Photography - Riding - Scenery - Wildlife - Exploration
This is an early summer trip into our beautiful Gates Park camp on the North Fork of the Sun River. We generally stay here 4 nights and explore the many points of interest on day rides from camp. The area around Gates Park is full of late 19th century western history, as well as earlier native Indian history. Additionally, there are spectacular vista points from areas like Biggs Creek meadows and Bear Top Fire Lookout. The fishing is unpredictable this time of year, as the river can be high if we get a lot of snow and a later run off. If we have a normal winter and spring, the river is clearing up and the fishing can be quite good. However, the following week and after are more predictable for clear water.
This early in the season we can occassionally find elk and moose antler sheds in the nearby by meadows, testament to these these animals moving through in early spring chasing spring grass and headed to their summering grounds. This week is a good week to see wildlife as many of the cow elk, deer, and other animals as the animals with their young will stay in the river bottoms and lower elevations where the feed is lush, and we can often see them in our day rides and in the meadows near camp in the evenings. We also see large numbers of raptors this time of year, ranging from golden eagles, owls, ospreys, hawks, falcons, and dozens of other birds of prey.
While the days are long, you will find our night-time skys are spectacular with deep space views of the galaxy and beyond. The stargazing, as with our daytime scenery, is simply unparalleled by any in the lower 48 states. Many of our guests find themselves staying up to early morning watching the evening sky. Evening comes late this time of year as our sun sets around 10:00pm in the evening. It can be a challenge staying up late enough for the stars to come out after an exhilirating day, but it's absolutely worth it. There are rarely any forest fires this early in the West, so we can expect crystal clear nights for star viewing. The is no night polution and now early summer haze as the humidity is always quite low. The nights are cool so be prepared for that when you step away from the campfire.
Day 1: Pack up early at the South Fork Teton trailhead and prepare for the ride over Headquarters Pass (elev 7,700ft). This is our first trip to use this trail for the season, and we expect to see snow drifts in places and lots of water running from high elevation glaciers. We generally see mountain goats and big horn sheep near the top of the pass, so have cameras ready! The colors are vibrant and the contrast is grand as we ascend the pass. On the other side, we stop in the basin for a break before heading down the trail. The ride from here to camp is a gradual descent as we work our way down to the Sun River valley. It's mostly open so we have good visibility of the nearby hillsides and Headquarters Creek below. We can see elk, black bear, and moose as we ride along this trail Our day ends at the Gates Park camp near the Sun River. Riding distance 14 miles.
Day 2: Non travel this day but plenty to do. If you're up for a day ride, we often go to Biggs Creek Meadows to explore and see some incredible views of the continental divide to the west and the Sun River valley in all other directions. Riding distance is 5 miles. There are some great hikes too for the adventuresome. The ridges are mostly open in this area, so they are easy to navigate and reward you with some great vistas.
Day 3: Non travel this day. For day riders, we often go to Bear Top fire lookout which is the only remaining fire look out in the valley. The view up there are incredible. It's a good trail and we ride most of the way and hike the last 45 minutes. We eat lunch and chat with the fire watch person, and just soak in amazing 360 views. Total riding distance 10 miles. Hikers have many miles of trails going right past camp and the hike over to Gates Lake is popular. This trail continues on towards Rock Creek and offers some superb vantage points above the Sun River and the Rock Creek valley looking west to the snow-clad Chinese Wall.
Day 4: Non travel this day. Our last day to explore. If the trails are cut out we take the ambitious horseback riders to Sock Lake today. It's about a 14 mile round trip ride, but it's so worth it. Sock Lake sits up in a little bowl under the Chinese Wall and is a stunning place to visit. There are some great rides along the lower Sun Valley. For the hikers we often go to the far ends of Gates Meadows and ascend the ridges looking out over Lick Creek. This is a great day to stretch our legs and find some cool places.
Day 5: We pack up early and head out the Headquarters trail. We get an early start to beat the heat and the dust, and are eating lunch in the basin below Headquarters Pass. We often see mountain goats and bighorn sheep in the basins on either side of the pass. Our day ends at the South Fork Teton trailhead. We typically arrive in there in early afternoon. Riding distance 14 miles.
This is a great trip with shorter travel days than many of our summer packtrips. The day rides go to some fascinating places of interest, but are not very long rides from the Gates Park camp. Fishing is an option, depending on the snowmelt and spring run off. The wildlife viewing is unsurpassed this time of year, and we can get to some superb viewing points that give you some great photo-ops and exploration options.
This time of year is the end of the cool season and the start of the warming season. We recommending layers (always in the mountains) with an eye towards chilly nights and mornings, and days in the 70's. Raingear is always appropriate for protections in the occasional mountain thunderstorm. Definitely bring hiking boots, and several changes of good thick socks to help with the moist grass in the morning and the generally damper ground in many places you will walk. The mosquito hours are short, but you will need repellant. A detailed gear list below can be downloaded and has additional detail.