Yellowstone | Elephant Back Mountain
One of the main reasons I wanted to visit Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons was to hike. There are so many beautiful trails out in those two parks. Trails that are drastically different from what we have back here in New England. I was struggling at first to determine where to hike. My parents bought me guide books for Christmas, but they were mostly tourist stuff with only small sections for hiking. Then I got Top Trails: Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks. This is actually a hiking book. A very good one at that. While browsing through I noticed that there was a mountain, Elephant Back, whose trailhead started right by where we were staying. This meant we could walk out our door and start hiking. I decided that this would be a good first hike for us.
From our cabin door at Lake Lodge the trail was under 5 miles for a round trip. There is about 800 feet of elevation gain, enough to welcome our lungs to altitude, but not too much. Looking at the map the Elephant Back trail looks kind of like a lollipop. The first part is the stem and then you have a loop around the summit area. The stem part is easy, with small elevation gains. When we came to the bottom of the lollipop loop I decided to head in a clockwise direction. This is where the trail started to get steeper and included some switchbacks.
Now if we were back home at sea level this would be a pretty easy hike. The trail is so smooth with only an occasional rock to step around. I dream of doing trail runs on trails this smooth back east. But we weren’t at sea level, we started out at 7,877 feet. That means the air is thinner than we are use to, which in turn makes an easy hike more challenging. This was Jayne’s first day ever exercising at altitude. Earlier in the day we walked a few miles while checking out geysers. Smoke was also blowing in from wildfires in the area. Let’s just say part way up the switchbacks she was not very happy with me. I reassured her that it was just the altitude and this hike would help get her ready for the longer and higher hikes I wanted us to do. Elephant Back is fairly popular for families because it is on the shorter side and still gives you good views. Just make sure the kids are adjusted to the altitude before heading up.
After a short break we started back up again. There is an opening at the summit of Elephant Back to allow you to see out to Lake Yellowstone Hotel and the Yellowstone Lake. Unfortunately, so much smoke had blown in we didn’t have much of a view. We still sat down on the bench that is up there to enjoy what little of the view we had. There was another group of people that had brought their hammocks up and where hanging out at the summit. I was a bit jealous knowing our hammock was back at the cabin. From our perch we could also see that the small bison herd we saw in the morning had in fact returned to the field in front of the lodge. I was excited to watch them again and both of us badly needed eye drops from the smoke, so we headed back to the trail to finish the loop and get back down.
From door to door the hike only took us a tad under 2 hours. The plan was to relax a little at our cabin and then head out to watch the bison and get some dinner. It turns out the bison had enough of the field they were in and decided to leave. Their path brought them up to our cabin area where they decided to stop for food. I opened the cabin door and they were all right there chomping away. It was pretty incredible to get to be so close to them while still remaining safe and not bothering them. For a while we had an up close view of a male that was trying to attract a female. As you can see in the video he wasn’t having much luck. There was a much larger bull (pictured above) around so she wanted nothing do to with this other guy.
Nothing quite beats a hike and some great wildlife viewing right from your cabin.