Mill Creek is the largest tributary to the Yellowstone River between Livingston, MT and Yellowstone Park. It’s one of the few places where roads penetrate into the national forest and there are lots of trails to enjoy. The East Fork of Mill Creek trailhead provides access to a major trail system in the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness.
Directions to East Fork Mill Creek
It’s easy to find the East Fork Mill Creek trailhead. Drive south from Livingston US 89 through the Paradise Valley for 16 miles to the well-signed major intersection with the Mill Creek Road. Turn left (east) and cross the Yellowstone River to an intersection with Hwy 540, the East River Road. Continue straight on the Mill Creek Road which travels through ranch land as it climbs toward the approaching mountains. After 6 miles the road will change to gravel as you reach the Custer Gallatin National Forest boundary. From here on the road is an excellent gravel road that is suitable for most vehicles in normal weather conditions.
From Hwy 89 take the East Fork road for just over 9 miles to the East Fork road. Turn left onto the road (forest road 3280) and follow it for 1.5 miles until it reaches the trailhead. There is quite a bit of room at the trailhead but this is a popular trail for horse packing and a few horse trailers can make parking seem a lot harder.
East Fork Mill Creek Trailhead
There is not much at the trailhead except the usual signs that are found at most trailheads. The only map is of the entire Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness and is good for a “big picture” view of the area. There is no water, no toilets, no developments, and no camping.
Just past the trailhead, the road is blocked by a locked gate. This leads to the Snowy Range Ranch which is completely private. The trail leads around this inholding. Be sure to always stay on the trail and never trespass on private land.
The East Fork Mill Creek Trail
From the trailhead, the trail is easy to find and easy hiking. It gradually climbs above the valley and leads east toward the wilderness. The trail follows the creek upstream for about 5 miles and the trail is generally flat and smooth for that distance.
Highland Trail #69
About 1/3 mile from the trailhead the trail intersects with the Highland Trail #69 which travels about 2 miles to join the Anderson Ridge Trail #54.
Elbow Lake Trail #48
The East Fork trail continues on and intersects with the Elbow Lake Trail #48 about 2 miles from the trailhead. The hike to Elbow Lake is about 6 1/2 miles from this point. Elbow Lake is a popular destination for campers and anglers.
Anderson Ridge Trail #54
The East Fork trail continues past the Elbow Lake junction and reaches the Anderson Ridge Trail #54 about 5 – 6 miles from the trailhead. The Anderson Ridge Trail runs about 13 miles and covers some very scenic high country.
Mill Creek Pass Trail #251
Another half mile on the East Fork trail and the Mill Creek Pass Trail #251. This trail climbs about 4 miles and 2,400 ft to the top of the divide where the Mill Creek Drainage and the Boulder River Drainage meet. From here the trail becomes the West Boulder River Trail #41 and it can be followed down to the West Boulder River trailhead.
Pyramid Mountain Trail #290
Continuing on the East Fork Mill Creek Trail, in about 1 1/2 miles the trail intersects with the Pyramid Mountain Trail #290 which heads generally south. This is a very lightly used trail that connects with the Anderson Ridge Trail #54 after a distance of about 5 miles.
The East Fork trail continues on for another 2 miles or so to the top of Silver Pass. From this divide, you can continue on into the Boulder River drainage or you can connect to trails heading even deeper into the wilderness.
East Fork Mill Creek Camping
There are no developed campgrounds on the East Fork road. There is a single dispersed camping site about 1/4 mile from the trailhead. However, this is a popular campsite so don’t expect to find it vacant.
The Snowbank Campground and rental cabin are about 2 1/2 miles up Mill Creek. Snowbank has 10 campsites that can be reserved in advance. The campground often fills during the summer so I strongly advise advance reservations.
There are some additional dispersed camping sites further up Mill Creek Road. However, these sites are also very popular and you should never plan to find one empty.
Fishing the East Fork Mill Creek
The East Fork has a population of native Yellowstone cutthroat trout that are totally wild. However, the stream is not especially productive and it can be difficult to fish. Most anglers fish along the lower mile or so. The creek is on private land through the Snowy Range Ranch so there is no access there. Most anglers find the fishing to be better on the main Mill Creek.