The Thunderer Cutoff Trail is very analogous to Purple Mountain, a hike near the Madison Junction on the other side of the park. And just like Purple Mountain, the Thunderer Cutoff trail should not be underestimated because of its short length. At only 7.4 miles round-trip, one could assume the trail is a moderate endeavor. It is not.
This hike is steep but seldom used and it travels through a very wild corner of the park. The trail ascends over 1,700 feet to Chaw Pass, the turnaround, which is the saddle between The Thunderer and Ampitheater Mountain.
What Makes It Great
The trail begins north of the Pebble Creek Campground. Within the first quarter mile, a ford of Soda Butte Creek is required. This creek can be difficult to cross in June and early July depending on the snowpack. Check at a visitor center or ask a ranger for tips on safely fording streams. The trail climbs steadily onward and upward from the stream crossing.
The climb up travels through mature forest, but Chaw Pass itself was burned in the 1988 fires. The trail continues beyond the turnaround, over the pass, and down into the backcountry of Cache Creek. Breaks in the trees along the way, and from the Chaw Pass, offer views of The Thunderer and Ampitheater Valley. The mountains in this corner of Yellowstone, including the Thunderer, Ampitheater Mountain, and nearby Abiather Peak support both bighorn sheep and mountain goats. Mountain goats can be easily identified with their beards and white fur. Both male and female mountain goats have horns.
Who is Going to Love It
Intermediate and expert hikers will love The Thunderer Cutoff Trail and the cardiovascular challenge it presents. especially those staying in the Pebble Creek Campground. For many campers entering through the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park, and staying in the Pebble Creek Campground, the Thunderer Cutoff Trail is a great place to test your legs after the long drive. Those looking for solitude, or a hike with a wilder feel, will also love the Thunderer Cutoff Trail.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From the Northeast Entrance: Drive west 8.4 miles to the trailhead in a pullout on the south side of the road. Parking is free with an Entrance Pass.
Please respect wildlife and maintain the required distances from all Yellowstone wildlife. It is illegal to approach or remain within 100 yards of bears or wolves. All other animals must be within 25 yards.