As I promised at the end of my last post, today I bring you the second ever Handstands Around the World guest post, once again courtesy of my mom! She had so much fun writing the last one that she offered to do another. Well, the only person I know who has been to Yellowstone more times than me is my mom, so this seemed the natural place for her to contribute. The topic of today’s post is a hike that I’ve never done but one which, upon seeing her photos, I immediately added to my to-do list. Hopefully by the end of this post, you’ll do the same!
I have been to Yellowstone National Park somewhere between 100 and 200 times in the 41 years since I moved to Montana. Only 90 miles from my home in Bozeman, it is an easy day trip or even better, a great weekend camping trip. My children and I know the park better than almost anyone we know. I have visited every major geyser basin and some that are less well known and have seen Old Faithful erupt more times than I can remember. I have snapped photos from all of the observation points at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, have stood at the brink of the Upper Falls and near the bases of both Falls, and have spent a lot of time gazing down hundreds of feet into the canyon’s beautiful, colorful depths. Alone, or with one or both of my children, I have hiked the well-travelled trails many, many times and have literally thousands of photos from all over the park. Yet, despite our great love for Yellowstone, it was not until just a few years ago that we finally purchased some bear spray and set off into the backcountry to areas that few tourists ever venture. One such hike—Seven Mile Hole—took us to the bottom of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, a place that I had always longed to visit.
Most people automatically assume that this hike is named Seven Mile Hole because it is seven miles down to the bottom of the canyon and, initially, I had the same thought. However, since the hike is just short of 5 miles each way, that explanation made little sense. It is actually so named because the point where you finally stand on the banks of the Yellowstone River is seven miles downstream from the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone. Our guidebook of hikes in the Yellowstone area rates this as difficult—it should say grueling—but it is well worth every bit of sweat and tomorrow’s sore muscles. Please be advised that there is no water along this trail so be sure to take plenty with you, especially if it is a hot day.
The Seven Mile Hole hike takes off from the Glacial Boulder Trailhead at the Inspiration Point parking area on the North Rim. For the first couple of miles, the trail more or less follows the canyon rim. There is some up and down but no real change in elevation at that point. After about a mile, you can see Silver Cord Cascade tumbling down the south canyon wall. The water falls 1200 feet to the river and is really pretty. This is the turn-around point for many of the hikers you might encounter on this trail. However, as this was not our destination, we pressed on.
From this point, the trail continues northward but moves away from the canyon rim and makes its way through old lodge pole pine forest. At 2.7 miles, the trail reaches the junction with the Mount Washburn trail where we turned right. We did wonder, at times, where we were going because it seemed as if the trail was straying far from the canyon and not leading anywhere specific but eventually, after hiking about 3.5 miles, we had worked our way back to the canyon rim and the view opened up to show us where we would descend into the canyon itself. To be honest, as we started down this rather steep trail, I wondered what possessed me to do this hike. The trail is crumbly and slippery and not always well marked but if you look closely, you can see where others have walked. As we continued to descend, we hiked through an old geyser basin. There are some pretty unique dormant cones and other thermal features throughout this part of the hike. Be sure to take some photos now as you may not feel like stopping to do so on the way up.
We continued to descend through the geyser basin and eventually reached a spur on the right that went to one of the three backcountry campsites. We chose to take the left-hand trail, which also led through a bit of forest to other backcountry campsites. The trail momentarily leveled out but then we descended once again before finally reaching the prize—the banks of the Yellowstone River at the far end of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The Canyon is not as high at this point but it is no less vibrant and does have some small thermal features. When we reached the bottom, there was one family of four relaxing on the rocks so we moved a bit farther up the river and had the area to ourselves. There are lots of good sitting rocks so we plopped down, thankful to be off our feet for a while, and enjoyed the solitude and beauty of the area.
After eating our lunch and exploring a bit, we reluctantly left the river and started back up the trail. It is at this point that you find out what you are made of because for the first mile and a half, we climbed steadily out of the canyon. When we reached the spur for the other campsite, we went down that trail for a bit and found ourselves looking down over additional thermal features and saw that this trail also dropped to the river. We opted not to go down as we had little desire to climb back up when we knew that we had lots of uphill to go. As we continued to climb, I have to admit to stopping frequently to catch my breath. The crumbly geyser basin was probably the most challenging section as the trail was steep and footing was tricky at times. However, once we got back to the forested area at the top, the rest of the hike was easy.
We did spot a coyote in the trees but he showed little interest in us and moved on. Some other hikers mentioned spotting a black bear further up the trail but we didn’t see it. However, it was a reminder that the backcountry of Yellowstone is wild and should be treated with respect. Hikers must always be alert and well prepared for danger should it arise. This means hiking with at least one other person—two is better—making lots of noise, and having quick access to bear spray. You can rent bear spray at the Canyon Visitor Center if you don’t wish to purchase it.
Was the hike as difficult as we expected? Yes, maybe even a bit more so. Would we do it again? Most definitely. It’s so worth it!