Yellowstone-Grand Teton Day Hiking

Cascade Canyon, Grand Teton NP

Just got back from doing some day hiking in Yellowstone and the Tetons. Mid-September is a great time of year for this type of thing. The temperature is perfect for hiking, the crowds are somewhat diminished, the Aspen are turning. Our views were compromised from surrounding wildfires and the smoke. The Teton Range was entirely shrouded, hidden from view in the mornings from even as close as Jenny Lake. But this is a mere quibble, really. It was a fantastic experience, with vivid memories. It’s just the photos that are a bit hazy.

We were very excited about this trip because we had previously only been to Yellowstone in the winter (in 2007 and 2009). It’s great then, because it’s so unpopulated and quiet. But much of the park is inaccessible in winter and we were looking forward to getting out to places previously unseen (by us).

So, what all did we do? Well, just sit back, relax and see.

Day 1: We flew into Jackson, arrived late and spent the night in town. Not much more to report there.

Day 2: We got up early, packed, ate a big breakfast and drove up through Grand Teton NP and onward to Yellowstone. There were wildfires just southeast of Jackson and on the Idaho side of the Tetons. The valley was lousy with smoke. Once at Yellowstone, we stopped near the entrance and took some pictures.

Then we drove some more, stopping again at Lewis Falls and walking the short trail to the viewpoint.

Our ultimate destination for the day was to tour the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and then stay at Lake Lodge for the next several days. On the way to the Grand Canyon area, we stopped at the West Thumb geysers. One of those places we hadn’t seen yet.

The colors of the pools were incredible.

On the stretch from West Thumb to Lake, I believe we encountered Elk every time.

I have to say, I’m just not passionate about elk. Not since the “incident” at Rocky Mountain National Park. We were camping in the back-country and a marauding, habituated elk and his teen elk thugs ravaged our campsite, licking our tent, poking holes in our fly and pulling Daniel’s pack off a tree, carrying it off about 50 yards, sliming the entire pack, inside and out with elk spit and crushing the pack in half hike a clam shell. So, yeah, I have “elk issues.” I make it a point to order the elk tenderloin whenever I see it on the menu.

Each time we passed through the Hayden Valley, we saw the bison.

Finally, we arrived at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

We did the Brink of the Lower Falls trail on the North Rim. We drove along the remainder of the North Rim, stopping along the way to take pictures.  We also walked the South Rim trail to Artist Point.

After a long day, we headed back to Lake Lodge, ate dinner and retired early.

Day 3: The mornings in Yellowstone were bracing. In the 30’s.  But it was refreshing and warmed up quickly with the sun. Each day, we ate big breakfasts and grabbed a box lunch to stuff into our day packs before heading out to our adventures. Day 3 had us driving back up north to the Lamar Valley to view wildlife and do a cool hike. To get there, we once again drove through Hayden Valley. This time we stopped because there was a bison carcass being feasted upon by wolves.

We needed to pull out the big lens and tripod to capture this grainy image of a white and a black wolf near the carcass (where the ravens are).

Our wildlife cache was growing, so far having seen: mule deer, elk, bald eagle, bison and now wolves.

We drove on to our hike location in the Lamar Valley. Our objective was to hike up Specimen Ridge to an area dubbed Fossil Forest. Along the ridge-side is littered with petrified trees and standing, petrified tree stumps. It’s a short, 3 mile round trip hike that is made challenging by the steep climb and elevation gain (+/- 1,350′). So count on about a three hour tour.

Me snapping a picture of the first petrified tree stump on the left.

The trailhead is unmarked and located 4.1 miles east on the Northeast Entrance Road (1.2 miles past the signed Specimen Ridge Trailhead) and half a mile prior to reaching the bridge that crosses the Lamar River.

You start by heading in the direction of  a prominent  grouping of glacial erratic boulders strewn about the valley floor. Next you head straight up the grassy hill along a clear trail to a small fossil tree. From there, the trail continues along the ridge, merging with the Crystal Creek access, entering Douglas fir stands and emerging at a rhyolitic outcropping and three large fossil trees, plus a few stumps and downed trees. The large fossilized redwood tree has an exposed root system that has been weathered and undercut on the downhill side. Eileen was not impressed by all this petrified wood. I thought it was the coolest thing.

Looking down to Lamar Valley from half way up the ridge.

Aspen about half way up the ridge

Me with the impressively large, fossilized redwood.

Tree, without me.

Back down from Specimen Ridge

After the hike, we ate lunch in the Tower picnic area. Yes, I carried all the food up and down the ridge.  Then we drove back via Mammoth to the Lake.

