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Burn After Reading

Empty White Mountain summits. Tourist-free Yellowstone geysers. Rarely hiked Yosemite ridges. Rangers, guidebook writers, outfitters, and ultra-hikers dish their favorite routes for the first time.

Your guide:
Tom Carter, author of three trail guides and 40-year veteran of Yellowstone’s backcountry

Day: Mt. Washburn from Dunraven Pass
See the whole park—and beyond—from a 10,243-foot summit.

On Carter’s all-time favorite dayhike in Yellowstone, a 6.2-mile out-and-back on the Mt. Washburn Trail, “you can see all of greater Yellowstone and its world-class neighbors—the Tetons, Beartooths, and the Madison Range,” he says. The hike to Washburn’s fire lookout shelter begins at 8,878-foot Dunraven Pass on the Grand Loop Road north of Canyon Village. Go in late July, after the snow has melted and the Indian paintbrush and lupine are blooming along the trail. Get an early start to see the bighorn sheep that often graze near the summit; they avoid open areas during the hottest hours of the day.

Weekend: Heart Lake and Mt. Sheridan
Camp in wildlife central, visit geysers, and climb a high peak.

No pain, much gain. This easy 25-mile out-and-back to Heart Lake delivers erupting geysers, grizzlies, pelicans, swans, and a 10,000-foot summit with views to the Teton Range. From the South Entrance Road at the northeast corner of Lewis Lake, hike 7.5 miles east on the fairly flat Continental Divide Trail to Heart Lake. En route, hit the off-trail Fissure Group, a set of secret hot springs along Witch Creek (at mile 5.5, turn west and head .3 mile upstream). Reserve site 8H6 or 8H5 (Carter’s favorites) for proximity to the Heart Lake Geyser Basin and Mt. Sheridan Trail. Bonus: “The sunsets here are otherworldly with peach alpenglow,” Carter says. On your second day, make the 7.8-mile, nearly 3,000-foot ascent up Sheridan from the patrol cabin at the lake’s northwest corner for views of Yellowstone Lake and surrounding ranges. Reverse your first day’s hike to reach your car. Warning: It’s grizzly central. “I once found an eight-inch paw print 30 yards from our campsite,” Carter recalls. Heart Lake is closed to camping before July 1 because of heavy bear activity. Target mid-August through September, when bugs fade. PRO Map to order a custom topo map of this trip printed on waterproof expedition paper.

Week: Old Faithful to Bechler Ranger Station
See classics and soak in a natural hot tub.

You could check off this 40.1-mile point-to-point in the park’s southwest corner in a long weekend, but that’d be like slamming a filet mignon in three bites. “This is one to linger over,” says Carter. Spend night one on Shoshone Lake’s west shore and explore Shoshone Geyser Basin, which has 80 geysers—one of the highest concentrations in the world. Lay over two nights at Three River Junction (reached on day two) to soak in Mr. Bubbles, a 110°F hot spring 15 feet across and four feet deep, located a quarter-mile up the Ferris Fork from campsite 9D1. Visit several waterfalls along the three creeks meeting here, including three on Ferris Fork: 45-foot Ragged Falls, 33-foot Tendoy Falls, and Wahhi Falls, which drops in two steps of 28 and 18 feet. Then continue down Bechler Canyon past more falls and across vast Bechler Meadows. Allow time for a side trip from Bechler Meadows to Union Falls (15.6 miles out-and-back), where two streams pour over a 250-foot-tall cliff. Bonus: Hike off-trail two miles farther, up the north fork of Mountain Ash Creek, to 60-foot-tall Morning Falls—named by Carter in 1978 because it catches sunrise light just so. From Old Faithful, link Howard Eaton, Shoshone Lake, Bechler River, and Bechler Meadows Trails to Bechler Ranger Station; shuttle required.

Trip Planner
Map Yellowstone ($12,
Required ($25); reserve at least three months in advance to get your preferred campsites.
Contact (307) 344-7381,

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