Driving in the west, you learn that paved roads don’t necessarily take you where you need to be.
Turn off Route 78 at Roscoe, Montana between Red Lodge and Columbus to drive to the East Rosebud Lake. The pavement disappears and soon your vehicle is dust-covered. Don’t moan, complain, or worry about the dulling of chrome and paint. Keep your eyes fixed dead ahead and your mouth shut so each awe-inspiring view lets it drop open again.
This drive approaching the canyon is gorgeous, breathtaking, God-given, and every other descriptive word of beauty you can dream up.
Time Passes, The East Rosebud Remains an Incredible Hike
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. 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.
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, passing serious backpackers headed up the steep mountains to Cooke City. Incongruously, there was a guy carrying nothing but a Subway bag. The nearest Subway store is more than twenty-five miles away.
With much of the trail exposed, keep the sunscreen on your skin and the hat on your head. The clarity of the western sky makes it easy to sunburn.
Fires are Always Possible in the East Rosebud
Too many of the lakeside cabins were consumed by the fires of 1996. 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.
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. If you are there in springtime and you’ve got blessed rain or 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.
Montana is a place that will captivate your heart, so be ready when you visit. Once you see the beauty of East Rosebud, Montana and let it seep into your soul, you’ll never be the same.