Yellowstone Backpacking ? Gallatin Mountains

Trip Length 4 Days
Group Size 4?6
Activity level
Starting from
$1,249 for REI Members
$1,369 for non-members
Departures Jul 2020-Aug 2020

Get away from the crowds and into Yellowstone's spectacular backcountry on this 4-day guided excursion.

Towering above 10,000 ft and extending more than 75 miles, Yellowstone?s Gallatin Mountains are breathtaking, expansive and not to be missed. The area is tucked away at Yellowstone?s northwestern edge and is largely unknown to visitors. Our journey explores the Gallatin Crest Traverse, challenging backpackers with steep climbs and drops?only to be rewarded with stunning scenery as far as the eye can see.

Our hike begins at the Specimen Creek trailhead in the scenic Gallatin River Valley. We trek up to the crest in search of stunning mountain vistas, ending our day at a beautiful camp in the meadows along the shores of the creek. We continue following Specimen Creek upstream through majestic stands of spruce and fir until we arrive at Gallatin Crest and High Lake, where we enjoy a quick dip before making camp for the night. Our destination is Shelf Lake, the Park's highest point at 9,200 ft above sea level, where we behold beautiful sunsets and dramatic views.

Looking for other options in Yellowstone? Check out our Black Canyon and Bechler River backpacking itineraries, or our Yellowstone Kayaking trip.

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Trip Highlights

  • Take in sweeping vistas from the Gallatin Crest Traverse
  • Spend four days backpacking through majestic terrain
  • Get to know a less-traveled side of Yellowstone


This trip is rated Vigorous [4]. Participants will be carrying their own backpacks with weights of 35?40 lbs. over varied terrain and at altitude. Please make sure your backpack is fitted to your body before the trip. Trip members need to be in good physical condition.

To maximize your enjoyment of the trip, we strongly encourage you to take up a training regimen beforehand.�Day hiking with a pack and making sure your hiking boots are broken in before your trip is key. Cycling, running, walking and weight training are also good conditioners for this type of outing. The better shape you are in, the more you?ll enjoy all that Yellowstone National Park has to offer.

  • Backpacking

What's Included

Professional instruction and guiding; meals as noted in the daily itinerary; 2-person tents; group cooking gear; group first aid kit, water filter; campsite and permit fees; park entrance fees; round-trip shuttle between meeting point and trailheads.


Backcountry camping, 3 nights; Optional hotels (hotels not included in trip price), 2 nights

Your Adventure Itinerary

Day 1

Meet for orientation and head out from Specimen Creek Trailhead.

This trip begins in Bozeman, Montana. We meet our backpacking companions at 8am at our host hotel in Bozeman. ? After a gear check and brief orientation, we load our gear and drive about two hours to the trailhead. Plan on adding five to ten pounds of shared, group gear to your pack. Our hike begins at the Specimen Creek Trailhead at 7,000 ft in the scenic Gallatin River Valley that roughly defines the park's northwestern boundary. The trailhead is our lowest elevation of the trip as we trek up to the crest in search of stunning mountain vistas. We end our day at a beautiful camp in the meadows along the shores of Specimen Creek. Lunch and dinner included.

Backpacking: 6 miles, Elevation gain: 1,000'

Day 2

Hike to Gallatin Crest and take a dip in High Lake.

After a casual morning we continue following Specimen Creek upstream through beautiful meadows and majestic stands of spruce and fir until finally we arrive at Gallatin Crest. A short distance to the north along the trail we arrive at High Lake. The lake is nestled among subalpine meadows and will be our campsite for the night. Once camp is made the group will have the option of swimming in the lake or taking a short hike for views of Electric Peak. All meals included.

Backpacking: 4 miles, Elevation gain: 850'

Day 3

Our most rewarding day, hiking to Shelf Lake.

Shortly out of camp we reach the ridgeline and have tremendous views of Paradise Valley to the east. We'll hike through moss-covered lodgepole pines, high alpine meadows and across cascading creeks until we reach the stunningly beautiful Crescent Lake for lunch and a midday swim. Keep an eye on the cliffs above for mountain goat sightings. After lunch we continue on to Shelf Lake, the trip's highest point at 9,200 ft above sea level. Once camp is made, we hike up to the most dramatic part of the crest for views of the Madison Range to the west with an opportunity to see bighorn sheep. Sunsets here are a sight to behold. All meals included.

Backpacking: 8 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +1,400/-1,000; Optional hike: 1?2 miles

Day 4

Take in our last views before descending to the trailhead.

Our final day is a long descent of the north fork of Specimen Creek to its junction with the main. The trail descends sharply from Shelf Lake into thick and beautiful stands of spruce and fir. Specimen Creek grows rapidly as we descend and soon we are in the beautiful lower meadows that we hiked through on the first day. A final, mostly level two miles bring us to the trailhead. We plan to be back at the hotel between 4?5pm. Breakfast and lunch included.

Backpacking: 8 miles, Elevation loss: 2,250'

Gear List

The key to staying comfortable while on an active trip is layering. To get maximum comfort with minimum weight, you need versatile layers that mix and match to create the right amount of insulation, ventilation and weather protection. Try to bring only what is necessary?this will help you and the field staff.

What to pack

Contact Us

Feel free to give us a call at 800-622-2236 should you have any questions regarding the gear list. The staff at our stores and Direct Sales (800-426-4840) will also be happy to help you with gear questions. Or check out REI Expert Advice , which has great information to help you prepare for your trip.