When you turn off Route 78 in Roscoe, Montana between Red Lodge and Columbus to drive to the East Rosebud Lake the pavement disappears fairly quickly and your vehicle is soon dust covered.
Don’t moan, complain, or worry about the washing of chrome and paint that will have to be done later. Keep your eyes fixed dead ahead and your mouth shut so that every time it drops open at another awe-inspiring view you can let it have its way.
This drive approaching the canyon is gorgeous, breathtaking, God-given, and every other descriptive word of beauty that you can dream up.
Thirty years had passed since my first trek to the East Rosebud and that was far too long to miss out on visiting this gem. The lime green meadows have deep evergreens shooting skyward while they lead your eye up the mountain slopes to the colorful ridges, some still touched with snow.
Last summer my brother-in-law and niece hiked the 26 mile stretch from atop the Beartooth Pass in Cooke City down to East Rosebud Lake. It took them four days and was worth every arduous step that their booted feet took. At least going that direction it’s more down than up.
When the fires of 1996 came, many of the cabins located lakeside were burnt. Rebuilding took place and there’s a scattering of non-winter homes located around the area. If you forgot to bring some vital treat, never fear, there is a charming and surprisingly well-stocked store not far from the trailhead. Coffee? Ice cream? Trail mix? Gab a bit with the owners, grab your treats and head out. While hiking, carry water and stay hydrated, with the dry air and the altitude, more body moisture can evaporate than you think. Take salty snacks and pace yourself with both hiking and snacking.
The East Rosebud is a place for day hikes, overnight treks, and fishing. Although you could probably pop a kayak onto the lake and enjoy some laps around, the upper branch of water leading into it is tough and not intended for recreational use. The boat launch is easy and if you’re lucky, you’ll see a mama and baby moose nibbling on the waterside grasses. As always, heed the cautions of the locals and don’t get between the two animals or trouble will follow.
Before you set off, you’ll also need to read the notices posted on the trailside boards. They alert you to bears in the area, always a possibility, and anything else of importance.
We hiked a bit of the Elk trail and passed serious backpackers headed up the steep hills to Cooke City and, incongruously, a guy carrying nothing but a Subway bag—the nearest of those is more than twenty-five miles away.
The trail is mostly exposed, so keep the sunscreen on your skin and the hat on your head. Even if you think you have tough skin, the western sky is so clear that it’s easy to get burnt.
Speaking of burning, although you don’t see it in the news, too much of Montana is on fire right now. As of the writing of this blog, (9/15/17), over 1.2 million acres have been destroyed—homes, ranches, livestock, wild animals, forests—gone. So even if you are there during the spring and you’ve got blessed rain or spring runoff keeping the ground green and wet, be cautious of flames. Pay attention to the fire danger warnings and do not, ever, leave a fire unattended.
Kicking up a froth
Still violent water
Wouldn't ride these rapids
Montana is a place that will captivate your heart, so be ready when you’ll visit … because once you see the beauty of this state and let it seep into your soul, you’ll never be the same.
Location: the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, Custer National Forest, Roscoe Montana, Highway 78
Best time to go: spring to autumn, but that’s because I don’t like being cold.