This last minute trip came together as my young brothers-in-law (Sean & Shane) wanted to go backpacking for the first time and they wanted to do it in Yellowstone. After zooming with them about how to prepare, it was clear they weren’t and I would be heading out to west to lead them. Also with us was their friend (Ozan) and my friend (Chris). I met Chris on the John Muir Trail a few years ago and hiked again with him last year in Glacier National Park. I was able to recruit him to help me out on leading the kids on their first backpacking trip by offering a free flight via my Southwest companion pass and free hotels. I was very happy having someone I knew the capabilities of and trusted in the backcountry. So we were a group of five for this trip, but with the flexibility of splitting the group up at times to accommodate the different goals and paces of the kids as they got use to backpacking.
Note from John (website editor & author): Motivation to work on my website this last year has hard to come by for me. The reasons are probably familiar to many out there as we learn to live and normalize the world of COVID. As such, I am backlogged more than a years worth of hikes and travel. So it will take me a while to write my typical detailed trip reports and produce the videos. In the meantime, these brief reports (as cross-posted on the Backcountry Post forums) will serve as a teaser and place holder for the full reports to come.
Overall it was a good trip as I saw everything I wanted to see. As with the new backpackers, you really don’t know how they’ll react. I knew the distance was a big longer on the days, but the elevation profile was pretty mild. There were plenty of optional side trips that can save miles. Even with one of the kids injuring himself around half way, he made it through. At the end, I think the kids that were the most interested in backpacking are more interested now and have a bit more experience. I feel like I did my job by getting everyone out and shown them the good with the bad of backpacking.
- Grassy Lake trailhead, Union Falls, Dunanda Falls, Bechler Canyon, Mr. Bubbles, Shoshone Geyser Basin, & Lone Star trailhead
- type: point to point backpacking
- distance: 62.1 miles
- elevation change: 6808 ft ascent & 6433 ft descent
- time: 4 days & 3 nights
- location: Grassy Lake Trailhead, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA (google map directions)
A video of our hike will premier on our Youtube page and updated here when I’m done editing it someday (AKA this is a placeholder like the rest of the post. Subscribe and turn on notifications to see the video when it uploads.
day 1 – Grassy Lake Trailhead to 9U2
stats: 12.6 mi & 997 ft gain
We didn’t get started until 3pm in the afternoon after dropping a car at Lonestar Trailhead. The kids decided to drive 25 hours straight from Kentucky the day before so I thought it was better for them to rest up and pack in the morning. I parked just off the dam since I’m pretty sure my rental Hyundai Accent wouldn’t have made it back up. The Mountain Ash Creek Trail was pretty uneventful and in the forest for the most part save our first water crossing of Falls River. Our objective for the first day was to visit Union Falls. The late afternoon sun hit it just right to give us a nice rainbow from the mist.
After a cold shower from Union falls we headed over to the hot spring for a quick soak.
We were running out of sunlight so we didn’t stay long. I had missed out on 9U5 campsite at the falls to another group by minutes due to the internet being out the morning I pulled my permit at West Yellowstone so we’d have to continue on. We would be getting into camp in the dark. We had the option of 9U2 or 9U1 at the permit office and was originally permitted for 9U1. With the random reception I had at Union Falls, I knew 9U2 was still available so that was home for the night. I think we were all happy not to do anymore night hiking than we did and stopping after crossing Mountain Ash Creek. Only thing of interest before we got to camp was I caught a glimpse of a mother moose with the young through the trees in Mountain Ash Creek.
day 2 – 9U2 to 9B7 with a side trip to Dunanda Falls
stats: 22.9 mi & 1499 ft gain
As with new backpackers, the mornings take a little longer. We started on the trail around 9am. The morning of day 2 was pretty uneventful as we took the Bechler Meadows Cutoff Trail toward Bechler Canyon. The only trail beta of interest was the trail was rerouted to avoid a beaver dam, but those beavers weren’t having any of that and created a dam on the reroute trail too. We were able to keep our feet mostly dry for that by walking pretty much across the beaver dam or on the sticks just beneath it.
When we got to campsite 9B2, Shane and myself decided to hang our packs and do the 8 mile side trip to Dunanda Falls. The side trip and time spent at the falls meant we’d most likely finish the day in the dark once again. Chris would continue on with Sean and Ozan to our campsite at 9B7 as they wanted to somewhat enjoy the experience. They would spend some time swimming in the river and taking lunch before they started. Meanwhile, our hike out to Dunanda was pretty uneventful. It was nice to see the Tetons in the distance as we crossed the meadows. Plenty of feels like Gladiator going through the wheat field moments here.
