Camping, Hiking, Hot Springs, National Parks & Monuments, State Parks, United States, Waterfalls, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park

Falling for Yellowstone: Day 3 – Mammoth Hot Springs, Wraith Falls, Tower Falls, Dunraven Pass, & Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

October 2, 2022

The weather was not willing to play nice during this trip to Yellowstone. Upon waking up to another chilly, rainy day with precipitation forecasted throughout the day, Eric and I took to debating the day’s itinerary I had planned. Ideally, we would be heading to Dunraven Pass to summit Mount Washburn in the morning… in a perfect world. So I adjusted on the fly, deciding to do the loop backwards from intended, so we could play the weather by ear and still do the hike in the afternoon if weather held out.

We hit the road with some snacks in the belly, heading into the fog towards Norris Junction, where we’d then turn north towards Mammoth Hot Springs. First stop was Gibbon Falls for some moody morning waterfall views. Gibbon Falls drops 84 feet over the caldera rim formed from an eruption of the volcano about 631,000 years ago. Volcanoes and waterfalls… just two of my favorite things!

Berry plants are also some of my favorite things!
Geodetic survey marker at the overlook at Gibbon Falls
Gibbon Falls flowing over the caldera rim
The best view is just a short jaunt from the parking lot and upper viewpoint

The rain continued as we headed north, though it did not stop us from making quick stops at Frying Pan Springs, Nymph Lake, Clearwater Springs, Roaring Mountain, and Sheepeater Cliffs. No bad weather if you make good clothing choices!

Thermal area seen from the road
Usually you can see some spectacular mountain views at Gibbon Meadows, but alas, the clouds hid the mountains
Frying Pan Springs
Nymph Lake
Bijou Springs from the road. There’s no pullout or any sort of marker for this brilliant blue springs. Last summer I went on the hunt for it. It’s one of my secret favorites!
I love Roaring Mountain when the temps are cooler, looks so much more impressive!
A fumarole at Roaring Mountain
I had to check if the water was still brilliant green… it was!
I maintain that Clearwater Springs is best visited in cool weather!
The view from the boardwalk at Clearwater Springs
Visiting the basalt at Sheepeater Cliffs

I had hoped to squeeze in a hike to the top of Bunsen Peak on this trip, something I had not been able to do so far on my Yellowstone trips. Bunsen Peak is named for Robert Bunsen, who pioneered research into geyser systems in Iceland, and yes, invented the Bunsen burner. Sadly, the mountain was enveloped in clouds and we decided not to hike. Darn!

Bunsen Peak shrouded in clouds
Usually there is a nice view of the Gallatin Range from this viewpoint… just have to settle for some fall colors, instead.

It never seems like I am driving for long in Yellowstone before stopping at another viewpoint, hot spring, waterfall, or whatever. This is why it takes me so long to get anywhere! Luckily my traveling companion did not seem to mind, so quickly after leaving the viewpoint of the Gallatin Range and Bunsen Peak, we swung in to check out Rustic Falls.

Rustic Falls is in the Golden Gate Canyon that formed between Bunsen Peak and Terrace Mountain. Glen Creek flows over the basalt of the Huckleberry Ridge Tuff, forming the falls.
Rustic Falls
A look at the road that winds its way north through Golden Gate Canyon to Mammoth Hot Springs

After the quick stop at Rustic Falls, we descended towards Mammoth Hot Springs, taking the one-way Terrace Drive. It was dumping rain, but Eric and I scrambled out to Canary Spring (new to me!). I then jumped back into the car while Eric went to another overlook. Ugh, this weather!

We took the very short one-way detour through some of the hoodoos of Terrace Mountain. These are definitely not the hoodoos of the Bryce Canyon variety… instead they were formed by chunks of travertine falling off Terrace Mountain.
Heading out in the pouring rain to the upper terraces
Looks like an apocalyptic wasteland!
Cupid Spring
Grassy Spring
Grassy Spring
Canary Spring is amazing and I cannot believe I had not visited it prior!
Canary Spring
The colors of the travertine are from thermophilic bacteria
Orange Mound on Terrace Drive
Angel Terrace is another place that looks post-apocalyptic
A bit of color on Angel Terrace

Mammoth Hot Springs is always an absolute zoo when I have visited, but this time it was eerily quiet. With the northern entrance from Gardiner still closed due to the June flooding that wiped out the road, crowds were less as they would’ve had to come through the south. No parking hassle, no crowds chasing after elk… even got a front row parking spot at Palette Spring.

Liberty Cap
Palette Spring
Because of the rain, I shot Palette Spring with my iPhone and I really regretted not brining the Nikon
Palette Spring

We stopped for morning coffee at the general store and then headed to the Albright Visitor Center to turn into our Junior Ranger books (and learn all about biomass foam donuts from the ranger) and obtain the passport stamps.

The only bear spotted this trip, thankfully!
Freshly sworn in Junior Ranger!
Looking back at the terraces from the parking at the visitor center

Leaving Mammoth, we drove east on the Grand Loop Road, catching glimpses of the flood damage along the Gardiner River. Traffic stayed light, and the rain kept falling (although there were times it would slightly clear off). A stop at Undine Falls was definitely on the schedule, since it was one of my favorite waterfalls (therefore I will post many photos!). Undine Falls is a tiered waterfall on Lava Creek, and you guess it… it has some basalt!

