After coming off the Teton Crest Trail, we took a day off hiking and chilled in Jackson Hole. We stayed at a hotel, ate lots of good food, and checked out more of the Tetons by car. We initially planned to head into Yellowstone National Park the next day, where we had a campsite booked at Bridge Bay Campground for two nights. Adam’s back was still bothering him, so we decided to stay an extra night in a hotel before joining our friends at the campsite in Yellowstone.
The next day, we made a long, leisurely drive into Yellowstone National Park, stopping many places along the way for photos and wildlife-related traffic jams. We got to Bridge Bay midafternoon, set-up camp, and met our friends. We had dinner, enjoyed s’mores by the campfire, and attended the evening ranger program. It was like all the park camping experiences I remember from my childhood.
The next morning, we got up, grabbed breakfast, and discussed plans for the day. Brian decided to go fishing and the rest of us decided to hike up Mount Washburn. At 10,219′, Mount Washburn is the highest peak in Yellowstone’s Washburn range, and is also home to one of the park’s few remaining fire watch towers.
There are two hiking routes to the summit of Mount Washburn. The first option is to park at the Dunraven Pass Trailhead for a 6.5 mile hike with about 1400′ of climbing. We chose the second option – a shorter route starting at Chittenden Road. This route was only 4.5 miles, but has about the same elevation gain.
If I had it to do over, I would have started at Dunraven Pass and just done the longer hike. It’s supposedly prettier and has a more gradual ascent. I think my tired legs and oxygen deprived brain were just thinking “shorter is better!” I struggled with the altitude on this hike and felt queasy and dizzy most of the way. I think after seven really busy, active days with staying at a mix of campsites and hotels, I was just run down, tired, and dehydrated. I still had fun and I still made it to the top, but this was probably my toughest hike of the trip (even though it shouldn’t have been.)
The Chittenden Road is all out in the open, so bring your sunscreen. The route follows a gravel roadbed straight up the mountain, not a switchback in sight! The major up-side of the unshaded terrain is that you always have views. When we visited there were also many wildflowers and maybe just as many bighorn sheep! It was neat to see the herd which was mostly mothers and babies. Although, we never did see a big ram with the classic curled horns.
At the top of the climb, you reach the summit tower. There are bathrooms, trash cans, and information at the top. There was a ranger staffing the tower, as well. We took lots of photos, had a snack, talked to some people wearing JMU gear (fellow alumni!) The vistas at the top are truly panoramic – you can see all across Yellowstone and back into the Tetons.
After the hike, we met back up with Brian (who had a great day fishing!) and moved on to our next campsite at Canyon Campground in Yellowstone. Canyon was a much nicer campground than Bridge Bay. It had better access to amenities and the campsites were lovely and tree-shaded. Bridge Bay was mostly an open field with tent-sites so close that we heard our neighbor snoring the entire night!
A couple things to consider before you plan this hike: 1) Check the road status on Yellowstone’s official website before you go! Oftentimes, the trailhead are not accessible due to either weather or construction. 2) Start this hike early in the day. It’s one of the park’s most popular and parking is competitive.