Upper Geyser Basin is the home of Old Faithful, the most famous and
celebrated geyser in the world. But the Upper Geyser Basin, about two
square miles in area, also contains the largest concentration-nearly
one-quarter- of all the geysers in the world. A wide variety of other
thermal features also exist there, including colorful hot springs, thundering
fumaroles and violent boiling springs.
The names of the thermal features echo
an age-gone-by of exploration and discovery, when many of them earned
their titles. Nathaniel Langford, a member of the 1870 Washburn Expedition,
said: "We gave such names to those of the geysers which we saw
in action as we think will best illustrate their peculiarities."
Those names include Old Faithful-named for its nearly regular intervals
between eruptions; Morning Glory with its flowerlike appearance; and
Castle Geyser-for its "resemblance to the ruins of an old castle."
Today, the boardwalks, paved paths and trails in the geyser
basin provide an opportunity to explore on foot, bicycle or skis some
interesting and unique thermal features along the Firehole River. Sprinkled
along the river are Lone Star Geyser, Geyser Hill, Black Sand and Biscuit
basins, spanning nearly seven miles in all.
Other trails from Old Faithful crisscross
the Continental Divide or wander among the thermals, along the Firehole
or Bechler rivers, or through the lodgepoles, to backcountry lakes or
smooth sedge-carpeted meadows.
Fairy Falls - Imperial Geyser Trail
Length to Fairy Falls from:
Steel Bridge parking area 2.2 miles, one way.
Barricade at Goose Lake 2.0 miles, one way.
Old Freight Road via Fairy Creek
Meadows 2.4 miles, one way.
Imperial Geyser (spur trail) 1.0 miles, one way.
Elevation change: Trailheads at 7,257 feet (20-foot gain).
Trailhead: Two trailheads access Fairy Falls: 1) The southern route
starts from the southern entrance of the Fountain Flats Freight Road
at the old steel bridge, 4.1 miles north of the Old Faithful overpass
or 1.2 miles south of Midway Geyser Basin. This trail follows the old
Fountain Flats Freight Road for about 0.7 miles, then junctions with
the Fairy Falls Trail. 2) The northern trailhead is reached by driving
south on the Fountain Flats Drive to the barricade, just past Goose
Lake. This approach again follows the old Fountain Flats Freight Road,
but from the north, for about 0.5 miles to the Fairy Falls Trail junction.
Two approaches are available to access
the Fairy Falls Trail. Either approach merges at the junction. (During
winter, however, the Freight Road has been open to snowmobiles and the
trail junction can be accessed by that means.) The old freight road
can also be bicycled, but due to fine obsidian sand it is difficult
with narrow tire bicycles. From the junction, it is a 1.5 mile hike
to the Falls. This trail, prior to 1988, wandered through a dense, old-growth
lodgepole and spruce forest. The 1988 fires, however, burned this area
extensively and it now is open and exposed, except for the large, burned
skeleton trees that once made up the forest.
The 200-foot Fairy Falls is hidden in
an alcove-like grotto and it is not fully visible until it is approached
at its base. The falls is a slender and graceful waterfall, which plunges
over the lip of a rhyolitic formation. The lower half of the falls strikes
the rock wall and forms a lacy descent to a small pool at its base.
During winter, the falls becomes encrusted in a large, Gothic-looking
icicle. This trail is one of the Park's more popular winter destination
From Fairy Falls, the trail crosses Fairy
Creek and continues north for about 0.4 miles to a junction in a small
meadow. The trail heading west leads to Imperial and Spray geysers at
the base of Twin Buttes (recently referred to as Marilyn Mon-roe Mountains).
Spray is the first geyser and a thermal stream originating from Imperial
has to be cautiously forded. The geyser is in near continuous splashing.
This has resulted in a large algae and bacteria mound around its vent.
A log fell across the vent, giving the whole formation an unusual appearance.
Imperial Geyser became active in 1927
and, two years later, a contest among visiting newspaper men named this
feature. The eruptions during that year were so violent-reaching 80
to 150 feet high-that its plumbing system probably was damaged. The
geyser went into dormancy until 1966, when it began a near-constant
eruption. In 1985, though, Imperial again went into dormancy, but it
does continue to boil and churn. Even without its constant
eruption, the 75-by-IOO-foot alkaline pool is known for its clear, blue-colored
water. The discharge has been estimated at 500 gallons per minute.
By continuing north from the junction
at the small meadow, the trail follows Fairy Creek through Fairy Creek
Meadows and back to Fountain Flat Drive, north of Goose Lake. This trail
once was the road for Model-T traffic accessing Fairy Falls. It is now
another alternate hike to Fairy Falls and is about 2.4 miles from the
Mystic Falls and Biscuit Bason Overlook
Lengths from Biscuit Basin Parking Area to:
Mystic Falls 1.3 miles, one way.
Biscuit Basin Overlook 2.6 miles, one way.
