Electric Peak is the highest mountain in the Gallatin Range, sitting at an elevation of 10,968 feet, and the most dominant peak in the northern section of Yellowstone National Park. This hike (and climb!) offers an incredibly scenic, and also challenging, outing for the experienced adventurer. The trek starts in Wyoming but you’ll cross the Montana border just before reaching the summit.
The hiking distance to reach the top of Electric Peak is nearly 20 miles roundtrip and features an exposed Class 3 scramble to reach the summit. If you’re fit and fast and have a good weather window, then this is doable as a long day hike, but it makes for a viable 2-3 backpacking trip as well since there are two backcountry campsites conveniently located just over halfway to the summit along the route.
If you’re an experienced hiker with some scrambling and route-finding experience and looking to get away from the crowds, then consider a trek up to Electric Peak. Heights and exposure not your thing? No worries, you can still hike much of the way to the top and call it a day before the Class 3 section, while still enjoying outstanding scenery the entire way.
Distance and Elevation Gain
Day Hiking: Trailhead to Summit
Distance: 9.4 miles one-way from trailhead to the summit (18.8 miles round-trip)
Elevation Gain: 3,691 feet of net elevation gain from trailhead to summit (3,756 feet of total elevation gain, including ups and downs)
Max Elevation: 10,968 feet at the top of Electric Peak
Estimated Time: Allow 10-12 hours total (including breaks) if you’re a reasonably fit hiker.
Backpacking: Campsite 1G3 to Summit
Distance: 3.6 miles one-way to the summit
Elevation Gain: 2,976 feet of net elevation gain
Estimated Time: From campsite to summit, allow about 3 hours one-way
For trail maps, the Trails Illustrated Yellowstone Map covers this area well and has always been my go-to resource for hiking in Yellowstone. In addition, using the Gaia GPS app, you can use the Trails Illustrated overlay on the app while you track your progress.
Another option is the Beartooth Publishing Yellowstone Map. I have personally never used their Yellowstone Map simply because I’ve had the Trails Illustrated map for a long time. But I have used other trail maps from Beartooth Publishing and find their maps to be some of the best out there in terms of accuracy and clarity.
I don’t think you could go wrong with the Beartooth Publishing Map or the Trails Illustrated, though if you’re torn, then it’s always nice to support a local company such as Beartooth Publishing.
Multi-Day Backpacking Option
You can easily turn this into a 2-3 day backpacking trip by knocking out over half of the mileage on the approach, while most of the elevation gain will await you on summit day. There are two campsites conveniently located 0.2 and 0.3 miles off of the trail, respectively, near the junction with the Electric Peak Spur Trail.
Campsite 1G3 is the closest site to this junction, while Campsite 1G4 is just a little bit farther down. The Gardiner River is close by to both of these campsites, which ensures a good water source for backpackers.
As always, reserving backcountry sites in national parks is somewhat complex, but the Yellowstone Backcountry Camping Guide has all of the info you need with regards to booking a site and obtaining a permit.
You can reserve a campsite in advance, but applications for campsite reservations must be mailed, faxed, or handed in in-person and cannot be emailed. Otherwise, you can hold out for a walk-in permit no more than 2 days in advance.
Despite the relative remoteness of this area, these campsites are popular on weekends and tend to fill up as they offer access to many different backpacking trips in addition to Electric Peak.
To sum it up, backcountry camping here is a great option if you can obtain a permit, but if you are hoping for a walk-in permit, then be sure to have a Plan B such as camping outside of the park and attempting Electric Peak as a day hike, in case these campsites are already booked.
How to Get to the Trailhead
The Glen Creek Trailhead is about a 25 minute drive from Gardiner in early morning, low traffic conditions. The parking area to start this hike is conveniently located right on Highway 89.
What constitutes as the official “Glen Creek Trailhead” is not entirely straight-forward. The best advice I can give you is to park at the sign for the Brunsen Peak hike on the opposite side of the highway from where you begin your hike. Directly across the road, there is a short paved road — instead of walking on this paved road, look for a dirt trail beginning just to the left (south) of the intersection with this road and the main highway.
The officially marked trailhead is then found by hiking maybe one or tenths of a mile across flat sagebrush, and there is a large trailhead display that’s easily visible.
If the Brunsen Peak parking area is full, then drive a very short distance south on Highway 89 and park in a large pullout on the right side of the road. From this pullout, there is an obvious dirt trail that you can hop on which takes you directly to the main trailhead.
