Best American Adventures: Hike Yellowstone’s Wild Southwest

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By Robert Earle Howells; Photograph by Christopher Zimmer, My Shot

It’s a mighty high claim to call one backpacking trip in our
archetypal national park the best, but it’s hard to top this traverse
of the southwest corner of Yellowstone National Park. Factor in a hot
soak or two with a hike beside burbling hot springs, steaming
fumaroles, streaming waterfalls, a grand finale at the park’s signature
attraction and you’ve got plenty to back up the boast.

The
27-mile (43-kilometer) hike starts at the Bechler ranger station, a
long haul in itself, reachable via Idaho Highway 47. It crosses
expansive Bechler Meadows, where an early-season crossing would be one
of America’s worst adventures—they’re underwater in June and under bug
siege in July, so wait till August or September when they’re in their
wide-open glory. Then comes a spectacular series of waterfalls in the
cool, damp, forested embrace of Bechler Canyon—Ouzel, Colonnade,
Iris—and even more cascades outside the canyon in Continental Divide
country. But enough of all this cool mist—time to get into hot water.

Near
the Three Rivers Junction is the redoubtable Mr. Bubble hot spring,
conveniently cooled by the flow of the Ferris Fork River, so it’s an
ideally tempered spot for a soak. Take the two-mile (3.2-kilometer)
side hike to Shoshone Lake and camp by the park’s largest backcountry
lake and find a remote geyser basin and some trailside hot springs.
Then, time the exit hike to pass by one of Lone Star Geyser’s
eruptions, which happen every three hours. Ironically, after three to
five nights on the trail among some of the park’s most remote water
features, you emerge right at Old Faithful, feeling like a
prune-skinned version of Jeremiah Johnson.

Need to Know: Get more information about Yellowstone attractions at www.nps.gov/yell.

Originally published in the March/April 2009 edition of National Geographic Adventure magazine

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