Friday, July 13, 2012

How I Spent my Summer, 2012 Part I--Travelogue: July 4th Cave Falls

Cave Falls, Yellowstone National Park

I have lived more than thirty years of my life near the southwest corner of Yellowstone National Park, and this year is the first time I have ever visited Cave Falls.  Yellowstone is home to many great things, animals, geysers, mountains, lakes, rivers and over 300 waterfalls.  For the last several years, we have been on a pilgrimage to see as many of Yellowstone's waterfalls as we can.  We only had a few hours on July 4th so we decided to visit Cave Falls.  We were not disappointed.

The southwest corner of Yellowstone is sometimes referred to as "Cascade Corner", because some of the most spectacular waterfalls in the park are situated there.  This part of the park is visited less than other areas because almost all of it is backcountry and only accessable by hiking.  Most of the hikes are long but the trade off is that they are mostly level with little elevation gain.  Last summer I hiked with my son Haydn to Union Falls in the southwest corner and blogged about it here

To get to Cave Falls from where we live, we headed north on Highway 20 and turned east on Highway 47 which is now designated as "Mesa Falls, Scenic Byway".  Just before the road dips down into the canyon for Warm River, there is a turnoff to Cave Falls to the right.  From there it's about 18 miles to the falls.  The road to Cave Falls terminates at the falls.  We discovered that Cave Falls is really a waterfall flanked by cascades.  There is one set of cascades about a hundred yards downstream from Cave Falls and another one about thirty yards upstream.

The cascades before the falls

The brink of the cascades before the falls

Cave Falls only drops about 20 feet, but at 250 feet wide, it is the widest of all of Yellowstone's waterfalls.  It was quite impressive and there was still alot of water flowing over it.  Cave Falls was so named because there was a large rock overhang about a hundred yards long that flanked the river.  Part of the overhang actually went deeper into the hillside and part went under the waterfall.  Unfortunately, the overhang collapsed in 2008, so there is no cave at Cave Falls any longer.  Even without the cave, though it is an impressive sight.

  We walked down the short trail from the parking area to the falls and ran into some friends from home.  It was nice to see familiar faces there.  While we were there, I think there was a bug hatch going on because the water was boiling with trout jumping just below the falls.  It's always fun to witness that.

Friends from home

Cave Falls and the cascades above the falls

We discovered that there was another waterfall upstream from Cave Falls about a mile and a half called Bechler Falls.  Of course we hiked that.  We did discover that we should have brought bug repellent on the trip with us, however because whatever bugs were feeding the trout were feeding on us.  That being said, though the trail was very pleasant and shaded most of the way.  at the trailhead there were a series of wooden steps up a steeper portion of the trail.  After that, the going was mostly level with only an occaisional, gentle elevation gain. 

Mountain ash branch in sunlight at the trailhead

Wooden stairs at the trailhead

The trail flanked the river for all but the last sixty yards or so where it cut through the forest to navigate around a small promontory.  Here and there, cascades and rapids were visible along the trail.  The forest was mainly lodgpole pine with a few fir trees to keep them company.  Wildflowers were also on display.

Cascades along the trail

Aspen shadow on trail

Lodgepole forest

The trail passes by the confluence of the Warm River and the Bechler River, and continues following along the Bechler to the falls.  From Cave Falls to Bechler Falls, the river seems to be one series of cascades after another.  About two hundred yards away from the falls, I began hearing the rumbling of tumbling water.  I pointed it out to my sons.

Confluence of the Warm and Bechler Rivers

Very cool rock along the trail

Bechler Falls

Mossy rock at the base of the Bechler Falls

Haydn and I hiked upstream for another fifty yards or so while Chimene and the two younger boys started hiking back to the car.  Above the falls, the river looked like it was made of glass.  Beautiful and still.  It is here that the famous Bechler Meadows begin.  This is truly a beautiful part of Yellowstone National Park.

The Bechler River above the falls

Pretty yellow wildflower along the trail

More wildflowers

Still more wildflowers

Red wildflowers

This hike is short, about 3 miles roundtrip and very easy.  Very little elevation gain and where the trail does rise it's a gentle slope.  The scenery is beautiful and because of the shade and the proximity to the river, it tends to feel a little cooler than the outside temperature.  Make sure you bring bug repellent.  I would definitely hike this trail again.

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