Seven Mile Hole-Washburn Hot Springs
ElevationAscent: 2,016' 615 m
Descent: -2,017' -615 m
High: 8,136' 2,480 m
Low: 6,744' 2,056 m
GradeAvg Grade: 6% (3°)
Max Grade: 47% (25°)
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“This scenic trail plunges 1,200 feet to the bottom of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone!”— Tom Carter
The trail closely follows the canyon rim for 1.3 miles. Many excellent views of the canyon lie just a few yards from the trail. Soon, Silver Cord Cascade's thin strain of white water can be seen as it surges down the far wall of the canyon. Its 1,000-foot drop makes it the highest cascade in the park.
The trail then swings away from the canyon and enters the lodgepole forest. At the 2.8-mile mark a junction with the Mount Washburn Spur Trail is passed on the left. The trail to Seven Mile Hole continues through the trees another 1/2 mile then begins its steep descent to the river. At times, the trail is very steep and loose scree makes for poor traction. Along the way areas of both active and inactive hydrothermal features are passed. On a sweltering day, with a tinge of sulphur in the air, one can easily imagine descending into hell.
The thermal features are mere remnants of the once extensive hot spring activity here. A fracture zone was created beneath the ground by a huge volcanic explosion 600,000 years ago known as the Yellowstone Caldera. Water and steam percolated up through the fractured ground. Over thousands of years the constant flow severely altered the chemical and physical composition of the hard rhyolite lava. Its normal brown-gray color was transformed into the brilliant yellows and oranges you see in the canyon today. More important, the rock was softened, which allowed the river to erode it and form this awe-inspiring canyon.
At 5.5 miles the bottom of the canyon is reached. It is called “Seven" Mile Hole because it lies 7 miles down river from Lower Falls. This trail was built in 1880 by park Superintendent Norris, who described it this way, "Here, only between Tower Creek and the Great Falls of the Yellowstone, does a bridle-path reach the foaming, white-surfaced, ultramarine blue water of the 'Mystic River' . . . the seclusion, the scenery, and the surroundings of this hidden glen of the Wonder Land render it one of the most uniquely attractive [areas of the park]."
The confluence of Sulphur Creek and the Yellowstone is an excellent spot for lunch or to just lay back and relax. There are also several great campsites in the area and fishing here for large cutthroat is good. Somehow you feel connected to the canyon. Your eyes are drawn up its massive walls. Although the canyon contains more trees here, it is a full 500 feet deeper than at Artist Point and you are in the canyon alongside the mighty Yellowstone!
Once you have enjoyed your stay, retrace your steps to Glacial Boulder. The climb out of the canyon is no picnic, especially on a hot day. Take it slow and pack extra water for this part of the outing. On the way back it is recommended you take a side trip to Washburn Hot Springs. When the Mount Washburn Spur Trail junction is reached, turn right (not left which returns to Glacial Boulder) and follow it 1.5 miles north to the springs (about half-way you'll pass through a smaller thermally-affected area). Washburn Hot Springs is a collection of highly acidic mud pots, easily found on the left side of the trail. Members of the 1870 Washburn Expedition called this area "Hell-Broth Springs," because it was such an "infernal looking smelling and sounding place." Continuing the satanic nomenclature, individual thermal features in the area were later dubbed the "Devil's Cauldron" and the "Devil's Ink Pot." Climb the hill behind the two big mud pots to see the rest of the basin. But be very careful, acidic thermal areas are extremely dangerous.
Thanks to guidebook author, Tom Carter, for sharing this trail description. To learn more about visiting Yellowstone, check out his book, Day Hiking Yellowstone.
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