Yellowstone River and Bull Mountain Loop

I’m finishing my last night of a wonderful vacation with my wife’s family in Yellowstone. The park has been on my bucket list of places to see since we moved out to California and cut the travel distance so much. The main point of the trip was to spend time with family, but my wife understood that I couldn’t come all the way out here and not go on a backpacking trip. And so, my brother-in-law, P, and I put together a a three day itinerary.

Based on reports from rangers on what was passable and what wasn’t, we settled on starting at Hellroaring Creek TH and hiking the Bull Mountain Loop, then finishing up the trip by hiking along the Yellowstone River Trail and getting picked up in the Gardiner area. It has been nearly three years since I went on a backpacking trip or hiked more than a few miles in a day, so I was happy with the estimated 15ish miles we would cover per day with this plan.

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The hike around the east side of Bull Mountain was nice, and the views it offered looking back into the valley were really great. As we moved along the trail, we quickly realized a a wolf pack and a mama and baby bear traveled in the opposite direction pretty recently based on the tracks we saw. P and I were both excited and anxious about meeting up with both groups, but it wasn’t in the cards in the end.

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Continuing up the trail, we started running into some pretty marshy conditions, but the trail was in pretty good condition for the most part. I think if we were able to hike it later in the season, most of the marshiness directly to the west of Bull Mountain would be much more dry. At some point on the west side, we missed the left turn for the trail and ended up on the 288 cutoff trail. Luckily, it only put us a little off track, so we were able to make up the distance pretty quickly. We continued our hike over Hellroaring Creek and down to 2H9. We stopped shortly along the way to wait out some thunder that came around quickly and left nearly as quickly, but otherwise had a smooth day of hiking. The mosquitos at the site started out a pretty bad when we got in around 8 PM, but we applied a bit of deet and they dissipated before we went off to bed.

Day 2 started out sunny and warm. We ate, packed and rolled out of the site by 9 AM, heading south towards Yellowstone River Trail. We were making good time until we ran into our friend Milton just before the Yellowstone River Trail turn off. It took us to realize that he was in fact standing directly next to the trail, just hanging out. After snapping some pictures and evaluating the situation, we ended up going around the ridge to his right, figuring it would put us back down close to the trail as it turned along the Yellowstone River.

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Our footwear was still pretty wet from day 1, and the trail on day 2 wasn’t much more forgiving, so we were certain to take a couple of breaks throughout the day to nap and let our feet dry out to try to avoid blisters as best we could. This was probably my favorite nap site of the trip

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Continuing along the Yellowstone River Trail, the best parts of the scenery were definitely the water features. With such a high snow pack for the year, all of the rivers and creeks were running very high, making some of the smaller crossings bits you had to get your feet wet on. The craziest of which I think was the Crevice Creek footbridge which was being overrun by the creek under it. We were able to safely move along the trail, but it had gone from a simple footbridge to an actual creek crossing.

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Crevice Creek footbridge from the west side

After Crevice Creek, the trail remained moist, with one 10 foot section part of the trail completely disappearing into the Yellowstone River, but it was still very traversable. We ended the day at 1Y1, where campfires were prohibited, but we were able to bask in a great sunset and watch the river roar along

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The next morning, we woke up early to start our hike west and out to Gardiner. The last few miles of the trail winded through the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone, which felt so different than the rest of the trail – almost like a desert. We ended our trip at Cowboy’s Lodge in Gardiner for some delicious, and much deserved, burgers and fries before laying down for a great nap under a tree while we waited for our ride back home.

Neither of us had been out on the trail for an overnight trip in years, so we both walked away really happy with the outcome. I have lost a bit of confidence in my gear over the last few years, so I ended up packing more insulation than I needed. Other than that though, I was happy with my gear choices, including the mid that kept me warm and dry during a rain on the first night.

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