Hiking the Bighorn Pass Trail
Bighorn Pass Trail, Yellowstone National Park
Hike #8, Bighorn Pass Trail - West Side
Bighorn Pass Trailhead WK6
Northwest Section - Minimal Traffic
Yellowstone National Park

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Location: Northwest Section (See map to the right)
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate - Out-and-back, point-2-point or overnighter
Distance: 21.2 mi/35 km round-trip to Bighorn Pass
Elevation Gain: 1,885 ft. - the trail is very flat to campsite WB6
Best time to visit: May-November (The pass may be snow-covered until mid-July)

Backcountry Camping: Yes. 4 sites - WB1, WB3, WB4 & WB6
Click here to view a list of backcountry campsites for this area.

NOTE: East of campsite WB6 is the Gallatin Bear Management Area. No off-trail travel between May 1st and November 10th. Groups of 4 or more recommended when hiking or camping in this area.

Full Description: Read the full description or view photos of this hike.
Topo Maps: Beartooth Publishing - Yellowstone National Park

Finding the Trailhead - Bighorn Pass - West Side (WK6)
From West Yellowstone:
From the center of town drive north on routes 191 & 287 toward Big Sky and Bozeman for approximately 20.4 miles. The trailhead is on the right and sits back from US 191 along a dirt road. Get Directions from West Yellowstone

From Bozeman: Drive 67.7 miles south on route US 191 towards the towns of Big Sky and West Yellowstone. The trailhead will be on the left 1.5 miles past the Fawn Pass Trailhead. Get Directions from Bozeman

Backcountry permits can be obtained in West Yellowstone at the West Yellowstone Visitor Information Center - (307) 344-2876.

Read more about obtaining Yellowstone Backcountry Permits.

Bighorn Pass Trailhead Location

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Bighorn Pass Overview Map
Bighron Pass Topo Map
Bighorn Pass Trail Stats

Trail Details
Trail Condition: Excellent
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Total Mileage: 21.2 mi /35 km round-trip
Type of Hike: Out-and-back, point-2-point or overnighter
Wow Factor: Flat, open terrain along the Gallatin River
Elevation Gain: 1,885 ft.

Nearest Towns: West Yellowstone, Big Sky & Bozeman
20.4 miles north of West Yellowstone, MT - Get Directions
30.5 miles south of Big Sky, MT - Get Directions
67.7 miles south of Bozeman, MT - Get Directions

Trailhead Coordinates
Latitude: 44.928600
Longitude: -111.053946

Bighorn Pass Coordinates
Latitude: 44.872496
Longitude: -110.880005

Approx. Elevations
Trailhead Elevation = 7,225 ft.
Bighorn Pass Elevation = 9,110 ft.
Elevation Gain = 1,885 ft.
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Yellowstone Backcountry Info

Bighorn Pass Photo Gallery
Bighorn Pass Trail Description

Bighorn Pass Trail Description (Trailhead WK6) - Light to Moderate Traffic

Bighorn Pass is very relaxing hike from start to finish and would be a great family outing in a seldom visited section of Yellowstone. Spend part of the day hiking and part of the day fishing the blue ribbon trout waters of the Gallatin River.

NOTE: The footbridge over the Gallatin River (0.3 miles) has been replaced as of 10/2016.

The Bighorn Pass Trailhead (WK6) is located along route US 191 about 20.4 miles from the town of West Yellowstone. This hike was completed as an out and back with an overnight stay at campsite WB1 (★★★★★). WB1 is a beautiful site located along the Gallatin River 4.3 miles from the trailhead. There are 4 backcountry campsites located in this region, two of which are stock only sites (WB3 and WB4). In the spring there may be a little standing water at the first two footbridges but in general the trail is easy to follow and is usually very dry.
Click here to view the campsites located in this region.

Wildlife sightings along this trail may include black and grizzly bears as well as elk, deer, coyote and wolves. We have encountered bears frequently along this trail so remain alert, make your presence known, and keep your bear spray handy. The presence of bison is minimal in this area of the park because the Gallatin Range provides a significant barrier to these animals.

