2022 – Yellowstone

Leading Up to the Trip

For this trip, we once again flew to Salt Lake City Utah, and then drove a rental car to a tourist trap of a town called West Yellowstone. After a long day of travel, we checked into our cheap motel, had dinner at a joint called the Slippery Otter, and went to bed. This town only takes about 5 minutes to drive through, but it is jam packed with hotels, motels, and themed restaurants. I swear every restaurant has a bison burger on the menu.

After our travel day, we had 1 full day to do some actual touristy stuff. We had 3 major goals on this day. We wanted to see the Yellowstone Grand Canyon, Old Faithful, and we had to check in with Yellowstone Rangers ahead of our backpacking trip. We started by targeting Old Faithful. On the drive over we stopped at numerous hot springs, geysers, and mudpots. It was pretty spectacular to unnatural shades of water, mud bubbling from the constant release of gas within the earth, and geysers shooting off in the distance like sprinklers; even if it all stank of sulfur!

Finally, we made it to Old Faithful. After parking the car and starting to walk over to the main attraction, we realized that there were crowds of people walking away. We missed the most recent eruption by just 5 minutes. This meant that we would have to wait about 90 minutes for the next eruption. This was a problem because one of my Dad’s greatest struggles in life is any sort of waiting. He immediately insisted that we get back to our car and drive to go see the Yellowstone Grand Canyon. He said that we would come back to Old Faithful later. I did not want to leave because I had a pretty strong feeling that if we left Old Faithful without seeing the eruption, we would never end up coming back. We got in the car and started driving down the road, and then my Dad had a change of heart. We turned around and headed back. We went into the nearest tourist trap to kill some time and ended up getting some ice cream. I got Huckleberry and my Dad got a scoop of Coconut that he says is some of the best ice cream he’s ever tasted! Huckleberries seem to be a fruit native to Yellowstone park, so you’ll see many places advertising Huckleberry flavored dishes. At long last Old Faithful erupted and we had front row seats. I feel like a lot of times in life it can be hard for something like Old Faithful to live up to expectations after hearing about it all my life, but she turned out to be amazing! Old Faithful blasts hundreds of feet into the air and it lasted a lot longer than I expected. I figured the thing was only a few seconds, but it actually erupts for a few minutes. I was close enough to really see the incredible amount of force that pushed the boiling water out of the earth.

Side note. Other landmarks that lived up to the hype: The St. Louis Arch, the Sear’s Tower, Devils Tower, the Great Bass Pro Pyramid of Memphis, Graceland, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Grand Canyon.

When Old Faithful finished doing her thing, we hopped back in the rental and drove straight over to the Yellowstone Grand Canyon. It was about a 45 minute drive. The hike down to the overlook was short but very steep! There were also a lot of other people there to take in the view. The overlook is situated on the very precipice of a waterfall. You get the most incredible view of the Yellowstone river pouring over the edge of a cliff and proceeding down into the Canyon. I had never even heard of the Yellowstone Grand Canyon, so this was a great surprise for me! It was gorgeous! We spent some time soaking in the views, snapping pics, and even went to a different trail to get another angle. Then we headed back to West Yellowstone to go check in with the Rangers.

The main reason we were required to check in with the Ranger was because of the danger of Bears on this trip. Yellowstone national park is Grizzly Bear country. The rangers want to make sure that anyone going out into the backcountry is adequately prepared. They even made us watch an information movie about being prepared for Bears. The rangers were super nice and friendly and they seemed to loosen up a bit when it became clear that we weren’t complete novices. They told us some funny stories about how naive some of the visitors in the park are. Apparently, they’ve had people ask what time and where are the animals rounded up at the end of the day. This was in reference to wild animals like bison, elk, and bears. They basically thought it was a zoo! Anyway, the Rangers gave us our proper approval and we were all set for our trip. This was the first hint that this backpacking trip was going to be fairly remote because most trails don’t have such an in depth approval process. With this being our last major goal for the day, we headed back to our motel and did some last minute packing.

Day 1 – Black Butte Trailhead to Upper Daily Creek Campsite

Something truly incredible happened before we even kicked off this backpacking trip. The plan was to simply back up our stuff and drive to the trailhead so we could get started with our hike. I had woken up and I was heading out to our car to throw my backpacking gear into it. There was another guy parked right next to us who was out and getting ready for his own excursion. At first I paid him no mind, but after taking a closer look I realized it was a family friend! Tyler Venchus! I first met Tyler about 15 years earlier when I walked down the street to a bus stop to meet him there and walk him back to my house for his first day in my Mom’s daycare. Tyler’s little brother Chandler also attended the daycare. This was the start of the Venchus family becoming very close family friends. Tyler also happens to be the same age as my sister Annelise and Chandler is the same age as my little brother Hayden. They all grew up in school together and competing on the same sports teams. My Dad even coached with Terry Venchus who was Tyler and Chandler’s Dad. Outside of school, sports, and daycare, the Venchuses would come over for bonfires and we’d all go fishing together sometimes. Suffice to say, I was totally shocked to look over that morning and see Tyler Venchus parked right next to us in the town of West Yellowstone. After the initial reunion, we all went out to grab breakfast together at a local diner. The whole time we traded stories about our respective trips. Tyler was on quiet the adventure of driving through the whole state of Montana and fishing every piece of water along the way! At night he had a shelter that popped up on top of his car that he would sleep in. He had been on the road for weeks, and had only come out of the wilderness because he was dealing with some car troubles. We briefly considered bringing him along with us on our trip, but quickly realized it wouldn’t be practical for various reasons. Plus, he still had his own adventure to tackle! When breakfast was wrapped up, we said our goodbyes and well wishes to Tyler and we hit the road for the trailhead. We were going to have a late start on this day, but it was totally worth it to catch up and hear some rad stories from an old friend.

