Year-round hikers and their pooches are seldom content to sit inside all winter long, and the West Yellowstone area provides a perfect reason to get out and enjoy the sparkling wonderland that is Big Sky country during its long winter season. The Refuge Point Loop is a 4-season getaway with historic undertones and furbulous views, and it lies within the beautiful Custer-Gallatin National Forest. The trail can be found on Hebgen Lake Road, about halfway between the Beaver Creek and Cabin Creek Campgrounds.
In 1959, a huge earthquake struck under the Hebgen Lake area, and the ensuing landslide lowered the nearby mountains by about 14 feet, resulting in a landslide that effectively dammed the Madison River and formed Earthquake Lake. 250 campers in their tents and cabins were taken by surprise, and 28 were killed, but the rest managed to gather on a high ridge, now named Refuge Point, and await rescue. From atop the ridge, hikers, and cross-country skiers and snowshoers can spy the remaining cabins which were floated some distance away by the river's tsunami to what is known as Ghost Village. Less chilling views include Quake Lake itself, serene and peaceful, as well as the craggy Madison Mountain Range and the Madison River with its rocky riverbed and abundant trout. A massive Memorial Boulder rests on the shore of the lake, and it's not unusual to see bears at the river hunting for their next meal.
A Visitor Center, a short way up Highway 287 from the parking area, features information about the geological formations you'll see on your hike or ski/snowshoe trip, along with a more detailed history of the region. It's open from Memorial Day to September 15 from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and it's well worth a visit to orient yourself to the trail and view the mountain that collapsed that night.
Wildflowers are abundant on the Refuge Point Trail in spring and summer, and wildlife including antelope, bison, moose, bighorn sheep and eagles. The trail is marked and easy to follow in both summer and winter, but it's not groomed for winter sports.
Whichever season you choose, a trek on the Refuge Point Loop Trail is sure to have you awed by your surroundings!
Several species of large animals make this region their home, including mountain lions and grizzly bears. Give these generally shy creatures a wide berth, and carry bear repellant. Bison, moose and bighorn sheep can also be aggressive if they feel trapped or cornered, so allow them to amble away on their own.