Sunset over the Absarokas
The McCullough Benchmark is the second-highest peak in the McCullough Badlands east of Cody, Wyoming. Only 34 feet lower than the range highpoint, this summit has great views of the badlands and a large stretch of the Absaroka Range to the west; also, the views of the immediate vicinity are superior to those from the highpoint, as it lacks the barbed-wire fence and huge radio tower which dominate the latter area.
This is a very easy summit to reach due to its proximity to the road that runs around this area, but the scramble up to the top is off-trail, so watch carefully for rattlesnakes hiding in the sagebrush. The top has some fascinating rock formations that are definitely worth a look.
Note: On the Stone Barn Camp topographic map, this point is labeled with the alternate spelling that is sometimes used for this area, "McCulloch."
Arch near the summit
View towards Francs Peak
To reach the top of the McCullough Benchmark, start by heading east from Cody on Highway 14/16/20. Start marking miles at the place where Highway 120 turns south towards Meeteetse and continue on Highway 14/16/20 for 4.7 miles. Turn left on McCullough Peaks Road and start heading into the badlands. There are several roads marked by small red signs with numbers on them that turn off the main road to the left, but stay on the main road if you want to reach the top. After 5.0 miles you will reach a gate, which is usually standing open; after crossing through the gate, continue on for another 5.0 miles, which will take you past the first of radio towers and around the back of the mountain. Park anywhere that you can comfortably pull off of the road and start hiking south up the ridge towards the small rock outcropping on the right.
Arch near the summit
There is a summit marker and a small rock cairn on top, as well as some really interesting rock formations that form mini arches. This hike is a straight uphill scramble of just under a half of a mile with about 300 feet of elevation gain.
There are no access fees to enter the McCullough Wilderness. The sign system marking access to roads was overhauled in 2004, and as a result, the roads are very clearly marked; there are more than 230 miles of roads marked with white arrows that are open to motorized travel, 20+ miles of roads open to ATV and non-motorized travel, 30 miles of administrative roads, and 60 miles of existing roads that are now permanently closed. Roads that enter this area from the south via Highway 14/16/20 are generally easy and don't require 4WD until you are several miles in, while the roads entering from the north from the Willwood District south of Powell need high clearance 4WD and very good judgment on the part of the driver to avoid getting into places where it is impossible to continue or turn around. The entire badlands area is prone to flash flooding which can quickly make travel impossible in places, so keep an eye on the canyon west of Cody to gauge the approach of any storms.
Road on southern side Rattlesnake in the sagebrush
All it takes is one look at this harsh rocky environment covered in sagebrush to know that this is prime rattlesnake country! They like to sunbathe on the rocks and curl up in the brush, so it is not uncommon to have close encounters with snakes that are on or next to the trail. Be extremely careful when hiking anywhere that is off of the road or trail because of the abundance of sagebrush; a slower pace will allow you to listen for the rattle, and will also give the snake a chance to leave as it senses your approach. Make sure you know how to look for them and how to act around these animals, in addition to knowing what to do if you are bitten by one (see link below).
Be sure to bring in enough water to drink, as suitable drinking water is not found in the badlands.
Camping is allowed in the McCullough Wilderness, with a maximum stay of 14 days in any 28-day period. For more information, visit the BLM camping rules page at:
Information on the McCullough wild horse herd:
Horse Tour Information:
What to do in case of a Rattlesnake bite: