National Park

Mostly I think of superlatives when I think of Yellowstone- it is the oldest National Park, among the largest (at least in the lower 48), most diverse wildlife, etc. So why isn't Yellowstone one of my favorites? I have to ponder this question myself.

As a place to visit the backcountry, Yellowstone still reigns supreme, I think. It doesn't have the magnificent mountains of Yosemite or the Tetons, but the vastness, the wildlife, and the thermal features put it in a class by itself. The most memorable backpacking trips of my life were in Yellowstone. I especially remember a trip starting at the south entrance through the Thorofare region to the Yellowstone River and returning via the south shores of Yellowstone lake and Heart Lake.

Now that I'm not as young as I used to be, I don't backpack as much and I place a higher value on the more accessible parts of the park than I used to. The simple fact is that Yellowstone is an absolute nightmare to visit by automobile. Each time I've visited in recent years, I've driven parts of the park road and have just been exhausted and frustrated by the traffic and impatient tourists. I've usually ended up spending more time in the Tetons or somewhere else nearby.

The extent of the burned area also probably has something to do with my tepid reaction to Yellowstone nowadays. It is fascinating to watch the burned areas regenerate themselves, but I also miss the vast forested areas that aren't present any more.

To be sure, I'm not writing Yellowstone off by any means. On a recent trip to Alaska, I read an article which mentioned the Thorofare region of Yellowstone. When I chose that area as a backpacking destination many years ago, I thought that it was about as far as one could get from a road in the lower 48 states. According to the article, that is still true. The Alaskans, with much of the state hundreds of miles from a road, thought it was either sad or funny that the Thorofare was the only spot in the whole lower 48 that was as much as 30 miles from a road. Alaskan comparisons aside though, a walk to the area around the Thorofare ranger station is a true wilderness trip by any standards. It takes three days of hard walking to get there and some of the river crossings are extremely difficult in all but the dryest weather. That's probably wild enough for most of us.

Visit the official site.

Favorite hike: To Heart Lake and past it to the south end of Yellowstone Lake.
Favorite place to stay: The Tetons, in Colter Bay or Jenny Lake.
Favorite place to sit for hours: Along the Firehole river.
While in the area visit: The Tetons, the Wind Rivers.
Read: Playing God in Yellowstone, by Alston Chase. More alarmist than I really agree with, but raises many excellent questions about management of the parks.

Any comments are appreciated. Send me an e-mail!

All photography and text by Bill Dummitt (all rights reserved)
Website designed by JULI
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