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Big Sheep Creek Divide / Medicine Lodge Pass

The  GDMBR guidebook calls this the "Sheep Creek - Cabin Creek Divide". Historically the name "Medicine Lodge Pass" was used for this high, historic road crossing of the Bannack Road. Even if it sounds nicer, none of the signs in the area use the name "Medicine Lodge". But signs do use the name for the old Bannack Road. Today's approach to the pass is only approximates the historic route.

01.(00.0m,5708ft) START-STOP NORTH: jct: Mo324-Medicine Lodge Road west of Clarke Canyon Reservoir
02.(26.2m,7841ft) TOP: Cabin Creek Divide
03.(30.1m,7710ft) Morrison Lake Road leaves on right
04.(37.0m,6988ft) throughgoing dirt road leaves on left
05.(48.4m,6500ft) Muddy Creek Road leaves on left
06.(56.5m,6070ft) START-END SOUTH: jct I15-Big Sheep Creek Road, north west of Lima

01.(00.0km,1740m) START-STOP NORTH: jct: Mo324-Medicine Lodge Road west of Clarke Canyon Reservoir
02.(42.2km,2390m) TOP: Cabin Creek Divide
03.(48.5km,2350m) Morrison Lake Road leaves on right
04.(59.5km,2130m) throughgoing dirt road leaves on left
05.(77.9km,1980m) Muddy Creek Road leaves on left
06.(91.0km,1850m) START-END SOUTH: jct I15-Big Sheep Creek Road, north west of Lima


From North. Meandering Big Sheep Creek has carved a wide valley floor in places. The valley floor switches between small, cliff lined narrows and wide meadows. A few settlements line the road, alternating with public land, all of it making a large green sagebrush lawn. The road surface if fairly heavily graveled and has quite a bit of washboard. - Not exactly the easiest surface to ride.

At a major junction with roads up Deadman Creek and Meadow Creek the historic Bannack Road joins. There is one last small canyon section, and the road begins a straight, steady climb up a sweeping inclined plain, reaching up to the foot of the Beaverhead Range along the continental divide. It is this large park, ringed by snowcapped mountains that makes this ride the most impressive for me.

The road passes a signed turnoff up Cabin Creek Rd. This is an alternative way to get to the top. It is less traveled and has some unsigned turnoffs - perfectly bikable, but  not the path chosen by the GDMBR. If you use it to make a day loop on this side, this becomes the summit.

The main road to is a little more circuitous. But with surroundings like this, circuitous can be good. The road reaches an intermediate high point, and then drops a little while heading back south - and then finally mounts the final attack onto the summit. Cabin Creek road merges back onto the main road less than 300ft below the summit. On this side, it is labeled as a ranch entrance on one side of the road. The sign with the BLM road number is on the other side. You could easily mistake this for a private ranch entrance. The junction is located just at about the same spot, where the power line crosses from one side of the road to the other.

The sign at the top of Big Sheep Creek Divide does not name the pass at all, but commemorates the old Bannack Road from Corrine to Bannack.

From South/East. (also described upwards). I remember this way up from Clarke Reservoir as an amazingly straight road, undulating up and down but not from left to right. The stark green valley contains some of the most amazing farm locations I have ever seen. The final part is surprisingly steep, and thanks to the gravel I walked a good part of it.

cLiCk on image , arrows , or thumbnails to advance slideshow




Medicine Lodge Pass: Clarke Canyon Reservoir > Medicine Lodge > Medicine Lodge Pass (Big Sheep Creek Divide) > Dell > Lima > back to starting point measuered 98 miles with 3700ft of climbing in 7:3 hours (Avocet50, m3:2.6.30).

( < Monida Pass | FR147 Ephraim's Grave s(u) > )

Medicine Lodge Pass x2 : Deadwood Gulch campground > up Medicine Lodge Pass Rd > up Cabin Creek Rd > back onto Medicine Lodge Pass Rd <> Medicine Lodge Pass x2 << turnaround point ~380ft below summit >> Medicine Lodge Pass Rd south > Medicine Lodge Pass Rd via Cabin Creek Rd(shp) > back to starting point in Deadwood Gulch campground: 53.6miles with 3700ft of climbing in 6:07hrs (garmin etrex30, m3:20.9.8)


Montana Gold Rush ( < Bannack Pass | Bannock Pass > ): In 1862 gold was found in Bannack. Miners from all around the west started circling in on the grasslands of south western Montana. The first main access route was over the old Medicine Lodge Pass road. This road goes through the next drainage west, adjacent to today's I15 and goes over two passes, the higher one being Badger Pass. Not everybody came here the direct way. Other argonauts (as they were called) circled in around Bannock, paning every promising stream along the way. Often they searched in already depleted places on the Salmon and Lemhi Rivers, and then used Bannock Pass or Lemhi Pass to get to Bannack. But this mining town quickly also became the prototypical instant ghost town. In one year the placers were depleted. After one year of high life, Bannack has enjoyed an incredible longevity as an attractive, decaying ghost town. But there was still more gold to be discovered in Montana. The action shifted north and east to Virginia City and Nevada City.

Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce Indians ( < Big Hole Pass | Bannack Pass >) : The old Indian Trail was used as escape route by Chief Joseph and his Nez Perce Indians after they escaped from Gibbons at the Big Hole Battlefield