McCullough Peaks East
The mountain is the final peak at the east end of the main mass of small mountains that make up the McCullough Peaks. From here the hills gradually flatten out and become the sagebrush-covered plains that are roamed by the McCullough wild horse herd. Separated from the highest peaks in the area by the Whistle Creek drainage, climbing this mountain requires that you start at a point close to the summit elevation and hike down to this small waterway before ascending the peak itself.
From the top, there are excellent views of the other mountains in the badlands, as well as some of the flatter plains to the east. If you are lucky enough to be up there on a clear day, the views of many of the important Absaroka Range peaks, including the Waskakie Needles, Jojo Mountain, Francs Peak, Carter Mountain, the Wapiti Ridge, and Trout Peak, are incredible; Pilot and Index Peaks are also visible to the west in the Beartooths.
Rock Formation Whistle Creek drainage
To reach this peak, 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 about 5.5 miles you will go through another gate before driving another 3.0 miles to a road that turns left off the main road down into the Whistle Creek Valley. I parked here and hiked from this point down the road, which is marked as a designated route and is drivable with a high-clearance 4WD, but there are a few interesting places that looked pretty difficult. Be careful in the winter, when snow and melting snow on the north-facing slopes can turn the road into "goosh".
Whistle Creek Class 3 section on the south face
You will see the mountain across the valley to the northeast. There are a couple of ways to reach the summit, both of which entail a descent followed by a climb. The most straightforward way is to drive another 1.5 miles on the main McCullough Peaks road to a point parallel to the peak and hike directly down about 600 feet and cross Whistle Creek, which is nothing more than a small stream. This is followed by a steep climb up the 600-foot south side of the mountain, which has a couple of fun Class 3 sections. The distance is less than a mile, but it is a steep huff-and-puff of a climb.
The longer and more interesting way is to hike (or drive) for 2.0 miles down the road described earlier that descends down to Whistle Creek to the point where the road forks. The left fork heads through a fence, but you want to take the right one that continues along the fence to the end of the ridge. Cross under the fence here (all public land) and descend down the ridge before heading left on the game trail that runs below the badlands hills to the left. This trail will take you across a ridge and along the left side of west ridge of the peak to the small plateau below the summit. There is a steep scramble up the last couple of hundred feet; the total distance for this route is just over 3.0 miles. The scenery on this hike is some of the best in this area and offers some very good closeup looks and some fascinating rock and earth formations. I did both hikes in a loop, which makes for a total distance of about 5.5 miles.
Badlands hills and small caves
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: