Saturday, July 5, 2014

Hiking Elk Horn Trail

Elk Horn Trail part 1….
The Elk Horn Trail starts at the Red Cliff campground. A few days prior to my hike, I had taken my dog for a quick walk. The wild flowers were gorgeous, so I had to go back to take pictures. Get out and hike this trail soon before the flowers die off.
I started the hike with the intention of walking to where the trail connects into other trails on the Eastside of the Gallatin National Forest. You can eventually make a loop out of the trail to Cabin Creek or the Buffalo Horn Trail.
As you start the hike you will pass by Red Cliff cave and some sport rock climbing. If you head up to the cave be careful as it is steep and there is loose footing. In the cave, you can look for crystals but bring tools to dig them out as it is pretty picked over. You might also be able to watch rock climbers working up routes on the Red Cliff face. I took a shot of some wild roses blooming just below the cave. (Photo 1)

Photo of wild roses with the Red Cliff Cave in the background
Back on the main trail, you will head south following the Gallatin River. About half a mile along the trail it will start switch backing, climbing up higher on the bench above the Gallatin River. There are beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and river along the trail (Photo 2- Pink and Yellow Columbine with river and cliff background)  

This is where the wild flowers were most prevalent in variety and quantity. (Photos 3-Orange Paintbrush, Photo 4-Pink and Yellow Columbine, Photo 5-Wild Onion)

As I walked along the trail I saw many varieties of wild flowers: Columbine, Harebells, Sticky Geranium, Roses, Paintbrush, Wild Onion, Lupine, Potentilla, Balsamroot, and Mountain Kitten Tails. The trail eventually leaves the Gallatin River, running through a meadow area, then it turns into the canyon that meets up with Elk Horn Creek.
I really wanted to see how long it would take me to connect with the other trails and Fredo, my dog and I hiked on. We tried to stop for a lunch break and got attacked by mosquitos so we canceled lunch! Also if your furry friend is with you, once you leave the river, water is not available for the next two miles until a small creek and then many small creeks to follow. As I continued up the canyon, there were several points on the trail with downed trees to navigate. We worked around them and enjoyed the quiet of the woods. It is quite peaceful in this draw, lots of rocks covered with lichen and moss, some wild flowers where the sun can peak in and evidence of animals.
We trekked on, going up a couple small climbs. The hike is a low grade uphill, and once we got above one of the small climbs, I was surprised how high we had climbed in three miles. We finally got to the first watering hole, a small creek no larger than a foot wide. Fredo, my Golden Doodle, walked around in it and cooled off with a drink of water. We continued on and came upon three large, downed trees across the trail. They were so massive and close together we would have had to bush whack through the dense woods to get around them. We were out about 3.5 miles or an hour and a half of walking. I contemplated if I wanted to struggle around this section, when I got the heebie geebie’s. Now I have been told if that happens get out of there, your natural instincts are kicking in because there is a predator nearby. Well as soon as I turn around I found this next to the trail…

A large pile of Bear Scat! I poked it with that stick lying next to it and it was soft and fresh. So I gave a few hollers, clapped a bunch and headed back out the way we came in. As soon as I started walking back down the trail, I heard some branches crack on the other side of the downed trees, I was so glad we did not continue on. Another thing I noticed while we were hiking was Fredo sniffing the foliage next to the trail a lot, I thought maybe he smelled another dog but it was probably that bear. Sometimes I wish he could talk! Since I hike with just my dog I am really loud as a rule. That day I did my usual wild life alerting-loud signing/shouts and rhythmic claps…it is not scientifically proven but it at least alerts animals to our presence. I usually don’t see a lot of wildlife but that is alight if it keeps the predators away!

Since I did not meet my goal of joining up with the other trails, look for Part two later this summer. This hike is nice as there weren’t many people on the trail and it wasn’t a steep grade. On the “Huffing and Puffing” scale, I would give it a three!

Hiking Tip: To avoid an accidental run in with an animal, always look for signs of animals while hiking. Animals like to use the trails to travel also, as it takes less effort than blazing your own trail.

If you cross a muddy section look for fresh tracks, if you find some determine the following: What kind of animal track? Prey or Predator? What direction is the print going? Does it look fresh? Did it rain recently or is the track dry and partial destroyed from others walking over it? That should help determine when the animal traveled through there.

Look for Scat (Animal Poop) on or around the trail. If you find some give it a poke with your shoe or a stick, to see how fresh it is. If the Scat is soft or a light green it is fresh and be aware. 

Huffing and Puffing Scale
1 = A piece of cake, I could hike this all day! (easy)
2 = Should I go farther…why not! (easy)
3 = Did I even sweat? (easy/moderate)
4 = A few switchbacks aren’t so bad (moderate)
5 = Thank god for the downhill sections (moderate)
6 = One switchback at a time (moderate/high)
7: Can’t talk, must breathe (high)
8 = Sweating and swearing a lot, but the view will be worth it! (high/extreme)



  1. Please leave cave formations where they are for others to enjoy even if others have done it before you.