Northern Absaroka Range

Page Type Page Type: Area/Range
Location Lat/Lon: 44.97670°N / 109.881°W
Activities Activities: Hiking, Mountaineering, Trad Climbing, Scrambling
Seasons Season: Summer
Additional Information Elevation: 12244 ft / 3732 m
Sign the Climber's Log


The Absaroka Range is a vast one and can be divided into four sections: the Montana Absarokas (known to some as the Western Beartooths), the Northern Absarokas, the Southeastern Absarokas, and the Southwestern Absarokas. Except for the Montana Absarokas, the range lies almost entirely within Wyoming (a small portion of the Northern Absarokas marches a short way into Montana).

The Absarokas are likely the wildest alpine mountains in the U.S. outside Alaska, and the Northern Absarokas are probably the wildest of the Absarokas. It is, for the most part, a difficult range to access. Approaches are long, trail maintenance is sketchy, and the river fords are often so swift and deep that they are difficult or impossible for horses to manage.

The southern end of the range is at the North Fork Shoshone River, the river that parallels the highway between Cody and the East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Because of the sulphur-scented geothermal features found in places along the river, Native Americans called this river the "river that runs past the stinking waters" and European explorers and settlers called it "Stinking Water," but the legislature of Wyoming frowned on these names and in 1901 established the name we use today. To the west, the range's terminus is the crest of peaks that defines much of northeastern Yellowstone; to the east, the range gives way to the high desert around Cody. The northern boundary is not as clearly defined but follows a series of drainages close to the Montana-Wyoming border.

One can find a Class 2 or easy Class 3 route up most Southeastern and Southwestern Absaroka summits, but many of the summits of the Northern Absarokas are only attainable by Class 3 or harder climbing. Several, such as Pilot and Index Peaks, are technical-only. Compounding the difficulties of climbing here is the abundant volcanic breccia that makes some of these mountains literally crumble as one climbs them. When one considers the long approaches, remote and rugged terrain, and bad rock out here, he or she cannot be surprised to know that these peaks, beautiful as they are, are far from popular among climbers. Oh, and the mountains are thick with grizzly bears.

And that is their charm; they are a bounty for those who seek a true wilderness experience with their mountains.

Beautiful but DeadlyPilot and Index Peaks
Sunlight Basin PanoramaSunlight Basin-- by 46and2-- click on this and then click on "Orig" to really appreciate this beautiful shot by one of SP's better photographers.
Sunlight BasinSunlight Basin-- by 46and2

Getting There/Access Points

The road through Yellowstone National Park between the Roosevelt-Tower area and Cooke City is a great place to access some remote, challenging peaks in some of the best wildlife habitat in the country.

The Beartooth Highway between Cooke City and the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway offers access to peaks such as Pilot and Index.

The Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, which passes through some classic Wyoming sagebrush and canyon country as it goes over Dead Indian Pass and connects the Beartooth Highway with Cody, has trailheads for hikes into rugged, remote canyons. It also accesses beautiful Sunlight Basin, which lies beneath the highest peaks in the range.

The road between Cody and Yellowstone's East Entrance, which Theodore Roosevelt said was the most scenic 50 miles in America, passes several trailheads and spurs to other trailheads.

The East Entrance Road in Yellowstone accesses peaks such as Avalanche, Hoyt, and Silvertip, plus some Absaroka summits that belong to the southwestern part of the range.

The Peaks

Dead Indian PeakDead Indian Peak
This page will not attempt to list all of the peaks in the range. It is instead intended to be useful by listing those named or unofficially named peaks for which information can be found on SummitPost and/or in Thomas Turiano's Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone. Turiano's book, which contains voluminous historical information in addition to route information, is the only guidebook I know that has extensive information on Absaroka mountaineering and is still in print.
Avalanche Peak from Hoyt PeakAvalanche Peak-- by thephotohiker

Peaks found only on SP are in italics and are attached as children to this page. Any peak not in italics is currently only in Turiano's book. If a peak is in both bold and italics, both sources feature it.

A rating is also given for each peak's standard route.
  • Trout Peak-- 12,244', Class 2
  • Dead Indian Peak-- 12,216', Class 3
  • Crag Peak-- 12,132', Class 2
  • Robbers Roost-- 12,065', Class 2+/3
  • Sunlight Peak-- 11,922', Class 3
  • Pilot Peak-- 11,699', Class 5 (5.6)
  • Stinkingwater Peak-- 11,602', Class 3
  • Closed Mountain-- 11,304', Class 3
  • Pollux Peak-- 11,063', Class 3
  • Notch Mountain-- 10,950', Class 2
  • Abiathar Peak-- 10,928', Class 4
  • Cutoff Mountain-- 10,695', Class 3
  • Silvertip Peak-- 10,645', Class 2
  • Avalanche Peak-- 10,568', Class 1
  • The Thunderer-- 10,543', Class 3
  • Hoyt Peak-- 10,506', Class 2+
  • Meridian Peak-- 10,500', Class 2+
  • Barronette Peak-- 10,442', Class 2
  • North Barronette Peak-- 10,270', Class 4
  • Windy Mountain-- 10,262', Class 1
  • Crown Butte-- 10,220', Class 3
  • Sunset Peak-- 10,204', Class 3
  • Pat O'Hara Mountain-- 9971', Class 2
  • Mount Norris-- 9935', Class 3
  • Druid Peak-- 9584', Class 3
  • Rattlesnake Mountain-- 9916', Class 1
  • White Mountain-- 8772', Class 3
  • Dead Indian Hill-- 8673', Class 2
  • Bald Peak-- 8633', Class 2
  • Four Bear Mountain-- 7606', Class 2
  • The Palisades-- 6600', Class 3
Hoyt PeakHoyt Peak

Red Tape

There is a $25 entrance fee for Yellowstone; that fee covers a week of access. Annual and interagency passes are also available; they cost more but are good deals for frequent visitors to national parks and other federally managed recreational areas.

Most of the rest of the range is managed by the Shoshone National Forest, and much of it (the range) lies within the federally protected North Absaroka Wilderness. There are no access fees, but special regulations concerning grizzly bears do apply.

Before July 16 and after September 30, the road into Sunlight Basin is closed to protect habitat for grizzlies. This lengthens the approach to several peaks by anywhere from a few to several miles.

The Beartooth Highway is closed in winter; it usually closes in mid-Autumn and does not reopen until Memorial Day. The Chief Joseph Scenic Byway is generally open all winter but sometimes can close due to weather-related conditions. The area is under a falling/fallen rock advisory during the snow season.


Northeast Yellowstone, the Beartooth Highway, the Chief Joseph Byway, and the road between Cody and Yellowstone among them have more than a dozen campgrounds.

More Information

Contact Shoshone National Forest.