Cooke’s City’s most famous draws—Yellowstone National Park, and an always-epic snowmobiling scene—certainly aren’t the only attractions. The tiny outpost is perfectly poised for reconnaissance deep into the wilderness and national forest just beyond the World’s first national park.
Take a Low-Effort, High-Rewards Hike
Generally, it takes a strenuous hike to reach alpine lakes, pretty meadows, raging waterfalls and scenic views, but the Broadwater River to Curl Lake trail delivers all that with a scant 250-foot elevation gain. The trail is 6.5 miles roundtrip, but if you only need a quick pit-stop with some scenic splendor, you can actually see Clark’s Fork Canyon Falls just a short walk in.
Head 3.5 miles east from Cooke City, turning left at the sign for Clark’s Fork Trailhead (.2 miles in).
Hike for .5 miles, taking a left at the Broadwater River Trail Junction and staying on the Broadwater River Trail at the second posted junction. You’ll reach Curl Lake at 3.25 miles.
Spin Your (Mountain Bike) Wheels
A century and a half ago, the Cooke City area was the New World Mining District. Now, these woods are crisscrossed with old mining roads, perfect for exploring via mountain bike. Try the Goose Lake Jeep Trail, or Daisy Pass or Lulu Pass roads, both a left turn just east of Cooke City.
Find a Glacier Full of Ancient Bugs
If you’ve got burly legs and a burlier vehicle, find Grasshopper Glacier
. (If you’re lacking the latter, Beartooth Powder Guides might get you there—with an optional hut overnight thrown in.) While there are several small glaciers around the Beartooths, this one is famous for the centuries-old, now-extinct insects that were found preserved within the glacier in 1914. The road and hike are generally passable from late July through August.
From Cooke City, head east 2 miles on US 212, turning left onto Lulu Pass-Goose Lake Road (passable in late summer with high clearance vehicles only). The road ends at the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, where you will then hike four miles to the Glacier.
Boot up, then follow the road past Goose Lake to the saddle between Sawtooth Mountain and Iceberg Peak. You’ll see a snowfield from the saddle, but it’s not the glacier. Head to the top of the first rock ridge, where you’ll spot Grasshopper Glacier on Iceberg Peak.
Nordic Ski the Bannock Trail
Way back when, Bannock hunters traveled along Soda Butte Creek to reach good bison hunting. Now, Nordic skiers cruise in their footsteps, over the Yellowstone National Park border (fee-free!) through wide-open meadows with views of Abiathar Peak and Barronette Peak.
If you don’t have your own skis, grab rentals at Silvertip Mountain Center
From Silver Gate, head south on Monument Avenue, crossing over Soda Butte Creek. Take a right on Bannock, and you’ll immediately dead-end into the trailhead.
Fly Fish the Upper Clark’s Fork
Hemingway finished a few books in between dipping lines into the Upper Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River, which runs along Highway 212 near Cooke City. Known for its frequent hatches, the river can churn up a rowdy wake in early spring runoff, but it’s legendary for dry flying after mid-July and on through October. Find easy fishing access along Highway 212 at trailheads and campgrounds or grab a guide to show you the good spots at Skyline Guest Ranch
Saddle Up and Ride Out
Explore Cooke City’s backcountry from the saddle of a gentle steed, riding through alpine forest, along the Clarks Fork and into meadows that showcase towering peaks. Join a trail ride (or pack trip) with Stillwater Outfitters
in Cooke City, or Skyline Guest Ranch
Go Chasin’ Waterfalls
Cooke City’s jagged valley creates more than a few dramatic waterfalls, all with fairly easy hikes. Find one to see herer explore them all in one longer day.
Cooke City may bill itself as the Gateway to Yellowstone, the Snowmobiling Capital of the World and one end of the Beartooth Highway … but it could easily scoop up a few other titles as well. Window on the Backcountry? Portal to High-Altitude Adventure? Horseback Heaven? You decide.