Cooke City

December 2007 Feature Viewed 762 time(s)

You know the saying, "big things come in small packages."

That fits Cooke City, MT, to a T.

If you're looking for an area with miles and miles of groomed trails, don't even think about heading to Cooke City. There's only a token 60 miles of groomed trails here.

If you aren't particularly fond of navigating a sometimes treacherous stretch of highway to get to a riding area-no matter how good it is-then skip Cooke City. There are some spots between Corwin Springs and Silver Gate that will make the hair on the back of your neck stand straight up.

If you're idea of "services" are a host of hotels, restaurants, plenty of nightlife options, well, Cooke City isn't your place. There are some great lodging and eating establishments in Cooke City, but not dozens and dozens. This is a small town of 140 hardy souls who welcome snowmobilers practically into their home.

And if you don't like being at the end of the road, well, Cooke City ain't your place, at least in the winter. There's one way in and one way out of Cooke City as plowing on Highway 212 stops at the east edge of town.   

Now if you want one of the best backcountry snowmobiling experiences anywhere in the West, then Cooke City is your place. That's the "big things" we're referring to.

Cooke City has a loyal group of sledders who return year after year for the same reason-backcountry riding and hillclimbing at its finest with some of the deepest powder in the Rockies. Heck, more than 200 inches (207 to be exact) fall in Cooke City (elevation 7,560 feet) and the riding goes up from there. When you consider the high elevation riding, you have the makings for a long riding season, like from November to May.

With terrain like Cooke City offers, it shouldn't come as any surprise that the boys with their big toys like to congregate here to test their horsepower and climbing skills. One of the most fun parts of riding Cooke is that you can climb up and over a saddle and find another spectacular bowl or playground on the other side. And it's not like there's one bowl, but dozens full of powder.

Cooke City sits on the Montana/Wyoming border just outside the eastern edge of Yellowstone National Park and is flanked on the north by a big Wilderness area. Don't let that scare you off. There is still plenty of riding available in the mountains surrounding Cooke City and the Wilderness boundaries are fairly well marked. You've got two mountain ranges surrounding Cooke City on the north, the Absaroka and Beartooth.

Riding starts in town (right from your motel) and goes up to 10,000 feet with plenty of hillclimbing at all elevations. All those steep mountains and plentiful snow result in some serious avalanche danger. Be prepared and always inquire locally about conditions before you leave town.

As we already mentioned, Cooke City is not an easy place to get to. The town is at the dead end (at least during the winter) of Highway 212. From where the plowing stops, it's a groomed trail up to the Top of the World. You can continue on to Red Lodge (on the other side of 10,947-foot Beartooth Pass), but it's a ride highly recommended for experienced riders only. This portion of the trail is actually in Wyoming but is equally as breathtaking as anything north of Cooke City.

Full services are available in town.

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