Always a favorite… Undine Falls
Undine Falls with fall colors is amazing
Here, some more of Undine Falls!
Okay, I swear this is the last photo of Undine Falls

I hiked out to Wraith Falls in 2020, and was utterly disappointed in this waterfall with the late-summer flow and harsh sun. I proposed the idea to Eric that we check it out again since the hike is super short, at about one mile roundtrip. What a great idea, as it was a better view in the dampened light! The waterfall was still very light flow, but overall I enjoyed it more this go ’round.

The Wraith Falls trailhead. It is roughly a one-mile roundtrip hike to the falls and back to the small parking area.
Moody morning views
The fall colors made this hike well worth it!
Lupine Creek
Wraith Falls on Lupine Creek… much more satisfying than my initial visit back in 2020!
Closer view of Wraith Falls
Thankful I recently refreshed the DWR on my rain jacket… it was getting some solid use on this trip!
Heading back to the car

After the short jaunt to Wraith Falls I fixed up some sandwiches before we continued on our way (no photos of sandwiches, I know I know… I dropped the ball! Photographing my meals is like my trademark at this point). Blacktail Plateau Drive came up next, and we decided this one-way six-mile gravel road adventure was a must do. Though the views weren’t quite there due to the low clouds and rain, it was still lovely to get off the main road and get Fozzy all sorts of muddy. As we descended to meet the main road, I felt like scenes with dense, moss-covered trees wasn’t very Wyoming-like. I ended up not taking a lot of photos, and instead just enjoyed the drive and splashing through mud puddles.

Snow! A view from the road shortly before turning off on Blacktail Plateau Drive
The sign at the start of Blacktail Plateau Drive. I find it interesting I was driving it in the rain in October… two things that the sign says shouldn’t happen, ha!
Pavement turns to gravel!
I was all about fall colors in 2022
Interesting sign along the road… no bears spotted!
The fog thickened as we started losing elevation to rejoin the Grand Loop Road
One of the moss covered trails on Blacktail Plateau Drive that didn’t seem very Wyoming-like

During my previous two visits Dunraven Pass was closed for construction, so the next stretch of road would be brand new to me with new sights, new basalt, and a new waterfall! After swinging by to discovered at the Tower Ranger Station was closed, we turned south to head up Dunraven. All I can say after driving the road twice on this trip is that this road is WELL WORTH IT! The views are downright gorgeous!

Calcite Springs Overlook was our first stop. A short, quarter-mile long boardwalk leads you around various viewpoints. Calcite Springs is a colorful thermal area along the Yellowstone River, and sometimes molten sulphur comes to the surface here (it is an area closed to the public). And, as a bonus, the canyon walls opposite the boardwalk is a layer of basalt columns.

Calcite Springs… wow!
Closer look at Calcite Springs. Entry to this thermal area is forbidden.
Look at these rocks… these rocks!!!
Not only is there basalt, there is these interesting rock formations with a bright blue layer
Another look at the basalt layer above the Yellowstone River
Looking south down the Yellowstone River
Double basalt layers

We were not on the road long before we pulled over for another view of the Yellowstone River… and the most amazing basalt I have ever found in Wyoming! Overhanging Cliff is just wow, and I quickly crossed the road to get up close and personal with this amazing basalt.

The views of the Yellowstone River just kept coming as we worked our way south
Looking up at Overhanging Cliff
Hands down the best basalt I’ve seen outside of Iceland!

Tower Falls is one of the more popular sights on the Dunraven Pass, judging by the gift shop (closed for the season) and large parking lot (apparently newly built during the recent construction). Back in the day there was a trail that lead down to the base of the falls, but sadly it has been closed so the most we could do was journey out to the overlook. The 132-foot waterfall on Tower Creek is flanked by large… wait for it… towers – volcanic pinnacles. Honestly, this ended up being a very quick stop for us… walk out, snap a photo, leave. (I do want to note the trail you see leaving the overlook does not go down to the falls nor provides a better view, it just goes to where Tower Creek flows into the Yellowstone River.)

Tower Falls

Now it was decision time. The sun was coming out a bit and weather seemed to be holding out. We stopped at an overlooked and watched some clouds roll in, but as we drove up towards Chittenden Road, the starting points of one of two ways up Mount Washburn, things cleared off again. Up Chittenden Road we went!

Looking towards Mount Washburn

The parking lot at the end of Chittenden Road offers expansive views, and was worth the trip alone. We read the trail signs and I took advantage of the very clean restroom while we debated hiking. Finally, Eric and I decided we should hike up Mount Washburn the next day when there was less of a forecast of rain. This would also give us a chance to check out the other trailhead at Dunraven Pass, and debate which route we would take up the mountain. (There are two trails to the summit of Mount Washburn – the Mount Washburn Trail that leaves from Dunraven Pass, and Chittenden Road. Chittenden Road is the shorter route, but is a bit steeper.)

