CDT Thru Hike: Yellowstone National Park

A few weeks ago we celebrated two trail milestones, we reached Yellowstone National Park and while we were there we crossed the state line into Wyoming. We entered the park by way of a beautiful ridge trail. This trail was one of my favorites so far, and luckily for us we had great weather for most of it.

We followed this ridge for miles

At the Yellowstone border, we turned on to the sky rim trail, a rocky ledge that wound around the side of a mountain. This particular trail was intimidating (for me at least) to look at, but not too bad once we were on it. Shortly before reaching this trail we were hit with another storm that required us to drop down off the ridge to take cover in the trees below, but thankfully it passed quickly and we had clear skies for this bit.

Our first few days in the park were pretty low key. We were solidly in the backcountry and therefore didn’t see many people. Running into clean hikers, people who are out for a day hike or maybe a weekend, is one of the most reliable map-free ways you know as a thru hiker that you’re getting closer to a trailhead. Catching a whiff of soap or detergent when you pass someone on trail is almost a promise of town food within a day or two, and a sure way to put a little extra energy into your hiking.

Heading down after racing this storm over a pass

This was certainly the case as we neared Mammoth Hot Springs, where we spent an afternoon walking around checking out the sights. I should mention here, we didn’t stick to the official CDT route through Yellowstone. We opted instead to take a longer a route that brought us to more things we wanted to see along the way. It seems we weren’t the only ones with that idea, as we ran into quite a few other thru hikers along the way.

Drying out our gear in Mammoth after a rainy night

From Mammoth, our route took us past the grand canyon of Yellowstone. We took all the scenic outlook trails along the way, adding a decent amount of mileage to an already long day, but so many good views.

The day after we left the canyon area we entered one of our favorite areas of the park, the central plateau. Not only did the trail through this area look vastly different than everywhere we’d hiked so far, it also brought us by large herds of bison. Once we were far enough along the trail that we were past where most day hikers turn around, there were bison nearly everywhere you looked. A few times we had to get off trail and trudge through some marshy low areas to keep enough distance from bison lounging by the trail.

They didn’t seem to mind us at all though, several times they passed us rather closely on trail or while we were taking a break in the grass. It was incredible to be so close to such gentle giants, so far removed from the busy roads and crowds of people. The trail we took across the central plateau is long and doesn’t have any backcountry camping along the way, so it’s a trail most people won’t even attempt outside of a thru hike. Knowing how few people cross through there and have this experience made it so much more special.

Can you spot the bison?

From the central plateau we made our way to Old Faithful Village, taking as many scenic trails and boardwalks as we could along the way. The number of people was overwhelming, Matt described it as feeling like the trail was sending us through Disney World. The CDT goes through the village anyway though, and we had a box waiting for us at the post office.

Our timing couldn’t have been better, we arrived just in time to watch Old Faithful erupt as we passed by. However, there was quite a crowd around for that eruption, so we didn’t hang around long. The better eruption was later that night when it happened to go off as we were out late, laying on the ground watching the meteor shower with only a handful of other people around.

The final spot we hit up on our way through the park was a spring called Mr Bubbles. This spring is constantly bubbling and quite hot at the center, but because of it’s location directly beside a river it’s one of the few springs in the park in which you can soak. There’s a sweet spot where the river water mixes with the spring water, creating a perfect soaking temperature. Though we arrived shortly before dark when we would usually be setting up camp and getting ready for bed, we accepted a later night in favor of jumping in the spring while we had it to ourselves. It’s not every day you get to relieve your sore, tired muscles in a backcountry hot spring while watching the tail end of a meteor shower above you.

Mr Bubbles hot spring

The rest of the hike out of the park the following day was mostly uneventful. For quite a few miles we followed a river with several waterfalls and smaller thermal features. A few miles from the park border we passed by the biggest live moose I’ve ever seen. It was just standing by the trail but retreated back into the woods before I could get a picture.

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