Wolf Welcome

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For the second day of our recent trip to Yellowstone, we decided to focus on the Northeast section of the park, specifically the Lamar Valley. We were hoping to spot some wolves, so we headed out early to the Slough Creek Campground and were not disappointed. The scores of people set up with spotting scopes was a good first sign that we would have luck, and soon we could make out the wolves testing the bison grazing by the Creek. Once late-morning set in the wolves retreated to their den up in the hillside, but we still had plenty of energy left. We continued into Lamar Valley, hiked the wonderful Trout Creek Trail, and then found a spot for lunch on the banks of the Lamar River. From there we set out for the Roosevelt Lodge Cabins to reach the trail head to the Tower Fall and Lost Lake hikes. By the time we visited the falls and spent some time on the banks of Lost Lake, the afternoon was winding down, so we made a final stop at the Lava Creek Picnic Area on our way back to Mammoth. A yellow-bellied marmot kept us company as we ate dinner, and Five Spice and Five String felt a sense of accomplishment that we had finally worn out the Younger Fives 🙂

 

Slough Creek
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Trout Lake
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Tower Fall and Lost Lake
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Lava Creek Picnic Area
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Hiking the Lewis and Clark Pass

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After getting a start on exploring the 65+ miles of trails accessible from downtown Helena, we decided to take a longer drive and explore the Continental Divide. The Lewis and Clark Pass (Alice Creek Trail) seemed like a great place to start, being a 1.5 mile round trip hike that approaches the Rockies from the west. The history of this well-worn trail is fascinating; it has been used by Native American tribes for thousands of years as a gateway to the plains and buffalo hunting, and Meriwether Lewis crossed here with 14 others (William Clark took a different way) in 1806 en route back east.

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Our hike started off well, and the kids were excited to view wildflowers, form snowballs from the scattered patches of snow, and cross a gentle stream. While the incline is gradual, the path is quite straight and you can see the path ahead for almost the whole way. Without switchbacks or other changes to the scenery, the Younger Fives’ interest slowly faded. By the time the path made a 90-degree turn to the right to make the final climb, the snow was quite deep which made pressing forward slow and difficult.

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Coming down went more smoothly, and we stopped for lunch at the base of a small waterfall. The kids liked spending more time exploring the stream, following it through patches of cottonwood trees. Despite the setbacks, it felt amazing to be following footsteps that stretch back thousands of years.

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Directions
* Take Alice Creek Road, just over a mile west of the intersection of Rt. 200 and Rt. 279 (Lincoln Road). From there go about 7 miles on a good dirt road to a sharp left by an interpretive sign. Then the road narrows and goes another 3 miles to the end where the gate, picnic area, and restroom are located. 4-wheel drive not needed, but at least when we went the road was muddy in spots.
* Directions from other sites underestimated the distance from the Rt. 200 / 279 intersection to Alice Creek Road. Also, other directions said the dirt road went 7 miles, but that was only to the first forest service sign. It is really another 3 miles further to the trail head.
* The closest town is Lincoln, about 7 miles west of Alice Creek Road.
* From downtown Helena the total time to the trail head was about 1 hour 20 minutes.

Where the Sidewalk Ends…The Wild Begins

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Although San Cristóbal de las Casas is not a large city by any means, we have quickly grown accustomed to living in an urban environment. We can mark the time by the loudspeaker of the water jug truck coming down the street, and our excursions involve mostly navigating narrow sidewalks to avoid the flow of traffic around us. However, as we were pleased to discover, just beyond the northern beltway, the sights and sounds of the city melt away into the tranquility of bubbling streams and hanging orchids.

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The trip to Orquídeas Moxviquil OM is literally a breath of fresh air. It is only short walk north of the main city market and could be reached by foot from the center of town without too much trouble. OM’s mission is to work with the local community to preserve and protect the wild forests around the city as well as make the forest accessible through recreation and education. With our hiking boots laced tight, we were thrilled to tackle their 1.5 mile nature trail. 

