Starting just inside Yellowstone’s northeast entrance near Cooke City, Montana, there is an interstate trail traveling through a beautiful backcountry meadow boxed in by 10,000-foot peaks. Pebble Creek Trail is often ventured as a top-to-bottom 12-mile long through hike ending at Pebble Creek Campground. There are five trail camps along Pebble Creek Trail for backpackers. Even if you can’t arrange a vehicle shuttle to hike the full trail, it is still worthwhile to hike out and back to the meadow over the first leg of the trail for a 5 to 7 mile trek.
Of Pebble Creek Trail’s twelve miles, about ten miles offer gradual downhill hiking. This is not the case at the beginning, when the single track attacks a pine, spruce, and fir covered ridge, gaining nearly 1,000 feet over the first 1.25 miles.
To motivate the effort, you will reach grand views down the valley of Soda Butte Creek about 2/3 of a mile from the start. Abiathar Peak (10,928 feet) and Amphitheater Mountain can be seen rising above the forest on the south side of the valley.
The northwest-headed trail tapers out as it crosses the top of the ridge and eventually turns downhill, making a quick descent to the edge of a sublime high elevation meadow, 1.8 miles from the start. To the delight of through hikers, it is nothing but gradual predominantly downhill travel from this point on.
When you reach the cold mountain waters of Pebble Creek, rock hop or wade to the other side and continue up the trail another 0.2 miles to a spur trail on the left leading to Trail Camp 3P5, the first of five backcountry camp sites along Pebble Creek Trail (2.15 miles from the start).
Pebble Creek Trail continues down the pristine meadow through a colorful summer display of lupines and other wildflowers. As you hike west through part of Yellowstone that resides in Montana, you’ll be treated to dramatic mountain views. To the west is Cutoff Mountain, a boxy 10,695-foot summit, whose sheer walls dominate the horizon as you hike across the grassy meadow. If you turn around and look east, you’ll see Meridian Peak (10,538 feet), pointing up beyond the upper end of the meadow.
The next trail camp, 3P5, comes 1.1 miles after 3P4, and 3.25 miles from the start. If you aren’t hiking all the way through to Pebble Creek Campground, 8.75 miles ahead, this is a good place to turn around for a manageable 6.5-mile day hike. If you head back here, there will be 375 feet of elevation gain as you retrace your steps back to the top of the ridge, followed by a speedy descent to the initial trailhead.
Those continuing beyond 3P4 will pass three more trail camps en route to the second trailhead at the lower end of Pebble Creek Trail near Pebble Creek Campground. Pebble Creek Trail descends 1,000 feet between 3P4 and the lower trailhead, offering a gradual romp across beautiful mountain meadows. The only junction on the trail comes 5.5 miles from the start (shortly after entering Wyoming), where Pebble Creek Trail passes Bliss Pass Trail.
No permit is required to day hike on Pebble Creek Trail, but a Backcountry Use Permit is required for any overnight treks. The permit may be obtained less than 48 hours in advance of your trip from one of nine visitor centers and ranger stations within the park. The reservation fee for a backcountry permit is $25. There is also an entrance fee for Yellowstone National Park.
To get to the trailhead: From the gate at the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park near Cooke City, Montana, drive 1.25 miles west on Northeast Entrance Road and turn right into the trailhead parking area on the north side of the road. Coming from the opposite direction, the trailhead is 27 miles east of Tower Junction (and 8 miles past Pebble Creek Campground). There is a map at the trailhead and a sign that reads, Warm Creek Trailhead 3K4.
Trailhead address: Northeast Entrance Road (Route 212), Yellowstone National Park, Silver Gate, MT 59081
Trailhead coordinates: 45.005477, -110.034372 (45° 00′ 19.71″N 110° 02′ 03.73″W)
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