Thoughts on the ocean, the environment, the universe and everything from nearly a mile high.

Panorama of The Grand Tetons From the top of Table Mountain, Wyoming © Alan Holyoak, 2011

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Backpacking in Yellowstone National Park - Bechler Region

I hike and I like to camp, well, except for the sleeping part, but I've never been backpacking...until this summer.  

Some friends and I went backpacking for three days and two nights in the back country of the Bechler Region of Yellowstone National Park (the SW corner of the park).  This area is accessed by taking Cave Falls Road east from Idaho State Highway 47.  Stay on Cave Falls Road until you see the sign on the north side of the road to the Bechler Ranger Station.  BTW, you need to pay either $25 for a one-time YNP pass or $50 for an annual pass to park there and enter the park. You are also required to view a back country safety video before you will be issued a camping permit.  

We stayed at different camp sites each night.  On Day 1 we hiked 10 miles in to campsite 9B6, and on Day 2 we hiked two more miles toward Three River Junction to camp site 9B8.

Here is our crew in a "before" shot, mid-morning on the first day.  See how clean and chipper we look?

So, Day 1 we covered 10 miles.  When/if you start to feel "hot spots" on your feet STOP!  I learned this the hard way...I waited too long, and proto-blisters became the real thing.  Sadly, I was one of the two people who got blisters mid way through the first day.  I haven't had blisters in I don't know how long!  I don't even get blisters while running a half-marathon...sheesh!

I think that I got blisters because of my shoes, either that or a slightly modified gait due to a knee injury (ACL) I had this Spring.  I did everything you are supposed to...wear broken in reliable shoes and wicking socks, stop and check feet when "hot spots" show up, and apply moleskin as needed, but no matter what I tried blisters happened.   Enough of that...for now.

A few miles into Day 1 we crossed Boundary Creek.  There's a nice suspension bridge over that muddy creek.  Make sure you take it easy as you cross, one person at a time, and step in the middle of the planks as you go over.  If it weren't for this bridge we would have been muddy at least from the knees down, and that's not really what anyone wants when you are not even halfway through a 10-mile day.

Once over the bridge we pushed on, toward Bechler Meadow.

Bechler Meadow (see below) is huge.  I hoped/expected to see moose or elk or deer there, but all we saw was meadow, meadow, and more meadow, oh, and trees, hills, and mountains in the distance.

The Tetons were visible to the south.  Beautiful!

We had only one river crossing on Day 1.  It was at the north end of Bechler Meadow.  Here we are changing into water shoes/sandals before crossing (below). Lightweight pants with zippers at the knees so the bottom half of the pant legs can removed were a good investment.  

Once across we took a break, relaxed, filled our water bottles, and had some lunch.

Pretty soon we entered for forest for good as we moved toward the mouth of Bechler Canyon (below).  The shade was a welcome change.  

We heard that the mosquitoes can be thick from the ranger station through Bechler Meadow, but, thank the Maker, we saw/heard very few of them.  

This hillside marks the mouth of Bechler Canyon.

The rest of  Day 1 we hiked up  beautiful Bechler Canyon (below).

Here are a couple of must-see waterfalls on this trail.  The first major one is Collonade Falls (below). 

A few miles farther up the canyon is Iris Falls.  You have to hike off of the main trail a hundred yards (meters) or so to an overlook to see it, otherwise you'll walk right by.  Watch for a sign on the left side of the trail.  Don't skip it!  Go and see it, after all, why are you in the park, anyway?

Here's the crew, still grinning while at Collonade Falls.

We saw lots of berries as we moved farther up the valley.  We ate wild blackberries and huckleberries too!  This is the sort of place I imagine you could see bears, but I guess we were making such a racket that if they were in the neighborhood they hot footed it out of there.  Come to think of it, we didn't see any wildlife larger than birds the entire trip.  That was kind of a let-down, but IMO that's better than having run-ins with bears.

Here's one of the huckleberry patches. 

