To Tower Fall Through the Sparkle Snow

Huzzah for winter hiking!

Matt and I took a lovely excursion into Yellowstone National Park this weekend.  We camped outside the park Friday night.  The stars were nothing short of spectacular.  It was cold (single digits), but we were well dressed and warmed ourselves with hot toddies around a substantial fire.  Since it was Pizza Friday Matt re-heated the pizza (that he made in advance) on the fire.   We also managed to stream our favorite radio program, the Dead of Night, via the public radio station in Livingston.  Pizza and the Dead of Night are our go-to Friday routine.  It was fun to take both to the woods.

Matt cuts citrus by headlamp in the background while I stay cozied up by the fire.

Saturday morning we headed into the park for a wintery tromp to Tower Fall*.  We realized that our nature adventures never involved Yellowstone last year.  Huh!  We were rather surprised.  I believe it is the first year we haven't gone since we fell head over heels for Yellowstone in 2011.  

We watched this herd of bison while we ate lunch.

Instead, we returned to the Diamond Butte Lookout.  We went backpacking in Idaho with Josh and Joelle. We went to North Cascades National Park with Lisa and Jason. We followed Terrapin Flyer up to the Flathead area to see the changing Larch trees.  Plus, there were floods in June and....well, here we are.  A Yellowstone-less year.  So it goes.  It is a big, beautiful world.  I can't be everywhere at once, I guess.

Near the start of our hike.

It was remarkable to see how the flood waters changed the riparian landscape.  The river channel has evolved so much.  The evidence of high waters was still quite present--sections of buildings, bits of furniture, and even a canoe that was lodged 20+ feet up in a tree.  The riverbanks still looked raw.  I didn't stop to take any photos.

The textures and shadows of the snowy landscape captivates me.  Sunshine on a cold winter day is such a gift.

There was the new roadway at the north entrance to the park, too.  That was quite a change.  Technically it is a historic roadway--the Old Gardiner Road--that's been paved and put back into greater service.  Rather than following the river upon entering the park, this route quickly winds up into the hills above the river, which mostly dropped out of sight.  It had such a different feel.  Still beautiful, but completely different.  

We're happy to yield to the oncoming traffic. Bison don't get enough respect, if you ask me.  They're incredible creatures.  So many people treat them like, well, cows.  Although I think cows deserve more respect then they usually get, too.  Bison are wildlife and majestic, powerful ones at that.
Then at Mammoth, we turned east and headed for Tower Junction--an incredible winter drive, I might add.  There was windswept snow suspended in the air that caught the sunlight and sparkled.  Oh, how it sparkled!  Like driving through a shower of glitter for miles!  The trees were flocked with snow.  The terrain near and far sparkled like a billion diamonds in the winter sun.  Individual snowflakes leapt out to announce their fabulousness.

There are no words or photos that could capture the astonishing beauty of the snow that day.  I tried on both counts though.  
If anything, the park fauna are all the more impressive in the winter, too.  We saw plenty of critters, from tiny, flitting Mountain Chickadees to gracefully, towering Elk.  The bison were my favorite this trip.  They were out in great numbers.  We had to yield to them several times on the road.  We watched them graze by clearing the snow with their giant, wooly heads ( back and forth, back and forth) until they reached the vegetation.  

Bison are no fools.  They like to use the plowed roadway, too.

We hiked to Tower Fall along the road which becomes a snowshoe and cross-country ski trail while it is seasonally closed to motor vehicles.  It made for a lovely broad trail with a smooth, agreeable grade. We brought our snowshoes, but after checking the trail conditions found them unnecessary and just hiked the packed snow.

The roadside geology  :)  We think the columnar basalt found on both sides of the river here is super nifty.

The road follows the Yellowstone River and it was awesome to be able to stop whenever and wherever we wanted to enjoy the view.  This is a road we've driven on more times than I could count...but walking speed was a totally new experience.  Along the way, we stopped at the Calcite Springs Overlook.  Geothermal features might look the coolest in winter.  The steam is even more dramatic and otherworldly. 

Calcite Springs and the Yellowstone River

We passed a small, frozen lake that was laced with animal tracks.  It was all quiet when we were there, but it was clearly a hub of activity at other times.  That's one of the cool things about Yellowstone in the winter.  The animal tracks have a lot of stories to tell.  A Bald Eagle soared overhead as we hiked the trail that was silent but for our squeaking and crunching on the snow.

A (mostly) frozen over Rainy Lake.  There were a few patches of open water.

Tower Fall was frozen into a blue-tinged white curtain.  Behind the curtain, we could see moving water still falling, falling, falling.  It was a lovely visual effect.  Water is an amazing force.  We gazed at the glorious scenery there until we felt too cold (from not moving) and decided to head back. 

A frozen Tower Fall

Once we'd completed the five-mile round trip we enjoyed a steamy, warm pot of ramen (eaten in the car because it was cold and all the picnic tables were topped with a pillow of snow) before retracing our route back to the north entrance.  The higher vantage of the "new" entrance road offered a rather sweeping panorama when heading north.  I appreciate the new departing view more than the new arriving view.  Just up the road, we stopped at Yellowstone Hot Springs for a restorative soak.  Winter hiking takes more out of me than hiking usually does!  Our muscles were soothed by the hot, mineral-rich water.  There were a few Bighorn Sheep grazing on the mountainside above the pools, too.

A view from the new entrance road.

It was such an awesome Yellowstone adventure.  (They always are!)  We're determined that it won't be our only one this year either.

Matt's beard would freeze up if we stopped walking for too long.

(And then, as if all that weren't enough greatness for a weekend, we carried on to Bozeman and ate amazing Korean at Whistle Pig, had a pleasant evening with Matt's brother, and then enjoyed a Dead Sky concert with Josh... after which we basically fell into bed...asleep as our heads hit the pillow!)

Tower Fall Overlook.  All photos from 1/21/23.

*On this trip I learned that it is actually Tower Fall singular.  All these years I've been calling it Tower Falls plural.  The latter sounds more natural to me (and Samual Hauser, too, apparently), but the USGS went with the singular.  So, there it is.


  1. Stunning scenery and what an amazing adventure, here's to many more in 2023 xx

  2. I am past the point where I can relate to snow photos! Winter is almost done and we have had moderate temperatures and no appreciable snowfalls AT ALL this season! I know March is awful so maybe I speak too soon, but it's weird, is all I can say.

    1. We are actually getting snow and winter this year! (Yellowstone and the mountains all the more so than my south central foothills.) The seasons do seem to have gone a bit weird though. I agree. It can be a wild ride from year to year. I hope March doesn't get TOO ugly for you all. February is usually our most extreme winter month, but I think it mighta been January this year.


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