Hidden Paradise

Exploring a nearby wonderland.

Some of the best things in life are hidden in plain sight, and Paradise Valley’s Tom Miner Basin is definitely one of them. There’s the petrified forest containing 50-million-year-old trees frozen in time. There’s wildlife: grizzlies, wolves, elk, moose, and dozens of other species roaming free beyond the official confines of Yellowstone National Park. There’s camping, hiking, and climbing. There’s 50-mile views and real working ranches. Tom Miner at its best is a microcosm of Montana: settled but still wild. And it’s only an hour from home.

35 miles south of Livingston in Paradise Valley, hang a right onto dusty Tom Miner Creek Road and cross the mighty Yellowstone River. Below, drift boats eddy near arid shores peppered with sage and juniper, while rafters disembark after a thrilling ride down Yankee Jim Canyon. This is dry country; rocky and scrubby, not the lush grassland found further north. But drive further up Tom Miner Creek Road and the landscape changes.

The scrub gives way to ranches and meadows, the meadows to forest, the forest to high mountains. After eight miles, you reach Tom Miner Campground, where secluded treed campsites provide a $7-per-night base camp for deeper exploration.

The Gallatin Petrified Forest is the Basin’s most unique feature. Frozen in time, right under the surface of ancient ash and lava flows, an entire ecosystem lies intact. In some places, there are dozens of strata—layers of preserved trees standing atop one another—and that’s what makes the forest so special: the trees were buried in an upright position, as they stood naturally. Today, it’s possible to see a 50-million-year-old tree in exactly the same position as it stood eons ago.

Within the Gallatin Petrified Forest lies Ramshorn Peak (10,289 feet). As a major summit along the Gallatin Crest (the highest between Electric and Hyalite Peaks), Ramshorn should be on every hiker or runner’s must-do list. The eight-mile trail is relatively easy, and from the cobbled summit many of the region’s iconic ranges are visible: the Spanish Peaks, Lone Mountain, The Sphinx, the Taylor-Hilgards, Mount Cowen, and Electric Peak.

From the campground or trail, it’s nearly certain that you’ll have company of the wilderness variety. Tom Miner is prime habitat for grizzlies, so make sure to bring your bear spray. It is also home to black bear, elk, moose, wolves, foxes, eagles, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and a multitude of other species to cross off your checklist. It’s a natural extension of Yellowstone Park’s rich habitat, and enjoys rare diversity and density—Tom Miner is truly a refuge for wildlife and humans alike. This spring and summer, be sure to check out the paradise hidden in plain sight, in Tom Miner Basin.

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