continental divide trail

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'Big Sky' variant of the CDT

A 350 mile approx. variation from the CDT in southern Montana and northern Wyoming

The Big Sky variant or Butte Super Cut-off is a route that we hiked last year that travels from the CDT south of Yellowstone (at Two Ocean Pass) north to meet the CDT again north of Butte (at Delmoe Lake).

It cuts out the Montana/Idaho border section of the CDT and travels through Yellowstone east and north boundaries, Gallatin Petrified Forest, Spanish Peaks and the Tobacco Root mountains.

We are not the first to thru hike this way. Jim and Ginny Owen did so northbound in 2006. The Onion hiked a roughly similar line in 2007, provided good notes and mapped out the northern half from Delmoe Lake to Yellowstone north border in 'Jonathan Ley style' maps downloadable on-line. Skittles and Recess have hiked it in 2008 too. I am sure that there are others.

Click here for our photos from the Big Sky variant

For a mileage overview click on the map to the right

Open individual maps from the overview map

Download zip files of the Big Sky southern section Brian's 20 maps (36MB)

Download zip files of the Big Sky northern section Onion's 13 maps (52MB)

The two sets of maps overlap between Ennis and the north corner of Yellowstone as both Onion and ourselves took different routes in this area and the overlap means that both are now mapped.


Why hike the Big Sky variant?
Well we did it primarily for a bit of fun and adventure away from the CDT and to explore different ground. Southbound we thought the CDT in mid-Montana a bit dull with lots of lodge pole pine and the alternative provided some varied scenery.

It was also refreshing to be heading out on our own making the route up as we went along- or at least it felt like that. Somehow if we got into less interesting hiking we made more of it because the route felt ours more than the CDT. It covers some interesting territory too- the Spanish Peaks offered the best mountains we had hiked since Glacier NP, Gallatin Petrified Forest has nice ridges and ... petrified trees, and we meandered on a long hike through remote, scenic and wildlife rich parts of Yellowstone. Yellowstone isn't quite up to Glacier or the Winds but it still provides a worthy hike on good trails with few other hikers around.

It's also a fair bit shorter than the CDT equivalents; about 353 miles as described, to the CDT Butte route's 576 miles and the Anaconda cut-off's 517 miles. A mileage breakdown is shown on the overview map.

We used days saved on the Big Sky to spend more time in the wonderful Wind Rivers further south in central Wyoming.

Other Useful Maps
You could navigate the route as we hiked it using the downloadable maps above. Listed below are other useful maps which would be handy for planning.

Yellowstone and Grand Teton Travel Map ($4.95) I couldn't find this on the web but can be purchased locally and is great- almost a must have for planning. Extends from Union Pass in the Winds, Togwatee Pass, Two Ocean Pass to Yellowstone and also the Grand Tetons. Also good for planning another alternative between Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons to Green Lakes in the Winds but that's another story...

National Geographic 201 Yellowstone Good overview of Yellowstone NP although it doesn't show campsites.

Beartooth Bozeman, Big Sky,West Yellowstone Covers the Skyline trail in Yellowstone, Gallatin ridge, north of Yellowstone over to the Spanish Peaks. Sometimes the Beartooth maps lack detail but I was glad I carried this one.

Beartooth Tobacco Root Mountains I haven't seen this but it looks nice and it should cover Ennis to Whitehall.

Southwest Montana Interagency Visitor/Travel Map This has been updated for 2008. I had the 1996 one but it has no contours and I wouldn't buy or carry it if hiking the route again. The Beartooth maps would be better IMHO.

Yellowstone camping guide You have to book campsites in Yellowstone but as a CDT thru hiker you can do it over the phone. This link provides details and a campsite map for the park.

Other References
2006 Hike Jim and Ginny Owen's journal

2008 Hike Skittles and Recess journal description The Onion's notes on his hike of the route