Huckleberry Hot Springs
19 miles, 9 hours, 1 black bear cub, 2 moose, and 2 new friends
I think it’s safe to say the Grand Tetons have bewitched me. They awed me then and they continue to have a hold on me now. I have this sneaky feeling that our paths will cross many more times.
Today’s hike was the highlight of our time in the Tetons. Just thinking about it slaps a silly grin on my face. We planned to hike the Paintbrush Canyon – Cascade Canyon loop in one day, but after a late start, we ended up hiking up through Paintbrush Canyon and the snow-covered Paintbrush Divide (in August!) at 10,720 feet and then back. I swear my smile must’ve been detectable from space.
The hike begins by String Lake and immediately begins a steep ascent through lush forest, switchbacks through dense bushes and boulders, into the canyon, across fields of boulders, along gushing rivers and falls with water clear as glass, past Holly Lake, and up and up and up until you’re sitting on top of the world. Higher up in the canyon, you could hear enormous boulders breaking off and tumbling down the sheer mountain faces. I loved the thrill of pushing my body so hard and for so long for hours of switchbacks and thin air. How can this world be so breathtaking and vast?! No matter how much we evolve as humans, or how cizilized we get, our hearts cannot ignore the beauty of the mountains; A rock can bring us to our knees and set our hearts ablaze.
At the beginning of the hike, we passed a black bear cub, happily munching on a huckleberry bush and extremely disinterested in our attempts to scatter it. Not wanting to cross paths with mama bear, we kept on. On our descent I came around a hairpin turn and almost ran smack into a moose’s butt. A quick back track and an attempt to bushwhack around it, had us back on the trail waiting for the moose to move. Holy cow are they massive! Our group of two turned to four as we were waiting and we all hiked down the last couple hours once the moose moved. We came upon another moose blocking the path a while later and one of the guys tried blowing his whistle to move the moose along. If you’ve never been death-stared by a moose, well lucky you I guess. Mr. Moose was not pleased and took his sweet time moving.
We made it back to the car as the sun was near setting and all piled into the car to Jackson for a burger and ice cream feast. Best Day Ever! Best Day Ever!
More info here.
Gear, Cooking and Sleeping
On the Trail
If You Encounter a Bear
Head over to Bear Smart for much much more information on bears and bear safety.
What more can I say besides look! Just look at how incredibly beautiful and rugged and impressive this place is and I dare you not to go all starry eyed. As I mentioned before, my chest cough was at an all time high while we were in the Tetons and I was not feeling my best. We spent the morning relaxing at camp and on Signal Mountain and didn’t start this hike until 2 or 3pm. Our plan was to just hike in and out about 4 hours. It was absolutely breathtaking and I guess I’ll just have to come back and hike the whole trail. Maybe a couple times
The Death Canyon trailhead starts by the White Grass Ranger Station and Phelps Lake. If you’re coming from Jackson, drive north 12 miles; turn left on Teton Park Rd. After .7 miles, turn left on Moose Wilson Rd. After 3.1 miles, turn right on Whitegrass Ranch Rd. Keep left after .7 mile and park at .9 miles.
Create a 24-mile loop from Death Canyon Trailhead by heading up Open Canyon Trail, over Mount Hunt Divide, up Granite Canyon to Marion Lake, over Fox Creek Pass and back down Death Canyon.
Create a 25 mile loop from Death Canyon Trailhead by heading up Death Canyon Trail to Fox Creek Pass, north over Death Canyon Shelf, through Alaska Basin, then back over Static Peak Divide, and returning to the Death Canyon Trailhead.
The two hikes above are strenuos but oh so rewarding and you will have the trail to yourself. They can be made into sun-up-sun-down dayhikes with fast paced hikers or two day hikes. Make sure you plan ahead if you want to camp in the back country. Check out the information here regarding obtaining permits.
Alternatively you can create an in-and-out day hike to Static Peak divide and back.
We stayed at Headwaters Campground at Flagg Ranch on the northern border of Grand Teton National Park. We chose it for it’s proximity to both Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, allowing us to be flexible with our schedule and return to Yellowstone if desired. There’s tent camping, RV camping and log cabins and primitive log cabins available here. And there’s a lodge! If you didn’t know, the Tetons can be particularly moody and it was wonderful to take refuge by the warm fire and sip cappuccinos and read my book when the heavens were pouring down.
