Hellroaring Creek Hike

Over the weekend I was talking to Matt about Yellowstone.

"Are there campgrounds open year-round?"
"What roads are open already?"
Leading ultimately to:  "When is the earliest you think we could go?"

At this point Matt felt compelled to remind me that just because it had been unseasonably warm in Billings lately it could be a whole different story up in those mountains.  He's right, but still.  I think we should try to go in March this year.  We went in April last year and that was keen!  So, maybe we can bump it up to March this year.  We're more equipped these days for camping when there is still snow with the addition of snowshoes, wool socks, and gaiters to help keep us dry and comfy while we romp about.  So, we shall see.

In the meantime, here is a May 2014 (yes, 2014!) hike write-up that I never got around to finishing until now.   I'd considered just deleting the draft a dozen times, but somehow felt I'd want to get back to it eventually.  It was from a very special birthday weekend for me.  And here we are.
When Matt and I were on the Glacier Megavaction we got to cross over the dazzling, green Kootenai River on a suspension bridge.  When we heard that a hike to Hellroaring Creek in Yellowstone also included a suspension bridge we thought we'd give it a go.  While the suspension bridge near Glacier proved to be an unexpected highlight of the hike the bridge in Yellowstone proved to be a bit of a disappointment.  Oh well, nature had plenty else in store for us that more than compensated for it.
The Hellroaring Creek trailhead is just under four miles west of Tower Junction on the Mammoth-Tower Road.   Heading out from the parking lot the trail starts to lose elevation towards the river for about the first mile, passing through forest that was burned in the fires of 1988 and is now regrown.  After bypassing the junction with the Garnet Hill trail the (now unburned section of) forest grows thicker, offering a more limited range of vision, but soon the sounds of rushing water gave us hints that the suspension bridge would quickly be in view.
We had that first mile to ourselves, save for the birds and other small critters we encountered.  The spring flowers were in bloom and bright green shoots was starting to poke up through the winter brown earth--though much of the area remained the more subdued shades of sage green.  It was a beautiful spring day in the country with sunshine and a blue sky dotted with fluffy, white clouds to compliment the sweeping mountain vistas and sweetly diminutive spring blossoms.
Pasque Flowers
The suspension bridge crosses a fairly deep, but narrow gorge-- a portion of the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone--carved by the Yellowstone River.  Unlike the bridge over the Kootenai this one was much sturdier feeling.  There was hardly any bounce to it.  This was a portion of our disappointment in it.  There was scarcely any of the Indian Jones type adventure about crossing it.  It was, well, pretty much just a bridge.
That said, standing on the bridge, watching the water rushing and surging below, was pretty mesmerizing.  We leaned over the rails gazing into the constant swirls and sprays, marveling at the thunderous sounds of the water against the stone walls of the canyon.  It was marvelously loud.
Once on the other side of the bridge the trail climbs slightly through a lovely, sun dappled forest.  This early in the year we didn't need the shade so much, but we could see that the forest would make a swell mid-way resting point on a hot summer day.   We paused to examine bison hair which clung to many a rubbed tree trunk along the trail.  The season was right for the bison to start ditching some of their heavier winter coats.  We'd explored a different bison rub on the Beaver Ponds trail the year before and found it very interesting.  A pair of 20-something men from the east coast--the first people we'd seen on the trail-- stopped to chat and inquire about what we were looking at.  We taught them what we knew about bison, a creature they were quite unfamiliar with--and understandably so, being from the urban east.  They were pleased to have the info and continued on their way.  After giving the pair a good headstart we continued down the trail ourselves.
A bison rub, complete with dangling bison "dreadlocks."
Soon the forest was a thing of the past and the landscape shifted to one of rolling sagebrush country under a wide, open sky.  The expanse was scattered with "erratic" boulders, left behind by the long-ago glacial activity.  These sometimes massive rocks seemed both out of place and utterly at home at the same moment.  We spotted a few bison grazing on a distant sage-covered hill.
