Ken Jones climbed Garns Mountain, Piney Peak and Red Butte in July 2001. He estimated that his round trip covered 19 miles with roughly 4,700 feet of elevation gain. Please be aware that trails in the Big Hole Mountains are not always as mapped and that ATV users have cut new trails and rerouted old trails. Even so, you will want to take good maps with you to navigate these mountains. The following route information is derived from information supplied by Ken.
Ken approached from the north following the road heading south from SR-33 down Canyon Creek, FR-218 on the Targhee National Forest map. Make sure to take a map as there are several forks along the way. After the road enters the Targhee National Forest, it is roughly another 3.0 miles on FR-218 before reaching the unsigned but major fork on the left for FR-226. Follow FR-226 to its end at a trailhead (complete with restroom). These roads can be muddy and a 4WD may be necessary.
Ken notes: “This is a long hike, and would not be the choice of routes if you wanted only Garns or only Piney. But it’s the best way to Red Butte, and I think the best way to do all 3 together. The trails shown on the topo have been converted and/or rerouted to ATV trails. Generally speaking, the routes shown on the topo are there, but in places the route has been modified to make it less steep. The ATV trails are generally well maintained. If I’d had an ATV, I’d have used it and saved a lot of wear and tear on my body.”
From the trailhead, hike for about a mile to a junction. Turn left on the trail that leads down Hilton Creek. The right fork leads to Red Butte. Turn right at the next junction and follow a good trail up over the ridge that drops down from Red Butte. This trail drops down into Thousand Springs Valley and then crosses to the saddle northeast of Temple Peak. At this point Ken found an unmapped ATV trail leading north and east on a gradual climb to Blacktail Pass. This trail does not drop down to Castle Lake.
The ATV trail leaves the pass, dropping into Blacktail Creek where it reaches a “T” intersection. Turn right at this point and head toward Piney Pass. Just before the pass, turn left on a trail leading to Garns Mountain. This trail crosses near the summit. Leave the trail and hike several hundred yards to reach the summit of Garns Mountain.
Ken continued by returning toward Piney Pass where he found “foot and cattle trails until you get back to Blacktail Pass.” Ken continues: “Go south to Point 7960 and head west on the ridge to near Point 8160+. I cut a steep corner here to pick up the trail again and followed it to the saddle (7760+ feet) north of Piney Peak. From here, it’s a steep scramble, mostly through open woods and meadows, to the open rocky summit. The Targhee National Forest map gives an elevation for Piney Peak of 9,019 feet, which matches my best estimate for Garns Mountain. I couldn’t tell which was higher by sighting.”
From the summit of Piney, Ken returned down to the saddle and followed the trail back to the north and then WNW along the ridge to Blacktail Pass. He notes that the trail “gets obscure in spots, but mostly stays on or near the ridge.” From Blacktail Pass, hike to the West End of Thousand Springs Valley. Ken reports: “From here, the map shows a trail up Red Butte, but it is not maintained and is badly eroded. It would be a tough climb if it were wet, but wasn’t too bad while dry.” Climb this trail to the Middle Summit. From the West Summit, an ATV trail back toward the trailhead, reaching the junction at the top of Hilton Creek about a mile from your starting point.