Located 40 miles southwest of Cody, the Ishawooa Mesa trail run is an adventure. This trail has it all - steep inclines, downhill sections, rock jumping opportunities and a chance to take in some amazing scenery. You’ll climb up and up until you reach the top of Ishawooa Mesa itself at an elevation of over 10,000’.
What Makes It Great
The trail itself starts out with switchbacks for about three miles so it’s an excellent choice if you’re training for any kind of mountain run. You’ll get a lot of varied terrain on this trail - inclines, steeper inclines, downhills and then some relatively flat sections once you reach the top of the mesa.
This is a true wilderness run. You’ll start next to the South Fork Road near the tiny Valley School, but within two miles you enter the Washakie Wilderness. The Washakie is 750,000 acres of untamed land bordering Yellowstone National Park, complete with grizzly bears and zero cell phone service. Trail runners should be comfortable with being in the wilderness and have experience dealing with the isolation from services.
The Ishawooa Mesa trail is a 6.5 mile out and back without a lot of side trails to confuse you. You’ll be able to look up the valley and see some waterfalls. Come back in winter if ice climbing is one of your sports, as these cascades freeze solid and play host to a growing number of axe and crampon wielding climbers.
Sections of the trail slice through some decent timber, so you’ll get good shade. The top of the trail pops out above timberline. Make sure you’re not on the exposed summit during a thunderstorm. This is a good run to start early in the day.
Who is Going to Love It
If being far from civilization and hobnobbing with elk and bears is your thing, then this is your trail. The steepness will have you walking a fair way, especially if you haven’t yet acclimated to the altitude, but that will give you a chance to take in the views. The South Fork Valley lies at your feet with all its surrounding peaks. This is wilderness at its finest and there won’t be very many folks about that you’ll have to share it with. You might have the trail to yourself mid-week during the summer.
The South Fork valley is a wildlife haven. Bighorn sheep graze close to the road, except in early summer when they retreat to the high peaks for lambing season. Mule deer, elk, and even moose are often seen from the road and both grizzly and black bears are common. You’ll have a more enjoyable run if you know how to act around big, wild animals.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From Cody, drive west 2.5 miles on Yellowstone Avenue or US HWY 14/16/20 to the South Fork Road. Turn left and follow the South Fork Road out for 36.7 miles to the trailhead on the right. Several horse trailers can fit in the parking lot, so finding a spot for your vehicle shouldn’t be a problem. There are no fees and leashed pets are permitted.
Remember to bring your bear spray. Cell phone service is unreliable.