The road to the trail followed the Gallatin River through a valley as mountain ranges appeared on both sides. We would be hiking up the North East range which now loomed above us. We parked our car at the the trailhead parking area and met a couple who was also getting ready to start their own trip. They were very friendly and let us know that they would be camping near us at Shelf Lake on Day 2. They planned on finishing their trip at the Specimen Creek trailhead a bit further down the road, so we followed them so they could drop their car off and then gave them a ride back to the start.

At 11:36am we finally started hiking! This is a pretty late start for us because we kept getting sidetracked! This wasn’t much of an issue though because this first hike was a relatively easy 6 miles. The trailhead was at the very bottom of the valley just beside the river. This meant that the trail kicked up pretty much as soon as we started hiking. The climb was a steady easy grade and the path was clear of debris making it easy to traverse. As a result we made steady progress. Along the way we met some day hikers on their way back to the road who warned us that a moose was just ahead of us! We made sure to be as quiet as possible so that we hopefully wouldn’t spook the Moose.

The trail at this point was following the Black Butte Creek. There were groves of trees and also flower filled meadows adjacent to the creek. Eventually we reached a meadow and on the far side we spotted the Moose just hanging out and grazing on the luscious grass! She was a beautiful cow and my Dad was able to snap a perfect picture with his expensive camera. My favorite thing about that picture is the absurdly humanlike eyelashes on the Moose! The couple we met at the trailhead had caught up with us here and mentioned that it must be fairly young due to its size. Soon after spotting the Moose, the trail split in 2 directions. Our friends were headed towards the nearby Black Butte campsite and we still had to hike a few more miles in the other direction to the Upper Daily Creek Campsite. We said goodbye and see ya tomorrow at the Shelf Lake camp!

After the trail split, we had one last climb before coming through to a meadow where we got our first view of the countryside! It was gorgeous! We took some time here to snap pictures and take videos. One downside to this trip was the bugs. They were thick! This was the year that Yellowstone had huge floods in a different part of the park. My Dad theorized that the increase in rain led to more bugs than usual. As we hiked, we seemed to slowly accumulate more and more houseflies buzzing about us. Eventually we reached our camp at Upper Daily Creek.

The camp was located in a meadow clearing surrounded by the forest. We quickly set up camp and had a few ours to hangout and enjoy our campsite. That night we watched a movie together on my Dad’s phone. He had downloaded a bunch of movies and had portable batteries with him in the event of his phone dying. Also, phone battery seems to last significantly longer when it’s put in airplane mode. We watched movies in the tent at night throughout the whole trip. The first one we watched was called “The Guns of Navarone.” An epic WWII movie from the 1960’s. We also watched the Terminator remake from the 2010s that greatly surpassed my expectations!

Day 2 – Skyrim Trail from Upper Daily Creek Campsite to Shelf Lake Campsite

This was the biggest hike of the trip and we knew it was going to be a tough day. This day we were hiking a route called the Sky Rim Trail. This route earned this name because the trail follows a mountain ridge the whole way. I have to admit that I vastly underestimated this hike. For some reason in my head, I sort of thought there would be a lot of climbing hiking up to the ridge, but once you were up there it would level off. This could not be further from the truth! The ridge is constantly rolling up and down over each success mountain peak. Duh! We gained the most elevation going from our campsite to the Sky Rim Trail. In just 2.5 miles we had gained about 1500 ft of elevation, but it was at a reasonable grade. We were able to keep a steady pace. The steep climbs on the mountain ridge were shorter, but they get your heart rate pumping! This is what can really slow you down on a trip like this. We had to take a lot of breaks to recover from these steep climbs.

We had to hike for about a mile or two to get to the ridge where we would start following the Sky Rim Trail (SRT). As soon as we reached the SRT, we were treated with incredible views! We took a long break to take a bunch of pictures. This was a bit of an overreaction because we would be looking at this view pretty consistently for the next 8 hours. Plus each successive peak seemed to climb a little bit higher meaning we had better pictures as we continued.

We never truly climbed above the tree line, but the trees were quite sparse on the ridge. Also, the trail was clear and easy to hike outside of the steep grades. At one point we even found a large buck grazing. He stared us down for a few minutes before finally scampering off as we walked closer.

Day 3 – Shelf Lake Campsite to High Lake Campsite

Day 4 – High Lake Campsite to Specimen Creek Campsite

Day 5 – Specimen Creek Campsite to Black Butte Trailhead