When in doubt, just hike west across open sagebrush and you’ll intersect the correct trail quickly enough. Electric Peak and it’s pointy summit is visible from the start of the hike.
Route Breakdown and Highlights
Approach Hike to Electric Peak
Upon reaching the official trail at the Glen Creek Trailhead, head northwest on the lone trail that travels along Glen Creek through open sagebrush for the first 2 miles. Fortunately, the trail is extremely well-marked from here. You’ll be heading in the direction of Sportsman Lake and Electric Peak, so look for these landmarks on the signs.
The first 6 miles of hiking are relatively flat with very gradual elevation gain. You’ll hike through numerous open sagebrush meadows with only occasional short stretches of forest hiking. The scenery is wild and expansive, and you’ll have plenty of views of your objective in the distance.
After about 6 miles, you’ll hit the intersection where the Electric Peak Spur Trail branches off to the right. If you’re camping at 1G3 or 1G4, then continue going straight for a very short distance. Note: this is also the last area with good water access before ascending Electric Peak, so if you need to fill up, do so at nearby Gardiner Creek.
Once you hop on the Electric Peak Spur Trail, it’s about another mile of flat hiking with excellent views of your objective ahead. Then, the steep hiking begins in earnest. Over the next 1.8 miles, you’ll gain about 2,300 feet of elevation heading up the southeast ridgeline.
In general, you’ll stay close to the ridgeline, but as you get higher up, you’ll sometimes need to hop over to the less-exposed left side of the ridge as you’re hiking up. The trail/route becomes a little more faint as you ascend, but if you stick near the ridge the route-finding is pretty straight-forward.
After about 8.8 miles of total hiking from the trailhead (calculated from the Gaia GPS app), you’ll reach the top of a subridge. At this point, the more exposed scrambling and route-finding begins. If you’re not keen on exposure and lack route finding experience, this makes for a fine turn-around point and still makes for an awesome day.
This is also a good turn-around point if the weather is starting to look threatening as you will already be above treeline and due to the nature of the terrain, there are no quick escapes beyond this point.
Scramble to the Summit of Electric Peak
The sub-high-point on the ridgeline where the “hiking” ends is where the most difficult route-finding occurs on the final 0.6-mile scramble to the summit. You can either backtrack a few feet and start from just below the ridgeline and traverse across open talus before heading up the first talus-filled couloir that offers the path of least resistance.
Upon doing so, you should reach a faint climbers route that stays along the left side of the summit that is easier to follow. Alternatively, you can stay high and cross the first section along an exposed ridgeline but with more stable rock quality.
The first option keeps the route at Class 3 and is less exposed, but the route finding is more difficult and the loose nature of the talus and rock makes it a bit sketchy in its own right, especially if you take a wrong turn or get off-route.
The second option is more exposed and would likely be considered Class 4, but it’s a more direct way to reach the climber’s route that takes you to the summit, and the rock quality is much better and more stable. The ridge is also fairly short and features two main “crossings”.
My girlfriend and I don’t mind exposure too much as long as the rock quality is good, so we opted for the second option as it seemed like a more straight-forward and even safer alternative compared to the loose talus-filled couloirs with more difficult route-finding.
However, this last section is totally a personal choice and it depends on what you are more comfortable with. You may need to see your options up close before deciding how to proceed.
Once you navigate the first route-finding challenge, the route becomes a little more straight-forward with occasional cairns and faint footpaths. You’ll still be doing some scrambling and will have some exposure navigating a mix of traverses and couloirs, but it’s not as difficult compared to the first section.
Upon reaching the summit, you’ll have views of at least 7 different mountain ranges, including the Gallatins, Madisons, Absorakas, Beartooths, and even the Tetons far in the distance on a clear day. The summit is amazing and if you have good weather then you’ll want to spend at least 30 minutes soaking in the experience. Keep an eye out for erupting geysers in the distance.
Best Time of Year to Hike and Climb Electric Peak
In an average year, late June through late September is the prime time for this trek. Of course, the start and end dates of this window vary from year to year given a particular year’s snowpack. Since this route ascends the south side of the mountain, it tends to become snow-free earlier than many other high mountains in the region.
However, during heavier than average snow years it would be wise to wait until early or mid July. Completing this trek from July through early August will offer the best window to see beautiful wildflower displays, but the bugs are also at their worst then. For a bug-free hike and snow-free hike, your best window is mid-August through early September.