Views of a new growth forest from the parking lot on Chittenden Road
Blustery views
Some great waterfalls were spotted as we crested Dunraven Pass (they were dried up the next day).

The final big destination of the day, which is indeed big, was the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone area. We first headed to the visitor center for passport stamps and to visit the volcanic exhibit. In Canyon Village there is a lot of infrastructure, so we popped into the general store to replenish some snacks (the bag of huckleberry popcorn did not last long once we opened it) and I grabbed some my favorite regional beers to try. I decided we would explore the south rim of the Grand Canyon first, stopping at Upper Falls and Artists Point.

Great display of all the waterfalls in Yellowstone! I have to get to Bechler Meadows sometime to see all of those waterfalls!
A safe fluffy cow to grab a selfie with

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is quite the sight. This twenty mile long canyon formed as the Yellowstone River ate through volcanic tuff and rhyolite, and is more than 1000 feet deep. Two of Yellowstone’s most famous waterfalls are in this canyon – the Upper Falls and Lower Falls. I’ll admit it… I’ve always been more wowed by the Yellowstone version of the Grand Canyon than I was at the Grand Canyon Grand Canyon… scary to admit, but yeah… (maybe it’s my weird love of rhyolite?)

We first headed to the south rim and the view point for the Upper Falls, and then continued onto Artist Point for a famous view of the Lower Falls.

Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River
Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River viewed from Artist Point.
Photos never do the Grand Canyon justice!
A telephoto of giant Lower Falls
Looking downstream at the colorful rhyolite walls of the Grand Canyon
A view of the Yellowstone River from the Chittenden Bridge

A visit to the north rim of the Grand Canyon, which is served by a one-way road, always means two jaunts to the “brink” of both the Upper and Lower Falls. These are viewpoints located at the top of the waterfalls, showcasing the raw power of all that water as it tumbles. First up was the Brink of the Upper Falls, which is a short, albeit gentle downhill, walk from a large parking lot.

The Brink of the Upper Falls
Looking upstream from the Upper Falls

The hike down to the Brink of the Lower Falls is a beast… both ways! Going down is hard on the knees, and I really don’t think I have to explain why hiking back out is hard! The trail switchbacks steeply down the canyon, and it is about 0.8 mile roundtrip.

Start of the trail down to the Lower Falls brink
A glimpse of the Upper Falls as we headed down the Brink of the Lower Falls Trail
Down we go in the fall colors
Switchback upon switchback
One of the most magnificent places I’ve visited… being immersed in the Grand Canyon makes you feel so small!
The Lower Falls
Seasonal waterfalls stream into the Yellowstone River
Obligatory selfie in the Grand Canyon

After the last brink, I was feeling my clogged sinuses, so Eric ran around to other viewpoints while I relaxed in to the car. We would drive all the way out to Inspiration Point, as I wanted to have Eric get that view before we headed back towards the campsite. (Traveling with a sinus infection sucks…)

I do not think I’m capable of just driving straight to any location in Yellowstone, so the twenty-five mile drive back to the Madison Campground took some time. First there was the massive jam of cars due to a moose. But wait, also bison! But there’s more – majestic Canadian Geese! Okay, I was the only person taking photos of the geese, but man was there a lot going on in one area. Moose are a bit more elusive to see in Yellowstone, so there was definitely some craziness going on. Eric headed out with his 300mm lens to capture the moose, and I took to snapping some bison photos and blabbing on about the majestic geese.

My snap of the moose. I am lucky that I can see moose locally where I live, so I wasn’t quite as frantic to get better photos.
Dinner time in Gibbon Meadows
These guys like attention, too!
Still there, eating away! And another leaning tree, which are my favorite trees to find.
I made a quick stop at Chocolate Pot so Eric could see this weird thing

The final stop was at roadside Beryl Springs. Finally I was traveling with someone, so I could get a full body shot to match my 1991 pose at this same springs!

Beryl Springs is always one of my faves to stop at!
1991 & 2022

Finally we were back in camp after our large loop around the northern end of park and day of driving. Though plans weren’t exactly how I had envisioned, it was still a great day of exploring a lot of new stuff for both of us. Luckily it looked like the weather would play a bit better the next day, so we made plans to see Norris Geyser Basin in the early morning and then head back to the trailhead on Chittenden Road to nab the summit of Mount Washburn. Good (waterproof) clothing and flexibility – the key to shoulder season and places with tricky climates!

3 thoughts on “Falling for Yellowstone: Day 3 – Mammoth Hot Springs, Wraith Falls, Tower Falls, Dunraven Pass, & Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone”

  1. Despite the weather, you had an awesome day! I honestly love the low-hanging clouds in all your photos, it gives such a cool vibe to the landscape. Also, I’ve been to Yellowstone so many times I sometimes think I have nothing left to learn… turns out that’s not true. For one, I learned that I’ve been incorrectly calling Rustic Falls “Golden Gate Falls” my whole life 🤦🏼‍♀️. I also didn’t know Bunsen Peak was named for the same guy who invented the burner. Fun facts!

    Liked by 2 people

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