Time To Complete: 4.0 hours
Seasonality: Summer and Fall
Dog Friendly: Yes
Destination Highlights: Panoramic Views, Wildflowers, Alpine Tundra
Beartooth Butte offers easy access to a combination of unbelievable views, tundra (!) hiking, and an epic feel for one of the more remarkable hiking days possible in the Rockies.
Beartooth Butte is a total anomaly of a high place. The remnant of an ancient seabed, the pale sedimentary butte is surrounded by alpine granite, glacial lakes and seemingly endless views that include the highest points in the state of Montana.
Part of this hike’s charm is the easy access to the route, which is almost entirely on the horseshoe-shaped ridge that leads to the end of Beartooth Butte. The Clay Butte lookout tower adds another interesting twist to the day.
What Makes It Great
Views, views, and more views. This hike has an incredibly open feel, being almost entirely on a ridge topped by alpine tundra. There are very few trees in the area, which enables a variety of routes to the end of the butte. There are some clear sections of trail, which you should use if possible to reduce impact on the delicate high country plants.
During certain parts of the summer, the route is a showcase of high-elevation wildflowers. The real stars of the show, however, are the distant peaks that surround the entire butte. You will be seldom out of sight of immense tracts of wilderness. A couple of warnings, however. Being so high and open means that this hike is not the place to be on a day with thunderstorms rolling through. The ridge is very exposed to weather and lightning – look at the weather before departing and get started early, as thunderstorms tend to form in the afternoons. If lightning is forecast, choose another hike.
Who’s Going to Love It
People who want large views without trudging for a day to get them. The views start pretty much from the trailhead, and only improve through the day.
From the intersection of Highway 14/16/20 West and Alt 14 East/WY West in Cody, drive 0.4 miles north on 16th Street, and turn left onto Highway 120. Follow Highway 120 16.4 miles to the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway (Highway 296) and turn left. Follow this highway 45.9 miles to the junction with Highway 212. Turn right and follow Highway 212 for 7.6 miles to the Clay Butte Lookout Road – Forest Service Road 142. Follow this road 2.6 miles to the parking lot of the Clay Butte Lookout.
From the parking lot, follow the obvious two track north along the ridge. There is an initial climb here, which is the most difficult part of the hike. Once on the ridge, follow the obvious horseshoe-shaped ridge north, then east, and then south to the end of the butte. One note – there is a section of ridge that is rocky and rough when you are headed south. The easiest way past this section is to the west, and a little bit lower than you have previously been hiking.