Beartooth Bliss: Dayhikes in Glacial Valleys, Montana

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14237A, Lodge


  • Explore an alpine wilderness with a mountain naturalist
  • Enjoy a midweek local history day, including talks on geology, Native Americans, and mining
  • Stay in cozy streamside lodge rooms, eating dinners that feature local cuisine


  • All ground transportation and airport pickup
  • Most lunches and breakfasts
  • Lodging each night at a mountain inn


DatesJul 20–26, 2014
StaffTom Davis

Trip Overview

The Trip

The Beartooth Mountains rise abruptly thousands of feet into the thin atmosphere from the rolling grassland hills of southeastern Montana. These mountains have all the classic characteristics that draw us to their valleys and peaks: thick stands of pine, fir and spruce, clear streams with quiet pools and roaring rapids, crashing waterfalls, vast alpine meadows speckled with a palette of vibrant wildflowers, and undisturbed solitude that refreshes all of us down deep inside. Slicing through this mountain range are glacial valleys that beckon hikers to explore their trails and beyond. 

Join us as we spend three days hiking three of these breathtaking valleys and then spend the last day going up over the Beartooth Highway and wandering into the high alpine wilderness away from the road. Midweek after two days of hiking, we’ll take a day off to learn about the local history of Red Lodge, our host city. This city and its surrounding area are rich in stories and characters of the past -- from Native Americans to miners to unique entrepreneurs. We will hear some of this history from several local history experts, visit a museum or two, and eat lunch at a local park that was once one of the most popular social gathering sites in the West for over 20 years.

When we are ready to turn in each night, we’ll retreat to a charming mountain resort. Each double-occupancy, cozy hotel room faces the roaring water of Rock Creek. Each evening we will enjoy the cuisine of a different local restaurant. We’ll reflect on our day’s journey with the group, enjoy the satisfying feeling of outdoor exercise, and recall the spectacular views of each day. John Muir once wrote, “The mountains are calling and I must go.”

Come hike with us and share the renewal and joy that mountain wilderness hiking brings.


Day 1: Participants will be picked up at the Billings, MT airport in the afternoon and enjoy the view of the Beartooths rising from the southern horizon as we drive toward Red Lodge. We will have a welcoming dinner at our lodge this evening and have plenty of time for the group to get to know each other.

Day 2: We will hike into the first mountain valley past several waterfalls and eat lunch with a spectacular view of Whitetail Peak. Elevation gain: 1,000 feet.  Round-trip trail miles: 8.4.

Day 3: We will drive 2/3 of the way up a U-shaped valley and hike to its high-walled end. From this point it is up 30 switchbacks to enter the realm of treeless tundra at Glacier Lake. Elevation gain: 1,600 feet.  Round-trip trail miles: 8.0.

Day 4: We’ll take a break from hiking to learn about the history of the Red Lodge area.  We’ll have breakfast at a local ma and pa diner and visit the site of an old backwoods entertainment center. In the afternoon, participants will have time to wander the museums and shops of Red Lodge. 

Day 5: This day we will hike into one of the most spectacular valleys of all.  A forest fire has cleared most of the trees in this valley, exposing some of the most amazing rock walls and snow-covered peaks in the western U.S. Elevation gain: 1,200 feet. Round-trip trail miles: 12.0.

Day 6: We jump into our vans and drive up the Beartooth Highway, stopping several times along the way to enjoy alpine vistas of Twin Lakes, Hellroaring Plateau, and the Bear’s Tooth. Near the top, we’ll hike off-road along an alpine ridge toward a distant elevated peak, where we’ll share lunch and gaze into the purple mountain majesty. Elevation gain: 300 feet. Round-trip trail miles: 7.0.

Day 7: We’ll spend one last morning with the group at our inn as we enjoy a leisurely breakfast and say goodbye to our new hiking friends and companions. The trip leaders will drive everyone to the airport before noon.



Getting There

The starting and ending point for this trip will be the Billings, MT international airport. Cost of transportation to and from the airport is included in the trip price. Billings is about 75 miles from Red Lodge. The leader will furnish roster information so participants may contact each other to arrange carpools if they decide to drive to the lodge. It is the sole responsibility of each participant to arrive at the starting point at the specified time.

