The South Fork Deep Creek trail provides great hiking just a few minutes south of Livingston, Montana. The trail provides access into the north end of the Absaroka Mountains and the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness. The trail is mostly used for day hiking but it connects into a trail network that offers great backpacking opportunities.
The Yellowstone River runs through Paradise Valley south of Livingston and the rugged Absaroka Mountains make up the eastern edge of the valley. A series of creeks run out of the mountains and most provide access to the Custer Gallatin National Forest. Suce Creek is the closest to Livingston the North Fork Deep Creek and South Fork Deep Creek come next, followed by Pine Creek.
While the USFS often refers to the South Fork Deep Creek trail as the Deep Creek trail, Deep Creek itself only runs through private land without reaching the forest. There is no access on the main fork of Deep Creek. However, both the North Fork Deep Creek and the South Fork Deep Creek trails are close by and provides good access.
To reach the trailhead travel south from Livingston on US 89 toward Yellowstone Park. About 5 miles south of town take the branch road to the left (MT 540 or East River Road). The road crosses the Yellowstone River and follows the east side of the river. Follow this road for about 7 miles. The road to the South Fork Deep Creek Trail is well signed. Turn left on to a gravel road that runs straight as an arrow up the mountain. In less than a mile the road ends in the parking lot for the trail. There are no facilities at this trailhead so don’t expect anything.
The Deep Creek Trail
The trail goes past the sign posts and up the big ridge that stares you in the face. This is open exposure as the trail climbs to a point along the ridgeline. Here the trail crosses into forest and drops down to meet Deep Creek, a beautiful stream rushing out of the Absaroka Mountains. The trail stays close to the creek for a short distance as it soon reaches a creek crossing. From here the trail climbs up the opposite side of the valley. The trail works its way through woods and clearings, climbing upward and soon entering the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.
This is a typical Absaroka-Beartooth trail. The trail itself is in good shape and is well maintained. Wildflowers abound and, depending on the year, berries are available for pickers. About 4 miles in you reach the bottom of the steep switchback section of the trail. From here the trail begins a series of almost continuous switchbacks climbing and climbing. The view behind you into Paradise Valley can be spectacular on this steep but beautiful climb.
Your reward for climbing the 1,400 ft vertical switchback section comes when you reach the top of the divide. Here you can look to the east into the Davis Creek drainage and back to the west towards Paradise Valley. If you’ve arranged a shuttle you can continue hiking from here down the Davis Creek Trail (trail #38). This trail runs about 10 miles to it’s trailhead on the West Boulder River. However, most hikers make the Davis Creek divide their destination and turn around here, retracing their steps back to their car.
The Pine Creek Fire
On a hot windy day in late August, 2013 a fire was sparked near the Yellowstone River that spread out-of-control. The fire swept northeast – through Pine Creek and into the Deep Creek drainage. Over the next 48 hours the fire jumped back and forth and burned a total of about 12,000 acres. Although the fire burned through the heart of the Pine Creek community, remarkably few buildings were lost.
The Deep Creek trail runs through lands that were hit hard by the fire. Its remarkable to see the rapid forest recovery taking place. The hillsides are lush with new growth and young trees show that it won’t be too many years until this is forest again. Take caution if you are hiking this trail in the early 2020s. The standing dead trees that were killed in the fire have been falling at an increasing pace and falling trees could be a real hazard!
A Good Trail to Visit
The South Fork Deep Creek Trail is a hike that can be any length that suits you with interesting terrain along the way. If you’re too early in the year you may find snowbanks persisting as you approach the top of the divide. However, they usually are not a barrier to achieving the divide. South Fork of Deep Creek Trail is not one of the most popular trails in this area but it is common to see other hikers on the trail. I highly recommend this hike for those looking for a good place to get into the woods near Livingston, MT.
After visiting the Deep Creek trail you might want to try these nearby trails