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Backpacker Magazine – October 2009

Vanishing Act: Explore Yellowstone's Northern Fringe

Disappear into Yellowstone's secret northern fringe, where you'll find a rejuvenated landscape and total solitude (except for the bison and grizzlies).

by: Michael Behar

Blacktail Ponds (
Blacktail Ponds (
Bison near Madison River (
Bison near Madison River (
Suspension bridge over Yellowstone River (
Suspension bridge over Yellowstone River (

Yellowstone's Wild North
See bears, elk, and the undiscovered terrain of the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone on this 44-mile trip.

Hike It
This six-day trek begins with a gentle mile-long descent from Hellroaring Creek trailhead (1) to the Yellowstone River. Cross the suspension bridge (2) and join the Buffalo Plateau Trail (3) at mile 1.5; head northeast to begin climbing up the wind-scoured plateau. Keep an eye out at mile two–the Buffalo Plateau Trail becomes faint and bears right at the fork with the Coyote Creek Trail (4). Cross into Montana on a 2,300-foot climb over 5.4 miles to a three-way intersection. Turn left and switchback another mile uphill to a natural spring and your first campsite (labeled 2B1) (5).

In the morning, hike 2.1 off-trail miles, heading northwest through open meadows. Sweep east around an unnamed 8,716-foot peak to hit the Poacher's Trail (6), just outside the park boundary. The trail doglegs west, plummeting a quick 900 feet to Coyote Creek (7). The next 2.7 miles follow the drainage north, round Bull Mountain (8,272 feet), and descend to Hellroaring Creek. Cross the bridge and go .7 mile to the Hellroaring Patrol Cabin. Camp here (8), in a vast creekside meadow where the author saw a black bear and cub.

On the third day, the route is flat and fast, hugging the river as it re-enters the park (do lunch at an unnamed creek (9) .4 mile south of the posted boundary line). Finish this seven-mile day at the campsite marked 2H7 next to Hellroaring Creek (10). This is grizzly territory, so be extra cautious and pack all smelly items in a bear canister.

Day four's route crosses high meadows–with a good chance to see elk–then joins the Yellowstone River. The next 4.6 miles flank the river, where there are plenty of shady waterfront rest stops to cool down.

Spend nights four and five downriver at Crevice Lake (1Y1) (11) and use the layover to dayhike the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone. Lunch and swim at a 100-yard-long, black-sand beach (12) located 3.2 miles from Crevice Lake. On the final day, double back upriver to the Blacktail Deer Creek Trail (13) and hike the final 4.6-mile leg, climbing 1,000 feet from the Yellowstone River to the trailhead on Grand Loop Road (14).

The Way
Start at Hellroaring Creek trailhead, five miles southeast of Tower Junction. End at Blacktail Deer Creek trailhead, on Grand Loop Road eight miles east of Mammoth Hot Springs Visitor Center.

When to Go
Relatively low elevations make this hike best from late April through late June (great for wildflowers) and early fall (watch for hunters). Avoid summer's heat.

Map and Guidebook
Trails Illustrated #303 and #304 ($10; illustrated); Hiking Yellowstone National Park, by Bill Schneider ($17;

Reserve in advance ($20 per trip) by mail beginning April 1. Some permits are also assigned on a first come, first served basis, 48 hours prior to departure. Get the reservation application at Questions? Call Yellowstone's Central Backcountry Office at (307) 344-2160.

Vacation Planner
For supplies, stop at Flying Pig Adventure Company (406-848-7510, in Gardiner, Montana. For travel and lodging info, go to

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Steve Jacobson
Jul 02, 2012

Sounds like a great place for me, my pregnant wife and my teenage daughter to enjoy our first backpacking trip to Yellowstone! Thanks for the enjoyable write up, Michael!


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