Yellowstone Backpacking Trip

Day 1:  8.3 miles

Day 2:  12 miles

Day 3:  1 mile

Day 4:  12 miles

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take a backpacking trip to the Bechler River area in Yellowstone over Labor Day weekend.  This backpacking trip had been on my brother-in-law’s bucket list for many years.  The Bechler River area is in the very southwest corner of Yellowstone and is one of the more remote areas of the park and is known for its abundance of waterfalls, thermal areas, and wildlife.

Our trip started by driving from Denver to Ashton, Idaho – the nearest town to the Bechler Ranger Station and trailhead.  Before the trip, I was a little apprehensive about the possibility of meeting up with a grizzly on this trip.  Although I do a lot of hiking in Colorado, I never worry about wildlife encounters here.  However, everything I had read and was told about the Bechler area indicated there certainly was a likelihood, or at least a possibility, of running into a grizzly.  The thought of getting some great pictures of a grizzly was exciting; however, an actual encounter with one did not seem so enticing!

When we arrived at our cabin in Ashton, the owner told us about a “pack” of 15 or so bears she had heard about in the Yellowstone area.  Even though I know bears do not travel in packs, my first thought was:  “We won’t have a chance if it’s us against 15 bears”!  I had some resolve in knowing we were a group of 8 and there is strength in numbers.

We started off on Saturday morning and headed out of Ashton for the 26 mile drive (the last 12 miles being unpaved) to the Bechler Ranger Station and our trailhead.  Upon our arrival we got our gear ready and watched the mandatory video about safety (including bear safety!) in the backcountry in the ranger station office.  After a group picture at the start of the trailhead, we were off!

Day 1 was an 8.3 mile trek to Dunanda Falls.  We headed down the trail, bear bells attached to our backpacks and clanking away.  A short distance down the trail, we made my brother-in-law remove his extra loud bear bell from his pack and exchange it for a quieter one as we were having trouble with trail conversation as his bell was too loud!  We realized that 8 of us hiking down the trail in conversation was plenty of noise to keep bears away!

The open meadows of this area were incredible.  Much different hiking than what I am accustomed to in Colorado.  On one meadow crossing we spotted a group 3 or 4 wolves off in the distance.

We soon came to our first river crossing.  Because this area of Yellowstone is remote, most of the river crossings do not have bridges.  Sometimes there are logs or fallen trees placed across and you can attempt to cross on those or choose to remove your hiking boots and put on water shoes or sandals and ford the river.  I didn’t want to trust my sense of balance on logs, so I always opted for fording the stream.

Others, however, did go for the log crossings if available.

We arrived at our first campsite Saturday afternoon.  The best things about this campsite were its proximity to Dunanda Falls and the view from the toilet!  Each campsite had a designated toilet area which consisted of a seat covering a hole in the ground.  No outhouse – just a hole in the ground.  However, we did have a view of the Grand Teton while sitting on the throne so what more could a person ask for!

After setting up camp and hanging backpacks, we were ready to head off up the trail a short distance to check out the falls.  Backpacks could never be left unattended as there was always the possibility a bear would smell food (or any other “smellable” for that matter such as toothpaste or deodorant) and come in search of them so they needed to be hung from food poles provided at each campsite when leaving the site for a day trip and at night.

Dunanda Falls was amazing!  It plunges 150 feet to the Boundary Creek below.  At the base of the falls were several wonderful thermal pools for soaking.  Of course, I also had to take a hike back around behind the falls.  It was quite exhilarating to walk back behind the curtain of falls and feel the cold mist of water on my body and hear the deafening sound of the falls in my ears!

Day 2 took us on a 12-mile trek into the Bechler River valley to Ferris Fork.  Our campsite was near the famous “Mr. Bubbles”, one of the larger thermal pools in the area (15 feet across and 4 feet deep with water temperature at around 110 degrees – a perfect hot tub for soaking!). There were multiple river crossings on this day, a couple of them quite wide.  The trek also took us by several magnificent waterfalls and cascades.

My problem with river crossings was the water temperature.  I guess my feet have become sensitive in my old age as the water temperature was numbing!  The trick was trying to go slow enough so as not to lose my balance on the slippery rocks in the riverbed but fast enough so that I would not lose all feeling in my feet and legs from the numbing water!

During the next river crossing, I was christened with the trail name “Bobbles” as I nearly did a face plant into the river (the aching in my legs was winning out over taking my time to maneuver slowly over the slippery rocks in the bottom of the riverbed)!

We passed Colonnade Falls (upper falls 35 feet and lower falls 67 feet) on the Bechler River.

A short distance from Colonnade Falls was Iris Falls (45 feet).

And, a short distance from Iris Falls was Bechler Cascade.  The picture doesn’t do the cascade justice.  This was the longest cascade I had ever seen – it was truly amazing!

After setting up camp, we quickly headed up the trail the extra mile to Mr. Bubbles to enjoy a soak.  We knew we just had to head in the direction of the steam to find Mr. Bubbles.

Two of our group had gone ahead and were already in the pool when I arrived.

It was amazing to sit in the pool as it began to get dark and watch the stars and moon appear and illuminate the forest around us.  It was a clear and cloudless night – we couldn’t have asked for anything more!

Day 3 was a leisurely day as we only had a 1-mile trek to our next campsite.  We took a trip back up to Mr. Bubbles for some more soaking.  The pool had a bubbling hole in the center and a large rock near the bubbles.  Sitting on the rock, I could feel it vibrating with the pressure of the water as if it was covering another hole and if you were to roll it away, water would come shooting out from beneath the surface of the pool!

After our day of relaxation and exploring around the area to see a few other waterfalls, we headed down the trail 1 mile to our campsite at Albright Falls.

Day 4 was another 12-mile trek back to the Bechler Ranger station and our car and our 10-hour drive back to Denver.  What a terrific 4 days in the backcountry of Yellowstone!

Note:  Some pictures in this blog posting courtesy of friends on the trip.