One such time, it rained so much that our campsite flooded! Thank goodness our Big Agnes tent has a high wall before the mesh starts and saved our sleeping bags from drowning…again. And thank goodness our neighbors had an extra tent handy and let us join them in their non-flooded campsite. They’re a cheery father and son duo and from day one I was already sad to part ways. On that note, we met some really wonderful people in the Tetons and at our campground. So many memories of lovely conversations and shared meals and stories from the road and trail that I’ll cherish forever.
Headwaters offered plenty of ranger lessons and campfire talks. Like always, I urge you to go! We attended a bear safety talk on our first night that delved into the differences between Grizzly and Black Bear protocol. I left feeling half empowered with knowledge and at ease and half terrified and ready to run. I’m putting together a bear safety post that I hope to post in the next few weeks. (Because I’m a regular bear (ahem cow) expert don’t you know).
See & Do
Honestly you can NOT go wrong in the Tetons. Every. single. bit. of. it. is. stunning! Here are my top 5 musts:
The Tetons are known to have some serious afternoon thunderstorms. Start your hikes early and plan accordingly so you’re not at the summit / above the tree line in the afternoon.
This time of year (August), the mama bears and babies can be seen on the roadside. They are trying to get away from the males who want to mate and will kill the cubs to do so. You can spot them int the early morning hours and at dusk. A side note: follow the speed limit folks! The roads are winding and the leading cause of death for these majestic beasts are car crashes.
Today’s morning wake up was cold cold cold. I loved getting up at 6 am with the sun when we were in the Badlands, but since then our campsites have been shaded and mornings are freezing. It’s 30 degrees outside, but I’m toasty in my new Shopko sweats. Useful and stylish Yeahh. (No no, just useful).
On the agenda today was exploring the Great Loop Road (also known as the Rim Road). Sights along the way were Mammoth Hot Springs, Tower Falls, Dunraven Pass, Norris Geyser Basin, Steamboat Geyser, Monument Geyser Basin, Lower Geyser Basin, Fountain Paint Pot, Upper Geyser Basin, Old Faithful, and Yellowstone Lake. We even made a quick pit stop to boop Montana. Running around and ogling all the geothermal activity felt like I was back in high school science class. The sights on the Rim Road are beautiful and interesting and must sees, but they’re also crowded and you lose that in-the-middle-of-nature feeling. Old Faithful embodied that most of all, with hundreds of people crowding around it on the man-made boardwalks and benches, eating ice cream and snacks from the lodge only yards away. How beautiful and amazing these geothermal sights are, but we felt a little like we were in a zoo. On our way home we pulled over and sat on the shores of Yellowstone Lake for a while, splashing in the still waters and reflecting on our day. Back to camp to unwind!
Quick tip: the hot springs let off poisonous gases. Don’t spend hours camped out at one and if you start feeling faint or dizzy, retreat back to fresh air or your car and move on. In the winter, animals such as the Buffalo, hang out by the hot springs for warmth and have died if they linger too long.
The Grand Canyon is a must for your visit to Yellowstone. It is a magnificent sight to behold, with gushing waterfalls, red-hued soil and rocky sloping cliffs. The viewpoint names say it all: Inspiration Point, Artist Point, Point of Sublime. Although a lot of the lookouts are accessible from the road, it is much more rewarding to get out on the trail and away from the crowds. As I mentioned in my Yellowstone guide, the crowds here are frustrating. Yellowstone is the most visited U.S. destination after all. More than NYC! Thankfully (but also sadly), most visitors to the Park do not venture away from the loop road, geysir boardwalks and air conditioned cars, leaving the trails nearly empty. We only saw one couple on our hike. How wonderful to have this slice of heaven to ourselves for the day!
We explored the northern rim of the Grand Canyon via the Seven Mile Hole trail. Starting at the Glacial Boulder trailhead, this hike combines all the best aspects of Yellowstone. You begin at the northern rim with stunning views of the canyon below before descending through pine forests and passing by meadows. This is prime Grizzly viewing area so keep your eyes peeled. (And your bear spray ready). Next the trail makes its way back to the canyon wall and descends 1,690 feet to the river past geothermal activity and hot springs. This hike is roughly 10 miles roundtrip and moderate to strenuous. You can make it a day trip or extend it into an overnighter using one of the three backcountry campsites. Note that fires are not permitted in the backcountry, so plan meals accordingly.