Elevation change: Trailhead at 7,285 feet (115-foot gain to Mystic Falls
and a 315-foot gain to the overlook).
Trailhead: The trailhead is located at Biscuit Basin parking area, about
two miles north of Old Faithful, on the Old Faithfuil-Madison Road.
At the far end of Biscuit Basin boardwalk,
opposite Avoca Spring, a dirt trail leads west into the trees. Just
after entering the trees, a trail branches to the south. This trail
returns to Old Faithful (see Upper Geyser Basin Trail for description).
After 0.3 miles, the trail divides again.
Trail to Biscuit Basin Overlook: The
trail to the north leads to the view point, then beyond to the Little
Firehole Meadows. Just after the junction, the trail begins a series
of switchbacks up the rhyolitic cliff, about 0.5 miles to Biscuit Basin
Overlook. From the overlook, it
is possible to view Biscuit Basin- the blue spring is Sapphire Pool.
Following the Firehole River upstream,
it is possible to observe the eruptions of Riverside, Grotto, Grand,
Castle and Old Faithful geysers. To the south lies Black Sand Basin,
and an eruption of Cliff Geyser or even an occasional eruption of Sunset
Lake can be observed.
Immediately below Biscuit Basin Overlook
is further evidence of the 1988 fires. On September 7 of that year,
the Northfork Fire swept through and burned a large portion of the Old
Faithful area. Only isolated islands of trees, especially along moist
stream bottoms, were left relatively untouched. Look closely for large
patches of downed trees lying and pointing in the same direction. This
is the result of severe tornado-like winds blowing and uprooting the
shallow-rooted lodgepole pines. This blowdown occurred before the 1988
fires. Also below the overlook
is the confluence of the Little Firehole River (Mystic Falls), Iron
Creek (Black Sand Basin), and the Firehole River (Old Faithful).
Look just to the left of the overlook
on the projecting rocks of the outcropping. The white edges on the rocks
indicate frequent lightning strikes. Lightning does strike twice in
the same location. This is a good indicator that this point should be
avoided during thunderstorms, which are frequent during summer mid-afternoons.
From Biscuit Basin Overlook, the trail
continues along the ridge and eventually to the Little Firehole Meadows
and Fairy Falls. But after about a tenth of a mile, an unmarked trail
descends to Mystic Falls, about 0.8 miles from the overlook.
Trail to Mystic Falls: From the Biscuit
Basin 0verlook/ Mystic Falls junction, the west trail leads to Mystic
Falls along the Little Firehole River after about 0.4 miles from the
junction. Just after the Biscuit
Basin Overlook/Mystic Falls junction is another junction. This splitting
crosses a creek over a small bridge
and leads to Summit Lake (see Summit Lake Trail for description), 7.1
miles up a steep incline.
The main trail follows the stream to
the base of Mystic Falls. The cascade is an impressive 100-foot drop
of the Little Firehole River, as it descends from the Madison Plateau. At this point, the trail rejoins the Biscuit
Basin Overlook loop trail and begins a few switchbacks through the burned
forest to the ridge.
Summit Lake Trail
Length from Biscuit Basin parking area to:
Summit Lake junction 0.6 miles, one way.
Summit Lake 7.2 miles, one way.
Elevation change: Trailhead at 7,285 feet (1,267-foot gain).
Trailhead: The trailhead is located at Biscuit Basin parking area, about
two miles north of Old Faithful, on the Old Faithful-Madison Road.
At the far end of Biscuit Basin boardwalk,
and opposite Avoca Spring, a dirt trail heads west into the lodgepole
trees. Just after entering the trees, a trail branches to the south.
This trail returns to Old Faithful (see Upper Geyser Basin Trail for
description). After 0.3 miles, the trail divides. The north trail leads
to Biscuit Basin Overlook (see Mystic Falls and Biscuit Basin Overlook
Trail for description), while the west trail continues up the drainage
to Mystic Falls.
Just after the Biscuit Basin Overlook/Mystic
Falls junction is another junction. The trail splits off for Summit
Lake, crossing the Little Firehole River via a small bridge. From the junction, the trail begins a
steep ascent of nearly 1,200 feet to the lake. The route is not interesting,
as the trail wanders through a
dry, sparse lodgepole forest. Even most of this burned during the 1988
fires. The trail follows the intermittent streambed of Summit Lake and
this usually is dry by midsummer.
Summit Lake (8,552 feet) is aptly named,
as it rests next to the Continental Divide. It is a small lake, fewer
than 30 acres in size and rimmed by lodgepoles and a small meadow on
its southern edge.
The trail continues on from Summit Lake
and heads directly west to the west boundary for an additional 8.75
miles. But just after Summit Lake, the trail crosses the Continental
Divide; on the other side are a series of small lakes. Little Summit
Lake, to the north, is one of them, and nearby are a series of small
thermal springs called Smoke Jumper Hot Springs. From here to the border,
the trail crosses the Madison Plateau, a dry, high plateau with gentle,
slightly undulating topography and open meadows with sparse trees. In
one of the meadows, a large fire camp was set up during the 1988 fires.
