Backpacking trip #2 of 2023 is complete! The Sky Rim Trail has been on our list since 2018. We had plans in place in 2019, but the week we were supposed to go I was injured and needed surgery. So we were excited when we saw that the weather was predicting clear skies for the weekend. We started our big day early in the morning, and decided to do the loop counter clockwise. We were on the fence about which way to go, but we decided to do the uphill through the trees in the coolest part of the day. We made our way through the fields of delphinium, filtered water, and filled up our packs because the Sky Rim is without water. With our packs full of water, we hiked through the subalpine forest and the hillsides of heartleaf arnica until we reached the tundra of the alpine.
The Black Butte Trail eventually hooks up with the Sky Rim Trail, where we would be on the boundary of Yellowstone and Custer Gallatin National Forest for the next 5+ miles. We decided to hike the ridge over to Wickiup (or Bighorn Peak depending on which map you look at) to take in the views and drink our summit sodas at just a bit under 10K ft. The flanks of the peak offer dramatic views with interesting geology. This area of the park and forest is also where many petrified trees are found. From the peak we were able to check out views into Paradise Valley and Gallatin River Canyon.
After our snacks and refreshments, we headed back to the Black Butte Trail junction to continue the hike. We assumed that once you gained all of the elevation by hiking in the direction we did, that the remaining portion of the trail would be relatively downhill and/or flat. That assumption was a bad one! There was a significant amount of downhill, but it was immediately followed by more uphill. With all the ups and downs, we climbed nearly a vertical mile in addition to the huge distance we traveled.
In between the steep ups and downs, there was the occasional flat sections of trail with expansive views off the trail in both directions.
The day was hot and the trail is exposed, so we decided to take a break in the shade and grab some snacks. As we ate we realized that we sat in the middle of an archaeological site full of lithic scatter. It's likely that the same reason we rested here, is the same reason that American Indians did also: shelter from the wind and sun and spectacular views in all directions. It appears they sat here crafting their stone tools, presumably watching for wildlife.
About the midway on the trail between the Daly Creek and Black Butte, directly above Tom Miner Basin, we started hiking my favorite section of the trail. The ridge walk was relatively flat and the views are spectacular.
As the day went on we started running low on water and regulating our temps were getting challenging without any shade. So when we found a small patch of snow we took full advantage to cool off before continuing along.
Eventually we came across the Daly Creek Trail junction and started our descent. This is also about the time that we ran out of water.
Eventually we made it back to the creek where we filtered water and cooled off in the shade. The bugs were fierce, and we weren't the only ones who thought hanging by the water was a good idea on this hot day.
Here is the profile of the hike. It was a haul, but I think it would be much more enjoyable if we did it again in the fall when the temps are cooler and the bugs are gone. Overall, the Sky Rim is probably my favorite trail in Yellowstone to date. Our to-do list of trails is still long, but if you're into mountains and big views, I would highly recommend this trail. Make sure to bring a filter and lots of bottles to hold water. Thanks for reading, cheers!