We stopped to eat lunch, perched on the cliff’s edge. Watching the wind swish the trees, listening to the rapids rumbling below, and breathing in the sweet-smelling pines, I had a “This is exactly why I quit my job!” moment. Today I felt wonderfully joyous, rejuvinated, and thankful to experience the sun on my cheeks, and the peace of the evergreens.
**We later learned that due to the geothermal activity under the canyon, the cliffs are extremely unstable and have been know to collapse and calve without warning. Ahhhhhh what?? Good thing we definitely veered off the trail to peer over them and ate lunch perched on their edge. Seriously, there should be signs at the trail head! (I read them and this no biggie lifesaving fact was not mentioned). So stay on the trail by the cliff edge people!!**
The Glacial Boulder trailhead is here. Coming from Canyon Campground/Canyon Village, make a left onto Grand Loop Road. Make your first left onto North Rim Drive. Make your first right onto an unmarked road and a minute or so down the road you will see a very large upright boulder on the left. This boulder marks the trailhead as well as a bulletin board with notices and information. You will most likely see cars parked on the side of the road too.
Wyoming has been the most beautiful state thus far. Today we spent 11 hours in the car on our way to Yellowstone via US-16, I-90, US-16 again, WY-31, WY-30, and then I-14. Let me just say wow! We are in big sky country and I’m experiencing a vastness I never have before. There is nothing to block your view and the eye stretches so far here. So much so that you can see whole weather fronts pass through and the exact line where they start and end.
We’re all giddy as we pass into the Yellowstone borders and are soon met by a Buffalo traffic jam! They are majestic beasts, larger than I ever imagined and very fluid-like in their movements. I also am overly entertained at how they appear to be wearing furry pants on their front legs.
We are staying at Canyon Campground, in the north eastern quadrant of Yellowstone. We chose this site to be close to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, the Grand Loop Road, Yellowstone Lake, and Mammoth Hot Springs. Note that the campsite is at 8,000 feet above sea level and we felt it! Give yourself time to adjust when planning out hikes. We, for example, planned to drive the Grand Loop Road for our first full day, giving ourselves time to adjust before our day hike.
Hallelujah we have water! You forget how much of a luxury it is to have access to drinking water, sinks and flushing toilets. And the best part is…we have showers!! Happy dancing going on over here. The showers are attached to the check-in office/ranger station and you are given tokens to use them when you check in to your campsite. Two showers per day. We had three people so we pooled out tokens for the three nights and each had two showers. Either way, if you feel so inclined to shower two times a day or maybe you slip and fall in mud on your walk back from your shower and need another one, you may pay for extra showers.
See & Do
Well all of it duh! But since you most likely are only here for a couple of days I would say these are your top 5 musts
For more information on a Grand Canyon hike, the Grand Loop Road, the geysers and the hot springs, check back next Monday and Wednesday!
It is cold here at night. We’re here the last week of July/first week of August and the nights are 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Our pajamas weren’t cutting it and we stopped somewhere off I-90 to buy matching sweatsuits…yes matching and yes we acted out a lot of 90s boy band dance moves in them. Judge away.
Go to the Ranger talks! We went to one and learned that the Magma below Yellowstone is 2 to 7 miles below the surface. In the rest of the world, magma is usually 25 to 50 miles below the surface. We learned that Yellowstone is home to over 50% of the world’s geysers. We learned that scientists have only discovered 3% of microorganisms in the park. To put this in perspective of what is yet to be discovered and harnessed; Yellowstone is where scientists discovered the enzyme to replicate DNA. And last but not least, we learned to not veer from the path when hiking by the canyon. (This is very important information we could have used a day prior! Read next Monday’s post to see why).
You will want to buy everything in the Canyon Village market/gift shop. Or at least I did. Beautiful ceramic mugs and coffee table books and locally made jams and jerky and beers and goodies. Plan your budget and suitcase accordingly.
Every day around 5:00pm you will encounter Buffalo traffic jams on the road through Hayden valley. It’s both awesome and annoying. Also keep your eyes peeled when driving through this valley for bear and wolf sightings. Lamar Valley is great for wildlife spottings too.