It didn't take long for us to catch up with the eastcoasters.  They had stopped at a small rise overlooking a pond.  The pond is actually another legacy of the glacial age called a "kettle."  Kettles are made when big chunks of ice are left buried in the land in the wake of a receding glacier.  As they melted they left a sort of sinkhole depression behind.  This depression collects water, which in this case remains through the fall and offers a sort of oasis for birds, plants, and other lifeforms in the middle of a sea of sagebrush.
And a herd of twenty or so bison were, indeed, making good use of it.
The trail wrapped around the pond and the east coast duo had (wisely, in my opinion) not felt comfortable getting that close to the bison so they had stopped to wait for us, to ask our opinion on it.  I wasn't about to get that close myself, particularly since the bison had several tiny, redheaded babies in tow.  So, together we watched the massive bovines graze and drink from our hilltop overlook.
We could have gone off trail and skirted around them, but wildlife "TV" is always good watching by me.  So, we waited and watched and talked about Yellowstone with our new (and inadvertent) hiking companions.  In due time the bison started trotting up the hill on the far side of the pond from our vantage.  As they went up, we went down keeping our relative distance the same.   Watching the bison charge up that hill was pretty spectacular.  They've got such grace and power contained in that lumbering, dark body.
The whole time we could see Hellroaring Creek--our final destination--just past the glacial pond.  When the bison moved on we were finally able to continue down the trail, past the pond, to the grassy, green banks of the creek.
Hellroaring Creek
Matt and the two fellas sat and talked awhile on the bank.  I took off my shoes and waded in the cold, clear water.  No matter how cold the water is, I like to soak my feet if I can.  It refreshes and invigorates me.  The eastcoasters eventually left Matt and me to our creekside solitude.  The water clipped swiftly past the trees that lined the bank and was just about the only sound to be heard.  After hiking through the sweeping sage country the comparatively abundant trees were a notable feature of the riparian zone.
When we'd had our fill of lounging creekside we turned back and retraced our steps.  Of course, nothing in nature stays the same and our return trip offered delights we'd not had on the first go, including a pair of playfully sparring antelope.  I use the word playful because when we first spotted them the pair was placidly grazing together.  Then, without any warning that we could perceive, they locked their antlers together and starting pushing each other around.  It reminded us of tug of war--back and forth and back and forth.  As quick as it started they went back to grazing together.  And then, again without warning, they were going at it again.  I don't know enough about pronghorn antelope to say what exactly they were about.  I'd guess it was a practice match between two younger males.  In any case, Matt and I sure enjoyed watching.  It was quiet enough--and they were close enough--that we could even hear them as they cracked horns together and rustled the surrounding shrubs.
The return trip also offered additional wildflowers to smell and admire, brilliantly orange butterflies, and a very vocal Townsend's Solitare.
Sagebrush Buttercups
Shooting Stars
In no time we were back at the bridge with just the last mile of our four mile round-trip hike to go.  Even with the 600 feet in elevation gain in that last mile the hike was a pleasant and relaxing one.  Next time we need to bring a picnic to munch on as we sit on the banks of Hellroaring Creek.
Now I am even more excited to get out in the park again soon.


  1. "Hell-roaring Creek"! Love it. And that dear little bison. x

    1. The baby bison are especially precious--and I have a thing for redheaded creatures so its doubly so for me. Its a good name for the creek, isn't it? Yellowstone was sometimes considered "hellish" by early explorers since there is so much geothermal action--heat, steam, sulfur fumes, boiling mud, geysers, etc. I bet that is where it comes from, but I might have to look into it.

  2. Lovely spring photos! I'm getting spring fever right now. :D The baby bison almost looks like a long-legged dog!

    1. Since we've never really had much of a winter its hard NOT to get spring fever!! We frequently mistake distant boulders for adult bison! When they're laying down they're very boulder like.... :)


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