Gallatin Petrified Forest and Black Butte
Yellowstone National Park
A network of hiking trails pierce the rock-hard spires of Gallatin Petrified Forest in Yellowstone’s northwestern corner, letting snowshoers create loops of 15 to 30 miles through these stark, ancient forests on the flank of Black Butte. But fossilized trees aren’t the only draw: Stands of gnarled ghost trees left by the fires of the late 1980s mix with live, vibrant forests, creating an otherworldly pastiche
of green, black, and silver. While trekking up Specimen Creek valley past towering Meldrum Mountain, snowshoers may encounter elk, moose, buffalo, and wolves. The valley routes are gentle, but closing a loop requires careful treading along the rugged ridgetop that marks the park’s northern border. Avalanche safety skills are vital here, but the attention is well rewarded: The ridgetop route from Specimen Ridge west to Bighorn Peak provides unmatched views of the jagged Rocky Mountains of southwestern Montana.
Guides: Winter Trails Montana: The Best Cross-Country Ski & Snowshoe Trails, by Jean Arthur ($14.95). Trails Illustrated’s Yellowstone National Park #201 map (800-962-1643; backpacker.com/mapstore; $9.95).
Contact: Yellowstone National Park, (307) 344-7381; www.nps.gov/yell.