Getting Started: From the trailhead the hike begins at the narrowest point of a large valley where the Gallatin River intersects with US HWY 191. At 0.3 miles the trail meets the river where it crosses a smaller side channel and then the main river on two small footbridges (temporarily removed). The area between these two stream crossings can be a little wet in the spring (May/June) if runoff is high (see photos). We did this hike in late June and the Gallatin was running much higher due to above average snowfall during the winter. Usually the trail is very dry and this particular section is easy to cross without the risk of getting wet feet early on in the hike. With a good pair of waterproof hiking boots this area wasn't much more than a minor inconvenience when we were here.

After crossing to the north side of the river the terrain opens briefly before entering a small stand of trees at 0.7 miles. Visibility is somewhat limited here until you crest a small hill and exit this group of trees. Once you move past these trees the landscape opens up significantly and you'll have views in all directions. Crowfoot Ridge dominates the landscape to the southeast and is often covered with snow until late June. For much of this hike the trail hugs the northern edge of this massive valley as it heads in an easterly direction toward the Gallatin Range.

At mile 1.8 and again at mile 2.2 the trail briefly connects with the Gallatin River which moves slowly through much of the valley. If you view this stretch of the river using Google earth it twists and turns in a series of short, elegant loops. If you plan to fish the Gallatin it's best to stay closer to US 191 where the habitat is much better for fishing and wetting a line will be more productive. Fish species for the Gallatin include, cutthroats, brookies, rainbows, browns with a few graylings and mountain whitefish.

At this point the river shifts toward the middle of the valley and at 2.6 miles the trail briefly ascends a small hillside to avoid a marshy area on the valley floor. As you make this short traverse be on the lookout for marmots that make this rocky area their home. Their chirps and whistles can often be heard as they dart from one hiding place to another as their curiosity gets the best of them. After crossing this hillside the trail drops down to the valley floor and continues through open terrain to the Fawn Pass junction at 4.2 miles and campsite WB1 at 4.3 miles. Campsite WB1 (★★★★★) is a great overnight destination and is an easy hike if you're looking for a less strenuous backpacking trip. It's the perfect base camp for longer day hikes into the Gallatin Range and we highly recommend hiking to Bighorn Pass if you camp anywhere along this trail.

Passing campsite WB1 the valley narrows significantly and the surrounding landscape becomes much more wooded. The trail will pass intermittently between smaller stands of conifer trees and open meadows. The Gallatin River is much smaller here and runs along the treeline to the south. As you reach campsite WB3 (★★★★★) at mile 4.9, you'll notice a large landslide on the left that descends from the hillside down to the trail. Yellowstone is shaken by numerous earthquakes every year and this small slide is evidence of that activity.

Continuing on through the last 1.5 miles of the hike, smaller feeder streams become more frequent as they join the Gallatin River, and we've often seen cutthroat trout spawning in these small channels. A few of these little little creeks require a bit of quad strength to jump across but a majority of them can be crossed with very little effort and in the late summer they are usually bone dry.

Campsite WB4 (★★★★★), which is located at 5.5 miles is another stock only campsite that sits right on the edge of this narrow valley. The landscape along the trail here is very flat and it has the appearance of an unkept golf course. The scenery is very much the same all the way to campsite WB6 (★★★★★) at 6.4 miles which is about a tenth of a mile from the Gallatin BMA. Overall this is a very easy day hike, or overnighter with opportunities for viewing some of the larger species of wildlife within the park.

Optional Hike: If you're looking for a long day hike you can follow this trail over Bighorn Pass to the Indian Creek Campground (19.1 miles) and the Indian Creek Trailhead (1K5) for a longer point-2-point hike. This would require a vehicle shuttle but it's well worth the effort.

NOTE: This hike is located at the western edge of the Gallatin Bear Management Area (BMA). It's recommended that you hike in groups of 4 or more. No off-trail travel is allowed once you enter the BMA which is located just past campsite WB6 at around 6.4 miles.

