There are hundreds of hikes in Yellowstone National Park. They range from VERY EASY and wheelchair accessible like most paths around Norris, West Thumb and Old Faithful to rugged straight up the mountain like the Brink of Lower Falls Trail, Lookout and Red Rock Points.Bears & Bear Spray?
Most hikes are outlined in detail in the trail guides you can find at the visitor’s centers. Even the frailest visitors have the chance to get out of the car and see the park first hand. Every major attraction has a trail guide, when you get into the park stop at the first visitors center you come to and pick up the trail guides to help you plan your stay in the park.
If you want a back-country experience you will need to get a permit. Permits are issued at the visitor’s centers by the Park Rangers. This is a safety precaution, Please do not venture in the wilds of Yellowstone without a permit. Permits give the rangers accurate knowledge of who is where in the park. Every year visitors get lost and are found by our rangers because they have knowledge of who is on the trails and off the beaten path and where they plan to be. When visitors fail to observe the rules, tragic outcomes happen.
Bear spray is pepper spray on steroids. You can rent or buy the spray. Do you need it? Yes and No. If you plan to be in the back-country, YES!! If you are planning a trip around the major attractions and staying in a hotel… not so much. I have the same can of spray we got in 2013 and have never been close enough to a bear to think about using it. We see lots of bears…at a safe distance. They can run at 35 miles an hour and they are very, very powerful, one swipe from a Grizzly paw can take off an arm or head. Yet close encounters of the bear kind are rare. The park rangers know what bears are where most of the time and when a bear jam happens they are on the spot to protect the bears and the people. The only bear attacks happen when a person forgets he or she is in the wilderness and gets stupid.This brings me to how to be SAFE in the park.
ONE – MAINTAIN A SAFE DISTANCE FROM ALL WILDLIFE.
Our animals are not habituated and we like it that way. Yellowstone is not a zoo, it is natural and you will see natural things happen.
TWO- Do not feed the animals, ever. The NATURAL environment provides everything the animals need. If you are close enough to feed, you are too close. And please do not feed them accidently either. Pick up all trash and food scraps. PLEASE, please do not leave apple cores, grapes, chips or any other human food for our wild critters to find. Once they eat human food and have a source to get more they are as good as dead. Chipmunks, squirrels, pika, and the other small rodents are VERY CUTE and people love to coax them out with tidbits. The bad thing about that is it prevents the critter from stashing food for the winter. If an animal has not stored enough food for survival during the six months that Yellowstone is under snow it will starve. I’m not being mean when I preach DO NOT FEED…I am encouraging you to help the cuties live.
THREE- Be prepared. Within the park there are only two medical clinics and they have limited resources. They are great for a broken ankle or altitude sickness but there is no pharmacy in the park. SO… bring your own meds and get a refill BEFORE YOU COME. If you have an emergency that requires more help than our clinics can provide know it is several HOURS to the closest hospital (or several thousand dollars by helicopter).
FOUR- Stay on marked trails. The dangerous animals really do not want to encounter humans. We kill them and they know it. The marked trails are heavily traveled and provide amazing experiences you just cannot get from the car or around a village. The Park Service has marked hundreds of trails equaling thousands of miles and they maintain them.
FIVE- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. You are at least 6,000 feet in the park and usually higher. Grant Village and Canyon Village are close to 7,000 feet. Water is your new best friend. ALWAYS HAVE WATER WITH YOU and drink it. Every Village has a bottle refill station and recycling bins for your empty disposable bottles. Dehydration is the leading cause of clinic visits and altitude sickness is awful. Both are easily prevented with water.In my next blog, I will give some details on the hikes in the park and rate them on difficulty.