Twin otter airplanes dropped tons of supplies and food for several hundred
firefighters that were encamped here. Trash, fire pits, cut stumps and
hundreds of miles of scraped earth, resembling trails, cut for fireline
still are visible in the vicinity.
Upper Geyser Basin Trail
Length from Old Faithful Inn to:
Castle Geyser 0.2 miles, one way.
Daisy/Grotto geysers 0.9 miles, one way.
Morning Glory Pool 1.I miles, one way.
Biscuit Geyser Basin 2.5 miles, one way.
Elevation change: Trailhead at 7,367 feet (122-foot loss). Trailhead:
Trailhead located at Old Faithful Inn.
The Upper Geyser Basin, about two square
miles in area, contains the largest concentration and nearly one-quarter
of all the geysers in the world. It also is the home of Old Faithful,
the most famous and celebrated geyser in the world. But a variety of
thermal features exist here: spouting geysers, colorful hot springs
and steaming fumaroles.
The paved trail begins at Old Faithful
Inn and leads down the basin toward Morning Glory Pool and eventually
to Biscuit Basin. This paved path is the remnant of the old road prior
to 1972, when the highway was rerouted to the present-day overpass.
The wide path is excellent for hiking or bicycling- one of the few bicycling
paths in the park-during summer. In winter, the basin becomes shrouded
in steam and ice and provides a great opportunity to view wildlife while
It is advisable to carry a guide (see
selected bibliography) to the thermal features to enjoy the basin thoroughly
and to achieve a better understanding of their nature and the geologic
mechanism from which they operate.
There are numerous side trips. Beginning
at Castle Geyser, the boardwalk (no bicycles allowed on boardwalk) crosses
the Firehole River and junctions at Sawmill Geyser. The north trail
leads to Grand Geyser, Beauty Pool, Oblong and Giant geysers and the
trail junctions again with the Upper Geyser
Basin Trail at Grotto Geyser. The southern
trail leads to Geyser Hill, one of the most concentrated geyser collections
in the world. From Geyser Hill, it crosses the Firehole River near Old
Faithful and returns to Old Faithful Inn. Another side trip from the
Upper Geyser Basin Trail starts just
before the trees near Grotto Geyser. This trail leads to Daisy, Comet
and Splendid geysers. Punch Bowl Spring, and over the hill to Black
Sand Basin, 0.8 miles from the main trail. Just north of Daisy Geyser
the return of the loop trail from Biscuit Basin rejoins here.
The Upper Geyser Basin Trail continues
past Grotto and Riverside geysers, Morning Glory Pool (where the pavement
ends), Artemisia Geyser, over a hill, and through a lodgepole stand
before emerging into Biscuit Basin. The first feature there is a gem-like,
encrusted, blue pool called Cauliflower Geyser. The trail then crosses
the road to the main features of Biscuit Basin, of which the blue color
of Sapphire Pool and the gem-like formations of Jewel Geyser are main
To return to Old Faithful via the loop,
follow the Mystic Falls Trail, which starts opposite Avoca Spring. After
a few yards, the trail junctions; the southern trail leads down to a
foot bridge across the Little Firehole River, "and the dirt trail wanders
through the trees to rejoin the paved Upper Geyser Basin Trail at Daisy
and Grotto geysers.
Observation Point Trail
Length: 1.5 miles, partial loop.
Elevation change: Trailhead at 7,355 feet (200-foot gain).
Trailhead: Located across the Firehole River from Old Faithful Geyser,
at the beginning of Geyser Hill.
Just across the Firehole River bridge
and into the trees, a large prominent
wooden sign marks the beginning of the trail, as it veers sharply off
the paved Geyser Hill trail. The
lower portion of the trail is relatively gentle, but then begins a series
of switchbacks to Observation Point, nestled on an outcropping of rhyolitic
rock. From the point is a superb view of the Upper Geyser Basin; especially
prominent is Old Faithful Geyser, Old Faithful Inn and to the east.
Old Faithful Lodge. It is well worth the effort and time to plan a hike
to Observation Point to coincide with an eruption of Old Faithful Geyser.
From this vantage point, it is possible to take in the size and scale
of the geyser in relation to its surroundings.
From Observation Point, continue down
at a gentler slope to Solitary Geyser. This is a small geyser, but it
erupts approximately every 4 to 8 minutes by splashing in a series of
heavy heaves which last about one minute. The trail returns to the Geyser
Hill boardwalk near Ear Spring.
Lengths from: Mallard Lake Trailhead at Old Faithful Lodge to:
Pipeline Hotspring Area 0.4 miles, one way.
Mallard Lake 3 miles, one way.
Grand Loop Road via Mallard Lake 6.5 miles, one way.
Old Faithful Loop via Mallard Creek II miles, one way.
