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Yellowstone Area Hikes and Attractions

Elephanthead Mountain

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The trail to Elephanthead Mountain (forest trail #37) is a favorite hike for many in the Livingston/Big Timber area. The Elephanthead trail is in the headwaters of Mission Creek which comes out of the Absaroka Mountains and runs into the Yellowstone River east of Livingston. The trail is part of the Custer Gallatin National Forest and it’s easy to reach the Elephanthead trailhead from either Livingston or Big Timber. However, most come in from the Livingston side as the road from Big Timber is a long drive on a gravel road.

Photo of hiker on the Elephant Mountain trail
The trail to Elephanthead Mountain is a well maintained trail that climbs steadily. Much of the trail is through areas that were burned in the 2003 Rough Draw Complex fire. As the remaining fire-killed trees decay and fall, vibrant new growth shows how much fire is a part of the natural ecosystem.

To get to the trailhead, drive east out of Livingston on US 89 (Park Street — the main street through Livingston). Cross the Yellowstone River on the east edge of Livingston and continue for about 1 mile to a well signed turn to the right onto Swingly Road. Follow it for 6-7 miles until you reach Bruffy Lane which branches off to the right. Take this gravel road about 1 mile until you reach the 63 Ranch. Turn right toward the ranch and when the road forks bear left and go through the green gate. Continue on for 1 mile to the trailhead.

The Elephanthead Mountain trailhead is accessed by crossing the private property of the 63 Ranch. Please respect their rights at all times. Close the gates if that is how you find them. Be sure to stay on the road through the ranch and avoid disturbing the guest ranch operations.

Photo of the view downcanyon from near the top of the Elephanthead Mountain trail.
The trail to Elephanthead Mountain offers great views down the Mission Creek drainage.

Hiking to Elephanthead Mountain

The Elephanthead Mountain trailhead is at about 5,750 ft elevation and the trail parallels Mission Creek for the first three miles or so. The trail is mostly in very good condition. The lower sections of the trail are used by ranch guests as well as by locals and its common to encounter other hikers on the trail. The Elephanthead trail runs up the mountain following Mission Creek, climbing through the woods and heading consistently to the west. The trail climbs steadily upward following the creek higher and higher.

You will reach the base Elephanthead Mountain at 8,900ft after about 5 miles of hiking. The trail ends at a three-way intersection with the North Fork Deep Creek trail (#45) and the Blacktail Creek trail (#337). This is also the divide between the Mission Creek drainage to the east and the Yellowstone River drainage to the west.

trail junction sign

There is no developed trail to the top of Elephanthead Mountain. However, it’s not difficult to find a route to the summit. It’s a hike & scramble to the top of the mountain. Most hikers manage to get to the top but some find the final approach to be too challenging. From the top you will enjoy great views of the surrounding mountains and out into the Yellowstone Valley.

Elephanthead Mountain as seen from the trail junction
Elephanthead Mountain as seen from the trail junction

Hiking Beyond Elephanthead

Most hikers are day hiking to visit Elephanthead Mountain but some hikes go further. From the trail intersection the Blacktail Creek trail (#337) heads south for about a mile to Blacktail Lake. From here it continues on to intersect with the Davis Creek trail (#38).

The North Fork Deep Creek trail (#45) heads west and drops about 5 miles to it’s trailhead just south of Livingston. If you have two vehicles it is a great trip to come up one trail and down the other. Even better find a few friends and have part of the group start from each trailhead. You can then swap car keys at the top so there is no vehicle shuttling involved.

There are several options for backpacking from here. Good maps are very helpful. The Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness West [Gardiner, Livingston] (National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map (721) is very useful and everyone interested in exploring Montana should have a copy of the DeLorme Montana Atlas & Gazetteer

Hikers who turn around find an easy hike back down as the trail loses altitude at a steady pace, making this a great hike for just about anyone who enjoys the outdoors.

More Nearby Hikes