This 32-mile route along the beautiful Bechler River is one of the best ways to experience Yellowstone National Park. Though there are some logistical issues, hiking this trail is totally worth it- a great way to get away from the crowds and into the wilderness.
The entire Bechler River Trail is 32 miles and heads over Grants Pass, past Douglas Knob, over the Continental Divide (three times), down Bechler Canyon, past more waterfalls than you can count, across the Bechler River, and through Bechler Meadows to Cave Falls and the Bechler Ranger Station.
What Makes It Great
Backpackers with a leisurely schedule usually do the trip over four days. If you do it that way, it's likely your biggest day will be around eight miles.The best time to do this trip is in September when the Pterodactyl-d mosquitos of summer have died down and when the river levels have subsided, allowing for safer fords (of which there are three). Also, there are fantastic fall colors in Belcher Canyon. The profusion of waterfalls in Bechler Canyon is also impressive: Twister Falls, Colonnade Falls (upper and lower), Iris Falls, Ouzel Falls. Also a sidetrip available on day one: a short hike to the Shoshone Geyser Basin.
Some fair warnings: this is one of the park's more popular backcountry hikes and permits are required. You'll want to make your backcountry camping reservations as early as you can. Also, this southwest corner of the park is among the more active areas in Yellowstone for grizzly bears. Don't head here without bear spray and the knowledge of what to do if you encounter a bear.
Finally, though it's only a 32-mile hike from the car you left at Lone Star Trailhead, it's a five-hour drive... Seriously. One option is to convince a group of friends to hike the trail in the opposite direction as you, meet in the middle and swap keys. Another option is to start (or end) the hike at one of the trailheads on the west side of the Grassy Lake Road instead of Cave Falls. You’ll miss a few miles of the Bechler River, but it will make the car shuttle an hour instead of five. Or you could spend an entire day doing a car shuttle. Or you can pay a shuttle service to pick you up.
Who is Going to Love It
One of Yellowstone's most famous backcountry features, which you'll encounter along this hike, is the hot springs known as Mr. Bubbles. Starting at Lone Star, you should hit it on your second day. It's likely you'll have this interesting 20-foot diameter, waist deep, bubbling pool all to yourself- something you can't quite get at Old Faithful, for example.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
You can get a shuttle from Old Faithful for the 2 hour drive to Cave Falls trailhead.