Elevation change: Trailhead at 7,360 feet. (666-foot gain).
Trailhead: The trailhead is behind Old Faithful Lodge and cabins and
begins at the eastern edge of the cabin loop road. A small sign marks
the trailhead but there is no adequate parking at the sign.
The trail starts at the sign, drops down
to the Firehole River and crosses the river by way of a small foot bridge.
Before 1972, the highway crossed
just north of this foot bridge and continued past Old Faithful Lodge,
Old Faithful Geyser, Old Faithful Inn and exited past Morning Glory
The trail then enters a relatively dense
lodgepole-pine forest for the entire route. For a Yellowstone forest
floor, though, it is usually brilliantly colored with wildflowers during
June and July. After about a half
mile, on the left, is an eclectic cluster of small hot springs and mud
pots called Pipeline Hot springs. The collection includes a large hot
pool, several sunken cauldrons, and numerous scattered, gray mud pots.
The trail continues up Mallard Lake Dome,
a welling caused by a magma chamber that surfaced in some areas to form
twisted, ancient lava flows. At about two miles, the narrow canyon was
formed by these rhyolitic flows. From the plateau, the trail splits
to the left along what formerly was the Ridge Trail, which leads west
to the Grand Loop Road, following Mallard Creek another 3.5 miles. This
faint trail is not maintained and, during winter, route finding is very
difficult. A ski trail usually is not broken, and it is a laborious
trail. After emerging at the Grand Loop Road, the trail parallels the
road ' under a power line for two miles until it connects with the Upper
Geyser Basin at Cauliflower Geyser, across the highway from Biscuit
From the junction, the Mallard Lake Trail
drops down a steep timbered slope but the lake is not visible until
the last tenth of a mile. Mallard Lake is a 32-acre lake with a maximum
depth of 30 feet. Because of its size and its poor spawning habitat-due
to seasonal fluctuating water supply-the lake is barren of fish. But
it is a popular resting spot for waterfowl, hence the name. Because
it is a popular destination point from Old Faithful, there are several
campsites and even a restroom, which seem out of place.
Length: 3.0 miles, one way loop.
Elevation change: Trailhead at 7,360 feet (240-foot gain).
Trailhead: During the summer, the trailhead is accessible at the water-tank
service road (also known as the barricade parking area), located about
0.8 mile east of the overpass. Another access, and a shorter one-way
route, starts at the southern end of the Park Service housing area.
This trail is recommended only if all
other trails in Yellowstone have been hiked and this is the last on
the list. The trail begins with
a steep ascent through burned forest to a trickle of a stream called
Iron Spring Creek. Most hikers and skiers will look desperately for
the cascade. If a ripple is discovered in the stream, this is it. Do
not be too disappointed. From the
"cascade," the trail drops steeply down a hill and follows
a power line back to the trailhead.
During the winter, this loop is a popular
ski route. Because of the two steep slopes and the narrowness of the
track through the trees, it becomes a one-way trail. Winter access also
changes, but the trailhead generally starts at Old Faithful Snow Lodge.
This area burned severely on September
7, 1988. The intense fire moved over the ridge south of the Park Service
employee housing area on its way to Old Faithful. Flames and gases leaped
400 or more feet into the air, and 100-mph winds dispersed embers a
mile north. In an effort to slow the fire, an aerial bomber dropped
pink fire retardant into the flames along the ridge, but it had no effect
and the fire leaped the open
maintenance compound, luckily avoiding
the National Park Service gasoline pumps and the spilled fuels that
saturated the surrounding area. Other nearby buildings did burn, however,
as the fire hopscotched through the area.
Lone Star Geyser Trail
Length: 2.2 miles, one way.
Elevation change: Trailhead at 7,600 feet (35-foot gain).
Trailhead: Located about 2.1 miles east of the Old Faithful overpass,
just beyond Kepler Cascade at the Lone Star trailhead. The developed
parking area is off the main highway and is a circular driveway. Because
this parking area is screened by trees, it has been a target for car
break-ins. Take extreme caution in securing your vehicle. Do not leave
valuables in the car. Many hikers leave their car at nearby Kepler Cascade
parking area, where it is visible and near much more activity.
Until the early 1970s, this was a paved
spur road, so visitors could drive up and park at Lone Star Geyser.
Since its closure to vehicles, it now provides one of the few bicycles
paths in the park. But don't expect a smooth path. Trail maintenance
is poor and downed logs and trees often block the trail.
The Lone Star Trail probably is the most
popular ski trip from Old Faithful. The distance between Old Faithful
Geyser and Lone Star trailhead is an additional 1.4 miles. The trail
follows the old pre-1972 road into Old Faithful, through the old campground.
You can ski this distance during winter or hike it in summer.
Just a short distance from the trailhead,
to the west, is an irrigation-type gate on the Firehole River. This
is the municipal water supply for the Old Faithful complex. On an average
summer day, more than 25,000 people will use water from this source. But before it is used, the water
is heavily treated with chlorine.
