Fishing the Montana Mountains
Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness

The Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness

Beartooth Mountains near Red Lodge, Montana
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The Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area in southern Montana is second only to the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area in both size and wildness. The Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness area spans for more than 900,000 acres in Montana and consists of towering mountains, hundreds of alpine lakes, hundreds of miles of trails and lush forests. In addition, it is also part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and as such it is home to Grizzly Bears, Elk and numerous other wildlife. Even a bison can occasionally be found near the wilderness areas borders with Yellowstone National Park.

The Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area has the highest mountains, in terms of elevation, in Montana. Additionally, the relief of the mountains (how much the mountains rise from the valley floor) equals that found in other mountain ranges in Montana. Looking at the mountains from the north, the mountains rise abruptly from the Montana prairie. From the beautiful Paradise Valley, which the Yellowstone River flows through, the mountains dominate and make for a beautiful sight.

The Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area is named because of the two mountain ranges that are found in it, both of which are quite distinct. In the eastern half of the wilderness area, near Red Lodge, lie the Beartooth Mountains. The Beartooth Mountains are the highest peaks in the wilderness area. Massive granite plateaus that are found well above timberline define the Beartooth Mountains, along with numerous small, alpine lakes. Many glaciers are also located in the Beartooth Mountains. Hiking in the Beartooth Mountains is very popular. Its beautiful scenery, combined with the extensive amount of open country that lies above timberline, creates wonderful hiking conditions both on and off trail.

Absaroka Mountains
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By contrast, the Absaroka Mountains are more forested, being slightly lower in elevation. The Absaroka Mountains have extensive areas of mountain and alpine lakes that are very popular for backpackers and backcountry fishing trips. The mountains themselves are extremely rugged and jagged and lack the broad, open plateaus found in the Beartooth Mountains.

Due to the size of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area and its extensive, inter-connecting trail system, long expeditions into the wilderness area are possible. The wilderness area is quite popular for both backpacking and horse packing parties. While the use of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area is fairly high and continues to grow, the sheer size of the wilderness area and its extensive trail network really helps spread people around. Except for right around popular day hiking areas or trailheads, solitude is easily found in the wilderness area.

The mountain lake fishing in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area is some of the finest to be found in Montana. Many of these crystal clear lakes have excellent fishing for cutthroat trout, brook trout, rainbow trout as well as occasionally golden trout. Since there are literally hundreds of fishable lakes in the wilderness area, and many other lakes that are fishless due to winter kill, it is imperative that any person venturing out into the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area for purposes of fishing know whether or not the lake they are heading too holds fish. A guidebook, called Fishing the Beartooths, 2nd edition, is indispensable. This book covers every single fishable lake in this beautiful wilderness area. It is highly recommended that any angler visiting the wilderness area consult this book to make sure their selected lakes holds fish.

Access to the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area is excellent. Numerous roads flank the wilderness area and in a few cases parallel the border. A few other roads, such as south of Big Timber, actually penetrate into the wilderness area (the boundary is on either side of the road). All these roads allow hikers a wide variety of places of access points and places to hike and fish. Just be advised that many of these roads are in only fair condition and travel quite a distance from the nearest towns and services.

Camping in or around the wilderness area is also excellent. Many designated campgrounds, combined with virtually unlimited informal campsites, provide for plenty of places for camping, whether it is for a night or for a week. As this is Grizzly Bear country, the appropriate precautions need to be taken to prevent midnight visitors to your campsite.

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