Getting away from it all at Yellowstone's northeast entrance.
You know that familiar dream where you're falling off a cliff, but you wake up, startled, just before hitting the ground? Carry it out for a second. Instead of hitting rock-bottom, allow yourself to plummet into a pile of snow. Crystals detonate above your head. Peering around, you’re surrounded by a clairvoyance that's so crisp you feel like you've been dropped inside an Ansel Adams photo. The stars appear so close you could almost reach for one and stick it in your pocket; the air feels like a dry-cleaning for your lungs.
Welcome to the Pine Edge Cabins, located in Silver Gate, Montana, a wilderness wonderland that hosts a population next to nil, especially in the wintertime. It’s a place so galvanizing you’ll feel like an ant peering up into a world that's much larger than yourself.
Carrying a "Yellowstone's Quiet Entrance” tag line, Silver Gate is owned almost wholly by Henry Finkbeiner, an entrepreneur with an ambitious and admirable vision: to preserve the quiet beauty the Silver Gate and its surrounding wilderness. Consequently, Henry’s Pine Edge Cabins do not allow snowmobiles. While it's no secret that nearby Cooke City depends on snowmobilers to sustain its winter economy, Henry hopes to appeal to another breed of winter adventurers and preserve that feeling of being situated inside a snow-globe where it's only you and your surroundings. In the dead of winter, this is a huge asset. The town becomes so quiet that visitors can actually carry on a howling conversion with distant coyotes and wolves, a luxury that wouldn't be possible over a roaring snowmobile engine. “I don’t have any resentment towards snowmobilers,” explains Henry. “I just want to offer a quiet alternative to visitors so they can experience nature in a natural form.”
Quietness spills over into all aspects of life at Pine Edge, including Henry’s conservation and historical preservation ethic. Yellowstone is one of few national parks whose ecosystem is considered fully intact. It has the entire biological predator-prey range without a missing link. This makes for a delicate balance that could easily be thrown off—by something as simple as an extinct willow thicket or a tainted creek. The willow thickets on nearby Soda Butte Creek, for example, have been studied extensively by ecologists and Park representatives who've found a strong correlation between vegetative health and overall ecosystem biodiversity. Soda Butte Creek itself flows into Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley (and into the Lamar River), connecting its overall health with that of Yellowstone’s northeast corner.
For these and other reasons, Henry realizes that he has much to consider when making operational decisions. That's why “educating visitors is so important,” he says. “Silver Gate has a good ecosystem. I want to make sure the animals are here in 20 years. I want to keep it animal and people-friendly.”
Henry wants the town of Silver Gate to be an educational resource to visitors, thereby enhancing their experience of the area. An example is his sponsorship of Idaho's Upward Bound Kids’ Camp. The town’s alpine environment is an ideal learning ground for Upward Bound, a math- and science-based camp that focuses on wildlands and the urban interface and the microbiology of the Park. Silver Gate has hosted the camp for the past two summers, and Henry thinks his cabins are perfect since the teens are “in the presence of nature’s magic.” The quiet theme also melds into the historical stillness of the physical structures. While there will be minimal restructuring of sleep accommodations to add comfort, Henry says, the architectural integrity of the 72-year-old town will remain intact.
Anything you can do by foot is fair game at the Pine Edge Cabins. The facility sits at 7400 feet and is surrounded by the 10,000-foot-plus Absaroka-Beartooth mountain range. The area has enough waist-deep powder to entice the most spoiled snowshoer, cross-country skier, or other backcountry enthusiast. Get a guided backcountry ski or snowboard tour by calling the Cooke City Bike Shack (see story on next page). If you’re an ice-climber, take the half-mile trek out the front door of your cabin to Silver Falls.
If you prefer less adrenaline, sink yourself into the 360-degree view of Amphitheater, Republic, and Wall Rock Mountains, respectively footed in Montana, Wyoming, and Yellowstone Park. Or visit the Lamar Valley, home of the Druid Peak wolf pack and a short 20-minute drive from Silver Gate. The Cabins will supply you with snowshoes, poles, and viewing scopes for a nominal rental fee. In addition to the usual sundries, the general store has ample resources like reference books and maps of surrounding areas.
The town of Silver Gate is located just outside Yellowstone's northeast entrance. The eastern route to Silver Gate—Highway 212 through Red Lodge and the famous Beartooth Highway—is closed in the winter. Access to Pine Edge Cabins is through Gardiner (take Highway 89 south from Livingston) and then through Mammoth and the northern portion of Yellowstone, which remains open all winter. You'll know you've arrived when you see a sign that reads, "dispose of earplugs upon entering."
For more information, visit pineedgecabins.com or call husband/wife management team Bob and Holly at (406) 838-2371.