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Backpacking the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone

On this trip, my dad and I hiked from the Hellroaring trailhead near Roosevelt to the town of Gardiner Montana. The variety of geology, flora, and fauna was fantastic, and the fishing on the Yellowstone was at its prime.

On the first day we started in mid afternoon and hiked down the Hellroaring trail to the Yellowstone. We crossed the river on the old suspension bridge and were impressed by the amount of work it must have taken to build the bridge. We had hoped to have an easy first day of hiking since our campsite, 2H1, was right at the confluence of the Yellowstone and Hellroaring, but because the creek was running very high, we had to make a 2.5 mile detour upstream to a bridge. This was two and a half miles that neither of us really felt like hiking.

Along the detour, we stopped at the Patrol Cabin on Hellroaring creek and chatted with several biologists who were staying there while studying mountain lions in the area. When asked if they'd seen many cats, they responded with "well, none today."

After hiking much further than expected to the campsite (the side trail to the site is about a half mile lone) we finally got to a beautiful point with Hellroaring flowing on one side and the Yellowstone on another. The 2H1 site was pretty good with a good cooking spot, plenty of shade, and easy access to water. It was a bit difficult to find a flat spot for a tent, the best area being about 20 yards from the still-hairy remains of a dead deer. It made me a little bit nervous about animals coming in the night to gnaw on the bones. We did have a visit from a very pesky fox which obviously smelled and wanted our food.

Speaking of bones, throughout this entire hike there were animal bones and antlers everywhere. This canyon is a wintering area for wildlife and it was obvious that plenty of those animals die each winter down there.

Fishing on the Yellowstone in this area is limited unless you want to do some major hiking so I fished Hellroaring creek. The stream was high, but fairly productive for 6" to 14" cutthroats.

The second leg of our trip led us though an area that obviously received more moisture and was lush with wildflowers. The displays of flowers were absolutely beautiful. I found this the most enjoyable section of the canyon to hike.

Our second campsite 1Y9, was right on the Yellowstone river and was excellent. It had everything you'd want in a campsite plus great fishing. This was the most productive section of the river I fished (and the furthest from any trailhead) and I caught plenty of trout. One slightly worrisome thing: I caught a 16" brook trout in here. That fish should not have been in that water, and a brookie that big will eat a lot of cutthroat fry. Yellowstone Park has so many problems with non-native species.

The third leg of our trip took us past the intersection with the Blacktail Trail and past Crevice Lake. We also passed Cottonwood creek, which is very small (2-5 feet across) but contained plenty of beautiful pure 6" to 12" wild cutthroat in each hole. They may have been spawning. We also encountered a buffalo which was walking up the trail towards us. We took a wide detour around the critter and watched our backs for a while afterwards.

If you want a campsite with your own sandy beach on the Yellowstone, 1Y1 is for you. This site had beautiful views, and a great swimming area but was short on flat places for a tent. There was also a LOT of buffalo and elk dung throughout the site. The fishing immediately around this site is more limited than around 1Y9, but still fairly good.

The last 4.7 miles of this trip were the most difficult. You climb several grades, but you are out of the wooded areas and out in bare rocky and alkaline areas. The temperatures by noon were reaching into the mid 90s. The geology here is very different and interesting (reminds you of badlands) and some of the trails cut into the canyon walls made my dad (who isn't fond of heights) a bit nervous. The rattlesnake I almost stepped on made me more than a bit nervous. The best part of this section was Bear Creek. It's a plunge pool creek with beautiful cool clear water and a couple of 16" cutthroat in each pool. It was like an oasis in a desert and a lot of fun to fish.

Getting back to Gardiner was a bit of a culture shock. The first thing we noticed was the smell of exhaust and hot asphalt. But we also enjoyed modern plumbing and food cooked to order. For anyone thinking about doing this trip, there is no parking at the trailhead in Gardiner. We parked in the parking area across the street from the Xantera buildings on the side road into the Park entrance and had no problems.

Posted by Bruce on August 4, 2004 1:39 AM


Thanks for sharing your experiences. It's great for someone trying to decide how to spend their time best in Yellowstone.

Posted by: Dave on January 13, 2005 2:47 PM

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