After our warm-up hike at Storm Point the day before, John and I were ready to tackle the more strenuous 6.2-mile out-and-back Mount Washburn Trail in Yellowstone National Park. We parked (after a short wait for a parking place) at Dunraven Pass (elevation 8,859 feet) and set off on the trail at 11:30 AM.
It was a sunny and already-warm morning (by Wyoming–not Texas!–standards), and the flies were a-buzzing as we began our ascent. It would be 3.1 miles of near-continuous uphill hiking, but luckily it would never be very steep.
When the trail began, grasses, wildflowers, and trees covered the surrounding hills. We found it difficult to keep our eyes on the trail with such beauty before us!
As we made the turn for the first major switchback of the trail, we found ourselves amid lodgepole pines (which thankfully provided a little shade) and with a new view. The canyon of the Yellowstone River was now visible in the distance.
Also visible in the far, far, far distance (or so it seemed at the time): our destination, the fire tower on the top of Mount Washburn. In the photo below, it’s the smudge on top of the far peak.
Now knowing EXACTLY how far we had to go, we hiked onward (or more accurately, upward). At the turn of another switchback up the trail, a patch of snow greeted us. It was but one of many fun surprises on the hike. Being the Texan that I am, I had to have a picture of me standing on snow in July. We never get snow this deep down south!
Also at this same turn – a closer view of the Mount Washburn Fire Tower. We were gaining on it!
The higher we climbed, the more clear some of our views became. The Yellowstone River canyon walls were now much more easily seen and admired.
While the patch of snow was one highlight of this hike, the most memorable moment came courtesy of a herd of bighorn sheep.
These guys apparently make this portion of the trail and the slope beneath it their home. Descending hikers mentioned the herd to us, and we had been smelling the sheep for at least a mile before seeing them with our own eyes. I had almost given up hope of spotting them, but they were impossible to miss!
It was obvious that the sheep were used to hikers; they barely moved when we passed by.
After taking a ridiculous amount of photos of the bighorn sheep, we hiked on. The fire tower was closer than ever!
This field of wildflowers was a nice surprise as we neared the 10,000-foot elevation mark.
After one final push up the spiraling trail at the top, we were on the peak of Mount Washburn (elevation 10,243 feet). The time was 1:15 PM; it had taken us 1 hour and 45 minutes to cover 3.1 miles. Not record-breaking by any means, but we took multiple water and photo breaks. (We also spent 15 minutes marveling over the bighorn sheep.)
The views from Mount Washburn were unparalleled. Looking one way, we could see Hayden Valley and the Grand Tetons.
Looking another way, Lake Yellowstone shimmered and shone beyond the canyon.
It was a 360° scenic smorgasbord.
We spent 20 minutes at the peak – taking photos, eating a snack, and signing the register in the fire tower as proof of our triumph. Then we turned around and hiked back down the way we came. Going downhill increased our speed; we made it back to the Dunraven Pass parking area in 1 hour and 15 minutes.
I simply loved this hike, and it remained my favorite of the entire trip. Along with Storm Point, it’s another popular Yellowstone hike, and for good reason. I don’t know of anywhere else in the park where you can experience the sheer exhilaration of seeing Yellowstone all at once. (And did I mention that you get to see bighorn sheep up close and personal?)