There’s no shortage of things to see and do at Yellowstone Park. Between geocaches, benchmarks, passport stamps, Kodak moments and the occasional geodash point, there’s enough to keep us busy for weeks. That’s why we keep going back. This hike on the north rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is one of the more strenuous undertakings in the park but it’s worth it.
The first white explorer to see the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was Charles Cook in 1869. The canyon runs for 20 miles southwest to northeast starting at the Lower Yellowstone Falls. Along the way, it averages 4,000 feet wide and 1,200 feet deep. The North Rim Road runs along its edge.
A National Park Service photo. On Uncle Tom’s Trail circa 1900. The original trail was built by “Uncle” Tom Richardson, a local rancher, in 1898. It bore little resemblance to today’s route. He led his clients down a series of ropes and ramshackle bridges all the way to the bottom of the canyon and the base of Lower Yellowstone Falls. Lunch was provided.
One of the canyon’s most distinctive features is the layers of multi-colored rock that line the walls. This entire chasm was once a geyser basin that was covered with glaciers. The constant battle between Ice Age cold and volcanic heat produced physical and chemical changes in the rock that aren’t seen anywhere else. When the glaciers retreated, catastrophic flooding and erosion occurred, creating the canyon. One of the dominant colors in the rock is yellow, hence the name Yellowstone.
A great shot taken from an overlook further along the south rim. See the yellow stone right up front? The canyon walls are lined with it.
The original route is long gone, replaced by a series of paved switchbacks cut into the slope. When the switchbacks run out, there are 328 metal grate steps bolted into the rock face of the canyon wall. They take you straight down to an overlook at the base of the falls. The modern route doesn’t go as far down as the original, but it’s close.
KidsRN at the trailhead. She’s not looking too excited about this.
The hike is about 1/2 mile one way. The elevation at the top is 8,000 feet and in that 1/2 mile, you’ll go down to 7,500 feet. Almost half of that 500 foot vertical drop is in the 328 metal steps mentioned earlier. If you have heart, lung or joint problems or if you have issues with heights and ledges, this probably isn’t the hike for you. If you go, wear decent shoes – no heels, bare feet or flip flops – and make sure you’ve got plenty of water. It will probably take two hours round trip but about halfway up, it seems like forever. The overlooks on top of the canyon rim are crowded but there’s not a lot of people on this trek. It’s a bit off the beaten path and a lot who start turn around. You’ll see fewer and fewer people as you approach the bottom.
Here they are. There’s plenty of room for three people to pass and lots of landings with benches. The grated steel is not made for high heels, flip flops or bare feet. If you go in the morning, watch for ice, even in the summer. The trail is closed in the winter and may close periodically anytime for storms, rain and ice.
There are four virtual geocaches in close proximity to the parking area, several benchmarks and numerous overlooks. You can park and walk to several at a time but will have to drive between jump off points as there are finds on both sides of the canyon. It makes for a good day’s outing. Cell phone coverage here is lousy, so plan on using a GPS instead of a smart phone app. You can try pre-loading the caches into the phone and utilizing its internal GPS but we haven’t had much luck with that. Smart phone GPS is never as good as a dedicated device.
Us at the bottom. There’s no virtual geocache here. We thought there was but our GPS led us astray. Actually, it’s our own fault. The cache we were looking for, called “Spectacular Yellowstone Falls”, stated very clearly in the description that you do not have to go to the bottom of Uncle Tom’s Trail except we didn’t read it. But we would have done the hike anyway. Now comes the fun part – going back up.
This link will open a Google map of the immediate area.
This link will open the “Spectacular Yellowstone Falls” page on geocaching (dot) com.
Have fun with this one. We did. (:-D) The Cachemanian Devils