In northeastern Yellowstone National Park the Northern Absarokas march through, and several rugged, spectacular, and challenging peaks are on display. Druid Peak really is not one of them; its profile is not that impressive, it is easy to climb, most of the summit is under tree cover, and the peak is one of the lowest of the named summits in the area.
So aside from the "Because it's there" argument, why climb it?
Hey, I'm glad you asked!
Answers: views, wildlife, solitude, wilderness. And there’s even a bit of scrambling to quicken the pulse.
Views: Most of the terrain is open sagebrush hills and meadows. You are almost never without sweeping views of the surroundings.
Wildlife: Because it is one of the peaks standing guard over the Lamar Valley-- sometimes called America’s Serengeti because it is such outstanding habitat for large mammals such as bears, bison, elk, moose, and wolves (it is in fact one of the few places left in America where one can see buffalo dotting the plains, and the valley is "Wolf Central" in the Lower 48)-- Druid Peak is an excellent place to view some of the West’s iconic animals in their own home and on their own terms. And it’s not just the mammals; it was thrilling to hear and see raptors calling and soaring.
Solitude and Wilderness: This part of Yellowstone is a place where serious wilderness begins just a few yards from the road. Plus, there are no maintained trails for any of this hike and climb, unless you want to quibble over semantics and say that game trails qualify as maintained trails. Finally, at less than 3.5 miles (one-way distance), this is a climb you can do in less than half a day, leaving yourself a lot of time to do many other things. Druid Peak is one of just relatively few peaks in Yellowstone that are both relatively short and technically easy; most other major peaks in the park are more than five miles to the summit, Class 4 or harder, or both.
Before members of the Arnold Hague Survey coined the present name in 1885, the peak had been known under a few different names: Soda Hill, Mount Longfellow, and Longfellows' Peak. Some historians believe that the present name refers to "Stonehenge-like rock formations on its eastern face," but no one really knows for sure. (Source)
Druid Peak and the surrounding area are sometimes subject to closures to protect denning wolves. The best way to find out if there is a closure seems to be to contact the park directly.
For more about the wolves, read on...
The Wolves of Druid Peak
Druid Peak is also notable because it and the surrounding area were home to the park’s first reestablished wolfpack, called the Druid Peak Pack. At one time, this was also the park's largest pack, with as many as 37 members. However, disease and competition reduced their numbers and drove them off until there was only one left as of March 2010, a female described as not doing well at all. It is likely that she is no longer alive at the time of this page's creation, August 2010.
From this source: "There were still 11 wolves in the pack as late as January .
Then the alpha female was killed in a fight with another pack and the alpha male disappeared. Before doing so, he contracted mange, a disease that can kill animals with compromised immune systems.
Seven other females in the pack have died from mange or after being injured in fights."
Just because the Druid Peak Pack is gone or nearly so, it does not mean wolves are gone from Druid Peak. Members of the Silver Pack and the Black Tail Pack have moved in, and there is belief that there will be another pack by 2011; in spring 2010, that fledgling pack consisted of two males and a female, and there will probably be pups (information from the first source linked above).
It’s unlikely you’ll see wolves out here in the summer, but look for signs such as prints and droppings. If you should come across a den with pups in it, get away right away; wolves almost never attack people, and it's especially unlikely in Yellowstone given the abundant food supply and the fact that the wolves tend to avoid people, but I wouldn't want to test it by getting close to their young.
Getting There and Route InformationThere is no marked trailhead for this outing, so you will need to rely on your odometer, a map, and your ability to read the land. 17.4 miles from the Northeast Entrance (remember that odometers can vary slightly), I parked at an unmarked paved pullout on the north side of the road. The Yellowstone Institute is a short distance northwest of this point.
The elevation here is about 6600’, and in a little over three miles, you will be going up to almost 9600’, so while this is a technically easy route, there are very steep sections.
You are going to be going up the southwestern slopes. I am quite certain I could have climbed via the south slopes and ridge as well, going over Point 8463, but I cannot say anything about that route with certainty.
It is easy to see these southwestern slopes from the road, and if you don’t park exactly where I did, that’s okay; just park anywhere (not blocking the road) around 17 miles from the Northeast Entrance.
If you do park where I did, do not head directly up the slopes from there, for you will end up dropping into and crossing a steep drainage that the maps don’t show. To spare yourself that, drift right for about a tenth of a mile and then hike up the low ridges by the road. Use game trails (these bison-made trails often disappear abruptly) to get higher and higher until you are on the main southwest slopes/ridge, where a good game trail takes you along or near the crest until you reach a band of dark volcanic cliffs that block easy access to the summit area.
The hike to these cliffs is a beautiful one, with views ever-improving and ever-expanding views, wildflowers all over the place, and an impressive array of colorful minerals and petrified wood. Also, there were dozens of elk antlers, some of them almost as long as I am tall (I am 6’). It is illegal to remove any human or natural artifacts from the park; rangers enforce this strictly, often aided by park visitors who report violators.
I have no idea why there were so many antlers out there. My first thought was the wolves, but after more consideration, I had to guess the area is just a major congregation site for elk around the time of year they drop antlers. After all, there was not much in the way of other bones around, and one would think that even if a wolf were strong enough to drag off the carcass of a full-grown bull elk, it would not first remove the inedible antlers to lighten the load!
Continue up through the dark breccia until you reach a short cliff band that requires climbing, not hiking. Probably, one can avoid this climb by traversing left or right for some distance, but before doing so, consider this: to the left, the cliff band seems to end fairly soon, but you will be crossing very steep wooded terrain; one picture of mine suggests that there may be some breaks to the right, but the terrain is still steep, and the extra travel distance does not seem worth it just to avoid some scrambling, especially since there is no guarantee that any breaks actually exist. It just seems much easier and more expedient to climb the cliff band. I got up with some moves on the harder end of Class 3, but I did not feel it fell into Class 4. This rock is quite loose, so test it carefully before you commit to a move.
After that, just follow a game trail (or not) to the summit, which is wooded, but the rims of the summit area are open and provide excellent views. If you want, extend your trip by continuing to Mount Hornaday, 4-5 more miles away but easy to cover.
Red TapeThe entrance fee for Yellowstone is $25 and covers you for a week.
Reminder: It is illegal to remove human or natural artifacts from the park. This includes antlers, as signs at the park entrance indicate.
This is grizzly habitat. Carry pepper spray (and have it holstered and within reach, not in your pack) and make noise. Go in a group of three or more if possible; attacks, rare anyway, are even more unusual on groups that size.
Be alert as well for bison. If you get too close to one and it charges you out here, this is really bad news for you because there is just about nowhere to seek cover. Playing dead is only likely to get you trampled, and I have never heard whether pepper spray is effective against bison. The bison like to lie in tall grass, and it is easier to surprise them than you might think. Be especially wary if young are about; the same goes for moose, though this peak is really not great moose habitat except around the road.
Camping and LodgingThe peak is between Slough Creek and Pebble Creek Campgrounds; both are approximately 10 miles from where I parked. Sites at both campgrounds are first-come, first-served.
There is lodging about 15 miles west at Roosevelt Lodge; check Xanterra.com for details and reservations. Just outside the Northeast Entrance, there are lodging options in Silver Gate (less than a mile from the park) and Cooke City (five miles from the park).
External LinksYellowstone National Park-- official NPS site with details about camping, regulations, etc.
Xanterra-- lodging information, online reservations.
Lodging in Silver Gate