Granite Peak is the highest point in Montana and is considered one of the most difficult of the 50 state high points. Located in the Beartooth Range in the Northern Rocky Mountains, Granite Peak lives up to it’s name as a large chunk of granite towering over southern Montana. Climbing Granite Peak is a time consuming endeavor which should not be taken lightly. Although climbing Granite as a day hike is possible, most climb it as an overnight trip using a high camp at one of a few very scenic places. The standard route to the summit involves a strenuous 10 - 12 mile, 6300 foot, hike followed by sections of exposed class 3 and 4 rock climbing. This mountain is not recommended for the novice climber, however there many nearby peaks that are a bit easier for one to gain experience and comfort on less challenging terrain before tackling Granite. Although people climb Granite Peak without a rope, the exposure on the final 200 ft. of the summit block dictates that most at least use a rope for the descent. If not comfortable with extreme exposure, a rope, harness, slings, and a rappel device is highly recommended.
There are two trailheads you can use to access Granite Peak's South Face via East Ridge (Standard Route). These are the West Rosebud and East Rosebud trailheads. West Rosebud is the most popular approach, slighter shorter, and gains less in elevation than the East Rosebud route. From the East Rosebud Trailhead, climbers can use the Phantom Creek Trail 17 to reach Froze-to-Death Plateau, and the base of Tempest Mountain, a common spot used for base camp. From the West Rosebud Trailhead, climbers can either reach the Froze-to-Death Plateau by traveling up the Phantom Creek Trail where it meets Mystic Lake, or up the Huckleberry Creek drainage, located at the far western end of Mystic Lake.
East Rosebud Trailhead
The East Rosebud Valley is one of the most scenic in the Beartooths, filled with lakes, streams and waterfalls. The trailhead has a campground, toilet facilities nearby, and a small town where people come for the summer to live. The area surrounding East Rosebud Lake is private property so please stay on the road and don't stray off the trailhead parking areas. To reach the trailhead, take the Columbus exit from Interstate 90, and follow Montana Highway 78 south for 29 miles to Roscoe. If coming from Red Lodge, head northward on MT 78 for 20 miles to Roscoe and make a sharp left onto East Rosebud Creek Road and measure from this point. After 0.2 mile, pass by the Grizzly Bar and restaurant and continue another 2.4 miles where the road turns to gravel. At mile 3.7, make a left onto the East Rosebud Lake Road and quickly cross East Rosebud Creek on a bridge. Just after the crossing, make a right on East Rosebud Lake Road and cross a cattle guard. At mile 8.3 enter the Custer National Forest where the road becomes paved again and now becomes FS Road 2177. Pass the Jimmy Joe Campground at mile 11.9 where it turns to dirt once again and turn right into the Phantom Creek trailhead at mile 13.6 with room for around 10 cars. This trailhead is about one mile short from the end of the road where the East Rosebud Creek Trail begins. Make sure you are at the Phantom Creek trailhead (there is a sign).
Follow trail 17, the Phantom Creek Trail which gains about 3,900 feet in just over 7 miles to the saddle between Prairie View Mountain and Froze to Death Mountain. This is the point of departure from the Phantom Creek Trail where you'll head on the Froze-to-Death plateau approach to Granite Peak
West Rosebud Trailhead
The West Rosebud Trailhead is located approximately 80 miles southwest of Billings. To reach the trailhead, take the Columbus exit from Interstate 90, and take Montana Highway 78 through Absaroka and turn west (right) toward Fishtail (approximately 17 miles from Columbus). From Fishtail, drive west and south for 1 mile and turn south (left) on West Rosebud Road. Follow this paved road for 6.3 miles until reaching a fork in the road and a large brown Forest Service sign. The sign will indicate West Rosebud Lake Road 2072. Turn left here and follow the dirt road for 14.4 miles until reaching the trailhead. The trailhead has toilet facilities, and a large parking area. Please obey the posted private property signs and do not drive beyond the trailhead parking area.
The trail actually begins up the road about 200 yards, and is reached by walking through the Montana Power Company facilities where the trailhead is clearly marked with a Forest Service sign. From there, the trail leads up toward 7,637 foot Mystic Lake, one of the most popular day hikes in the Custer National Forest. The trail is relatively flat for about the first two miles, leading to switchbacks that eventually bring the hiker to a point looking over Mystic Lake Dam. The total elevation gain is about 1,200 feet over 3 miles. Once at the dam overlook, descend down to Mystic Lake and continue hiking for a half mile until reaching an intersection for the Phantom Creek Trail 17 branching to the left (south). The sign at this intersection is hard to spot so keep a keen eye for the trail junction. It is right before a small meadow. Turn left and follow this trail up through the switchbacks until reaching a huge cairn above treeline. Just past the cairn, leave the trail to the south and head uphill to the plateau. On the plateau, you will see cairns in the distance heading southwest.
Use the Froze-to-Death Plateau Route. Whether coming from the East Rosebud side of Phantom Creek Trail, or from the West Rosebud side via Mystic Lake, the jumping off point from Phantom Creek Trail is the same--the saddle between Froze-to-Death and Prairie View Mountains at 10,000 feet. Anyone attempting either of these routes should ensure they have a copy of the USGS Granite Peak Quadrangle map. Navigation across the plateau can be very difficult, even for experienced backcountry travelers. The proliferation of rock cairns across the plateau can make it very confusing for hikers. DO NOT RELY ON THE CAIRNS to find your way across Froze-to-Death Plateau. Route-finding and compass skills are ESSENTIAL for navigation across this route. The basic route leads southwest from the saddle, around the north side of Froze-to-Death mountain. Although the plateau is relatively level, there is plenty of scrambling over talus and boulders, and depending on the time of year, snowfields which require crossing. The goal of most climbers is an 11,900 foot area to the north of Tempest Mountain. There are a few relatively flat areas which are clear of boulders and make a suitable, if not particularly comfortable, base camp. This area is a delicate alpine habitat, so please pay strict attention to minimum impact camping ethics.
From the Tempest Mountain basecamp, a climbing trail leads down and traverses to the west of Tempest to the col between Tempest and Granite. From here, one can see the climbing trail which leads up the knife-edged route toward the summit. Please note that it's a good idea to stock up on water, as availability on the Plateau is limited to run-off from snowfields. There is often no water to be found once near the col, or on the actual climbing route. See the left side-bar for the comprehensive route description which starts from the saddle between Tempest Mountain and Granite Peak
Granite Peak is located in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, Custer National Forest, Beartooth Ranger District. No fees are required to climb, hike, or camp. You must have a permit to cut live trees for firewood. No mechanized vehicles allowed in the wilderness area.
There are several Forest Service campgrounds near the trailheads. East Rosebud has three campgrounds with 34 sites. East Rosebud has water and an $9.00/night fee (May - Sept). The Jimmy Joe campground is free. Before reaching West Rosebud trailhead, there are two campgrounds with 78 sites, water, and an $8.00/night fee. There are several places to set up base camps. The top of the switchbacks have some potential camp/bivy spots but are exposed to storms and wind. The base of Tempest Mountain is another good base camp site. There are a few clusters of rock shelters on the plateau including west of point 11,792, and just before leaving the plateau down to the Tempest/Granite saddle. Water is sometimes available in the afternoons from snow-melt on the plateau, on the N/NE face of Tempest, and from a field left of the ridge line between the Tempest/Granite saddle and the snow-bridge.
The best camping is found on the Huckleberry Creek approach at Princess Lake, or the north end of Avalanche Lake as water is plentiful, you are somewhat sheltered from storms, fishing is great, and there are nice flat areas to set up a tent.