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Monday, October 4, 2010

Osprey Falls in Yellowstone National Park

While on my July 2010 motorcycle trip to Yellowstone National Park (YNP) I could see a lot of geothermal features, wildlife, and natural features from the bike and I was able to park and take short walks to many of the famous sites such as Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic, the Upper and Lower Fall, and the Morning Glory Pool, but I wanted to see and experience YNP from less crowded vantage points.
 The pools have such vivid color.
One of the most famous sites in America - Old Faithful Geyser.
At nearly 370 in diameter the Grand Prismatic is the largest hot spring
in the USA and third in the world.
I wanted to get away from the crowds to see some of the more remote sites and two other men in our group were willing to do some hiking with me and my son.  One of the hikes we decided to go on was to Osprey Falls.  Our research indicated that the trail was "moderate," although at least one site designated the hike as difficult.

We left the West Yellowstone KOA early that morning grabbing breakfast at Ernie's Bakery (more about Ernie's later) and then road to the Old Bunsen Peak Road Trail trailhead - 5 miles south of Mammoth.

On the ride to the trailhead we saw two different coyotes (including one crossing the road near the trailhead), bison, elk, and a swan. Of course we saw steam from numerous geothermal features that are otherwise hidden behind trees and hills far away from the areas were visitors are allowed.  The ride was great - so little traffic and crisp cold air (approx 45 - 55 degrees - July 19, 2010).
Coyote near the trailhead early in the morning.
Peaks to the west of the trail.
We started on the hike around 8:50 A.M..  Once on the trail we were totally alone, just four of us.  It was quite peaceful and well worth the early ride.  We headed southeast along the Old Bunsen Peak Road past burnt forest, through grassland, and past Sheepeaters Cliffs.  The trail follows the set of vehicle tracks so for about 3.5 miles hikers have side by side trails.
Sheepeaters Cliffs were named after a sub-band of Shoshone Indians.
The trail skirts around Bunsen Peak and beside Sheepeaters Canyon.  The views of the canyon are awesome and at times dizzying.  At 800 foot deep the canyon is second only to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone (in regards to canyons in YNP).  The column of basalt are clearly visible from the trail.
Wow - that is a deep canyon! 
After passing the Sheepeaters Cliffs and Bunsen Peak we turned south on the Osprey Falls Trail and entered the forest (still recovering from a fire years ago).  The trail quickly begins descending through a series of switchbacks.  We could hear the roar of the falls and see Gardner River long before we could see Osprey Falls.  The last 1/4 mile is a series of 14 switchbacks, often less than a foot wide, that descends 800 feet into the Sheepeaters Canyon and ends about 30 feet from Osprey Falls.
My son heading down the series of switchbacks as the trail nears the falls.

Osprey Falls and the trail - we are nearly there.

Osprey Falls - 150 foot falls.
The vertical cliffs rise straight up and the Gardner River crashes down 150 feet causing mist and spray several feet away from the base of the falls.  The area offers shade, solitude, and a relaxing chorus. 
A great seat to the spectacular site.
Our round trip distance was 9.1 miles (round trip).  I had been working out prior to the trip and felt ready for the hike, but I will tell you the hike back up those 14 switchbacks was tough.   We were in a hurry to meet the rest of the group for a 1/2 day river rafting trip in Gardiner, Montana so we had to push it.

It was well worth it.  I highly recommend the hike to Osprey Falls whenever you get to visit YNP.  You will see so much more when you get away from the crowds.  Be prepared and take water & snacks as well as other hiking type supplies.  Make sure you have comfortable shoes. Now go take a hike! 

Check out various video Taking It Outside including videos from YNP


  1. Hello! Thank you so much for visiting and commenting on my blog!

    Love this post - I wanted to hike Osprey Falls as well, but we just never got to it (definitely next time)! Too bad, it looks beautiful. Love your blog, I will continue reading.

  2. I loved Yellowstone too, didn't have time to hike though. Got stuck behind a heard of Bison but never saw a Coyote :-(

  3. Great shots! I like your blog!! Yellowstone is only 100 miles west of our soon to be home in Wyoming and I plan on spending a lot more time in the park. I've seen other photos of albino moose, they were whiter than this one but it sure isn't a normal moose! Thanks for commenting on my blog!

  4. Nice pics...we are heading out Yellowstone for Columbus Day weekend, I think...would love to do the hike, but not sure I have the stamina. Sounds tough!