Bighorn Pass

Hoarfrost decorates a shrub along the Gallatin River as a cross-country skier travels up the Bighorn Pass trail in Yellowstone National Park.

Almost a foot of fresh snow fell last weekend along the headwaters of the Gallatin River, giving the Bighorn Pass trail an extension on winter greatness. What in the summer is a sagebrush-obscured ramble along the river bottom is a wide-open playground for skiers and snowshoers, especially in late winter and early spring.

That’s when the snowpack hardens into a firm crust with only the most recent snow or spindrift floating on top. The surface becomes ideal for skate-skiing and pleasant for everyone else who can wander up and down the basin without breaking trail.

Bighorn Pass is about a 10-mile trek from the pullout trailhead on Highway 191 between Big Sky and West Yellowstone. The first three miles are most popular with skiers, who can explore snow-locked meadows, gentle hills and the winding, ice-choked Gallatin River. Adventurous route-finders can take the connection to the Fan Creek drainage and Fawn Pass trail, looping back to the highway or penetrating deeper into the backcountry.

Bison and elk frequent the area, and wolf tracks were reported crisscrossing the meadows in late March. The area is close to several grizzly bear management zones that are closed to public access in spring, so carry bear spray.

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.