Yellowstone's rugged northeast section contains some of the park's most spectacular mountain scenery. This trail affords adventuresome visitors a taste of this vast untamed wilderness and provides opportunities to view forest fire effects, a beautiful stream, and plentiful wildlife, including bighorn sheep and mountain goats.
The trail begins at the Warm Creek Trailhead a mile or so west of the park's Northeast Entrance Gate. You'll need to either leave a car at the Pebble Creek Campground Trailhead or arrange to be picked up at the end of this shuttle. The good news is, by taking the trail from north to south, you have a net loss of 500 feet.
Bring your fording shoes; the trail crosses Pebble Creek 5 times (at 1.2 mi, 3.5 mi, 6.6 mi, 7.5 mi & 12.1 mi). Although the last ford can be avoided by taking a short spur trail at the end of the run.
From the trailhead the trail climbs steeply over the 950-foot north shoulder of Barronette Peak (10,404') in the first 1.2 miles. The peak, though misspelled, was named for "Yellowstone Jack" Baronett, gold prospector, builder of the park's first bridge across the Yellowstone River, early park guide and discoverer of Truman Everts, famous lost member of the 1870 Washburn Expedition.
Near the top, views of Abiathar Peak (10,928') and Amphitheater Mountain (10,847') back across the valley to the southeast become good. Just after the ridge is topped, the trail travels along a fire line that was cut in 1988 as part of the defense of Cooke City and Silver Gate, Montana. The Storm Creek Fire was moving in from the west. To bring it under control, the fire bosses planned to cut a huge fire line, then burn up the fuel between it and the forest fire. A "burnout" fire, as it's called, was started not far from here. But a wind shift caused an ember to jump back across the fire line and ignite an inferno which later swept past the community of Silver Gate and caused the evacuation of Cooke City. Ironically, the Storm Creek Fire never reached the original fire line.
Efforts were made to keep the impact from 1988 fire suppression activities to a minimum. However, in the Greater Yellowstone area fire fighters constructed 137 miles of bulldozer line (32 miles in the park itself), over 650 miles of hand line, 150 helispots, 51 spike camps and many larger command camps. Unfortunately, the scars left by these efforts often remain long after the burned areas have regenerated.
The trail descends 270 feet and reaches the banks of Pebble Creek at the 1.9-mile mark. As you drop into the meadow, the rare beauty of upper Pebble Creek unfolds. Lush green meadows abound that are guarded by the craggy mountain peaks of the Absaroka Range. The most striking of these mountains is ominous Cutoff Mountain (10,695'), whose sheer rock face towers above the valley to the northwest.
The trail crosses Pebble Creek, bends left and continues downstream closely following it. Nearby is a beautiful backcountry campsite (3P5). The next 3 miles through open meadows along Pebble Creek are the highlight of the trip. There’s a chance to see elk in the valley and bighorn sheep and mountain goats in the craggy mountain tops. Along the way, the trail passes another nice campsite (3P4) and fords the creek the second of 5 times at 3.5 miles. The impact of the 1988 fires is still quite evident throughout this upper part of the valley.
At the 5-mile mark the trail leaves the open meadows and enters a mix of forests and meadows that will be with you the remainder of the journey. At 5.5 miles a junction with the Bliss Pass Trail
is passed on the right. The trail continues south along the creek, crossing it again at the 6.6 and 7.5-mile marks. From there the trail begins to climb away from the creek and the views become less good. At the 10.9-mile mark the trail begins a 700 foot drop in its final 1.2 miles. To avoid the final ford of Pebble Creak take a left on the Pebble Creek Connecter trail at the 11.9-mile mark an follow it .2 miles to the highway.
Thanks to guidebook author, Tom Carter, for sharing this trail description. To learn more about visiting Yellowstone, check out his book, Day Hiking Yellowstone
Small bands of bighorn sheep are often seen along these mountains' rocky slopes. In late May, the ewes separate from the herd and seek the safety of steep rocky ledges to give birth. They usually deliver a solitary lamb. Fully developed when born, the young lamb takes its first steps within 30 minutes. Both the males (ram) and females (ewe) have horns that are never shed. Only the ram will develop the full 360 degree curl.
This small corner of Yellowstone is the best area of the park to view mountain goats. Though not native to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, these fascinating animals were introduced into the Beartooth Mountains in the 1940s and have crossed over into the park. If present, their stark white bodies are easily spotted against the darker mountains. Elk and mule deer are also commonly seen in this area. It is also a good route to see black bear.