South Rim and Uncle Tom’s Trails–Yellowstone National Park Upper and Lower Falls

As we’ve been preparing for an upcoming trip (stay tuned for some awesome posts on that!) we’ve been a little slow in the adventure department lately so I thought I’d take a step into the past…2 years ago we visited Yellowstone National Park with my in-laws.  As it was the first time there for all of us we didn’t get much hiking in–we just went full-blown tourist and hit all the “must-see” sights.  But the hubby and I did get to do one very cool, very accessible hike, the South Rim and Uncle Tom’s trails.

The trails are located in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone on the South Rim.  You access the South Rim Trail from the Wapiti Lake Trailhead which then joins the Uncle Tom trail.  The trails encompass gorgeous views of both the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River.  For a shorter hike, you can access the Uncle Tom Trail only from the Uncle Tom Trailhead (only the Lower Falls is visible on this hike).  The terminus of both is Point Sublime.

Our hike began on the South Rim trail.  In a welcome contrast to the rest of the park, we saw relatively few fellow hikers even though this portion of the trail is easily accessed and has little elevation gain.  I highly recommend this peaceful hike with its many beautiful views of the various falls; though as is good practice when hiking throughout the park, always be aware of the wildlife that may be sharing the trail with you (we had no bear encounters on our hike but heard stories of hikers who did).  We had more company on the Uncle Tom trail as it is more popular.  It was named for H.F. Richardson, or Uncle Tom, as was his nickname.  In the late 19th Century he began guiding tourists into the Canyon to view the waterfall.  At that time the trail consisted of numerous ropes and rope ladders that visitors had to negotiate.  Fortunately today, one only has to manage a hefty climb (300+ steps!) on a metal staircase bolted into the rock on the side of the canyon.

Some of you know I harbor a hefty case of acrophobia, or fear of heights.  I tend to get vertigo and “freeze” when confronted with a lack of earth in front of me–an interesting condition for someone who enjoys hiking in high places on a regular basis.  I was a little nervous upon venturing on this trail as I knew about the steps bolted into the side of the canyon and that these steps are composed of perforated steel.  That’s right, not only are you hanging off the side of a cliff but as you descend you are awarded with a view of the gaping chasm yawning below you!  Or so I thought…actually the canyon wall is very rocky and the steps linger over rock ledges the entire way.  Though you do hang off the side of the wall and you are in a chasm, the rock floor you see is never more than 20 or 30 feet below your feet.  To my surprise I found the descent surprisingly bearable.

I’ve been to the “real” Grand Canyon, and while it’s got an exquisite beauty all it’s own, I think the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone surpasses that splendor in some ways and truly lives up to its name.  This canyon is far smaller and more narrow than its big brother to the south with rock colors that vary between yellows and reds contrasted with the deep greens of the pine trees on the rim.  There were also numerous patches of snow still remaining in late June.

Below are some pics of the trip, thanks to my wonderful husband for supplying them!

Yellowstone River:

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Upper Falls:

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Lower Falls:

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The Stairs on Uncle Tom’s Trail:

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Grand Canyon of Yellowstone:

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