After about 1.7 miles, the trail junctions
with Spring Creek Trail (see Spring Creek Trail for description), an
old stagecoach road to Norris Pass. This trail is a popular ski route
from Divide Lockout.
The 1872 Hayden expedition originally
called Lone Star Geyser "Solitary" because of its remoteness.
How and who changed the name of the feature to "Lone Star"
is not known, but it is not associated with Texas.
This isolated feature on the upper Firehole
River has an 11.5-foot-high cone. The interval between eruptions is
about 3 hours, and the length of each eruption is about 30 minutes,
with bursts reaching 35-40 feet. There usually is a register at the
site, and visitors usually record the time of eruptions that they witness.
By checking the register, it is possible to make a prediction about
when the next eruption is likely to occur.
The trail from Lone Star offers a choice:
You can continue south up to Grants Pass and down to Shoshone Geyser
Basin (see Shoshone Geyser Basin Trail description) and the Bechler
River Trail (see Bechler Trail description); or you can cut back along
the Howard Trail through dense lodgepole pine to Old Faithful. The trail
is about 2.8 miles long and it is steep and not very scenic. It emerges
at the barricade service road at the Cascades trailhead.
Shoshone Geyser Basin Trail
Length from Lone Star Geyser trailhead to:
Lone Star Geyser 2.2 miles, one way.
Bechler River/Shoshone Geyser Trail junction 6.0 miles, one way.
Shoshone Geyser Basin 8.4 miles, one way.
Elevation change: Trailhead at 7,600 feet (191-foot gain).
Trailhead: Located about 2.1 miles east of the Old Faithful overpass,
just beyond Kepler Cascade. Take extreme caution in securing your vehicle,
as vandalism is common at this trailhead.
The access to Shoshone Geyser Basin is
via the Lone Star Geyser Trail (see Lone Star Geyser Trail for description).
It is an easy 2.2-mile hike on an old paved road. Shoshone Geyser Basin
usually is considered an overnight trip, but for an easier day hike,
you can bicycle to Lone Star Geyser and lock your bike to a lodgepole
pine. This will reduce the time and distance, making for a good, long
Just a short distance beyond the geyser
is a trail junction that splits to the Howard Eaton trail and returns
to Old Faithful, or the Bechler River Trail and Shoshone Geyser Basin.
The trail is primarily through lodgepole
pines dotted with small clearings and meadows. Good bridges cross all
of the streams and marshy areas. Most
of the hiking terrain is very gentle and easy. The only climb, and it
is a minor climb, is over Grants Pass on the Continental Divide. The
Upper Geyser Basin to the north and the Bechler Meadows to the south
are two major wildlife basins. Bison, elk and bears often move freely
between these two areas, and Grants Pass is the funnel. So it is not
uncommon to come upon moving animals in this area.
After descending from Grants Pass, the
trail junctions again. The southern trail leads to the Bechler River
Trail (see Bechler River Trail for description), and the eastern route
leads to Shoshone Geyser Basin. The
trail to Shoshone loosely follows Shoshone Creek. There is a spur trail
that crosses the creek via a bridge and also leads
to the geyser basin. This trail is not as scenic, but it is a better
horse trail. By continuing down the creek, and just before Shoshone
Lake, the trail junctions south again to the geyser basin. The trail
does continue east to Delacy Creek through the Cement Hills (see Delacy
Creek Trail for description).
Shoshone lake and geyser basin were named
in 1872 by chief geologist, Frank Bradley, a member of the 1872 Hayden
expedition. But others explored this area previously, including Osborne
Russell, an early explorer and trapper, in 1839, and Walter Delacy,
a prospector, in 1863.
This geyser basin truly is pristine.
Because of its remote location, there is less evidence of man. The pools
and geysers still retain most of their original formations of intricate
sinter. No boardwalks exist in the basin, but the bridge near Minute
Man Geyser, accessing the western half of the basin, was removed during
the early 1980s. Exercise caution while exploring, as one pool already
claimed the life of a man in 1988.
This small basin contains an estimated
110 thermal features. Union Geyser is the famous feature in the basin.
It was active during the early 1900s, but it has had long periods of
dormancy and has been dormant since the mid-1970s. The three small mounds,
standing three feet tall, show little activity. Minute Man now is the
main attraction at Shoshone. It is a regular spouter, with intervals
of only one to three minutes.
A trail does head south out of the basin
and continue on to the outlet of Shoshone Lake on the eastern side after
about 9 miles. This is the Shoshone Lake Trail, but it does not follow
the shoreline. It is primarily in the forest, crosses a ridge, then
follows the Moose Creek drainage and junctions at the outlet of the
Lewis River Channel.
Bechler River Trail
Length from Lone Star Geyser trailhead to:
Lone Star Geyser 2.2 miles, one way.
Bechler River/Shoshone Geyser Trail junction 6.0 miles, oneway.