Beta on getting to the falls given to us by fellow backpackers was to go to the river through 9A3 campsite rather than the trail. We’d agree with that, but found the trail easier when exiting the falls. I would say the falls and the hotspring there was definitely worth it, but probably easier to do as a in an out from the Bechler Ranger Station rather than push the big day we signed up for. After all, we could have sat here for a few more hours.
We hung out at the falls for a couple of hours and ate luner there before heading back. A storm was rolling in as we left the falls and it started to pour on us as we pick up our bags to head up Bechler Canyon. The first part of Bechler was spent going through the brush. It was good we were soaked already from the rain so the brush didn’t bother us much. I saw a few thimble berries but was surprised to see all the blueberries/huckleberries no where near their prime. I guess that also explains why I haven’t seen any signs of bear on the entire trip thus far. While I always enjoy the rushing waters of cascading river and the steep canyon walls, the views of Colonnade Falls
and Iris Falls were surprisingly impressive.
We were in the dark by the time we passed Treasure Island and the steep cascading section of the Bechler River, but at least the rain stopped also.
We made the crossing of the Bechler River in the dark and was glad the levels didn’t raise too much with the rain. So a second night in a row, we rolling into camp at night.
day 3 – 9B7 to 8G1 with a visit to Mr. Bubbles
stats: 13.8 mi & 2054 ft gain
We had an even later start on day 3 leaving camp around 11. Based on the distance, I didn’t think that would be an issue except one of the kids had a knee issue that started to bother him, so we were moving slow from here. I am not a fast hiker as those I’ve hiked with on here knows, but this was a mile an hour slow with breaks. Trail wise, we crossed the Bechler River again and passed an open area of the canyon with some thermal features. When we reached the 3 river junction, the bridge across Ferris Creek was out. Around 2pm, we arrived at the cool thermal feature
and not so secret anymore Mr Bubbles along Ferris Creek. We sure benefited from the word getting out.
We had the place to ourselves for a half hour before a group of women from Seattle joined us followed by a couple other groups. The Seattle group had the coveted campsite 9D1, but were looking to keep heading toward old faithful and see if they could share a campsite with another group. They only had 1 day left in their trip and wanted to avoid the 16 mile last day. They were were polling everyone there regarding how open people would be in sharing their campsites if someone on the trail asked. So I pass the question onto you folks here on the backcountry forum, would you share your Yellowstone campsite? My answer was probably, but definitely since they were the ones asking.
Anyways, I was very tempted to hang out at Mr Bubbles for the rest of the afternoon and camp at 9D1 they weren’t going to use.
I probably would have if it was by myself, but we needed to keep going based our pace. The 9 miles wasn’t a lot left typically but again our injury riddled pace would mean a possible 3rd night finishing in the dark. Again we decided to split the group up with Chris going ahead with Shane this time and taking on most of the weight of our injured member. They would go on ahead and set up camp while I’d do my part to see the slower group through. My goal was to just keep the group moving no matter the pace. I pretty much used all the tricks I knew from encouragement, to conversation, to giving him my hiking poles, to feeding him all the candy I had on me, to feeding him all the drugs I had on me, to stopping for dinner and then continuing to hike, and turning in DJ travel2walk on 91.7 the Rock’n Forest playing all the party hits of the 80s and 90s (it was good that basically no one else was on trail through this section at this point in the evening). We made it in the end about a half hour after dark rolling in to camp with our moving karaoke dance party, we even had strobe light effects.
Overall the rest of the trail was pretty uneventful and not that much to see other than the top of Bechler Canyon and the open meadow around Douglas Knob. There was also only a slight section of marsh in those meadows, so we stayed mostly dry the rest of the day.
day 4 – 8G1 to Lonestar Trailhead with a visit to Shoshone Lake & Geyser Basin
stats: 12.7 mi & 561 ft gain
I woke up early in the morning and headed for a side trip to Shoshone Lake and Geyser Basin with Chris and Shane. I enjoyed the geothermal features including Minutemen Geyser
and the beach at Shoshone Lake and was glad we did it since the rest of the hike out was pretty boring through the forest.
The only trail beta to note was that the park services were in the process of adding a walkway through the marshy area around OA3, so the temporary planks weren’t that great and a foot might end up in the marsh.
We arrived at Lonestar roughly 1 hour since eruption meaning we’d have to wait around 2 hours for the next one. We didn’t wait around.
We had the kids finish at Old Faithful since I thought that would be a good place to end their first Yellowstone experience. They could wait for old faithful to erupt and get real food while we went back to get the other car. They would have plenty of time as the shuttling would take another 4 hours roundtrip.
The rating below are based on an unevenly distributed scale of 1-5. For full description of the ratings and the categories, see the explanation here.
views/experience: 3.5. Some spectacular and enjoyable features between a lot of trail through the woods and marsh. Probably among the best scenery for a soak.
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