Welcome to the Lee Metcalf Wilderness

The amazing thing about living in this part of the country is how close we are to a bunch of famous pieces of land — Big Sky, Yellowstone National Park, and the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, to name a few. Yellowstone gets most of the press around here, but today we thought we’d share a little bit of information about the Lee Metcalf Wilderness.

Riding the Backcountry of the Lee Melcalf Wilderness
Riding the Backcountry of the Lee Melcalf Wilderness

Divided into four different areas, the Lee Metcalf Wilderness is made up of about 250,000 acres of land. First, you have the Bear Trap unit with 6,000 acres, which is managed by the BLM. Then comes the Spanish Peaks portion, with 76,000; the Monument Mountain portion, with 33,000 acres; and finally, the Taylor-Hilgard unit, with 141,000 acres — all three of which are monitored by the Forest Service. Nine Quarter Circle has access to the three Forest Service units, and we’d love to show you around.

Lunch break on an all day ride, Koch basin

The cool thing about these wilderness areas is that they’re completely protected from mechanized and motorized travel. That means they have that velvety quiet you can only find in the true outdoors, filled with nearly-untouched flora and fauna. Wilderness areas are one step above national forest lands, and one step below national parks. Because they’re harder to get to and more remote, you hardly see a single soul when you’re out there.

Overlooking Dutchman lake.

Here at Nine Quarter Circle Ranch, we’re pretty darn grateful to have spaces like this left in the world. In fact, it’s part of our legacy — our grandfather, Howard Taft Kelsey, was instrumental in helping to secure the wilderness designation for the Lee Metcalf back in the ‘70s. He’s buried up there now, on top of one of the unnamed peaks. We’ve taken to calling it HTK, after his initials, and from time to time we venture up there and drink some good whiskey in his name.

Fish from a lake in Hilgard basin

If you make it to come see us this summer, we’ll make sure you get to see the beauty that is this high alpine wonderland. We take overnights and multi-day trips to all three areas, but most folks like to cut down travel time and journey through the area closest to the ranch, the Taylor-Hilgard unit. It’s got the most land out of all the Lee Metcalf units and is home to the tallest peak, as well. Not a bad deal at all.

Packing in to Alp Basin

Our favorite places to go in the Taylor Hilgard include Alp Basin, which features several lakes, a creek, and a meadow that’s one of the prettiest we’ve ever seen. We also go to Koch Basin, or as we like to call it, “the Bathtub.” Just like a bathtub, it’s only drainage is underneath, and you can only see where the water flows out if you go halfway down the mountain to where the stream flows out of the mountainside. Then there’s Hilgard Basin, another favorite, which is full of lakes — about 15 last time we counted. And Sentinel Basin is known for the mountain goats and sheep who like to climb amongst the rocks.

Big horn rams on Sage Peak

As for the other critters you’ll see, you can expect elk, moose, and another rock-dweller, the adorable rabbit-like pikas. At 7,000 feet and up, the Taylor-Hilgard is filled with white bark pine, limber pine, lichens, mosses, and even some paintbrush and lupine.
Here’s to hoping we get to show you this magical place sooner rather than later! Remember, spring is just around the corner.

Bull Moose in Sage Basin

Here’s to hoping we get to show you this magical place sooner rather than later! Remember, spring is just around the corner. We have some weeks that are already full, please call us to see if the week you want is still available.

The head end of the Taylor fork River, the gateway to the wilderness