Backpacking the Yellowstone River Trail - MelyndaCoble.com
Backpacking the Yellowstone River Trail

Backpacking the Yellowstone River Trail

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Backpacking the Yellowstone River Trail

Scroll to the bottom to find details on planning your own Yellowstone River Trail trip. Or check out my other website – YellowstoneTrips.com – and I’ll plan your trip for you!

The latest High Country News has an article titled, “The death of backpacking.” In it writer Christopher Ketcham asserts, for various reasons, that Gen Xers, specifically folks 40 and under, aren’t into backpacking. It’s hard work, there is no adrenaline payoff (if you do it right), and it takes you away from flashy technology.

That’s probably all true, but as someone who just got back from backpacking with a seven-year-old through Yellowstone, I felt a little defensive. (My math-minded readers will note that I am not 40 or under, but I’m going to let that one go–41 is close enough, and I am a stereotypical Gen Xer.)

Admittedly, there were moments while we walked along the Yellowstone River Trail, gasping at the beauty of the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone, the bright wildflowers, and rushing water, that I thought the whole thing was ridiculous. Why would I carry all the gear and food for two people (sans Anders’ sleeping bag), through clouds of biting deer flies, over hot, exposed hills, while playing 20 Questions 20 times?

I won’t go into all the wonders of getting into the backcountry, spending real time with your kid, slowing down, and seeing places that most people don’t even know about. You have to go to know.

So, I can see why backpacking may be dying. It’s hard work.

I do wonder about the data Ketcham used to make his point. He looked at the fall of backpacking gear sales. My backpack and stove are 12 years old, my beloved Crazy Creek chair, which blew out on this trip (may it rest in peace) is 21 years old, and my sleeping bag is 18 years old (it can vote and go to war!). My water filter is in the same age range…you get the idea, I’m not buying a lot of gear. Backpacking stuff holds up, and even when it doesn’t you can improvise because it’s not a safety issue. The biggest problem with old gear is that it’s heavy.

I am all over the place here and I really just wanted to show you pictures of our trip. Grab a beer, because there are a lot of them!

Ready to backpack the Yellowstone River Trail in Yellowstone National Park
Henry and Finn dropped us off at the trailhead so we could through hike (and they hiked in a bit with us).
Trail signs show distances on the Yellowstone River Trail
Our destination wasn’t on the sign: Eagle Creek Campground 18 miles.
There are two suspension bridges over the Yellowstone River along the trail
Here we go- the first mile is all downhill to a suspension bridge over the Yellowstone.
Suspension bridge on the Yellowstone River Trail through the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone
Our first view of the Yellowstone River from the bridge. We wouldn’t see it again for five miles.
The Yellowstone River Trail is an easy three day trek with beautiful scenery.
The Yellowstone River Trail is an easy three day trek with beautiful scenery.
Fireweed and other wildflowers in Yellowstone National Park
Fireweed as tall as a seven-year-old.
The Yellowstone River Valley is winter range for a lot of animals, but, like this elk, they don't all make it through winter.
The Yellowstone River Valley is winter range for a lot of animals, but, like this elk, they don’t all make it through winter.
Black Canyon of the Yellowstone River, Yellowstone National Park
We paralleled the river for 16 miles before turning away. We loved thinking about how this is the same river that flows just blocks from our house.
Campsite along Yellowstone River Trail with elk antler shed.
Our first campsite. Elk shed their antlers each year and we saw (and left) a ton of sheds.
Filtering water from campsite in Black Canyon of the Yellowstone
Anders filters our water for drinking.
Wading in the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park
Barefoot in the river.
The Yellowstone River Trail follows the Yellowstone River along much of its length.
On day two we stayed close to the river.
There are a few sandy beaches on the Yellowstone Trail.
Anders plays in the sand on one of our many breaks.
Crevice Lake at the end of the Blacktail Deer Trail.
Crevice Lake. Look! I was there, too.
Wild rose, fireweed, sticky geranium, and harebells- just a few of the many wildflowers.
Wild rose, fireweed, sticky geranium, and harebells- just a few of the many wildflowers.
Knowles Falls on the Yellowstone River
Knowles Falls–it’s bigger than it looks in this picture.
Campsite on the Yellowstone River Trail.
Playing in the mud near our second campsite.
Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park
Campsite two. You are required to stay in designated campsites in Yellowstone.
Campsite two. You are required to stay in designated campsites in Yellowstone. We didn’t mind.
Sun set view from our campsite on the Yellowstone River.
Sunset view from our campsite.
Eating raspberries along the trail was a highlight.
Eating raspberries along the trail was a highlight.
Rocky section of the Yellowstone River Trail in the Black Canyon.
Anders especially loved the rocky sections of trail.
Black Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Black Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Bear Creek flows into the Yellowstone River. Hike up to Eagle Creek Campground from here.

Bear Creek comes into the Yellowstone east of Gardiner, Montana. This is where we turned north and slogged up the hot, dry, steep trail for two miles. Nothing like feeling super tough at the end of a trip. We can’t wait to get back on the Yellowstone River Trail.
Plan Your Own Trip

What: Backpacking!
Why: Spectacular scenery, lack of people, great fishing
Where: The Yellowstone River Trail in Yellowstone National Park. We started at the Hellroaring Trailhead and ended at USFS Eagle Creek Campground. Night one was at 1R1 Cottonwood Creek and night two at 1Y2 Knowles Falls. Each day was about six miles.
Who: Anyone who wants to walk up and down six miles for each of three days with a lot of weight on their backs. Also, backcountry lovers, solitude seekers, and mother-son teams.
How: Reserve a permit through the mail after downloading a reservation form and sending in $25. The permit is free (the reservation has a fee) and you can chance it and get a permit from any backcountry office in the park the day before or the day of your trip. I want a guaranteed reservation, so I always pay the money– it would be a bummer to show up all packed and ready to go and then not get a permit.

Resources

Hiking Yellowstone National ParkMy favorite guidebook for hiking or backpacking in Yellowstone is Hiking Yellowstone National Park: A Guide to More than 100 Great Hikes. However the western two miles of trail has changed since he wrote this, so talk to a Park Service person about the new detour. I couldn’t find the new trail on any maps, either. It’s hard to miss, though. Keep walking to Bear Creek, then another few minutes until a trail sign points you uphill. It’s a slog for a couple miles before reaching a Forest Service campground where you left your car.

 

 

Yellowstone MapWe brought this Trails Illustrated Topographic Map. You’d be hard pressed to get lost on this trail (follow the river!), but it’s nice to see distances and the names of surrounding creeks and mountains. Plus, you should always have a map.

 

 

 

Plants of the Rocky MountainsAnd you can’t go wrong with a plant identification book. I use Plants of the Rocky Mountains by Linda J. Kershaw, Jim Pojar, and Paul Alaback. I don’t carry it backpacking, but I do keep it in the car so I can double check my identifications when I get back.

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