Yellowstone in November. Backpacking Agate Creek

Joey

walking somewhere
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Apr 1, 2014
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878
This is a trip report from my visit to Yellowstone National Park last weekend. It details a short, one night backpack to Agate Creek along the Yellowstone River, and also some sights from driving around the park.



Last Friday (Halloween) I drove up to Yellowstone after working all day. I arrived at the Lewis Lake campground, where I met up with @Keith just before dark. Snow covered most of the campground.

Saturday Morning (November 1st), I followed Keith up to Canyon. Elk and Bison were common along the road, more so than humans.


Elk along the road


Bison near Mud Volcano



Hayden Valley

Near Otter Creek, between Canyon Village and Hayden Valley, we watched a grizzly bear walking along in the snow.



Grizzly bear near Otter Creek. Second picture taken by @Keith




Driving towards the Canyon Village junction

At Canyon, I was surprised to see a store was still open. Keith had told me so, but I didn't believe him until I saw it myself. The outdoor shop next to the Canyon Visitor Center was open, selling coffee, hot dogs, and supplies. Good to know for future trips.

Sporting Goods store still open in November at Canyon Village

I parted ways with Keith, and headed up to Mammoth. My plan was to backpack for one night. The Backcountry Office was closed, and I had to wait about 20 minutes for a law enforcement Ranger to show up and write the permit. He warned me that a snowstorm was expected, and asked me if I was bringing snowshoes (I wasn't). The permit he wrote me was a winter backcountry permit, different from the summer ones. Instead of campsites, I just give the approximate location that I intend to camp. I don't actually have to camp in the designated spot.



The view of the Gallatin Range, driving between Canyon village and Norris


Swan Lake Flats near Mammoth


Next I headed east towards the Tower Junction. I was backpacking to Agate Creek, which is a small creek that drops down from Specimen Ridge to the Yellowstone River. This is located in the Northeast part of the park, just before the Lamar Valley. A backcountry ranger had mentioned to me earlier this year that the Agate Creek campsite was one of his 3 favorite in the park. Since I had never been there, I wanted to check it out.



A view of Specimen Ridge from the road as I drove east towards the Tower Junction

I arrived at the Specimen Ridge Trailhead around 1:30pm, and got packed up. The trail heads up to the ridge, gaining several hundred feet right away. At first the sky was sunny, but dark clouds loomed in the distance. After climbing up to the ridge, I hiked through open sagebrush and grasses. The views were wide open. Its about 2.4 miles to the junction with Agate Creek Trail, and 6.5 miles total to campsite 2Y1.


Views the first few miles of the hike


Wolf tracks along the trail. They were common


Looking out at the Yellowstone River. My camp is about 5 miles south from this viewpoint.


Views along Specimen Ridge

I saw both elk and bison herds on the slopes, and had to pass one lone bull. The trail continued to slowly gain elevation, as I hiked right above the Yellowstone River, which is knows as the Grand Canyon of The Yellowstone. Mount Washburn dominated the skies to the west, when I could see it.



Mount Washburn


A lone bison along the trail


After 2 hours of hiking, the trail starts dropping down steeply to the river. About 1500 feet over the course of a mile. Rain, not snow, started falling as I reached the campsite. It sits in a small, flat meadow above the river. Sort of a plateau. Grizzly tracks were in the mud right as I reached camp, and there were signs of digging in the camp area as well.

Views of the Yellowstone River running north through the canyon


Dropping down to Agate Creek


Elk


The trail as it nears campsite 2Y1. Agate Creek is on the left.


The Yellowstone River viewed from camp




A few views of my tent site.



I quickly set up camp in the rain, and then hiked down to the Yellowstone River. This is the water source for the campsite, and is definitely a long haul back up. At least 100 feet of elevation gain. After getting down to the river, I realized I could have just camped down there, since I was now in Winter Camping. The river is wide and deep, and has long beaches to the north. Agate creek is pretty small, and is sort of in a ravine.


The Yellowstone River near Agate Creek


Agate Creek


I went back up to my camp, had a fire, and finally crashed to bed around 7pm. Not much to do this time of year with early nights. A mix of rain and snow, along with wind, continued all night long.

Sunday (November 2nd), I got up and packed up camp. No snow like I was expecting. There were however more grizzly bear tracks on the trail near camp.



Bear tracks near camp


I slowly climbed up out of the canyon. At the top, I had to put on gloves and more layers of clothing. It was much colder today, and snow flurries were blowing. Some ridge tops were dusted with new snow.





Views along the ridge hiking out.


A herd of Elk taking off


Looking across the river towards the Tower area.

I could see an elk herd along the trail in the distance, and when I got near them, they took off.

I encountered another herd of elk much closer, and they took off as well when they saw me.




Elk running near the trailhead

Back at my van, I decided to drive up the Lamar Valley. Not much wildlife other than buffalo.


Views in Lamar Valley


The entire park was quiet. Very few cars on the road, which is so different from the summer months. This was the last day the majority of the park was open. All of the roads and park entrances were closing the following morning, except for the road between Mammoth and Cooke City. Dunraven Pass, between Tower and Canyon Village, was already closed. Elk were just everywhere this trip. Just as common as bison.

Snow was on the road between Norris and Canyon, and a small herd of bison jumped out of the woods along the way.


