Tag Archive: day hiking


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Lest my rant give the misimpression that my September 2016 trip to Yellowstone National Park was an exercise in tourist frustration, I enjoyed a quiet room at the new Canyon Lodge and some peaceful day hikes.  Sometimes enjoying the best of Yellowstone happens when you park your car and use your feet.

On a lovely but cold morning, I drove Hayden Valley drinking hot coffee looking for wildlife while the sun rose. Many folks have clued into this:  drive at dawn and dusk, watch for other cars stopped, and voila, wildlife.  I stopped at a pullout for this lovely view of the river.  Apologies to the gentleman taking pictures of a bald eagle.  I have a nesting pair by my home, and while I don’t take them for granted, their Wyoming cousins don’t have the unique attraction of a pretty sunrise on a foggy river.

I decided to day hike to Sentinel Meadows after perusing the Jake Bramante map over morning coffee.  It was a great choice for solitude. I veered off the common road to the Fairy Falls/Imperial Geyser trail, which everyone else was taking, and ended up with the place to myself.

The trail starts by a thermal, Ojo Caliente, which could be morphed into, “Oh no, super caliente!” if you were so foolish as to enter the steaming pool.

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The trail leads past this  thermal through wide meadows with fresh bison patties, wood debris and enough trees to provide perfect habitat for cavity nesting, insect eating mountain bluebirds.  These busy little birds find perches in meadows to hunt, then dive to the ground to grab their meal. They also hover, which is fun to watch but hard to catch without a great camera.

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The trail winds past the Queen’s Laundry, thermal features that apparently people- well, used for laundry at one time (doh!).

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The trail climbs a small hill, winds around a corner through another small meadow, through some trees, and then drops into another meadow.  In this case, a meadow filled with bison and thermal features.

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There were lots of bison sacked out, and spread out over a wide area.  A couple trailing groups approached them in a line.  The orange trail markers indicated my trail crossed their path, so I sat on my pack to eat lunch and waited for them to cross. Or not.

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Two cows suddenly felt the need for a siesta, and plopped down right by the trail.  A giant bull stood sentinel over them, killing my plan to have a short lunch while the parade rear guard moseyed past. It was going to be a really long lunch, or a detour.

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Not passing too close to this big guy, for sure…..

After awhile, I decided it was a detour. With the thermal features in the area, I was cautious about picking a route.  There was a social path blocked by a tree limb that I used (sorry, YNP) to head down valley from the bison.  I swung wide across the valley, watching for bison trails and picking a narrow part of the marshy stream to hop across.  After the stream, I followed more bison paths back toward the trail.

The whole time I detoured, I kept an eye on the bull even though I was well distant from him and his girls.  He turned his head a couple times, but never lifted his tail, so I figured I was paying appropriate respect.

The trail passed small thermal features before crossing a stream on limbs and entering a forest. Then it crossed back to a connector with Fairy Falls and the common gravel road again.  I walked the road chatting with a couple from Seattle who had made a last minute decision to visit Yellowstone to hike since he was nursing a bad ankle.  We passed one more group of bison on the way out, and then reached our cars for a cheery au revoir and off to our evening destination. All in all, a peaceful pleasant day in a super popular national park.

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Garden on the Skyline Divide Trail. More pictures below!

Garden on the Skyline Divide Trail. More pictures below!

The day hike is a modern convention, dependent on the automobile and decent roads that allow us to leave our homes and return the same day, with a walk in between. If the trail is close, the roads are good, and the journey is easy enough for us to tackle, we can day hike and still have plans for the evening.  We all complain sometimes: “I drove six hours to hike six hours”.  By saying this, we forget that once, before modern cars or roads, we might have journeyed a week to our hiking destination and then had to stay while to make it worthwhile.

I prefer to camp outdoors over day hiking, making up a fraction of hikers.  It’s not the drive vs. hiking time that drives this preference. In fact, I sleep better in a tent with natural sounds than in a bed where my thoughts may become too noisy for sleep.  When life and work deny me sleep at home, I sometimes pitch a tent in the yard, which is beyond my neighbors’ worried eyes. I sometimes wonder how long it takes in the outdoors to replace dreams of being late for crucial meetings with dreams of raptors soaring on thermals.

But day hike we do, to get a break, to get some exercise, or to introduce our lovely natural areas to our friends, or visitors from afar.

Mt. Baker from Skyline Divide

Mt. Baker from Skyline Divide

In my case, I’m hiking this summer to get ready for a trip to the Canadian Arctic in late July and can’t always stay out overnight due to those obligations that haunt my dreams.  Washington State offers lovely day hikes for all sorts, and they have magical moments along with grand views. Two hikes that held something new for me are Lake Valhalla and Skyline Divide.  I have traveled to Lake Valhalla only in winter, when the avalanche conditions in Stevens Pass allow.  Summer is a new experience for me on that trail. I have never been to Skyline Divide due to its reputation for crowds. I hiked both during the week and enjoyed limited crowds of really nice folks, young and not so much so, clearly dedicated to relaxation and peace.

Anise Swallowtail at Skyline Divide

Anise Swallowtail at Skyline Divide

Both trails sparkled with butterflies, though the historic heat this summer has wilted the most exposed flowers early in the season.  I perched on the Skyline Divide ridge to catch a refreshing breeze coming up from the valley below while I ate lunch.  From my perch, I watched swarms of butterflies over a still-fresh meadow, chasing each other in multi-colored tornadoes when too many occupied the same verdant space.  At Lake Valhalla, I rested in the sand by the lake for lunch and watched many butterflies puddling, taking up mineral from the moist soils.  Before I even left the trailhead, I saw my first Parnassian

Believe this is Clodius Parnassian

Believe this is Clodius Parnassian

On both trails, I met a diversity of people that we never used to see 20 years ago outside of the national parks:  all skin colors, all ages, all walks of life.  Gone is the monotony of urgent looking white people ( the majority male) pounding down the trail in long johns with shorts over the top, bent on a destination.  Not only the car, but the guidebook and the gear store have made hiking accessible to a variety of people who come for the day, but may help to protect our natural areas forever.  This is not a bad thing- there will always be solitude to find, but unless a lot of people care about the outdoors, there will be no outdoors to celebrate.  Viva the day hike!

For an amazing variety of hikes throughout Washington State, along with trip reports, visit Washington Trails Association at www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes.