Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness: Clarks Fork to East Rosebud aka "The Beaten Path"

September 15, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Note: We took this trip in 2021, the year before the flood, but I just got around to doing this writeup. Enjoy!

We moved to the area in November of 2016. Our first few summers were spent mostly hiking in Yellowstone. It's crazy that it took us FIVE summers to finally get into the Beartooths. We figured that we would start with a fan favorite, "The Beaten Path." It's aptly named for the high amount of traffic it receives. We planned to do the trip in four days, which meant that we would likely have a day head start on all the people doing it over the holiday weekend in three days. Our friend Chris joined us. This trip was the first overnight in the AB Wilderness for all of us. Also, we can't forget that this would be our new pup Toklat's first backcountry trip also.

We shuttled our cars to East Rosebud the night before and stayed in Red Lodge for the evening. When we woke up we drove over the Beartooth Highway to get to our trailhead, the Clark's Fork Picnic area. Once we made it, we packed up and hiked towards Kersey Lake. The trail was in great shape and the fall colors were looking nice.

20210903-jwf-099320210903-jwf-0993NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210903-jwf-098220210903-jwf-0982NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210903-jwf-099120210903-jwf-0991NPS / Jacob W. Frank

We stopped for lunch at the base of a large granite wall and found what appeared to be a scent tree for bears. We continued along the trail until we hooked up with Russell Creek and followed the trail to the lake, our stopping point for the evening.

20210903-jwf-100320210903-jwf-1003NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210903-jwf-100820210903-jwf-1008NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210903-jwf-103820210903-jwf-1038NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210903-jwf-105220210903-jwf-1052NPS / Jacob W. Frank

Once we made it to Russell Lake, we found a spot to pitch our tents, grabbed camp chairs, and headed to the lake to relax. We made dinner and drinks and took in a beautiful sunset over the lake.

20210903-jwf-106020210903-jwf-1060NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210903-jwf-110120210903-jwf-1101NPS / Jacob W. Frank

The next morning we woke up with the sun and set out early. Our final destination was Fossil Lake, and we read that it could be difficult to find a good camp spot if it was busy.

20210904-jwf-111920210904-jwf-1119NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210904-jwf-114620210904-jwf-1146NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210904-jwf-115820210904-jwf-1158NPS / Jacob W. Frank

This section of the trail led us above tree line and near a handful of lakes, including one of my favorites, Skull Lake.

20210904-jwf-118720210904-jwf-1187NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210904-jwf-119720210904-jwf-1197NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210904-jwf-121520210904-jwf-1215NPS / Jacob W. Frank

Eventually we made it to the pass, which meant that the majority of the climbing for the trip was done. We could see Fossil Lake in the distance, but still needed to hike a couple more miles to get to the area we planned to camp.

20210904-jwf-125420210904-jwf-1254NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210904-jwf-125720210904-jwf-1257NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210904-jwf-126120210904-jwf-1261NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210904-jwf-126920210904-jwf-1269NPS / Jacob W. Frank

Since we arrived early, we set up tents and decided to take a nap in the warm sun. After our naps we explored around the area a bit and looked for a good place to watch the sunset and have drinks.

20210904-jwf-127820210904-jwf-1278NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210904-jwf-128120210904-jwf-1281NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210904-jwf-128220210904-jwf-1282NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210904-jwf-128620210904-jwf-1286NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210904-jwf-128820210904-jwf-1288NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210904-jwf-129520210904-jwf-1295NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210904-jwf-129720210904-jwf-1297NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210904-jwf-130620210904-jwf-1306NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210904-jwf-131320210904-jwf-1313NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210904-jwf-132420210904-jwf-1324NPS / Jacob W. Frank

The next morning we woke up to a beautiful sunrise, my favorite moment of the trip. Watching a sunrise from high elevation is always beautiful, the light pops in a way that's hard to explain.

20210905-jwf-135520210905-jwf-1355NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210905-jwf-135920210905-jwf-1359NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210905-jwf-138720210905-jwf-1387NPS / Jacob W. Frank

Once we were all packed, we set out into the East Rosebud drainage. When we told some friends that we were doing this trip, they recommended that we do it from south to north for two reasons: 1) it's less elevation this direction, and 2) save the best views for last. That turned out to be solid advice.