Douglas Knob 8.4 miles, one way.
Three River Junction 14.1 miles, one way.
Iris Falls 18.7 miles, one way.
Colonnade Falls 19.0 miles, oneway.
Bechler Meadows 22.0 miles, one way.
Bechler Ranger Station 27.1 miles, one way.
Elevation change: Trailhead at 7,600 feet (1,197-foot loss).
Trailhead: About 2.1 miles east of the Old Faithful overpass, just beyond
Kepler Cascade. Take extreme caution in securing your vehicle, as vandalism
is common at this trailhead. (The trail is used in conjunction with
Lone Star Geyser and Shoshone Geyser Basin trails.)
The Bechler region is perhaps one of
the most cherished regions for hikers and packers in Yellowstone. It
contains the greatest concentration of waterfalls and cascades in the
park- with 21 of the estimated 46 total. Most of these features are
located along the Bechler River, with the remainder on Boundary and
Mountain Ash creeks, tributaries of the Bechler. The
Bechler River is the major river for the southwest corner of Yellowstone
and was named by Frank Bradley, a member of the 1872 Hayden Survey,
in honor of the Survey's chief topographer, Gustavus R. Bechler.
After crossing the Continental Divide
three times, the Bechler River Trail joins the headwaters of the Bechler
and follows the river through Bechler Canyon and Bechler Meadows, where
the trail ends at the old Bechler Soldier Station, now know as the Bechler
Ranger Station. It is a long trail, traversing an entire quadrant of
Yellowstone. Most hikers accomplish this trail as a two- or even three-day
backpack trip, with Three River Junction as the midpoint campsite. The Bechler River Trail is a continuation
of the Lone Star Geyser (see Lone Star Geyser Trail for description)
and the Shoshone Geyser Basin trails (see Shoshone Geyser Basin Trail
for description). After using these approaches, the trail begins 6.0
miles from the Lone Star Geyser trailhead at the Bechler River/Shoshone
Geyser Trail junction, just beyond Grants Pass.
From the junction, the trail climbs again
to cross the Continental Divide two more times-Grants Pass was the first
crossing-for a total of three crossings in less than 3 miles. After
the last crossing, the trail heads primarily downhill as it joins the
headwaters of the Bechler. At first, the trail enters a large meadow
and passes Douglas Knob, a prominent landmark, before entering Bechler
Canyon. As the trail enters the canyon, the first waterfall of the Bechler
is Twister Falls, followed by Tempo Cascade and Ragged Falls, all before
reaching Three River Junction.
Three River Junction is the confluence
of the Phillips Fork (named for William Hallet Phillips, a special agent
of the Department of the Interior, sent in 1885 to investigate conditions
in Yellowstone), the Gregg Fork (named for William C. Gregg, an early
20th-century explorer of "Cascade Corner"), and Ferns Fork
(named for Warren Angus Ferris, a clerk and trapper with the American
Fur Company who visited this region in 1834). Most hikers camp at Three
River Junction because of its midway location, but most use this area
primarily for its good campsites and the famous Three River hot pot.
Just a short distance upstream on the
Ferris Fork are numerous hot springs, pools and waterfalls. In one protected
spot of the river, hot water from a thermal spring merges with cold
river water between a small island and the bank. This is one of the
three legal hot-potting areas in Yellowstone-the other two are Boiling
River near Mammoth and the Madison hot pot near Madison Campground.
This is an excellent spot to relax and soak tired feet after a long
days hike. A little farther upstream are a series of waterfalls beginning
with Tendoy (33 feet), followed
by Gwinna (20 feet). Sluiceway (35 feet) and Wahhi (36 feet).
Campsites are situated at the river junctions
and a half mile downstream along a meadow where the Park Service patrol
cabins are located. Prior to the late 1980s, a conscientious backcountry
ranger, Dunbar Susong, kept the Bechler region pristine, with only a
small A-frame cabin to store emergency provisions. The cabin was so
small that no one could sleep in it, and Susong believed that if rangers
needed to perform overnight patrol on the Bechler, they could sleep
out under the stars like other hikers to the region. But after Susong
retired, the chief ranger decided to build an additional large cabin
as a retreat for Park Service law-enforcement personnel. The cabins
and meadows are used mostly in the fall for long weekend retreats. During
this time, booze often is brought in by helicopter or pack horse and
the meadow area usually is closed off to the public. Do not be surprised
to hear gunfire emanating from the camp.
