“A classic Yellowstone backpacking trip -- if waterfalls are your thing, this one is for you!”
— Tom Carter
Birding · Hot Spring · River/Creek · Swimming · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife
Not recommended before late July because of deep fords and hungry mosquitos. The trail makes three difficult fords of the Bechler River. Even in August, the Upper Ford is often knee-deep and the Lower Ford may be hip-deep. The ford at the top of Bechler Meadows is sandy-bottomed, but knee-to-thigh-deep.
This 31.6-mile one-way, multi-day backpack trip is a Yellowstone classic! The route tours through Yellowstone's Cascade Corner. The southwest corner of Yellowstone is the wettest, receiving almost 70 inches of precipitation a year. The Bechler River and the Falls River and their tributaries drain this corner of the park. After crossing the Continental Divide three times, the trail reaches the headwaters of the Bechler at Three Rivers Junction. It then follows the Bechler through Bechler Canyon past some of Yellowstone's most beautiful waterfalls. Big Bechler Meadows is also a wonder. By the time you reach Cave Falls, the Bechler and Falls rivers have joined into is a raging torrent over 200 feet across, rivaling even the mighty Yellowstone River.
Need to Know
The trail begins from the Lone Star Geyser Trailhead located just south of Kepler Cascades
on the Old Faithful
to West Thumb road. It ends near Cave Falls in YNP's southwest corner. You'll need to either leave a car at Cave Falls or arrange to be picked up at the end of this shuttled route. To reach Cave Falls from Old Faithful
you'll have to drive to West Yellowstone, then take U.S. 20 to Ashton, Idaho. From there follow the Cave Falls road east 25 miles to the trailhead. Traveling through Bechler Canyon from north to south is much easier, since there's a 1400 foot net elevation loss.
The Bechler Canyon trail begins on the Lone Star Geyser Trail
, following the paved path 2.5 miles along a beautifully serene stretch of the Firehole River to reach the geyser. Lone Star's 10-foot geyser cone is one of the largest in Yellowstone, indicating that this geyser has been erupting here for thousands of years. It erupts about every 3 hours, sending water 45 feet from the top of the cone.
From Lone Star the trail continues another .3 miles to a trail junction. Turn left and follow the Shoshone Lake Trail
over a bridged crossing of the Firehole and through a minor hot spring area. The trail enters a lovely meadow at 4.3 miles. It skirts the east side of the meadow then enters the forest and begins a 350-foot climb to unmarked Grants Pass on the Continental Divide, at 6.1 miles. The pass was named for President Grant, who signed the bill creating Yellowstone on March 1, 1872.
At the 6.8-mile mark, take a right turn on the Bechler River Trail
. It climbs 650 ft in the first 2 miles to the first of 2 more Continental Divide crossings. The trail dips to cross a stream flowing west to the Firehole River then again crosses the Divide at 9.8 miles. From here you'll stay on the Pacific side of the Divide. The trail crosses Littles Fork and enters its lovely meadow at 11.8 miles, continues past Douglas Knob, and crosses the Gregg Fork at 14 miles. Thereafter, the Twister Falls Trail (on right) leads to an overlook of the 55 ft falls (misplaced upstream on some maps). The trail continues along the Gregg, passes Farris Fork Spur Trail (to a great swimming hole, on left), crosses the Farris Fork, and reaches Three Rivers Junction at 15.5 miles.
Three Rivers is special! The Gregg, Farris, and Phillips forks join to form the Bechler River, named for Gustavus Bechler, chief topographer for the 1872 Hayden Survey. Little attention was paid to the park's southwest corner for the next 50 years. Then, in the face of attempts to dam the Bechler for irrigation, William Gregg explored the area and published articles describing its numerous waterfalls. There are 30 falls and cascades within 2 miles of Three Rivers, including 45-ft Ragged Falls, just up stream on the Farris Fork.
For the next 7 miles the trail follows the river through spectacular Bechler Canyon, passing Treasure Island (at 20.3 mi), 45-ft Iris Falls (at 20.4 mi), stunning, two-tiered Colonnade Falls (35 ft & 67 ft; at 20.8 mi), before entering Bechler Meadows. Along the way you’ll cross numerous streams and twice ford the Bechler. By early August the Upper Ford (at 17.8 mi) is usually knee-deep but the Lower Ford (at 19.3 mi) may be hip-deep (look for a shallow course on the downstream side).
At the 24-mile mark take the Bechler Meadows Cutoff Trail
to the right. The cutoff trail immediately makes a difficult sandy-bottomed, but knee-to-thigh-deep ford of the Bechler River and heads into big, beautiful Bechler Meadows, with impressive views of the Tetons to the south. In just .7 miles turn left and follow the Bechler Meadows Trail
south. As the trail heads out into the heart of the meadows, look behind you to see 230-foot Ouzel Falls tumbling off the southern end of the Madison Plateau.
The trail makes a knee-deep crossing of Boundary Creek (at 26 mi) and reaches the Rocky Ford Cutoff Trail
(on left) at 26.4 miles. Follow this cutoff trail another .8 miles to rejoin the Bechler River Trail
(taking Bechler Meadows Trail
avoided difficult to cross Rocky Ford). Turn right and follow the Bechler River Trail
(past Bechler Cutoff Trail at 29.4) past 15-ft Bechler Falls and the Falls River confluence at 30.1, and reaches 250-ft wide & 20-ft high Cave Falls and the trailhead at 31.6 miles.
Thanks to guidebook author, Tom Carter, for sharing this trail description. To learn more about visiting Yellowstone, check out his book, Day Hiking Yellowstone
Flora & Fauna
Bechler Meadows has an impressive display of wildflowers, including one-to-two-foot purple lupine (distant relative of the Texas bluebonnet), elephanthead (growing in two-foot stocks covered with delicate pinkish-purple flowers, each of which remarkably resembles the head, ears and trunk of an elephant), and three-foot tall (and higher) purple stalks of larkspur.