For someone who spent 18 years of her life (plus summers while in college) in southwest Montana, I’m a bit embarrassed at how many hikes in this area are still on my to-do list. Granted, MT is a big state. But I also just didn’t like hiking as much when I was younger. Probably because when my dad was involved, fun was typically not. But once I had the option to hike with just my mom and/or sister, I remembered how much I love it! I still don’t think I could spend months hiking the Appalachian trail, but I’m definitely much happier when I get a regular dose of nature.
Okay, so that got a bit off topic. As I was saying, there are a lot of hikes I still want to do in southwestern MT. But if I had to pick my favorite of the ones I’ve done so far, it would have to be Sacagawea Peak. It’s not terribly long. I got to stand on top of a mountain. There are views in all directions. And I got to really experience the ruggedness of the Bridger Mountains.
The Bridger Mountains form the northeastern boundary of the Gallatin Valley. The Bridger range is named for Jim Bridger, a fur trapper who explored the west in the mid-1800s. He was co-owner of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company and is also credited with pioneering the Bridger Trail, a route connecting the Oregon trail to the newly-discovered gold fields in Montana. Basically, he’s an important local historical figure, so someone decided to name a mountain range after him. Maybe that should be my new goal in life: to have some sort of natural feature named after me. Diana Peak has a pretty nice ring to it!
Anyway, Sacagawea Peak is the highest summit in the Bridger Mountains, standing 9,596 feet tall, and though I’m not familiar with the actual statistics, I’m fairly certain it’s the most summited mountain in the area. The peak is named for Sacagawea, which is a name many of you are probably familiar with. For those who are not, Sacagawea was a Shoshone Native American woman who was a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition. She had a bit of a rough childhood; she was kidnapped at age 12, and was then reportedly sold to a Quebecois fur trapper for marriage at age 13. When the Lewis and Clark expedition arrived in the area a few years later, they hired and her husband as interpreters. As Sacagawea spoke the Shoshone language and was also somewhat familiar with the area, she was integral to the success of the expedition, and has been well-recognized as such. Because the Lewis & Clark expedition crossed the Bridger Mountains via what is today called the Bozeman Pass, it only makes sense that one of the peaks be named for her.
Sacagawea died in either 1812 or 1884 – which are two very discrepant dates, and there are historical documents supporting both – so without doing much more research, I can’t say which one seems more likely.
Okay, back to the mountain itself, and the 2.2-mile strenuous hike to its summit. The trail to Sacagawea Peak begins at the Fairy Lake campground at the end of Fairy Lake road (Forest Service Road #74) on the east side of the Bridger Mountains. In recent years, the condition of the road has deteriorated, and last I knew, a high-clearance 4WD vehicle was required. Thankfully my mom has a friend who has such a vehicle and wanted to climb the mountain with us.
The trail begins in the forest, but quickly starts to climb up above tree line. Once the view opens up, the rugged geology of the Bridger Mountains becomes very visible. The trail then meanders through Cirque Basin before beginning to switch back up a headwall to the saddle between Sacagawea Peak (to the south) and Pomp Peak (to the north). On many maps, Pomp Peak is mislabeled as Hardscrabble Peak, a fact I learned only recently. Hardscrabble Peak is the next one over from Pomp Peak, apparently. Funny story – one of my mom’s coworkers actually spent about a year thinking he’d summited Hardscrabble Peak, only to learn that, in fact, he had not. I’m not sure why this mix-up is so common, and to be honest, I’m actually not entirely sure which one is correct. But either way, the peak marked Sacagawea is in fact Sacagawea, so no worries there!
Once we reached the saddle, we headed left (south) along the ridge line to the top of Sacagawea Peak. The peak has two summits, and I definitely recommend hiking across to the second one. I’ve summited Sacagawea more than once, and on at least one occasion we ran into some mountain goats up on top!
And from here, I’ll let the photos do the rest of the talking. Sometimes, there are no words that can truly capture the rugged beauty of nature!
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: head north from Bozeman, MT on Highway 86, then follow Fairy Lake Road up to the campground
- Fees & passes: parking is free
- Camping: Fairy Lake Campground is free; there are 9 sites but no garbage facilities and reservations are not accepted
- Hiking: easy 1-mile loop around Fairy Lake and 4.4-mile RT moderate-to-strenuous hike to the summit of Sacagawea Peak (elevation gain: 2,000 feet)
- Other: Fairy Lake Road is rough, rutted, and gets very muddy when it rains – a high-clearance vehicle is necessary and RVs/camp trailers are not recommended