Along the way, we stopped here, unsuccessfully looking for moose.

Can you see the moose? No? That’s because there isn’t one.

Day 4: Today was Geyser Basin day. Maximal exposure to geysers, pools and busloads of tourists. Yes, of course we saw Old Faithful.

Old Faithful, faithfully erupting.

It’s always a treat to see the Morning Glory pool. A particularly colorful display.

at Morning Glory Pool

Morning Glory

Of note, however, we had the opportunity to see the Riverside Geyser erupt. It does this only once per day for about 20 minutes. The window predicting the geyser’s display is about an hour. So we sat down and patiently waited. It was worth the wait.

Riverside Geyser

After the show, we ambled over to the Old Faithful Inn and ate lunch in the dining room. What a beautiful structure. We’d never seen the inside before as it’s closed in the winter.

After lunch, we headed north, exploring the various geyser basins along the way.

Then back to the Lake for dinner and sleep.

Day 5: On this day we headed north again. This time, our objective was the popular Mount Washburn (10,243′) hike, and another peak bagged. Despite its 1,400 foot elevation gain, Mount Washburn is a relatively easy hike. The National Park Service labels it as a “strenuous” hike, though. Probably due to elevation gain and exceeding 8,000 feet.

The trail from Dunraven Pass is an old carriage road and is pretty wide.  From the trailhead, its 3.1 miles up (6.2 miles RT) to the top. Plan to spend from 4 – 6 hours. At the top is a fire lookout with a scope and interpretive display at the base of the lookout. Even with all the smoke from the surrounding fires, the views were impressive. On a clear day, you can reportedly see the majestic Teton Range 75 miles to the south. With the smoke-filled air, we were unable to see even the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which is a stone’s throw away.

A chilly start to the Mount Washburn hike.

View up to summit and fire tower.

Summit and views to the North.

View to the South from summit.

We added more wildlife to our collection with this hike: bighorn sheep along the slopes of the mountain and grouse in the forested areas approaching the alpine zone.


It was still early in the afternoon when we completed the hike, so we drove out to the East Entrance via Fishing Bridge. This took us up and over Avalanche Peak. Avalanche is a hike I really wanted to do. But I heeded the advice of the NPS, which warns: Grizzly bears frequent this area in the fall, seeking out whitebark pine nuts. Hiking this trail is not recommended in September and October.

East entrance, looking West.

Some other day, perhaps. It’s a beautiful, wild alpine area.

Between Lake Butte and Avalanche is a vast area of standing dead wood that was ravaged in the 1988 fires. It has a beauty all its own.

We ended the day at Grant Village. We saw a coyote on the way there.

Day 6: Our final day had us in the Tetons. Our goal was to take the Jenny Lake shuttle to the Inspiration Point trailhead and hike up and into Cascade Canyon as far as time allowed. When we arrived in the morning, the Tetons were completely hidden by smoke. I almost decided to not do the hike for two reasons. 1) the smoke was so thick, it was unpleasant to breathe, and 2) due to the drought and resulting low lake level, the Jenny Lake boat shuttle service was shut down for the season. No boat service added 4 miles round trip around the lake just to get to the trailhead. We decided to head over to Moose and get some food and see if the smoke would dissipate as the sun warmed the valley.

When we returned to Jenny Lake, the smoke had indeed cleared somewhat. So we tentatively began our hike around the lake to get to the canyon. We were both dogging it a bit, because of the lost time, additional miles and the poor lighting conditions for taking pictures. But we were both glad we did the hike even though we didn’t get as far up and into Cascade Canyon as we had hoped. And we managed to get some reasonably good pictures as the day progressed and the air cleared.

Along Jenny Lake

Hidden Falls

Inspiration Point

The crowds really thin out once you get past Inspiration (perspiration?) Point.

Once we got up there, it had cleared enough that you could see across the Lake.

Inspiration Point

Cascade Canyon Panorama

Someday, I would love to camp up there in the Teton range. Hike all the way up Cascade to the Fork and then come down Paintbrush Canyon. Maybe I can talk Daniel into it….

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2 Responses to Yellowstone-Grand Teton Day Hiking

  1. Alex says:

    ok, another task was written in life todo’s list: fly again in usa (I was there in 2010 for my honeymoon), meet coach Albert (yes, you are), go backpacking to Yellowstone with him.

    • Alex, just when I’m grumbling to myself about having to keep up with my blog posts, you inspire me to prattle on. I love the western US and would be happy to have the chance to hike it with you. Next year, I’m planning to go hut to hut hiking in Tyrol, Austria! It should be a blast.

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