If you’re interested in exploring the vast ruggedness of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex’s million-plus acres, Headquarters Pass is a good place to start. Our trip to the pass’ apex was confined to a day trip, but this high entrance to The Bob provides an accessible and dramatic starting point for a host of multi-day excursions.
The trailhead for Headquarters Pass is about 45 minutes west of Choteau at the end of South Fork Teton Road, and is a shared trailhead for a seven-mile out-and-back to Our Lake. We’d read that Headquarters Pass and Our Lake can actually be hiked as a circuit via an unmaintained social trail that begins just shy of the pass; and, looking back, we probably should have turned this outing into a loop.
The first half of trail is through a thick canopy of forest, paralleling the western bank of the South Fork Teton River. After about two miles of a fairly gradual grade, the path pops out above the tree line and begins switchbacking up the hillside. As the trail gains elevation along the ridge, the views out to the east become sweeping.
After just two more miles (four total from the trailhead), you gain the pass at an elevation of 7,750 feet. The views here are pretty incredible, as the pass is perched in the high alpine of The Bob and just below the summit of Rocky Mountain. At 9,392 feet, Rocky Mountain is the highpoint of the Sawtooth Range as well as the entire Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.
We continued just beyond the pass’ highpoint to get a better look at neighboring twin-summited Old Baldy (9,156’) and the sprawling valley of Headquarters Creek. The views here are commanding and just beg you to continue on. From Headquarters Pass, you can see the path drop down and disappear into the basin, where it ultimately leads to a larger network of trails, including the multiday route out to the prominent Chinese Wall.
Overall, we thought Headquarters Pass was a great little day hike. However, it also left us wanting more, and we wished we’d had some camping gear to explore further. The area definitely seemed like it would have everything you could want in a backpacking trip – some nice scenery, dog-friendly trails, and very little foot traffic to spoil the solitude.
Total distance: 8.3 miles
Elevation gain: 2,219 feet