The photo below shows campsite 9B6 where we hoisted a bear bag containing all of our food, toothpaste, deodorant, and other things that might bring in bears.  The bear bag was well off of the ground so bears can't get to them.

Bear bags MUST be used.  In fact, park rangers come by regularly to check and make sure everyone is following good back country bear procedures.  The rangers' main job is to keep the visitors, the park, and the wildlife safe.

The photo below shows the right-hand support of the bear bag hoist.  The marks are where a black bear(s) climbed the pole to try to get to bear bags.  This didn't happen while we were there, but bears had obviously been there in the past!  

Even in the middle of summer, nights can be COLD in Yellowstone.  I found that out the hard way.  I don't care for mummy style bags, but I should have brought mine...instead I opted for a bag that wasn't rated as cold...brr...I froze that first night, even with a knit hat.  

Luckily, dawn always follows even the darkest night, and a fire and a bite of hot breakfast helped me gather myself for the day.

We broke camp and hiked another two miles to 9B8 - our second camp site.  This short hike required two river crossings.  

Here's the bear bag hoist at camp site 9B8.

On an aside, it's imperative that you have one or two good water filters (below) when you go backpacking, because water is HEAVY and you want to carry as little as possible.    

Day 2 was used mainly to take a day hike to see some waterfalls and a hot pool.  My feet were in so much pain from Day 1's blisters that after about 100 yards of the day-hike I turned around and went back to camp where I put my feet up.  That was, I believe, the only way I was going to have a prayer of hiking the 12 miles back out the next day.

After the group returned some of them took advantage of a fantastic way to cool off.  The water was actually warmer here than it was father downstream because of hot/warm springs at several spots along the river.  It wasn't "warm" but it wasn't frigid either.  

Night 2 went much better for me than Night 1 for two reasons:  1) I wore ALL the clothes I had with me to bed...pants, shirt, sweatshirt, socks, knit hat, etc., so I wasn't as cold as I was on Night 1, that's not to say that I was warm, I was just not AS cold; and 2) I knew that the next day we would head home. Yeah!

The morning of Day 3 I checked my blisters...installed new mole skin around each one, laced up my shoes, bucked up my faith and courage, and set off...with pain in every footstep.

We made it back to the ranger station 7-8 hours later, around 5pm.  We forded the river three times and covered 12 miles.  I literally kissed the ranger station sign when I saw it again!

Once I got home I removed all of the moleskin and checked out my feet.  This is what I found.  I had to cover 12 miles, step after step, on these blisters.  Luckily, if you just embrace the pain and keep going it's not all THAT bad.

I had three blisters on my left foot.  This is the blister about the size of a quarter below my second toe and another one on the little toe of my left foot...

This blister was on the side of the heel of my left foot.

My right foot had only one blister, but it was a doozy!

In retrospect, I have to say that the scenery was beautiful, the friendships good, the park was amazing, and the outing was overall an unmitigated success, but for me personally, the hike was from hell.

So, what's my impression of backpacking?  At least for now if someone asks if I want to go...I'll pass.


  1. I did the same canyon in early July of 2013. I also never get blisters. About the time we hit the suspension bridge my dogs were barking. I felt like my foot pads were tender - on the bottom in the same spots as your blisters occurred. I decided to change socks from wool to a moisture wicking sock and walked about 30 yards with each step feeling like I was walking on sandpaper. The moisture wicking socks were a little rougher than the wool socks I was wearing. Luckily we had to stop and change to water shoes here as it was still much wetter in the meadow. The cool and muddy water refreshed my feet and when it was time to change shoes, I covered the area with duct tape before going back to the wool socks. I think the main reason for the irritation was that I was wearing trail running shoes and carrying that pack. The added weight put extra pressure on the pads of my feet and the trail runners did not help to displace the weight as well as a boot would have.

    1. Hi Jeff --

      Thanks for the insights. I think you are right.

  2. This looks like a great backpacking trip! Zion also has some great backpacking!! I have never seen or heard of bear poles, interesting. Granted I have only been on one backpacking trip, I hope many more to come since I am slowly acquiring all the gear.