Shoshone National Forest Overview
Nearly 2.5 million acres of some of the most raw and rugged country in the Lower 48, the Shoshone National Forest, established in 1891, is the oldest of our national forests. And it remains a cornerstone of all that we value in the Rocky Mountain wilds—the mountain men and Native cultures of its past, the huge swaths of roadless, untrammeled wildlife habitat of its present, the classic outdoor experiences we hope it holds in its future are all part of what makes it one the nation's natural treasures.
The Shoshone runs south and east from a border it shares with Yellowstone National Park's eastern edge. Its northern quarters trail along the jumbled topography of the Absaroka Range, while its southern reach extends a finger down the east side of the magnificent Wind River Range, a 90-mile stretch of serrated peaks that is often the favorite range among hikers who've truly rambled far and wide through the Rockies. The forest's alpine heights are drained by rivers that loom very large in the imagination of fly anglers and whitewater paddlers—the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone, the Shoshone River's North and South Forks, the Wind River. And its expansive backcountry—all of its canyons, lodgepole forests, alpine meadows, high-mountain tarns and riparian wetlands—are a linchpin in the conglomerate public lands that have kept the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem the last intact natural community in the temperate climes of North America.
All of this abundant wildness makes the Shoshone one of the greatest places in America to get into the big outdoors. Hiker, climber, angler, paddler, mountain biker, horse rider—whatever your passion, you'll find a memorable adventure in this park.
Hike Wyoming's Roof
Hiking guru Karen Berger has put more than 15,000 miles on five continents behind her boots, but she has this to say about one of Shoshone's two major mountain ranges: "When I close my eyes and imagine the high country, it's the Wind River Range that so often comes to mind." The Continental Divide follows the unbroken heights of the Winds, Wyoming's highest mountains and the loftiest in the Rockies outside of Colorado. West of the Divide is Bridger-Teton National Forest and a legendary stretch of the Continental Divide Trail; Shoshone's portion of the Winds is less accessible, wilder feeling, and arguably just as spectacular. Among Shoshone's classic Wind River Range backpacking trips are the Middle Fork Trail in the Popo Agie Wilderness near Lander, Wyoming; it's a seriously rugged five-day or longer backpacking loop into a high country of granite, alpine tarns, and majestic peaks. Wind River Peak is a 13,000 foot, non-technical but strenuous cross-country climb. And take Karen's word for it: "My advice for the Winds? Get as much time off as you can, carry as much food as you can, stay out for as long as you can."
Run the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone
The Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone, which drains the Beartooth Mountains to the north and the Absaroka Range to the south, begins just east of Yellowstone National Park, flows southeast, and then curves through a deep, spectacular canyon before converging with the main channel of the Yellowstone near Billings. And in the Box, the sheer-walled canyon that earned it Wild & Scenic status, it harbors a whitewater monster that will test the skill and mettle of even the most skilled paddler. Even at low water levels, some stretches are not runnable and others require hurdling through Class V and VI rapids. But if you're not among the few that are up for wrasslin with this beast, the Clarks Fork corridor offers a lot more—magnificent views of the canyon from the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway, treks into the backcountry from the river's northern bank, and quieter stretches of river featuring blue-ribbon trout fishing for cutthroats and rainbows.
If the kids are clamoring for whitewater excitement, the Shoshone River is an exciting, much more user-friendly paddle trip. It flows out of the Absaroka Mountains for an easy run toward Cody, Wyoming; a nine-and-a-half-mile stretch from Wapiti to Buffalo Bill Reservoir makes a good day trip, with rapids topping out at a comfortable Class II.
Get a Taste of Mountaineering
If the recent spate of mountaineering bestsellers has born a hunger for the real thing within you, you could hardly do better than to look at the Wind River Range. The glaciers, permanent snowfields, sound rock, and relatively predictable weather in the upper reaches of the Winds have made them a training area for generations of world-class mountaineers. Conditions are particularly favorable for teaching trad backcountry rock climbing at altitude, and any number of famed outdoor schools—including Exum Mountain Guides and NOLS—have long offered summer and winter mountaineering programs. The best-known climbing areas are the Cirque of the Towers and the Fremont Peak areas along the Continental Divide; climbers can find most any level of terrain and challenge they want, from Class III scrambling to extremely challenging Class VI climbs.
Make Like a Mountain Man
Want to see the Rockies as Jim Bridger and Jedediah Smith saw them? Head for the 350,488-acre North Absaroka Wilderness—it's vast, truly rugged and remote, and wild in a way no other place in the Lower 48 can today claim to be. Situated along the northeastern boundary of Yellowstone National Park, just north of the North Fork Shoshone River, the North Absaroka still numbers grizzlies, bighorn sheep, and elk among its wildlife, making it a central part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The few trails through this expanse are steep, narrow, and traverse long distances with no chance of bail-out; most people follow the historic example and use horses to pack in; expect minimum signing, washouts, fallen trees, loose rock, and few if any encounters with other humans—all of which adds up to make for a relatively high factor of risk.
Drive TR's Favorite Highway
The Shoshone possesses some of the most highly prized blacktop in the national-forest system. Among its two-lane treasures is a portion of the staggeringly scenic Beartooth Highway, which runs through rarified air and beauty above 9,000 feet between Yellowstone's northeast corner and Red Lodge, Montana; another winner is the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway, which crosses spectacular Dead Indian Pass and affords the only view into the canyon of the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone. But none other than Teddy Roosevelt proclaimed the stretch of road between Cody and Yellowstone "the most scenic 52 miles in the United States." Designated the Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway in 1996, it follows the North Fork of the Shoshone River through the Absaroka Mountains from Cody to Yellowstone's East Entrance; there are unearthly rock hoodoos, nearly as much wildlife as in Yellowstone itself, and some of the finest tent campgrounds in the Yellowstone area.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication