Hiking Indian Ridge To Beacon Point In The Spanish Peaks
Location: Beacon Point, Spanish Peaks, Lee Metcalf Wilderness, Madison Range, Montana
Type: Out and Back
Rating: Grade II, Class 1
Trailhead: Indian Ridge Trailhead
Distance: 20.5 miles round trip
Time: 7 to 10 hours
Indian Ridge Trailhead Elevation: 5,465′ | 1,665 m
Beacon Point Elevation: 10,224′ | 3,116 m
Total Vertical: 6,050′
Maps: Garnet Mountain, Beacon Point
Forecast: Beacon Point Weather Forecast
On a crisp, autumn Sunday, there isn’t anything better than going for a walk in the woods. One spot that I’ve been itching to get to is a little dot on the map called Beacon Point. Beacon Point sits at 10,224′ deep in the Spanish Peaks of Montana’s Madison Range.
There are several access points to reach Beacon Point – Spanish Creek TH, North Fork TH, Hellroaring Creek TH, or Indian Ridge TH. After studying the Beartooth Publishing Map, I opted to start my adventure at the Indian Ridge TH at 5,465′ on Highway 191 across from Storm Castle Peak and just north of Beckman Flats.
This trail was entirely new terrain for me, which is always exciting. I slipped on my beat up Vasque Sundowners, grabbed a hiking pole, and hit the trail (Indian Ridge Trail #444). As this was a solo mission in bear country, I hooted and hollered as I cruised down the trail.
People always look at me funny when I’m hiking and make lots of noise in the woods. I hardly ever run into other people making noise in grizzly country. It’s interesting. Yes, I sometimes feel a bit silly, but then I have a bear encounter and I know why making noise is important.
As I was steadily climbing up switchbacks that criss crossed a steep face, all of the sudden I was face to face with a 300 lbs black bear. The bear quickly bolted about 15 feet off the trail and turned to look at me. I grabbed my bear spray (easy access off of my shoulder strap). As I eased off the trigger, the bear took two steps forward. I gave a loud “Hey-Hey” and took one step forward, with my finger on the trigger. The bear took off like a shot downhill – the way I had come from.
Of course I debated turning around, but the bear had just gone that direction. Instead I kept on trucking up the trail. The trail gains steadily uphill before it breaks out into some steep meadows. The morning views of the Gallatin Range were stunning. The trail roughly sticks to the ridge line until the Indian Ridge Trail #444 meets the Little Hellroaring Trail #400.
At this point, I had already covered 5.4 miles and 3,265′. I stayed on the Indian Ridge Trail and entered the Lee Metcalf Wilderness. It seems strange to say, but as soon as you hit this arbitrary split, the surroundings seem to change. The trail gets mellower, the trees are different, and the colors are glowing. Indian Ridge seems like something out of a fairy tale.
It’s easy to make good time hiking along Indian Ridge. Every so often you are greeted with views of massive alpine peaks in the distance. You pass the only source of water for the entire hike at Arrow Lake and finally you pop out above treeline.
The trail continues over rolling ridges toward Beacon Point. There are a few spot where the trail disappears, but it quickly picks back up. On the last descent before you reach Beacon Point, a massive cairn has been constructed. From here you can see a beautiful couloir dropping off the face of Peak 10635. Is it winter yet?
Then you drop down and and climb the last 700+ feet to the top of Beacon Point at 10,224′. I reached Beacon Point in 4.5 hours. I covered 5,315′ and 10.3 miles. The views were totally worth it.
One Final Approach
The Indian Ridge Trail continues on and drops steeply into the North Fork of Hellroaring. Continue to follow it and you’ll end up at Summit Lake. There are so many options for loops and traverses from Beacon Point. But I was here for the views.
My main driver for hiking to Beacon Point was to gaze upon the legendary north face of Gallatin Peak, the highest summit in the Spanish Peaks. The north face is riddled with at least 13 different couloirs. It’s a place I’ve wanted to ski for some time thanks to Turiano’s Select Peaks book.
Gallatin dominates the view across the valley, but there is plenty more to see. The rugged face of Peak 10635 lingers just up the ridge line. Mount Wilson, Jumbo, and Table sit beyond Gallatin Peak. The Big Sky Resort Tram on Lone Mountain glimmers in the sunlight. Beehive Peak towers over the distance ridge line. Thompson Lake looks fresh and inviting in the valley below.
My eyes are always drawn to the mountains, but when I turned around the views of the valley were outstanding too. As were the distant Tobacco Roots and Bridger Range which can be seen in the distance. Plus, I glimpsed a couple of “local” mountain goats enjoying their home.
As with any hike, once you reach the summit, you’re only half way. It was soon time to depart. I headed back the way I had come following Indian Ridge all the way back to the Indian Ridge Trailhead. It was uneventful and bear free.
Car to car this adventure covered 20.5 miles and 6,050′ in 8.5 hours. It was a long approach, but the views were outstanding.
I think that if I hiked to Beacon Point again I would do a few things differently. First I would start at Spanish Creek Trailhead. This saves a bit of vertical gain and about .5 mile. It’s also a good place to do a loop – Spanish Creek TH – Beacon Point – Summit Lake – Mirror Lakes – Spanish Creek TH. Or you could work it into a full Spanish Peaks Traverse – Spanish Creek TH – Beacon Point – Summit Lake – Bear Basin – North Fork. It’s all roughly the same distance and it’s nice to see different terrain throughout the day. Anyways, I’ll save one of those for next time.
Today was a good day.
View the route on HillMap:
Additional Photos From The Beacon Point Hike:
This Trip Report for Beacon Point is from September 27, 2015.