East Rosebud Creek: Off the Beaten Path

If you truly want discover the natural wonder and beauty of Montana and the Beartooth Mountains, take “The Beaten Path.” It’s a 25-mile backcountry hiking classic traversing over-the-top alpine scenery between dramatic canyon walls interlaced with waterfalls and more than a dozen sapphire lakes brimming with wild trout. At the heart of it all is East Rosebud Creek.

The path’s formal name is East Rosebud Trail. Originating near Red Lodge, the hike’s fame stems largely from the East Rosebud Valley, cut from the creek’s cascading waterfalls as it tumbles from the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness near Granite Peak (Montana’s highest at 12,807 feet). Just before it leaves the mountains, East Rosebud Creek flows through East Rosebud Lake before spilling into a glacially carved valley and then joining the Stillwater River, a tributary of the Yellowstone.

Both East Rosebud Creek and Lake have long been popular areas for trout fishing, whitewater paddling, hiking, and mountaineering. A cluster of cabins lines the north side of the lake, forming a quaint alpine village. Moose browse the willows while raptors soar overhead.

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Because of its outstanding scenery, recreation, and geology, the U.S. Forest Service has declared 13 miles of East Rosebud Creek above the lake and 7 miles below it eligible for designation under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, our nation’s most powerful river protection tool. One look at the stunning beauty of East Rosebud Creek should convince even the fiercest skeptic that it is deserving of Wild and Scenic designation.

The Backstory

East Rosebud’s widely-popular Wild and Scenic campaign originated in 2009, when Bozeman-based Hydrodynamics Inc. applied for a permit to build a hydropower project on East Rosebud Creek. The project would have been located on public land within the Wild and Scenic–eligible reach just below East Rosebud Lake, and would have entailed building a 100-foot wide diversion dam, a 2-mile long penstock, substation, powerhouse, and transmission lines.

American Rivers and several of its conservation partners filed formal objections to the project and launched an aggressive media campaign that eventually pressured the hydropower company to abandon it in 2013. Although the dam is no longer an immediate threat, the proposal was the second of its kind since the year 2000, suggesting the need for constant vigilance.

The Future

American Rivers is now working with Friends of East Rosebud Creek, other conservation partners, and Montana’s congressional delegation to pass the East Rosebud Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which would permanently protect 20 miles of the creek from all new dams, diversions and other threats. With overwhelming support from local ranchers and landowners, the campaign holds great promise for establishing Montana’s first new Wild and Scenic River since 1976 and the state’s fifth overall.

  • East Rosebud Creek
    Mike Fiebig