A summer Passage

Jordan P. Ingram

Roughly 16 miles down Mill Creek Road in Paradise Valley, the Passage Creek trailhead is located just off the right shoulder of a well-maintained gravel road. 

Starting off down the path located within the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, visitors are immediately greeted by lush mountain vegetation spilling onto a dirt path 

A beautiful, newly constructed wooden bridge welcomes hikers and fishermen to cross Mill Creek and continue alongside the meandering stream for several miles through the vast Mill Creek tundra. 

The creek is vivacious and snappy, occasionally revealing calm pools that serve as a rest stop for schools of travel-worn cutthroat trout. In the early summer, tuxedoed magpies swoop through clusters of downed timber and red-breasted robins bounce and glide across the water.   

 As the eyes lift above the shoulder-high, fragrant foliage, it becomes clear that this trail cuts directly through a substantial burn area. 

In fact, much of the Mill Creek drainage was destroyed following the devastating 2007 Wicked Fire. The once beautiful Engelmann spruce and Douglas fir trees are now thin, blackened matchsticks — a stark visual contrast to the vibrant grasses and forbs of arrowleaf balsamroot, bluebunch wheatgrass and blue grama which dominate the rangelands and pastures. 

The area has since been replanted with nearly 220,000 fir, willow and alder saplings. 

The trail is casual and easygoing for the first two miles, offering frequent glimpses of Mt. Wallace and assorted Absaroka mountain tops. 

A slight wind picks up, announcing itself with glass-bottle whistles and wolf-like howls zipping through plots of emaciated timber. 

The final leg of the journey begins with a gradual incline, steadily rising above the tree line and into massive craggy-rock formations, as the sound of rushing water slowly invades the mountain air. 

The path leading down to the bubbling creek bed starts as a steep series of switchbacks covered in a fine, rocky scree, making the descent to Passage Creek somewhat precarious. 

But the efforts are worth the trouble as the path guides you to the bottom of the smashing whitewater of Passage Falls. 

It is truly a trail for everyone and semi-required for Park County residents and visitors alike — a wonderful day-hike and an opportunity to view a resurgent and dynamic local wilderness area.