Our second day in the Mammoth Area of Yellowstone began with a nice long hike along the Lava Creek Trail – a one-way, 4.2 mile route. We were able to start this hike from our campground, which was extra cool. Lava Creek and the surrounding areas were beautiful, and we found some cool stuff along the way like a skeleton and a bear print! The trail led us to one of my favorite things – a lovely waterfall.
Once we got to the end of the Lava Creek Trail, we still had energy to walk a half mile up the road to a short trail to Wraith Falls. I can never resist nearby waterfalls!
Along the trails we saw many wild flowers blooming, which really added to our enjoyment.
We then had to hike all the way back to the beginning. In the end we had completed a total of 10.4 miles. Not bad for a day!
That afternoon we drove to the Mammoth Hotel to purchase showers. We’re not used to camping without showers, so we spent a lot of time just reveling in the hot water, soap and shampoo! They were such a treat. We also drove out of the park that evening to Gardiner, Montana. There we were able to do some much-needed laundry and stock up on supplies for the rest of our trip.
The next day we were up and out super early, and we found that the early birds do indeed get the worms in Yellowstone National Park.
We arrived at our next campground, in the Tower Falls area, at 8 in the morning. The campground host allowed us to drive around and choose our favorite campsite. Thank goodness the campsite was only $15 per night! There was no ATM anywhere near where we were, we wanted to stay for two nights, and we had exactly $32 in cash.
We went right away to view nearby Tower Falls, and then hiked down another half mile to the river and back. It was very steep but we went all the way to the bottom where we could touch the water in the river.
Our next stop in the area was Calcite Springs, named for the milky-white calcite crystals that cover the area. The springs are hot enough to liquefy the large quantities of sulfur in the area. They are also hot enough to release oil deposits from deep below the surface through the fractured rock. Since sulfur turns black when it contacts the air, it’s impossible to tell from the surface whether the dark areas you’re seeing are oil or sulfur.
It was still early so we went to look for Lost Lake. Lost Lake Loop is just under three miles, and at the end there was another “waterfall bonus trail” that led a half mile to Lost Creek Falls.
After picnicking in the Yellowstone Picnic Area, we hiked the 3.7 mile Yellowstone River Trail. We were excited to meet a couple from Harrisburg, PA, just a few hours from where we live. We hiked on and off with them.
This was a ridge hike so we had constant views of the canyon, but we didn’t see anything in it – no birds or big horn sheep. As we circled back we saw an elk, and he didn’t mind me photographing him as we walked by, very close, on the trail! We had seen some at a distance but this was our first close-up.
Later in the day we started a drive out to the Lamar Valley. We saw our first bear just a few minutes after leaving our campsite! There were a bunch of people stopped on the road so we pulled over. Another few minutes drive down the same road, we saw our second bear! This time we had a better view, as the bear was much closer, and the ranger let us stay as the bear got closer to us than the mandated 100 yards. We think the ranger allowed this because there was a “”natural barrier”” – a dip in the ground right at the edge of the road, and then water, and then the bear. It was clear the bear liked to eat dandelions.
On our way to Lamar Valley we came to the turn-off for Slough Creek Campground and saw people with cameras, binoculars etc. We got out and asked what they were looking at, and this time it was a wolf den! A very nice woman let us look through her ginormous telephoto lens to see the mother wolf and pups. Unfortunately they were too far for our camera to photograph, but we did enjoy some other sights on our drive.
The next day we hiked the 7.6 mile Garnet Hill Loop. To get to the loop, we had to walk along an old stagecoach road. We immediately saw a bunch of bison, and a coyote walked right through them, close enough for us to photograph! I was so excited.
Some of the bison didn’t want to leave the trail, so we finally opted to make a new trail in the field, around them. We didn’t want to take chances or have and explain that our broken bones were caused by a miffed bison charging us.
video – Marmots playing
The hike was interesting. There were supposedly still pilings from an old hotel that people used to visit by stagecoach, but we never found them. We did find a cookout shelter where you can pay to visit via horse or stagecoach and have an Old West-style cookout there.
The hike was literally around Garnet Hill, and a lot of it was in the woods. We had to cross several streams that were running high, which provided plenty of adventure. We also ran into another couple who told us they had seen a brown bear, right on the trail! They got good photos and video. That also created plenty of excitement for us. We kept looking, but we never found the bear. 😦
When we got out of the woods there was no longer anything but sunny meadow. The heat was intense as we searched for a shady spot to rest and cool down. We were grateful when we finally found a tree close to the end of the trail under which we could eat our lunch.
We headed back to our campground to relax for a little bit and saw a bunch of people had stopped for a bear. We were debating whether to stop, leaning against the idea, when I looked out the window and saw not just a bear but a cub! We spent the next hour watching a mother black bear and her three cubs. Things got even more exciting (if that’s possible) when a bison approached and the mother bear tried to keep her cubs safely away from it.
video – Mom guides cubs away from bison
We had never made it very far into Lamar Valley, so we decided to try again. It was worth a second trip. In addition to all of the mountains and land features, we saw a bald eagle and a beautiful rainbow. There were of course bison. And there was even one last bear sighting for us on our way home.
We were still continually impressed with all Yellowstone had to offer, and we hadn’t even seen Old Faithful yet!