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Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area

August 22, 2018 - August 28, 2018

Trip Navigation

The Boulder River drains the geographic heart of Montana’s 944,000 acre Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area. A rugged dirt road that runs alongside it provides access to some of the wildest country in the entire wilderness, including the ghost town of Independence, the famed Lake Plateau, Silver Lake, and famous trout fishing. From our basecamp at Lake Kathleen, five miles up the E. Fork Trail, our group will do a wide variety of trailwork—improving and widening the existing trail, getting rid of invasive weeds clearing trees, and most of all cleaning and installing drainage structures (known as ‘waterbars’.  We will use all manner of trail tools, such as Pulaskis, cross-cut saws, rakes, and loppers. In general the work can be anywhere from moderate to quite strenuous in nature. We will be working between 8000 and 9000 feet in elevation. Each morning we will hike out from our camp at Lake Kathleen a mile or more to work. There are a couple of significant creek crossings (below the knees) that must be managed each way to work. All tools and personal protective equipment will be provided by the ABWF and the Forest Service. The trip will be led by a Trail Crew leader provided by the ABWF. This person is trained in Wilderness Medicine (First Responder), Leave no Trace principles, and has extensive training and experience in trail building and maintenance. Their job is to facilitate a fun and safe volunteer experience for you. With your help, they will make sure meals are prepared and that you are well fed, and will teach you more about the local area, flora and fauna, and particularly about the Wilderness and issues facing our public lands. On every project, we also work alongside one or more Forest Service trail crew leaders who will help supervise the technical aspects of the work at hand. The ABWF & Forest Service will have emergency communication devices available. This is grizzly country, and while trip leaders will be equipped with canisters of bear repellent, volunteers may want to bring their own bear spray for protection.

This trip is hosted and crew led by the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Foundation.


Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Foundation


Primitive Tent Sites


Backpacking 5 miles to basecamp (Day Hiking up to 5 miles per day)

Project Rating

Very Strenuous

Minimum Volunteer Age


Maximum Group Size


Area and Attractions

This is some of the best country in the entire Greater Yellowstone region! On Interstate 90 between Billings and Bozeman is the small town of Big Timber, Montana. From there a single dirt road runs south into the heart of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, following the trout-laden Boulder River to near its headwaters. When you arrive at the Box Canyon Ranger cabin, geographically you are in the center of one of the largest Wilderness areas in the Lower 48! The Boulder River is also the bisecting line between the Absaroka Range that runs north out of Yellowstone Park, and the high Beartooth Range to the east—namesakes of the Wilderness. The A-B Wilderness is known for its ruggedness, numerous lakes, broad plateaus above treeline, and lots of solitude—the likes of which you won’t find in nearby Yellowstone Park! The Boulder River is major access point into the A-B Wilderness backcountry, and many hikers and horse packers alike start here for expeditions deep into the mountains. Many people have admired the Absaroka and Beartooth mountains on their way into Yellowstone National Park, although they often overlook and rarely delve into the tremendous beauty and recreational opportunities that the A-B Wilderness has in abundance. The highest mountains in Montana are here. Numerous trails fan out from the area where we will be working and can be explored during free time! The East Fork Trail and Lake Kathleen, where we will be working, is a major access point for the beautiful Lake Plateau, dotted with gorgeous alpine Lakes and rugged backdrops. The ghost town of Independence is close by. Not so far from Yellowstone National Park, come see why the Absaroka-Beartooths are a much quieter, more pristine, and far more ruggedly handsome alternative to Yellowstone, that nonetheless needs your skills and tender loving care!

Accommodations Description

The first night upon arrival, the group will tent/car-camp around the Box Canyon Cabin up the Boulder River. On Day two, we will all backpack 5 miles into Lake Kathleen where we will set up a backcountry basecamp for the remainder of the trail project. While at Lake Kathleen we will camp in primitive and undesignated backcountry sites near the lake. We will practice strict Leave No Trace ethics in the wilderness. It is very likely that we will get Backcountry Horsemen to pack in our heaviest items--food, tools, tents, etc. so your hike in to Lake Kathleen will be far easier than packing in with a lot of gear. The ABWF will provide the food and group cooking gear, as well as group shelter for meals and hunkering down together in a rainstorm. Volunteers should bring their own backpacking equipment including, tent, sleeping bag and pad, cup/bowl/eating utensils, and personal items. This is grizzly country, and while trip leaders will be equipped with canisters of bear repellent, volunteers may want to bring their own bear spray for protection.


Airport Pickup provided from Billings Logan International, Billings, MT


Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area
820 E 4th Ave, Big Timber, Montana 59011 United States