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Yellowstone Area Hikes and Attractions

Elephanthead Mountain

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.

To get to the Elephanthead 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, a well maintained gravel 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 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.

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 Elephanthead Mountain after about 4 miles of hiking. There is no developed trail to the top of Elephanthead. However,the route to the summit should be obvious and the scramble is made by many hikers. From the top you will enjoy great views of the surrounding mountains and out into the Yellowstone Valley.

Photo of the view downcanyon from near the top of the Elephanthead Mountain trail.
The trail back from Elephanthead Mountain offers great views down the Mission Creek drainage. Davis Creek Pass and the South Fork Deep Creek trail which will lead into the Paradise Valley south of Livingston.

Hiking Beyond Elephanthead

Most hikers are day hiking to visit Elephanthead Mountain but some hikes go further. Trail #37 continues to an intersection with trail #337 which heads toward the West Boulder River. The trail also leads for a short distance until it intersects with trail #388. This trail heads to the Davis Creek Pass and the Deep Creek trail. Following this route leads into the Paradise Valley south of Livingston.

There are several options for backpacking from here. Good maps are very helpful. Besides topo maps, the Custer Gallatin Forest Map is very useful and everyone interested in exploring Montana should have a copy of the DeLorme Montana Atlas & Gazetteer

Day hikers typically turn around at the base of Elephanthead Mountain or after reaching its summit. The hike back down the trail loses altitude at a steady pace. It’s an easy hike back to the trailhead making this a great hike for just about anyone who enjoys the outdoors.

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