The Three River Meadow also is bordered
by a series of hot springs, usually lined with thick, colorful, leather-like
algal mats. The trail continues
south through the canyon into a dense Engelmann spruce forest. Prior
to the mid-1970s, the trail crisscrossed and forded the Bechler River
numerous times. The trail has since been rerouted to the east side of
the river, but expect at least one major ford and numerous muddy, boggy
areas. The lower section of the canyon also has a large collection of
waterfalls. Beginning with Iris Falls, a 45-foot falls that usually-on
sunny days-has a rainbow in its mist. Colonnade Falls is unusual because
it is made up of two similar falls stacked together. The top fall is
35 feet high and the bottom is 67 feet high. Near the outlet of the
canyon, across the Bechler River and on Ouzel Creek-a tributary-is the
tallest waterfall. Ouzel Falls plunges as a delicate ribbon an impressive
230 feet off the plateau into the Bechler. The Bechler Meadows is one
of the wonders of Yellowstone. It is lush and green during summer, but
by fall the rushes and sedges turn golden brown. Mosquitoes, .flies
and wet bogs abound in summer. Drier trails, fewer flies and mosquitoes
and hot days and frosty nights mark autumn travel.
After entering the Bechler Meadows, the
trail crosses the river via a wood-and-cable suspension footbridge.
Several trails-including numerous horse trails and wet-weather trails-lead
through the meadow. Again, a sense of direction and the time of year
will dictate the best route. But the trail in the center of the meadow
is the most direct. Horse and deer flies can be a severe hindrance in
the center of the meadow, but the dragon and smaller damsel flies often
put on spectacular displays.
Directly in the center of the meadow
is the trail's last ford, via a horse crossing. Just before leaving
the meadow, the trail then crosses Boundary Creek via another wood-and-cable
suspension footbridge. Along the
remaining 3.5 miles to Bechler Ranger Station, the trail winds through
dense lodgepole pines. About halfway along this section, on the west
side, is the small, secluded Lilypad Lake. The trail emerges at the
Old Soldier Station, now the Bechler Ranger Station. Make arrangements
to have transportation left here or a ride waiting, because this is
a remote area.
Bechler Meadow - Boundary Creek Trail
Length from Bechler Ranger Station to:
Bechler Meadow 3.75 miles, one way.
Silver Scarf Falls 8.3 miles, one way.
Dunanda Falls 8.75 miles, one way.
Buffalo Lake 15.64 miles, one way.
Park Boundary 16.5 miles, one way.
Elevation change: Trailhead at 6,420 feet (1,280-foot gain).
Trailhead: Begins at Bechler Ranger Station in the southwest corner of Yellowstone. This trailhead
can be approached either via the Grassy Lake Reservoir from Flagg Ranch
or from the west via Ashton, Idaho.
The Bechler is a popular but remote region
of Yellowstone. It was named for Gustavus R. Bechler, chief topographer
of the 1872 Hayden expedition. This area has a rich history that began
with Osborne Russel's visit during fur-trade days, followed with visits
by the Hayden Survey and the eventual establishment of the remote soldier's
station-now called the Bechler Ranger Station.
The trail begins at the historic station
and leads north. After about a mile and a half-near a small pond on
the west side of the trail-is a trail junction. The west trail leads
to the Boundary Creek environs. The
trail then skirts the western edge of Bechler Meadow, where it joins
Boundary Creek. As the trail begins to climb, two fascinating waterfalls
plunge off the plateau.
The first is Silver Scarf Falls. It is
on an unnamed branch of Boundary Creek and is heated upstream by thermal
springs. It plunges 250 feet as a narrow, sloping cascade. About a mile
beyond on Boundary Creek is Dunanda Falls. It is a ISO-foot-high waterfall;
the name is derived from a Shoshone name meaning "straight down."
The name is fitting, as the falls do plunge straight down, into a small
chasm rimmed by basaltic flows. The falls can be viewed from the rim,
but a short trail leads to the base, where the force and impact of the
falls can really be felt.
Most hikes end at Dunanda Falls because
the trail is relatively dry and uninteresting to the forest boundary
and beyond. But from Dunanda, the trail does continue north up a steep-walled
canyon that skirts the southern edge of the Madison Plateau before arriving
at Buffalo Lake. Buffalo Lake is
a small, 20-acre, fishless lake, about 16 feet deep at its deepest.
It is just 1.1 miles from the park boundary, and from there the trail
follows the boundary north to West Yellowstone.
This side of the park boundary is easy to keep track of because the
forest is clear-cut up to the edge of the park. From outer space, this
is the second most visible man-made feature on Earth. The most visible
is the Great Wall of China.
Length: 1.2 miles, one way.
Elevation change: Trailhead at 8,044 feet (735-foot gain).
Trailhead: Located about 6.7 miles east of the Old Faithful overpass
on the Old Faithful-West Thumb road. The parking area is to the south
and is not well-marked.
This short trail is a fun and easy hike
to the best observation point of Yellowstone's southwest region, and
by standing on top of the summit, a hiker sits precisely on the Continental
Divide. The trail runs mostly through
a dense, moist, north-facing forest primarily composed of lodgepole
pine and subalpine fir. At the trail register, an old faint trail bearing
east once crossed over Norris Pass and connected with Delacy Creek Trail.
This once was an early popular horseback trail, but it no longer is
maintained. To the west, down the Spring Creek drainage, is the Spring
Creek Trail (see Spring Creek Trail for description).