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Having been a bit removed from nature as of late, we truly loved every minute of our trek through the forest. Using the paper trail guide and the many informative signs along the way, we learned quite a bit about the native plants and the many types of epiphytes, including orchids. Most of all though, we enjoyed the thrill of exploring a new kind of forest and soaking in the sounds of nature uninterrupted by motor vehicles.

When we finally wrapped up our wonderful hike, we took a last look at the city framed by rolling hills and green leaves. It felt good to know that if we needed another break from urban life, refuge would be just a short walk away.

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From Sunrise to Sunset at Bryce Canyon National Park

We only had one full day in Bryce Canyon National Park and it was action packed! We started by seeing the early morning light spread across the canyon at Rainbow Point and ended by stargazing in absolute darkness at Fairyland Point. 

In between we saw towering hoodoos, hiked through narrow crevices and arches on our way to the canyon floor, and viewed the canyon from above while hiking from Sunrise to Sunset Points. It was surely a day to remember!

Big Fun for Little Legs: Our Favorite Hikes in Yellowstone

While Yellowstone offers plenty to see and do without venturing far from the roads, some of our favorite Yellowstone memories were made out on the trails. Even with young children, we found six hikes in the park that were the perfect balance of fun and kid friendly terrain.

Specimen Ridge Trail (Trailhead to Grand Canyon Overlook)
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Round Trip Distance: 2 miles
Just a few miles past Tower Falls on the road to the Northeast Entrance, the Specimen Ridge trail makes a relatively easy climb and after a mile offers great views of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone looking towards Tower Fall. We found the view of the Canyon a great place for a picnic lunch before heading back.

Hellroaring Creek Trail (Trailhead to Black Canyon of the Yellowstone)

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Round Trip Distance: 2 miles
This trailhead can be found on the road between Mammoth and Tower-Roosevelt. Unlike most of the other hikes, this one starts with a moderate descent through several switchbacks. It then flattens out and comes to an impressive suspension bridge over the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone. The swaying of the bridge makes crossing an adventure in itself, and there are some great views down from the bridge into the Canyon. A set of large rocks just beyond the bridge were a popular place for both climbing and snacking.

Brink of Lower Falls
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Round Trip Distance: 0.8 miles

Definitely one of the more adventurous hikes that are still manageable for young children, this trail descends from the Lower Falls parking lot through a series of switchbacks to the brink of the Lower Falls. The view looking 308 feet straight down from the top of the falls is quite a thrill, and the Younger Fives could really appreciate the power of the Yellowstone River when they heard it thundering just under their feet.

Duck Lake Trail
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Round Trip Distance: 1 mile
This is a nice little trial that starts across the road from the West Thumb Geysers parking lot. The trail goes through new-growth pine before slowly descending to the lake. While not the most scenic of trails (the power lines over portions of the trail and the Loop Road visible from the lake itself do distract some from the natural scenery), the Younger Fives were delighted to find some huge stick structures to climb in on the beach. It was also nice for once to be near water and not have to worry about scalding temperatures or sulfuric acid.

Bunsen Peak Trail
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Round Trip Distance: 4 miles to peak /  2 miles to good overlook before ascent

This is a great hike on the road between Mammoth and Norris. The first mile of the trail is a pretty gentle climb up with several good views of the surrounding peaks and lakes. After about a mile the trail continues up a moderately steep switchbacks to the summit. We opted for just the 2 mile loop, and really enjoyed the birds eye view of Golden Gate Canyon.

Artists Paint Pot
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Round Trip Distance: 1 mile
This is a great stop on the road between Mammoth and Old Faithful (just a little south of Norris). The trail goes through some new growth woods before coming to a boardwalk loop around mudpots, springs, geysers, and vents. The colors ranged from blues to browns, and the mudpots here (acidic water that dissolved rock into a bubbling goo) were quite impressive.