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WOW: Hiking Yellowstone West, Old Faithful, and Sunsets

The Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park is the largest hot spring in the United States, and the third largest in the world. It is located in the Midway Geyser Basin.

I woke up from eight glorious hours of sleep refreshed and ready to tackle another full day in Yellowstone. It feels so good to sleep well after not sleeping great for a few days in a row. It’s so much easier to feel grateful, joyful, and excited when you aren’t sleep deprived. Thank God mercies truly are new every morning.

On the way back into Yellowstone, Henry listed off all of the animals we had and hadn’t yet seen on the cute coloring sheet the park ranger gave us when we first entered. 

“I’m really gonna miss Yellowstone,” he said. 

Before we left the cabin, I did a quick search for trails to hike and found a 3.5-mile loop trail for a waterfall. It looked like a challenge, but one that we could take on and feel good about completing. I failed to figure out exactly where the trail began and took us on an hour long back and forth detour before we finally arrived at Biscuit Basin, which connects to the Mystic Falls Trail. As we entered the trail, a sign let us know that bear activity was reported in the area last on July 14… three days ago. 

Henry had his walking stick and a CamelBak, and I had a backpack with a bladder thing too, as well as our bug spray, lunches, Elvis’ water bottle, and our bear spray… just in case. I forgot the recommendations from other hikers to take the trail counter-clockwise, but it didn’t matter, both ways were gorgeous, and both ways were hard. You have to go up in order to come back down whether you turn to the left or the right… this is the way, walk in it. 

When we reached the view of Mystic Falls, it was clear that you could get pretty close to the falls if you took off your boots and waded in the river. I love river walking. I made Brandon go river walking with me on one of our first dates. He had never done such a thing. When I was 16 and our family did our Out West adventure, we walked the Narrows in Zion (something I plan to do later this trip), and it was one of the most memorable moments for me. I love the serenity of water.

Elvis was not up for the adventure, but he was a good sport and took photos of Henry and I maneuvering across the rocks and avoiding the hot springs that trickled into the river, until we got as close as we felt like we could get without wading up to our shorts. From there, we continued our climb up, stopping to breathe and drink water, shouting, “Hey bear! How ya doing?” every few minutes, just to make sure grizzlies knew we were around. We climbed 606 feet up from Biscuit Basin to the top of the mountain, which presented an amazing view of the valley below. The wooded trail was thick with evergreens, and we encountered no bear, just chipmunks, squirrels, mosquitoes, monarchs, birds, perhaps an eagle, and carpenter ants at work to decompose a fallen burnt tree. 

Amidst all of the grandeur and largeness of Yellowstone, it’s easy to overlook the smallest things, which are doing important, behind-the-scenes work. My children noticed these things before I did.

It took us far longer than the anticipated hour and 38 minutes estimated on, but we stopped a lot, and we climbed into that waterfall. I think we spent more like three hours on the trail. This amazes me. We hiked one trail in this massive park. One. A person could spend a lifetime in Yellowstone, I think, and never hike the same trail twice.

We watched Old Faithful erupt, went to the gift shop, and then made our way around to the places we’d left for last: Grand Prismatic Pool, Artists’ Paint Pots, and Mammoth Hot Springs. 

We said “wow” a lot. A lot

There were what looked like bear prints in the mud of one of the paint pots. As Henry and I walked back to the car from the paint pots, I told Henry how glad I was that he wanted to keep going to see the last few things on our list.

“If there’s ever a question about whether to do something, the answer is probably yes,” I said. “Especially in Yellowstone.”

“Yeah,” Henry replied. “There’s nothing here that’s not worth it.”

Elvis is my indoor boy. He usually takes something like 500 steps a day, so 13,000 steps up and down a mountain tired him out big time. He was a good sport about it though and enjoyed some alone time listening to his playlist in the truck, while Henry and I climbed up and down more stairs and hills to check out the otherworldly sights to see across Yellowstone.

By the time we reached the Mammoth Hot Springs, where we left off yesterday, the sun was beginning to set. We passed a buffalo on the road again on our way there and drove through a grove of juniper and sagebrush. I can’t breathe in enough of those aromas.

My knee started to hurt somewhere around steps number 21,000 or 22,000, but Henry and I made our final climb up to catch a better view of Mammoth Hot Springs. Hardly anyone else was around at this point of the day. My hope had been to take the Blacktail Plateau Drive as recommended by Walt, but it was closed. 

Our last hours in the park occurred at sunset, taking detours like the one way behind and through Mammoth Hot Springs and stopping every once in a while for mule deer or elk or buffalo or to snap a shot of the way the sun was hitting the cliff, or to gawk at the double rainbow we caught. Elvis turned on “Life’s a Happy Song” from The Muppets Movie, and I thought to myself, yes it is. 

We finished the day with over 23,000 steps, tired, and so, so, so happy to be sleeping in real beds again.

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