Beginning in September, more than a thousand golden eagles (and thousands of other raptors) converge on the east slope of Montana’s Bridger Range. Their mission: Get a lift from key thermals on the journey from Alaska to wintering grounds in Colorado. The birds max out in the first half of October, when a hiker could spot a couple hundred per day, usually around noon as temps warm and the updraft kicks in.
Go midweek between October 1 and 15 to see raptors as few others do. From the North Cottonwood Creek trailhead, head upstream (east) through the thick woods for about four miles to a basecamp at 7,400 feet, just below a ridge. From here, climb the ridge and turn south to a saddle at two miles. Proceed straight ahead amid effortlessly soaring raptors to 9,650-foot Sacagawea Peak, or backtrack north to 9,575-foot Hardscrabble Peak. Both offer face-to-feather views.