North Absaroka Wilderness Area

North Absaroka Wilderness
The North Absaroka Wilderness is an integral part of the Greater Yellowstone Area and is situated along the northeastern boundary of Yellowstone National Park, just north of the North Fork Shoshone River. There are 350,488 acres of remote, rugged country in the North Absaroka Wilderness, accessible by 217 miles of trail.

The true character of the North Absaroka may best be described as a vast area of relatively inaccessible terrain possessing a wildness, the nature of which may have been experienced by the early mountain men and explorers of the western frontier. Home of the grizzly bear, bighorn sheep, and elk, the Absarokas provide one of the last refuges from man's thirst for development.

As one travels the back country of the North Absaroka, historic fire scars, evidence of flash floods and other more subtle vagaries of Mother Nature are evidence of an ecosystem mostly untouched by man. This setting provides one of the few remaining opportunities for a true wilderness experience in the lower forty-eight states. Wilderness visitors can expect rough trails, minimum signing, a relatively high factor of risk, and fairly light recreation use, especially during the spring and summer months.

Terrain is characterized by rugged mountains of volcanic origin, dissected by numerous creeks that have formed huge drainages. During summer rainstorms, tons of erodible topsoil turn the creeks into frothing rivers of mud. The water comes off the ridges and slopes quickly and flash floods and fast flowing high water are hazards to be alert for. Trail distances are vast and trails steep and narrow. One can expect to encounter washouts, fallen trees and loose rock on trail treads at different times.

Due to the volcanic geology of the North Absaroka, only a handful of very small lakes exists. The numerous streams contain fisheries for cutthroat, rainbow, brook and brown trout.

The North Absaroka is perhaps most renowned for its wildlife populations, especially bighorn sheep, elk, moose, and the grizzly bear. The fall big game seasons bring hundreds of hunters into the backcountry and a number of commercial outfitters maintain hunting camps miles from the trailheads. The grizzly bear, listed as a threatened species and therefore protected under the Threatened and Endangered Species Act, is a resident of the North Absaroka and its presence is a vital component to the wild character of the area. Golden eagles are frequently observed and marmots and pika reign the talus slopes of the subalpine and alpine ecosystems within the Wilderness.

Due to the great distances and rugged trails, the majority of visitors to this area use horses to pack in. Forage is relatively scarce, especially in close proximity to desirable campsites. A limited number of campsites tends to create problems of overuse and it is important for all wilderness travelers to practice low-impact camping techniques. Trails tend to follow drainages as there are few opportunities to cross from one drainage to another except at the headwaters. There are few loop trails, although extended trips can loop into Yellowstone National Park, where permits are required. A minimum of signing makes it necessary for backcountry users to carry a complete set of topographic maps and maintain a constant awareness of their location.

Summer in the Absarokas brings hot and relatively dry conditions. Flies and gnats can be a problem, but there are generally not very many mosquitoes. Travelers should carry adequate supplies of water, since many trails are away from creeks, and springs and seeps are rare.

Popo Agie

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 14 Apr 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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