Elephant Back Mountain Loop - YNP

In addition to hiking to the summit of Bunsen Peak on our last trip to Yellowstone, Matt and I also took a stroll up Elephant Back Mountain.  It was a two mountain weekend.

We weren't sure the views would be all that great--and really, they weren't--on account of all the rain and low hanging clouds.  Still, we really wanted to go and the hike seemed enjoyable and easy enough no matter what view the top held in store.  So off we went.

There is a pull-out for the trailhead about half a mile north of Lake Junction.  The trail runs parallel to the road for a short distance before hanging a right into the forest.  There were lots of lofty lodgepole pines in every direction.  Matt and I both like them a lot.  They're cool looking since they get so tall and remain surprisingly slim in diameter.  The mature trees don't have branches on the lower half either adding to their imposing effect and allowing for more open views at the forest floor.  We don't know our tree IDs very well, but we know lodgepoles.  Since they don't have deep roots they are easily blown over so there was quite a bit of lodgepole deadfall.  We're always hopeful this will mean woodpeckers, but that wasn't to be the case on this particular hike.  We did see one lodgepole pine that had been bent so strongly that it had two long cracks running the length of the trunk--but it was still kicking, with green growth and everything, for now.
The more diminutive trees along the trail all glistened with myriad raindrops.  Each pine needle had a single drop dangling from it.  We thought it was pretty neat.  We stopped and played with the drops for a while, seeing if we could get one to balance on each of our fingers at the same time.  (We did.)
There were a couple especially boggy points along the trail.  Of course, since we were hiking in the rain there was a lot of wet, muddy patches in general.  These two parts must always be boggy though because the Park Service had put some logs down in these areas to serve as primitive bridges.
For a trail that we knew was taking us up a mountain it was really flat, easy going for the first mile or so.  Elephant Back Mountain Trail is a lollipop loop so at the Y in the trail where the loop portion began we took the left fork.  We'd read that the climb was gentler that way.  After the fork in the trail the elevation gain started to really pick up, though it was still quite manageable because of all the switchbacks.

As we climbed the obsidian kept giving us reason to stop and take a breather--even if we didn't need one.  I've never seen so much obsidian in one place before.  At one point the surface of the entire trail and surrounding hillside were largely composed of it--small, shinny marbles of obsidian.  Most of the pieces were very small--little black pebbles--but there were some more impressive pieces, too.  We picked up, played with, marveled at, and photographed a lot of them before putting them back where we found them.  It was really neat.
All the dark earth in this photo is actually pebbles of obsidian.  It was crazy.
Matt balancing a piece of obsidian on his nose for my amusement, with Lake Yellowstone visible in the background.
I was surprised at how quickly we made it to the lake overlook at the summit.  It was such an easy mountain to climb.  At the overlook there were two log benches that had clearly been made by hand.  Matt and I have a strong preference for these older accommodations provided by the Park Service.  They fit so well into the natural landscape as to be quite unobtrusive.  The more modern benches look like something I'd find in any ol' city park.  I was tickled to sit on these sturdy, old benches--after spreading my wool sweater out so our behinds didn't get soggy since the benches were drenched--and gaze a while from under our umbrellas.
Elephant Back overlooks Lake Yellowstone.  We could see the historic Lake Lodge along the shore as well as three of the five Lake Yellowstone islands.  We could make out a handful of other landmarks we're now familiar with, including Pelican Creek, site of a different rainy-day hike.   As I said though, the views weren't great.  It was awfully grey that day.  The sky was grey which made the lake grey.  It was raining which made it hazy with mist.  We must come back on some nice, clear summer day.  I bet the lake water is just dazzling.
When the rain started to pick up again and the cold started to seep into us we opted to head back down the mountain.  Moving keeps a person so warm.  We  continued on the loop down and around the other side of the mountain until it met up with the stem of the lollipop again.  The whole hike was quite fast and easy.  It would be a keen place for a picnic lunch or to hang a hammock and swing a while.  We did bring the hammock to the summit, but the weather discouraged our breaking them out.  Some other day.
A couple of times while we were on the trail my mind brought to the surface the fact that it was just a half mile off this very trail that a man was killed by grizzlies while hiking two months back.  Matt and I were prepared with bear spray, of course, and always give a good announcing-ourselves holler when coming around a blind turn or rise in the trail.  We weren't worried, but still, it gave me pause to think a bit.  I realized that all the hubbub around bear attacks steals focus from the reality that most trips to the woods, most interactions with wildlife are indeed safe ones.  The deadly ones are the aberrations.  This was just like any other hike.   We'll have to do it again some sunny day.  I want to see that lake sparkle from my hammock.


  1. Interesting to hear about your hiking trip. I had no idea obsidian was found on the forest floor, what a lot of it there was there too. Good that you did not meet a bear - a rarity as you say - a bit similar to us meeting a wild boar in the bush - they are there but we've never seen one!

    1. The obsidian was very interesting to me. I had no idea either! Boars and Bears. I'm glad to know they're out there making the wild places awesome. But, also glad not to cross paths with them out in the woods--at least not closely! I like watching them with the binoculars though.

  2. You two have such fun together! Interesting about the obsidian.

    1. We do! And I thought the obsidian was super interesting. I had no idea. It makes sense though since YNP is a giant volcanic area and obsidian is a volcanic creation. Still, I had no idea.


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