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Backpacker Magazine – October 2009

Rip & Go: Wood Lake - Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, MT

Cross the Stillwater Plateau to trout-rich ponds at the foot of Montana's second highest peak.

by: Lisa Densmore

Stillwater Plateau (Lisa Densmore)
Stillwater Plateau (Lisa Densmore)

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
If you crave solitude, world class fly-fishing, and trekking off trail more than peakbagging, head for 12,618-foot Mt. Wood. Begin this 20-mile, two-night trip at the Golf Course (1), an open field at the crest of FS 2421, above the old Benbow Mine (about two hours southwest of Billings). Take the Stillwater Plateau Trail across a low ridge (2) through white pine and a carpet of whortleberries, a sweet red fruit that grows on ankle-high shrubs. After traversing a string of meadows–brightened with Indian paintbrush in summer–and gaining 400 feet on long switchbacks, you'll clear treeline (3) and begin traversing the massive Stillwater Plateau. Just beyond the wilderness boundary, at mile 3.1, the trail peters out atop the rim of a steep cirque (4). From here, the route is off-trail (flip page for navigation tips).

Head southwest across the 11,000-foot plateau, periodically crossing ribbons of talus (5). Green gentian and blue harebells peek from among the rocks and sedge. Four miles from the trailhead, Woodbine Lake appears to the west, nestled in a high notch. Veer south, staying on the exposed plateau. At 8.3 miles, arrive at a vast boulder slope (6) where the plateau piles up against the face of Mt. Wood. Descend .4 mile southeast to a grassy shelf 400 feet above Lake Wilderness (7). The next morning, hike an easy .3 mile west to cast for cutthroats. Then head southeast, up through scattered trees, to a rock perch above the lake for a killer view. Continue southeast .3 mile to Wood Lake (8) and more life-list fishing. Rather hike than cast? Bushwack from your campsite up the ridge on the left (east) side of the lakes, onto the massive shoulder of Mt. Wood (the climb to the peak is technical). Return the way you came.

Trip Planner

Driving From Billings, head 41 miles west on I-90 to MT 78. Go 18 miles south to Nye Rd. Turn right and drive 14 miles to Dean. Turn left onto Benbow Rd. (becomes FR 2421 in two miles), and drive a rough road to the trailhead.

Conditions Beartooth Ranger Station: (406) 446-2103

Map USGS quad: Mount Wood ($8,

Gear Up The Fishtail General Store in Fishtail has basic camping supplies, food, bear spray, maps, and fishing licenses. (406) 328-4260;

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