Near the top of Divide Lockout, through
the trees, Shoshone Lake becomes visible. Until 1991, the metal-structured,
70-foot Divide Lockout tower stood at the top of this knoll (el. 8,779
feet). It provided an unobstructed view of the region. Until the 1980s,
the National Park Service had forgotten about its existence. It was
not even marked on topographic maps. But it suddenly was discovered
by visitors and became a popular hiking destination. The Park Service
dismantled the structure to prevent its popular use.
This also has been a destination for
skiers. The shuttle coach from Old Faithful provides transportation
to the trailhead, but you need ski power to return to Old Faithful.
Most of the return, however, is downhill along Spring Creek (see Spring
Creek Trail for description).
Spring Creek Trail
Lengths from Divide Lockout
Junction with Lone Star Trail 3.5 miles, one way.
Lone Star Trailhead 5.2 miles, one way.
Old Faithful Geyser 6.6 miles, one way.
Elevation change: Trailhead at 8,044 feet (677-foot loss to Old Faithful).
Trailhead: Located about 6.7 miles east of the Old Faithful overpass
on the Old Faithful-West Thumb road. This is the same trailhead as is
used for the Divide Lockout Trail.
Spring Creek Trail is a very popular
ski trail from the Old Faithful area but seldom is hiked during summer.
It is a moist, cool canyon during summer and a narrow twisted ski course
during winter. The trail begins
at the Divide Lockout trailhead. But instead of continuing uphill at
the junction, follow the drainage to the west. This is Spring Creek.
It was named in 1885 by USGS geologist Arnold Hague,
who observed that "Spring Creek is well named as there is a large
amount of water coming out from beneath the rhyolite." These cold-water
springs feed the stream along its course. It later was used briefly
as a stagecoach road. Some stretches are clearly and visibly graded,
but other narrow points in the canyon make one wonder how stagecoaches
could have maneuvered the tight corners.
During winter, this trail is a gentle
downhill run. But a few steep sections cross back and forth over a series
of logs and bridges. The trail emerges at the Lone Star Trail just after
crossing the Firehole River Bridge. From that junction, it is possible
to venture on to Lone Star Geyser (see Lone Star Geyser Trail for description),
or return to Old Faithful via the Lone Star trailhead.
Delacy Creek Trail
Length from Delacy Creek Trailhead to:
Shoshone Lake 2.8 miles, one way.
Shoshone Lake Outlet 7.1 miles, one way.
Elevation change: Trailhead at 7,880 feet (90-foot drop).
Trailhead: The parking area is a wide spot on the Old Faithful-West
Thumb road adjacent to Delacy Creek bridge, about 9 miles east of the
Old Faithful overpass.
Delacy Creek was named after Walter Delacy
(1819-1892) who explored this region in 1863 for the prospect of precious
minerals. He compiled the first map of Yellowstone country in 1865.
He discovered Shoshone Lake, which he named "Delacy Lake,"
but Hayden changed the name to "Madison Lake" in 1871, and
a year later the Hayden expeditions geologist, Frank Bradley, changed
the name to Shoshone Lake. In 1881, Yellowstone Superintendent P.W.
Norris, named the creek after the early explorer.
This is a very popular hike in the Old
Faithful area, and for good reason. It is an easygoing, short hike to
one of Yellowstones major lakes and is landlocked-no roads approach
it. The trail wanders through lodgepole pines, scenic meadows, often
occupied by feeding moose, and, during summer, patches of wildflowers.
Most hikers use this trail during midday, and the parking area usually
is packed with cars. The best choice, however, is to wait until evening
for a sunset hike. The view from Shoshone Lake during sunset is unforgettable.
Pastel peach and rose colors often highlight the sky and reflect off
the tranquil lake. The drawbacks to an evening hike are the high concentration
of mosquitoes and the fact that you must hike back to the trailhead
in the dark. But there are a few campsites on the lake for those who
wish to stay overnight.
At the lake, the trail divides in opposite
directions around the lake. The western trail, or North Shoshone trail,
does not follow the shoreline but runs through and along the base of
the Cement Hills. The trail mostly is among lodgepole pines, but you'll
catch a few vistas of the lake. After about 7.5 miles, the trail connects
with Shoshone Geyser Basin and eventually goes on to Lone Star Geyser
and Old Faithful. It is not a well-maintained trail to the geyser basin,
and is not highly recommended.
The eastern trail, or Delacy Creek trail,
continues along the forested shore of Shoshone Lake. The shore itself
is composed of fine black obsidian sand and resembles Hawaiian beaches.
During midday and especially during afternoon, high winds usually create
rough water and whitecaps on the lake. But during early mornings and
late evenings, the lake usually is placid. About
halfway along the trail, it ascends about 100 feet above the lake and
provides a great view of Shoshone Lake and the Lewis River Channel (Shoshone
Lake's outlet) before descending to the patrol cabin and outlet.