The Beaten Path (Backpacking)

Shuttle • 26 mi • 0 ft

The most popular trans-Beartooth route. Many people who know the Beartooths say the East Rosebud is the most scenic valley of all. It’s filled with lakes and waterfalls that would be major tourism attractions anywhere else. Here, there are so many, most don’t even have names. The cutthroat-filled lakes bring a smile to any angler’s face, and climbers love the place because of the endless array of rock faces. Families and friends frequently choose the Beaten Path for that long-planned wilderness adventure. Consequently, the East Rosebud Trailhead is probably the largest and most heavily used in the Beartooths. Adding even more use to the area is the small community of summer homes called Alpine right at the trailhead. The summer homes extend up both sides of the lower sections of East Rosebud Lake, closing off much of the lake to public use. This backpacking trip showcases all the beauty, austerity, emptiness, and majesty of the Beartooths. It’s a great introduction to the region’s richness, diversity, and starkness, traveling through the lowest bottomlands and the highest plateaus. Along the way the route skirts dozens of trout-filled lakes and stunning waterfalls. It penetrates rich forests and wanders the treeless, lichen-covered Beartooth Plateau. This trail touches the true essence of the Beartooths. This is the land of rushing water. Waterfalls and frothy, cascading streams are everywhere. There’s no such scenery in Yellowstone National Park. Nonetheless, we should all be elated to have the park so near, because it sucks up most of the visitors and leaves places like the East Rosebud for us. Still, this trail receives relatively heavy use compared to other routes in the Beartooths. Amazingly, however, the Beaten Path does not seem crowded. Even though hundreds of people may be somewhere along the 26-mile trail at any given time, most hikers would never know it. It’s always a surprise to meet another party on the trail, and quiet spots to camp abound. For uninterrupted solitude, and to really enjoy and experience the Beartooths, do make an effort to get off the Beaten Path. This trail has dozens of options for off-trail adventures—which is one reason the Beartooths can swallow up hundreds of people and leave the trail seemingly abandoned. Special attractions: Perhaps the best opportunity to really experience the breadth and diversity of the Beartooths.
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Activity Type: Hiking
Nearby City: Roscoe
Length: 26 total miles
Elevation Gain: Minimal
Trail Type: Shuttle
Skill Level: Long and strenuous, but not technically difficult or dangerous
Duration: About 4 days
Season: Best summer and fall
Local Contacts: Absaroka - Beartooth Wilderness
Local Maps: USGS Alpine, Castle Mountain, Fossil Lake; USFS Absaroka - Beartooth Wilderness
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Recent Trail Reviews


My wife and I did this right at the end of the season and happened to catch it when the weather was cool but not cold. The difficulty was moderate in places but the trail was easy to follow. For our trip, we did not have anyone to pick us up or drop a car on the other side so we started from Elm Lake (East side) and went to Fossil Lake and back. This was by far the most beautiful hike that we've done. Every few miles the geology and vegetation change...all stunning in their own way. We highly recommend it!


Completely spectacular! Long and strenuous but worth every step! I recommend doing it in 5 or more days so you have time to relax and fish. We did it in four days and spent most of our time hiking. Lots of wild raspberries between Elk lake and East Rosebud in late August! Most beautiful part of the hike is between Fossil lake and Lake at Falls, but it's all spectacular!

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