The road between Norris and Canyon Village

I drove through Hayden Valley just before dark. It was chilly, and snow dusted the meadows. A grizzly bear, possibly the same one from the day before, grazed on the hillside. I sat at one of the pull outs, and just enjoyed how quiet and peaceful it was. I was all alone.


A grizzly bear grazing in Hayden Valley.



Views of Hayden Valley

Finally, I headed south, and made it out of the park. Snow started sticking, and I slept in my van just outside of Grand Teton National Park. In the morning, the snowy Teton Range looked beautiful in the blue November skies.

The Teton Range


Mount Moran at Oxbow Bend

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Artemus

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Great! I'm going to go walk that! Thanks Joey. Nice TR. What night time temp did you see? I can't believe you got this done this late in the season. Would you care to share the other two "best" campspots here or by PM?
 

scatman

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Is that a new pack I see on your back? Enjoyed your report, especially the elk herds.

Did the campsite live up to the ranger's billing? Could you tell if you could get up the far bank of the Yellowstone to hike to Bell's lake from the campsite?
 

Bob

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Excellent....................
 

Scott Chandler

Wildness is a necessity- John Muir
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I guess crossing the river might actually be the toughest part.

I can only imagine. While I've never been to Agate Creek (thanks again @Joey for vicariously getting me there) the spots I've gotten to that show the river below the falls have always intimidated me. My desert blood still finds "big rivers" crazy.:eek:

Joey, any clue on how fishing would be at that site?
 

Joey

walking somewhere
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Apr 1, 2014
Messages
878
Great! I'm going to go walk that! Thanks Joey. Nice TR. What night time temp did you see? I can't believe you got this done this late in the season. Would you care to share the other two "best" campspots here or by PM?
Thanks @langutah, I definitely have gotten lucky with the weather this year. I think its over now though, snow is officially here for good in NW Wyoming. Night time temps for this trip were probably mid to high twenties. Typically its colder than that.

The ranger never told me his other 2 camps spots. The fact that he labeled it as such surprised me, and was one of the reasons I wanted to see the site. I have a hard time labeling campsites as the "best" spots, since it really varies from person to person. We all have different ideas of what a great campsite is. It also has a lot to do with our experiences there.

If I had to pick my own top five personal favorite sites in the park, this is what I would pick. Just keep in mind there are another 30 or so sites that are spectacular in the park. These have a lot to do with me:

Sportsman Lake
The peninsula site on Wapiti Lake
Mariposa Lake
The Hoodoos site along the eastern park boundary, up Miller Creek
The Elk Tongue Patrol Cabin site up Slough Creek. Camp on the river, eat dinner on the patrol cabin porch.

But if I had to pick this same list tomorrow, it would be different.

Lots of great sights in the Thorofare, along Pebble Creek, around Shoshone Lake, in the Bechler Canyon, and in the Gallatin Range.
 

Joey

walking somewhere
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Apr 1, 2014
Messages
878
Is that a new pack I see on your back? Enjoyed your report, especially the elk herds.

Did the campsite live up to the ranger's billing? Could you tell if you could get up the far bank of the Yellowstone to hike to Bell's lake from the campsite?
The campsite was nice, but it didn't stand out. Probably has to do with the weather. It was rainy the whole time. Blue skies and more daylight might be a different story. Definitely a great view of the river.

Not a new pack, an older Gregory. It's straps are broken, so it destroys my shoulders. I only use it on one nighters, because by the second day I have strap burn marks. But it holds more gear.

Is Bell Lake the un marked lake in the Antelope Bear Management area? You are really wanting to sneak back in there, aren't you?;)
Crossing the river is your major concern, and then you have to climb straight up a fire burned ridge. But I wouldn't put it past you. I wouldn't think the river could be crossed until late fall, unless you used a packraft or float.

There does appear to be large banks on both sides downstream of the river that would be easy to explore. Maybe a future weekend trip. Spend 2 nights at the site, and day hike around
 

Joey

walking somewhere
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Apr 1, 2014
Messages
878
I can only imagine. While I've never been to Agate Creek (thanks again @Joey for vicariously getting me there) the spots I've gotten to that show the river below the falls have always intimidated me. My desert blood still finds "big rivers" crazy.:eek:

Joey, any clue on how fishing would be at that site?
I can't say for sure, because I'm not a fisherman. But I've heard people say this is a great spot to fish. The river is calm here, not sure if that means anything in fishing terms.
 

slc_dan

Desert Rat-Weekend Warrior
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Jun 7, 2012
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I've only experienced the Disneyland side of Yellowstone, all the while knowing what amazing backcountry is available. Thanks for showing me a side I need to experience first hand. Way to get out there so late too.
 

Joey

walking somewhere
Joined
Apr 1, 2014
Messages
878
I've only experienced the Disneyland side of Yellowstone, all the while knowing what amazing backcountry is available. Thanks for showing me a side I need to experience first hand. Way to get out there so late too.
Thanks!

The Yellowstone backcountry is just like the front country, but without the people. :)
 
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Vegan.Hiker

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I always save your reports for when I have enough time to really take my time and enjoy them. Thanks for taking us along on all these great adventures. The effort you put into making these reports is truly appreciated.
 

Joey

walking somewhere
Joined
Apr 1, 2014
Messages
878
I always save your reports for when I have enough time to really take my time and enjoy them. Thanks for taking us along on all these great adventures. The effort you put into making these reports is truly appreciated.
Thanks @Vegan.Hiker ! I appreciate the feedback. Glad to know you enjoy them.
 
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