Westward Adventures – Upper & Lower Terraces, Hellroaring Creek & Mt. Washburn

Sunday was a very busy day. Since I was starting out in Jackson Hole, I had a really early start (6:30 am) and was planning to stay in either Tower Falls or Mammoth. I made it up to Tower Falls around 10:30, but it was full (or possibly still full from the night before), so I drove up to Mammoth and secured my campsite for the night. When I checked in, they warned me to be aware of the elk in the area because there were a ton of calves around and the mothers would charge if they felt threatened. They weren’t kidding about all the elk – they were everywhere! They didn’t seem to care that there were cars and people everywhere and just kept eating grass and wandering around. I got an early lunch at the cafe and then walked to the Lower Terraces.

As you approach the terraces, the first thing you see is the Liberty Cap which was created after a hot spring plume stayed open and the mineral deposits just kept building into what you can see today.


I ended up wandering up to the Upper Terraces too, but those steps still hurt to do! The Upper Terraces gave great views out across all of Mammoth.

 The colors in the different springs were amazing – lots of oranges and browns here in comparison to the blues and greens from the Artists Paintpots.

There were a lot of trees and bushes that were taken over by the hot springs and were in varying states of calcification.

The stark contrast of the white mineral deposits made the active hot springs even more prominent across the landscape. 

After the terraces, I headed to Hellroaring Creek. This was a 4 mile out-and-back hike where you actually start out at the top and head down toward the creek. There were warnings all over Yellowstone about bears, but there were extra signs in this parking lot.

After making sure I had my bear spray handy, I started hiking down towards the creek, with great views of the surrounding mountains.

The suspension bridge is only about a mile from the trailhead, so even though it’s over 500′ down (and then back up again), it’s worth the trip.

From the bridge, you can see down to the creek, and at the crossing, it’s swift whitewater rapids.

I ended up walking the whole way to the creek. Theoretically you can cross it to combine this hike with another trail for a much longer hike, but while the current is not as deep or swift, it is still at least several feet deep and there are warnings about safe water crossing. Overall, there wasn’t too much to see at the creek, but there were a lot of birds nesting in that area.

After heading back from the creek, it was up, up, up to get back to the trailhead.

From Hellroaring Creek, I headed to Mount Washburn to attempt my first 10,000′ summit. As part of the Vacation Races series, they have different “clubs” you can join if you do certain things after the race and get a discount on future races. For Yellowstone, one option was the Washburn Club – hiking Mount Washburn within 72 hours of the race and posting a picture with your bib and medal. Challenge accepted!

Throughout Yellowstone, you’ll see hundreds of downed trees and Mount Washburn was no exception.

The good and bad part of this hike is that you can see how much farther you have to go to get to the top. If you squint really hard at the highest peak in the picture below, you can just make out the outline of the observation tower.

The trail is a very wide fire road, which is not accessible to cars, but makes for an easier path to get to the top.

There wasn’t too much snow on the actual road, but as I climbed higher, there were definitely huge snowdrifts.

At the top, you could see almost a full 360 of the mountains and inside the observation tower, there were directional signs to show which mountains you were looking at in the distance.

As I hiked up, I could see some bighorn sheep on the next hillside over and once I was up in the observation deck, I took advantage of the telescope to see them up close.

Despite being a little overexposed, the picture turned out pretty good. I just held my iPhone up to the eyepiece and tried to center it as best I could. Even though I started out in the afternoon, the weather cooperated for me and I got a great view at the top.

There were about 20 or so people at the top of the mountain when I got there, but they quickly dispersed and there was a couple who had also run the race who offered to take my picture at the top, and soon enough, I was the only one left up there. It was pretty cold at the top, so once the sun started to go behind the mountains, I quickly headed back down. As I was coming around a bend, I could see two bighorn sheep near the trail, so I slowly made my way towards them. One of the sheep kept an eye on me and headed into the middle of the trail after I walked down.

This was my first 10,000′ hike and it was definitely tough! The whole hike ended up being a little over 8.5 miles because the fire road was closed down at the base of the hill instead of at the main parking lot, which added an extra 2 miles to the hike. I didn’t get my Garmin started right away, but it was about a 2,000′ elevation gain and loss.

It took me almost 4 hours to do the hike, including a little time spent hanging out at the top. Since I started later in the afternoon, I knew I would be pushing myself to get to the top and chasing the sunset on my way down, but I’m really glad I did it. 

After leaving Mount Washburn, I headed to Roosevelt Lodge for dinner and on my way, I was able to see Rosie and her three cubs – my first bear sighting!

That ended up being my only bear sighting of the trip, so I’m glad I got to see them when (and where) I did.

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