Click here to download your FREE Yellowstone Backcountry Trip Planner - Contains backcountry campsite information, backcountry permit information, park service phone numbers, bear management information and hiking/backpacking checklists.

WARNING: YOU MUST BE WELL PREPARED and carry the necessary equipment to make your hike a safe one. You are responsible for your own well-being while trekking in these remote wilderness locations. Help or rescue can be hours or even days away.

Read more about obtaining Yellowstone Backcountry Permits.

Trail Map

Nearby Hiking Trails
Daly Creek (Trailhead WK1) - Provides access to the north end of the beautiful and rugged Sky Rim Trail.
Black Butte (Trailhead WK2) - Climbs to the jagged summit of Bighorn Peak and connects with the Sky Rim Trail.
Specimen Creek (Trailhead WK3) - Provides a direct route to Shelf Lake. Access to Crescent/High Lake and the Sportsman Lake Trails.
Bacon Rind (Trailhead WK4) - This trail exits the park to the west and climbs to the Skyline Trail in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness.
Fan Creek (Trailhead WK5) - A secluded valley that connects with the Sportsman Lake Trail.
Fawn Pass - West Side (Trailhead WK5) - A long but rewarding day hike into the heart of the Gallatin Bear Management Area (BMA).
Gneiss Creek (Trailhead WK7) - A quiet stretch of trail that is as flat as it is long.

Nearby Campgrounds
Bakers Hole - May to Sept. - Bakers Hole Campground is located 3 miles north of West Yellowstone and has 73 sites and vault toilets. Electrical hookups are available for 33 sites. Campsites are $16.00 + per night. Reservations are not accepted - Get Directions from the Bighorn Pass Trailhead to the Bakers Hole Campground.

Taylor Fork Road - Open Year-round - Taylor Fork Road is approximately 13 miles north of the Bighorn Pass Trailhead on US 191. Campsites are free. The first few sites are located about a mile from US 191. Forest service road (FSR 134) follows Taylor Creek west and extends deep into the Madison Range/Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area, and provides access to numerous hiking and mountain biking opportunities within the Gallatin National Forest - Get Directions from the Bighorn Pass Trailhead to the Taylor Fork Primitive Area Campsites.

Red Cliff Campground - May to Sept. - Red Cliff Campground is approximately 21 miles north of the Bighorn Pass Trailhead on US 191 and has 67 sites and vault toilets. Electric hookups are available for 26 sites. Campsites are $15.00 per night. Located along the Gallatin River between Big Sky and the northern boundary of the National Park. Bozeman Ranger District/Gallatin National Forest - (406) 587-9054 - Get Directions from the Bighorn Pass Trailhead to the Red Cliff Campground.

Yellowstone National Park Backcountry Permits
All overnight backcountry permits for the northwest section of Yellowstone National Park can be obtained at the West Yellowstone Visitor Information Center on the corner of Yellowstone Ave. and S. Canyon St./route 191 in West Yellowstone. - (307) 344-2876. Read more about obtaining Yellowstone Backcountry Permits.

Post Hike Meals

Don't forget to stop in at one of the following restaurants on your way back to West Yellowstone or Bozeman.

If you're heading back to West Yellowstone try one of these local restaurants.
Wolf Pack Brewing Co located at 139 North Canyon Street in West Yellowstone - Directions
Wild West Pizzeria at 14 Madison Avenue in West Yellowstone - Directions

The Corral located on route 191 - Burgers & Beers - Directions
The Wrap Shack in Big Sky - Fresh, healthy and affordable food. Directions
Choppers Grub & Pub in the Big Sky Town Center - Directions

Maps for Hiking Bighorn Pass
Beartooth Publishing Outdoor Recreational Maps
These maps from Beartooth Publishing will cover all of Yellowstone National Park as well as Bozeman/Big Sky/Gallatin Range/Madison Range and West Yellowstone.
For more information regarding these maps click here.

Directions to Bighorn Pass Trailhead

Click the Map to Launch Directions
From West Yellowstone to the Bighorn Pass Trailhead.


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