Skyline Guest Ranch and Guide Service can take you camping anywhere in Yellowstone Park (in designated backcountry stock campsites) and in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness area near Cooke City, Montana. Your camp may be of any length from overnight to a week or more!
To give you a taste of what you may experience on backcountry overnight camping trips, here's a description of a multi-night camp. Of course, the scenarios described may or may not be typical, as every trip is unique in its landscape, trail terrain, picturesque qualities and the weather, wildlife, and other factors are all part of the adventure.
Written by Fran Hellman, Yellowstone enthusiast who has taken multiple pack trips including two trips to the Hoodoos with Skyline Guest Ranch and Guide Service.
Join us on a five or six-day excursion to one of Yellowstone’s secret places—Hoodoo Basin—where goblin-like spires and formations jut up out of the earth in grand arrays of sculptures created by thousands of years of erosion.
Discovered by a small group of miners in 1870, you will see the Hoodoos and surrounding country much as they did in what are some of nature’s seemingly timeless creations. Be amongst the relatively few people to have ever visited one of Yellowstone’s greatest natural wonders!
We will mount our horses at the Lamar trailhead and within minutes, leave all evidence of the modern world behind. We will follow the Lamar River through its wide open valley, a beautiful place that is frequented by buffalo, elk, antelope, and wolves.
As the valley gradually narrows, we will eventually find ourselves high above the Lamar at its confluence with Miller Creek; so named for one of the miners that discovered The Hoodoos. Here, we turn and begin to follow Miller creek in an area that was deeply scarred in the fires of 1988. As we ascend the creek, the scarred landscape begins to give way to intermittent lush meadows where a moose might be seen. In one of these meadows, we will make our first camp.
The evening will bring the first of many good evenings to come with great food, good conversation, and reflection of the day’s sites and events around a cozy fire. As the warmth of the fire surrenders to the chilly evening air, we will retire to our tents and be lulled to sleep by the rushing sound of the nearby creek.
As the light of a new day begins to filter through the fabric of your tents, you will arise and make your way to a warming fire and be treated to hot and hearty breakfast. As soon as camp is cleaned up and the mules packed, we mount our saddled horses and continue our journey up Miller Creek pausing at the remains of a giant petrified tree.
Soon we will ride past the Miller Creek backcountry patrol cabin that sits in the midst of a very young forest and then begin to make a 2000 ft ascent up a set of switchbacks to the high country. There, we will be treated to an awe-inspiring 360-degree view of several of Yellowstone’s prominent peaks including Saddle Mountain, Hoodoo, Parker, Caster, and Pollux Peaks, and more.
Continuing, the trail runs through a verdant valley that is often frequented by herds of elk before climbing to a perch on a shoulder of Parker Peak, just below its summit. Traversing the valley ahead of us, we will climb up on a bench and make a gradual descent through the edge of a meadow where we’ve seen grizzly bear cubs frolicking.
As the rising landscape to our left diminishes, those goblin-like formations that are known as The Hoodoos will be revealed in a bowl-like cutout in the hillside with a small opening on one side through which a tiny spring flows.
From there, we will climb the slope on the opposite side and make our camp close to the rim. Surely, there will be a lot to think and talk about over another freshly prepared meal before the light of day turns to dusk, and dusk to darkness which, on a cloudless night, can reveal more stars than you’ve ever imagined exist.
As the fourth day dawns, a great fire and hot breakfast will help to stave off the chill of the frosty morning air. Our camp here is at 9700 ft elevation. The morning will be spent at your leisure exploring and photographing the Hoodoos.
In the afternoon, we will mount our horses and follow the trail east along the top of a ridge to the easternmost point in Yellowstone Park. No words can describe this place! The country here is a vast, wide open, and beautiful grassland.
As we approach the park boundary, looking to our right, we will find ourselves at the head of a sloping V-shaped valley lined with dendritic type tributaries that become the Lamar River; to our left, a steep drop-off with a breathtaking view of the One Hunt drainage; ahead of us, the head of another valley in which lie the headwaters of Sunlight Creek.
As we turn around and head back to camp, we will see Parker and Hoodoo Peaks standing like monuments in the distance. With appetites satisfied, we will once again, retire to our tents to drift off to sleep with thoughts of the day’s magnificent experience still fresh in our minds.
Mounting our horses, we will bid farewell to this magical and beautiful land and head back to our camp on Miller Creek. With time and energy provided, upon reaching the shoulder of Parker Peak we may pause to scale its 10,203-foot summit. This lofty perch will provide grand sweeping views from all sides sure to render you in a state of jaw-dropping awe. From that high peak, we will retreat and continue making our way back through the beautiful meadows.
Soon, Miller Creek will come into view looking like a tiny silver thread. Descending the switchbacks, we find ourselves back amongst the lodgepole pines on the valley floor, and before long, back at our camp alongside the creek.
Once again, on this final morning of our adventure, as you emerge from your tent and walk through the dew-laden grass, the smell of the crisp mountain air will be replaced with the smell of breakfast cooking on an open fire. With mules packed and horses mounted we will make our way down Miller Creek to its confluence with the Lamar River.
As that great river valley widens and we crest a hill, the twinkling reflections of vehicles on the distant roadway will soon catch your eye; a bittersweet sign that our journey is about to end.