The Yellowstone River, a beautiful tributary of the Missouri River most famous for its astonishing falls in Yellowstone National Park's Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, is a place of remarkable wonder and beauty. It was partly roaming the cottonwood forests on its shores that lead me to develop my love for nature, and it still fills me with awe when wandering it today.
However, when visiting Montana, most are only aware of the western, mountainous part of the state, and miss out on the incredible beauty the eastern Montana lowlands have to offer. It's my hope with guides like this to remedy that!
In this hiking guide, I bring you on an unmarked hiking adventure alongside a stretch of the Yellowstone River accessed from Buffalo Creek Road by Custer, Montana.
Yellowstone River Hike Map
Yellowstone River Hike Guide
When hiking the Yellowstone, it truly is an unstructured, open-ended adventure, with little in the way of developed trails, but plenty of room to wander and roam. Nature here has many stories to tell, and touch those who listen in a profound way.
On this section of river, cottonwood forests are bound by tall sandstone cliffs, giving astonishing viewpoints of the surrounding landscape. Even on a gray, exceptionally snowless day for the Montana winter, the intricate patterns of beauty where land meets water are striking to the eye, and when sunny glow in an utterly radiant gold.
Behind these cliffs, the landscape is covered in sagebrush grasslands, with ponderosa pine taking refuge in whatever sections of more hilly terrain are made available. But these entities, while contrasting, also flow together into a greater, beautiful whole.
While the terrain is technically modest, hiking boots are a useful piece of gear when navigating steeper hillsides and muddy sections of ground. The rest will depend on the weather, from exceptionally warm summers to cold, freezing winters (these winters were not apparent on this February day!).
From my initial hike along a ridge top ending in an incredible view of the river (see second photo and 'Viewpoint' labeled on the map above), I worked my way back downhill to a muddy, rugged road. I would recommend not driving this road without a specialized vehicle capable of dealing with the slippery wear and tear of the Montana ground!
From that road, I continued hiking until I reached the partially frozen banks of the Yellowstone River.
The Yellowstone River is world famous for its incredible rocks: agates and petrified wood formed by a now largely forgotten fiery volcanic past. But with a keen eye, stories from those violent times remain, etched in stone.
Following along the frozen ground by a seasonal island (surrounded by water during the Yellowstone's violent Spring flooding events), you're gifted amazing views of the towering cliffs that mere minutes ago you stood above.
Through all my adventures across the western U.S., the Yellowstone River will always be a special place for me, with a secret kind of subtle beauty that is breathtaking to behold. I hope that one day you are able to visit it in your own travels one day, and wander its shores in wonder!