Exploring our Wild Backyard: Emigrant Creek 

We spent last Friday afternoon exploring the lush canyon at the mouth of Emigrant Gulch. Even in the heart of winter, water is everywhere. Water and ice. Somewhere beneath our feet is an unmapped series of fissures and channels where water is super heated by magma that is used by Chico Hot Springs. It’s mysterious and magical. 

Kids posing by "The Elven House" as they coined it

Kids posing by “The Elven House” as they coined it

We walked up a rolling waterfall in the trees with frozen arches and frozen edges. The kids visited an elven home hidden under exposed tree roots in a mossy pool. They walked through the boggy moss with their bog boots and then back across the snow-covered path to a frozen pool on the edge of the creek: two mini ecosystems existing footsteps apart. We could spend all day here. If only those elves had free wifi.

Emigrant Creek is a tributary of the Yellowstone River and the location of the controversial mining proposal by the Canadian Mining company Lucky Minerals Inc. Lucky Mineral’s exploration plan proposes drilling exploratory wells at 23 drill sites (with multiple holes at each site) on private land above the historic Chico Hot Springs. The average depth of these wells reaches 1,000 feet, though some holes may plunge 2,000 feet into the porous unknown bedrock—depths below Chico itself—in search of gold.


Chico Hot Springs owner Colin Davis is rightly concerned about his hot water supply, which also springs from deep in the porous rocks of Emigrant Gulch. Lucky Minerals doesn’t appear concerned about the livelihood or longevity of one of Park County’s oldest and largest employers. But they’re not from around here. And the Canadian Mining Company has little skin in the game.

While Lucky Minerals works to convince investors at 5 cents a share that they may strike gold, Colin works tirelessly to rally his neighbors, friends, visitors and elected officials that it’s a gamble not worth taking. We agree. The mystery of the origin of Chico’s hot spring is better left undiscovered, hidden deep in the rocks beneath the gulch. An eleven oasis.

You should take a walk up the creek and explore the gulch. See for yourself why this area would be a terrible place for an industrial scale gold mine.

Details on Exploring Emigrant Creek Trail

Head towards Chico Hot Springs (stop for a snack/drink/soak) and then keep driving up the road. When you get to Old Chico, take a left on Emigrant Creek Road. The road begins at Old Chico and follows a cascading creek up the gulch. You’ll find Emigrant Creek Trail just up the road from White City (an old cabin with a fence and a no trespassing sign). Park in a pullout right before the road crosses the creek for the first time. From there you will see a little trail through the trees along the creek.

It’s a nice easy walk—in and out as far as you feel like walking. An old wooden footbridge crosses the creek about 1/4 mile up the trail. Cross the bridge and start exploring! There’s no true destination on this hike, but life’s about the journey, right?

Mesmorised while watching water flow under ice

Mesmerized while watching water flow under ice

Within ½ mile from the trailhead, you’ll find ice falls, mossy springs, mini-caves and more! The kids spent a few hours just interacting with this short section of the creek bed. The trail eventually joins Emigrant Creek Road, so you can climb out of the creek and walk back down the road to enjoy a higher elevation perspective of the gulch on the return trip.

For the adventurous, the Emigrant Peak area is loaded with recreational opportunities in all seasons. Backcounty skiing, climbing, hiking, hunting, and fat biking, are some of the many ways we’ve have seen folks enjoying this area.

No matter how you explore the area, you should accompany your trip with a post-adventure-dip at Chico Hot Springs Spa and Resort. That’s how we roll.




Getting to Emigrant Creek Trail:

From Chico Hot Springs Resort, follow Chico Road 1.5 to Emigrant Creek Road. Turn left on Emigrant Creek Road, pass the quaint cabins of Old Chico and continue up the road for approximately 2 miles. After 2 miles the road crosses the creek and there is a large culvert. Park there and walk up Emigrant Creek.

If you are planning to head off trail, swing by a local U.S. Forest Service office and grab a map on your way!

Hike up Emigrant Gulch and send us your "Gateway Guardian Selfie"

Hike up Emigrant Gulch and send us your “Gateway Guardian Selfie”

Emigrant Gulch license plates 01.15