Pilot Peak is a striking pinnacle in the immediate northeast of Yellowstone National Park, visible along US-212 highway which approaches the park from the direction of Bilings, Montana. It is part of volcanic Absaroka Range which forms the massive eastern escarpment of Yellowstone Plateau. US-212 highway is the highest road in the Yellowstone area, reaching 10940 feet elevation at Beartooth Pass, about 20 miles east of Pilot Peak. This stretch of highway winds through a spectacular alpine country, and is designated the "Beartooth Scenic Byway". Granite Peak, Montana's highest, is not far to the northeast.
The name Pilot Peak, and it's obvious neighbor, Index Peak, refer to the alignment of the two summits. From the north, they line up to resemble the sight on a mariner's sextant. They proved invaluable to pioneers of the Greater Yellowstone region since they, along with the nearby Tetons, mark the boundaries of the steaming plateau known as Colter's Hell.
The Washburn expedition in 1870, credited with 'discovering' Yellowstone Park, used Pilot Peak to guide them to the rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the incredible Geyser Basins beyond. This expedition, armed with photographs by Jackson and paintings by Thomas Moran, convinced Congress to pass the Organic Act of 1872, creating the world's first National Park. The words are inscribed on the Roosevelt Arch outside of Gardiner, Montana: "...to be preserved ... for the benefit and enjoyment of the people."
From west: take US-212 highway from Yellowstone National Park eastbound. Drive about 7 miles past Cooke City, Montana and Pilot Peak is on your right.
From east: take US-212 highway from Interstate-90 highway west of Bilings, Montana. Drive about 100 miles and Pilot Peak is on your left. You will pass the spectacular high country around 10940-foot Beartooth Pass.
There are two main trails that access this peak. The shortest begins just south of Cooke City at the Republic Pass trailhead. After about 1/2 mile, Woody Creek trail breaks off to the left. Follow this creek, then Hayden Creek to the large basin west of the Pilot-Index saddle. Excellent camping can be found here. Climbs of Pilot and Index peaks begin from the saddle.
The long way is via the Pilot Creek trail that starts east of Cooke City on US 212. The trail is marked by a brown USFS sign, and begins just off the road. This approach requires about 8 miles of hiking to gain the more difficult north and east faces of Pilot Peak.
Pilot Peak is within the North Absaroka Wilderness. Ranger Station address: Shoshone National Forest (Clark Fork Ranger District), 203A Yellowstone Ave., Cody, WY 82414-9313. Phone: 307-527-6921
The area is frequented by Grizzly and Black bears. Proper food storage is required in the area, either by hanging food or using bear-resistant containers. More detailed information about bear safety can be found at any of the visitor centers in the Park. Several techniques exist, but the goal is to hang food at least 12 feet off of the ground, and 3 feet from any tree trunk or branch. Some primitive campsites along established trails will have a crossbar secured in a tree for easy hanging. In more remote areas, or above treeline, you may need to get a bit creative. Remember to put all items with an odor in the bear bag (i.e. chapstick, cooking utensils, stove). Food left in vehicles must not be visible. Wildlife is abundant in this area so take precaution and be alert.
May through June will present spring snow conditions most years, with easy hiking in the morning and dangerous slush in the afternoon. Late June through September (and possible October) will be the best time for an easy approach and good climbing weather. October through April is winter in the high country with all of the accompanying problems. Winter approach requires snow and avalanche safety equipment.
Backcountry camping does not require a permit. Proper food storage is required to protect your food from bears. See Red Tape section for more info.
Fee campgrounds administered by Gallatin National Forest (in Montana) and Shoshone National Forest (in Wyoming) are located nearby along highway 212.
Many lodging options are available within Yellowstone National Park. Nearby towns such as Cooke City and Silver Gate, Montana have commercial lodging. Especially charming is the Range Rider's Lodge, where you can stay in a room named for the girl that once "worked" there!