Late season can vary from year to year. Snow could fall high on the peak in early September (or even August in rare instances), but snow that falls in September tends to melt within a few days.
In dry years you may be able to summit with minimal snow issues into mid-October, but I wouldn’t count on it if you’re planning a trip in advance. In most years, snow starts to become an issue by late September or early October.
Electric Peak was named by early explorers due to its exposure to lightning, and true to its name, lightning is the biggest hazard of concern during the summer months.
Thunderstorms are possible throughout the climbing season here, though they tend to be most frequent in June and July before gradually decreasing in frequency in August. Thunderstorms become much less common beyond Labor Day or so, but still happen on occasion.
The northwest corner of Yellowstone has one of the most abundant and diverse wildlife populations in the Lower 48. Grizzly bears of course are the most feared animal for hikers and backpackers, and they do live in abundance in this part of Yellowstone.
Take the usual precautions in grizzly country, such as hiking with bear spray, hiking with at least one other person, and making noise through more densely vegetated areas.
Other wildlife you might see on this hike include black bears, elk, moose, deer, bison, bighorn sheep, coyotes and, if you’re very lucky, gray wolves.
How are the Bugs?
When my girlfriend and I completed this hike in mid-July, the bugs were pretty brutal — really the only drawback of an otherwise incredible day. Mosquitoes, biting flies, and horse flies were all abundant here, and at their worst during the afternoon on the hike down.
This is a hike where you’ll definitely want to bring bug spray, and if you’re camping, consider extra precautions such as headnets, long sleeve loose clothing, and a Thermacell. But don’t let the bugs keep you from hiking here either, just go in prepared. By mid-August, the bugs should be mostly gone.
Pre and Post-Hike Camping Options
The nearest campground is the Mammoth Campground, which is an excellent site, but is also in high demand in the mid-summer months. Outside of the park, there are a couple of paid campground options outside of Gardiner. The Eagle Creek Campground is the closest to Gardiner, but also the most popular.
A little farther outside of town on Highway 89, we stayed at the Canyon Campground based on a recommendation and it was a more secluded, less popular spot though we still barely found a spot when arriving the evening before our hike on a weekend.
The only downside of this campground is that it’s located right next to the highway, which means lots of traffic noise late into the evening. Other than the noise, it was a good spot and the price was reasonable at only $7 per night.
For dispersed camping, there are some options in the hills above Gardiner. According to freecampsites.net, Forest Service Road 3243 has plenty of dispersed camping options and the iOverlander app is a good resource as well.
Here are a few items I consider to be essential for this hike:
- Extra layers
- Ski hat and lightweight gloves
- Bug spray (unless hiking after mid-August)
- Bear spray
- 3 liters of water or a water purification system
- Personal locator device, such as a SPOT or DeLorme beacon
- Rain jacket/rain gear (unless you’re 100% sure of a dry forecast)
- First aid kit
- Climbing helmet
Here are a few items I might bring depending on current conditions:
- Trekking poles (helpful for the steep/loose terrain, but do not use for the Class 3 section)
- Ice axe
- Microspikes or crampons
- Down jacket
Where to Find Weather Forecasts
Here are links to National Weather Service point weather forecasts near the start of the hike and across the upper portions of the hike that take elevation and terrain into account.
Keep in mind that there is a greater margin of error in mountain forecasts for remote areas, but the NWS point forecasts are one of the more reliable sources.
Another weather source that is well worth your time to check out is the OpenSummit website and app.
This app provides detailed weather forecasts specifically for mountain summits, and they will be expanding their offerings in the near future as well. Two-day forecasts are free and any forecasts beyond two days require a $19/year subscription, which also gets you access to OpenSnow ski area forecasts in the winter.
This hike is located near the intersection of several National Weather Service forecast coverage areas, which makes it difficult when it comes to reading forecast discussions.
However, if you’re more of a weather geek who wants to look into greater details, it would be worth reading forecast discussions to gain insights from the following three offices: Great Falls, Billings, and Riverton.
Post-Hike Food and Drink
Your range of options will greatly expand if you head into the town of Gardiner. Although it’s been a long time since I’ve had a meal out in Gardiner, I remember the Iron Horse Bar & Grill being a fun spot with tasty local fare such as elk burgers as well as local craft beer choices.