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Backpacker Magazine – October 2009

Insider's Guide: Yellowstone

From camping with wolves to fly-fishing smarts this insider's guide has you covered.

by: Michael Behar

Top Trails

Pebble Creek
This route packs more alpine oohs and aahs into a one-day ramble than any other trail in Yellowstone. Park at the northern access point to Pebble Creek trailhead (one mile from the Northeast Entrance gate) and drop a shuttle car seven miles south on the Northeast Entrance Road. You'll climb an easy 500 feet in the first .75 mile, then follow Pebble Creek as it meanders another nine miles through a glacial-cut valley smothered in crimson geraniums and calf-high purple lupine. Picnic in the shadow of 10,442-foot Baronette Peak–scan its slopes for bighorn sheep–and a dozen other lofty summits. At 6.6 miles, intersect Bliss Pass Trail and continue straight through meadows where elk and moose often graze in midsummer. Mind the four fords across Pebble Creek; the water can be thigh-deep and dangerously swift before early July.

Geyser Basin
Of all the world's known geysers, two-thirds of them–some 300–lie within the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park. See 40 of them–plus numerous mudpots, hot springs, and fumaroles–in a single weekend on this 27.7-mile overnight to Shoshone Geyser Basin. From Old Faithful at the Howard Eaton Trail, cruise three miles to Lone Star Geyser. It erupts every three hours, spewing superheated water 45 feet high. Pitch camp at your reserved site on Basin Beach (site 8T1; mile 9.6) beside Shoshone Lake. Here, within a span of two miles, more than 100 active thermal features spout and gurgle. (Pack The Geysers of Yellowstone, by T. Scott Bryan, a detailed field guide with maps and photos.) On day two, hike on the Shoshone Lake Trail to Moose Creek, where you're likely to meet its gangly namesake in the open meadows. Finish the last 4.6 miles via the Doghead Trail, where you'll see remnants of the 1988 fire that charred nearly 40 percent of the park.

Bechler River
Got a week and want to dabble in everything that makes Yellowstone Yellowstone? Find world-class fly-fishing, muscle-soothing hot springs, roaring waterfalls, and big wildlife on the Bechler River Trail. Begin at the Howard Eaton trailhead, 1.75 miles south of Old Faithful on the Grand Loop Road, and climb 500 feet across the Continental Divide to your first camp at Shoshone River Meadows (8G1). Next morning, you'll join the Bechler River Trail, descending 1,500 feet over 20.6 miles through Bechler Canyon; the route passes a dozen waterfalls and cascades, plus hot springs and geysers. Fourteen designated campsites–some with sprawling canyon vistas, others cozy and creekside–line the trek from mile 6.7 to 24.2. Plan at least one overnight at Ferris Fork (9D1), where a short walk on a spur trail leads you east to Ferris Pool, big enough to accommodate 10 hikers. At mile 20, you'll reach Bechler Meadows (bison alert!), with the Tetons as a distant backdrop. Spend two nights at Bechler Ford campsite (9B2) and use the layover for a dayhike on the Boundary Creek Trail to Dunanda Falls. Continue south on Bechler Meadows Trail to the Mountain Ash Creek Trail; pitch camp at the base of Union Falls. Double back on Union Falls Trail for 1.7 miles and rejoin the Mountain Ash Creek Trail, then continue toward Pitchstone Plateau (4.5 miles), a sparsely vegetated, 70,000-year-old lava flow, to complete the 58-mile trek.

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