Accommodations and Food

Our mountain streamside resort features double-occupancy modern hotel rooms, each with two queen beds, full bath with shower, and a balcony. Same-gender roommates will be provided for those traveling alone. For those willing to pay directly for the additional cost, single accommodations may be possible, subject to availability. The resort will provide a hot breakfast buffet in the dining room on five of the mornings. Lunches will be made and eaten on the trail between noon and 1 p.m. each day, except day four as described above. The trip price will include five breakfasts and four lunches. This trip is not vegetarian friendly. All dinners will be at local restaurants. All dinners, except the Sunday welcome dinner, are NOT included in the trip price. Each participant will pay for his or her own dinner each night. The leaders have sampled some of the excellent local cuisine and are looking forward to enjoying it with the group.

Trip Difficulty

Each day hike in the three valleys has a similar pattern of elevation gain. Each trail for the first several miles is rated as light hiking difficulty. However, during midmorning, the steepness increases gradually, with moderate hiking difficulty occurring as we reach the hike’s destination for lunch. Round-trip trail mileage ranges from nine to more than 12 miles. Though the hikes after lunch will be mostly downhill, hikers will be most comfortable if they can do regular aerobic training and hiking at altitude before they come on the trip. Elevations will range from 7,900 feet at several trailheads to more than 11,000 feet on the Beartooth Pass. Participants must be over 21 years old. Hikers must also be prepared for all kinds of weather in the high country. Snow occurs in these valleys in every month of the year and the temperature can change from mid 80s to mid 40s within 45 minutes' time.

Equipment and Clothing

All participants must bring their own well-broken in hiking boots, raingear, clothing layers, hiking poles, water bottles, and day packs. A more complete list of what to bring will be sent out by the leaders after trip registration. Fishing licenses must be bought in Red Lodge prior to the day hikes.


  • Beartooth Mountains Outdoor Recreation Map, Beartooth Publishing, Bozeman, MT.
  • Anderson, Bob, 1994 Beartooth Country, Montana Geographic Series, No. 7, Revised edition, Montana Magazine/American & World Geographic Publishing, Helena, MT.


The Beartooth Wilderness is at the center of these mountains and draws people to its solitude. We will discuss threats to this and other wilderness areas as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. We will discuss the Forest Service plans to limit admission to certain wilderness areas. Evidence of the presence of the mountain pine bark beetle is all over the West, and in the Beartooths, too.  We will discuss the biology and reasons for the spread of this endemic insect. Several large glaciers have been present in the Beartooths for many years. Like other places, these are melting quickly due to global warming. What are the long- and short-term effects of their reduced water supply for areas downstream? The leader encourages each participant to bring information about important conservation issues in his/her local or regional area to discuss with the group. New challenges that we all face include electric cars, new sources of electricity, alternatives to coal, fracking, and living more fully with less. The leader will set aside time for group discussion of these and other conservation issues.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from the Custer National Forest.



Tom Davis has enjoyed helping people learn about the outdoors for over 20 years. He has led hikers and llamas in backcountry trips in western Wyoming. He has backpacked with groups in many mountain regions of the West- the Beartooths, Wind Rivers, San Juans, the "Bob", Yellowstone N.P., Yosemite NP, and the Cascades. He has also led canoe trips into the Boundary Waters and Quetico. Tom currently teaches human and environmental biology courses at Loras College in Dubuque, IA and leads field ecology trips with his students to Florida and Costa RIca. He enjoys biking, day hikes, mountaintops, birdwatching, and wild huckleberries. Tom believes that respect for the natural environment comes from living and learning in it. He looks forward to meeting and learning from other outdoor enthusiasts and sharing his passion for keeping our natural environment safe for future generations.

Assistant Leader:

Barb Davis has hiked and camped with her husband Tom for over 20 years in many mountain areas of the west. She has led llamas on several backpacking trips into the Wind River and Wyoming ranges in western Wyoming. She is a Gemini and, thus, enjoys wilderness camping, mountain alpenglow and getting away from it all but equally enjoys coming back into town to enjoy a soft bed, a cold drink and some fine dining. Barb teaches 4th grade in Dubuque, IA and enjoys the rewards of teaching children about science and the natural world. She is leader of an active environmental club and has been a key player in getting her elementary school recognized as one out of only 5% of national elementary schools as a Green Vision school. She likes trying new recipes whether they are for a new chocolaty dessert bar or a crunchy green backcountry salad. Maybe she’ll whip up something new on this trip!

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