20210905-jwf-140220210905-jwf-1402NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210905-jwf-141320210905-jwf-1413NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210905-jwf-142420210905-jwf-1424NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210905-jwf-144120210905-jwf-1441NPS / Jacob W. Frank

As we descended into East Rosebud we made it to the first big lake, Dewey, where we stopped for lunch. The views along the lake were spectacular. 

20210905-jwf-145020210905-jwf-1450NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210905-jwf-146720210905-jwf-1467NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210905-jwf-147620210905-jwf-1476NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210905-jwf-147820210905-jwf-1478NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210905-jwf-148220210905-jwf-1482NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210905-jwf-150120210905-jwf-1501NPS / Jacob W. Frank

We heard there was a cool waterfall, Inpasse Falls, but we didn't know how big it was supposed to be. So every little fall or cascade we saw, we debated if that was it or not. Eventually we made it to the actual falls, and we immediately knew that this was the correct falls. The trail takes you right to the brink of the falls where you can overlook Duggan Lake and the entire drainage. Even though we had just stopped not too long ago, we decided that this was well worth another stop. We took a few photos from the brink and then stopped for snacks at the lake below.

20210905-jwf-153420210905-jwf-1534NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210905-jwf-155620210905-jwf-1556NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210905-jwf-156220210905-jwf-1562NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210905-jwf-157720210905-jwf-1577NPS / Jacob W. Frank

The last section of trail between us and our destination of Rainbow Lake took us along Lake at Falls. From there we would descend the many switchbacks until we made it to the camping area for Rainbow Lake. 

20210905-jwf-158720210905-jwf-1587NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210905-jwf-161720210905-jwf-1617NPS / Jacob W. Frank

Now I fully realize that this was Labor Day weekend, but HOLY MOLY was this place crowded. Not exaggerating, there had to be at least 30 groups of people hiking around the lake ranging in size from 2-10 people. It was like spring break at some of the camps with coolers and people grilling out. The ranger working the site said that the site was so heavily used that they were starting to see coliform bacteria in water samples in Rainbow Lake. He actually recommended that we filter water from the inlet creek versus the lake. So it's safe to say that we were ok with getting out of there ASAP. The following morning we woke up early and hit the trail. Again, the views were spectacular and we could see why the trail was so popular.
20210906-jwf-165420210906-jwf-1654NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210906-jwf-165920210906-jwf-1659NPS / Jacob W. Frank

Eventually we made it past Rainbow Lake and were greeted to more views of the valley and Rimrock Lake below.

20210906-jwf-166420210906-jwf-1664NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210906-jwf-168720210906-jwf-1687NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210906-jwf-169320210906-jwf-1693NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210906-jwf-169620210906-jwf-1696NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210906-jwf-170120210906-jwf-1701NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210906-jwf-170820210906-jwf-1708NPS / Jacob W. Frank

Once we passed Rimrock Lake, the last stretch of the trail would descend through towering granite walls on both sides. 

20210906-jwf-171620210906-jwf-1716NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210906-jwf-172720210906-jwf-1727NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210906-jwf-173520210906-jwf-1735NPS / Jacob W. Frank

Eventually we would make it to the last lake along the trail, Elk, where we stopped for a brief bit to water the dog and take in the views.

20210906-jwf-176520210906-jwf-1765NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210906-jwf-176620210906-jwf-1766NPS / Jacob W. Frank

On the final stretch of the trip, we neared East Rosebud Lake. More granite, small waterfalls, and mountain vistas.

20210906-jwf-177120210906-jwf-1771NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210906-jwf-178120210906-jwf-1781NPS / Jacob W. Frank 20210906-jwf-178620210906-jwf-1786NPS / Jacob W. Frank

When we made it to East Rosebud Lake it was early afternoon. We still needed to drive back around to the trailhead and pick up our shuttle vehicle so we didn't waste much time at the trailhead. Also, this area is a popular day hike trailhead so there were lots of people. Just another reason to boogie.

20210906-jwf-178220210906-jwf-1782NPS / Jacob W. Frank

Trip notes: In total we hiked just shy of 27 trail miles and climbed about 3,600'. As long as you plan to arrive early, Russel and Fossil lakes are both great camp spots. You'll need a bear can for Fossil since it's above tree line. If you're looking for a Wilderness experience, I would avoid Rainbow Lake if possible. There are a few spots along Rimrock Lake, but there are less of them. The trip was awesome, but since it's so busy and there are lots of cool places to explore in the Beartooths, this might be the only time we do it. Definitely worth a visit if you've never been.

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