall, the bears congregate in rich foraging areas like this, fattening up for hibernation on yampa roots, whitebark pine nuts, and other high-calorie foods (see “Key Skill,” next page to keep your grub safe). Less than a mile later, leave the forest behind (7) and enter rolling tundra filled with clear streams and narrow bands of conifers. At mile 7.3, cross the headwaters of Sentinel Creek (8), now just a trickle. Begin a final uphill push, cresting an exposed pass (9) with views into wide-open Hilgard Basin. Switchback down a half-mile to the first of the basin’s many prime campsites along the shores of Expedition Lake (10). Follow the trail southwest, watching for the left turn (11) to Crag Lake in just over .2 mile. Continue to Crag’s east shore, reaching a secluded camp (12) shielded by whitebark pine.

Want to extend the dream? Basecamp here and spend the next day tackling a two-mile, 1,700-foot climb to nearby Echo Peak (“Locals Know,” next page). It’s too nice not to stay awhile.

Trip Planner

Get there From Bozeman, take US 191 80 miles to US 287. Go west 10 miles, then turn right on Beaver Creek Rd. (gravel). Park at the trailhead in 4.5 miles.

USGS quads Pika Point and Hilgard Peak ($8 each,

Gear up Northern Lights Trading Co., 1716 W. Babcock, Bozeman, MT; (406) 586-2225; 

Contact (406) 823-6961;

Trip data

Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter
Address 1:
Address 2:
Email (req):

Reader Rating: -


Your rating:
Your Name:


My Profile Join Now

Most recent threads

The Political Arena
Burger King moving headquarters to Canada
Posted On: Aug 27, 2014
Submitted By: Ben2World
Trailhead Register
Knee Defender Caused Airline to Divert Flight
Posted On: Aug 27, 2014
Submitted By: retired reddog
View all Gear
Find a retailer

Special sections - Expert handbooks for key trails, techniques and gear

Check out Montana in Warren Miller's Ticket to Ride
Warren Miller athletes charge hard and reflect on Big Sky country, their love for this space and the immense energy allotted to the people who reside in Montana.

Boost Your Apps
Add powerful tools and exclusive maps to your BACKPACKER apps through our partnership with Trimble Outdoors.

Carry the Best Maps
With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site

Follow BackpackerMag on Twitter Follow Backpacker on Facebook
Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 3 FREE GIFTS
Survival Skills 101 • Eat Better
The Best Trails in America
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Backpacker
and my 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Full Name:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions