Lava Mountain Lodge to Island Park – Yellowstone

What a mixed bag this section has been! The geothermal features in Yellowstone National Park were jaw-droppingly amazing, but other than that … well, no long distance hike is exciting all of the time, and we have also had many days of fairly routine plodding. Sometimes the paths were good, sometimes not so good or just plain tedious roadwalking; sometimes we had views, sometimes not. But it’s taken us over the border into Idaho, and it finally feels like the end of our hike is on the horizon!

We took a day off at Lava Mountain Lodge to rest up and let a storm go by. It wasn’t the best of places to hang out, little to do and nowhere comfortable to sit during the day, but we met another hiker called Mithrandir who was good company as we wiled away the hours.

Setting off in sunshine the next morning, we had a long road walk to get back on trail. Irritatingly we missed the trail and overshot, but the upside of this was when a white truck swerved onto the verge and screeched to a halt between Neil and Mithrandir in front, and myself – and out jumped Randy, the trail angel who had hosted us at his RV in Twin Lakes and Steamboat Springs! He was just passing by, but it was great to see him again and catch up on some news about other hikers.

Once we got back on trail, we had a couple of days of pleasant if uneventful hiking through meadows and pine forests. We had a few rivers to cross, and with several of them there was no alternative but to wade through them. During the day this wasn’t too bad, but first thing in the morning they were painfully cold!

Crossing into Yellowstone National Park, we expected dramatic scenery and abundant wildlife – Yellowstone is home to both black bears and grizzlies – but the scenery was just the same as before, and wildlife was noticeably lacking, other than a few squirrels. Sadly a major wildfire devastated about a third of the park in 1988, and much of what we hiked through still bore the scars.

So after looking forward to this stretch for many many miles, we were feeling quite jaded about it all, until we walked into a clearing with brilliant white soil, and there by the trail was a little hot pool encrusted with brightly coloured salts. No crowds, no warning signs, just a lovely little geothermal feature out in the backcountry.

After a night in Grant Village, a tourist hotspot where we over-indulged in burgers, beer and ice cream (again!), we hiked on towards our campsite for that night, at Lone Star. On arriving at the campsite, it was lovely to find that sharing our campsite were Two Bad Dogs, a retired couple who we’d last seen two months before on our roadwalk from Wolf Creek Pass to Southfork, when they pulled over in their car and gave us some very welcome cold drinks. They told us that we’d just missed the eruption of the nearby Lone Star Geyser, but as it erupts every three hours we decided to catch it the next morning.

So we set our alarm for 5.15am, and at 5.45 the next day, well before sunrise, we went with Mithrandir to the geyser and waited for the show to begin. It was freezing cold but well worth the wait! Starting out with some gurgling and rumbling, gradually the cone began to emit more steam, and water began to boil and bubble and flow down the sides. It was quite something, but I was cold and beginning to think we should get back to our tent, pack up and start hiking; then after a moment’s quiet, a huge plume of steam and superheated water shot straight up into the cool morning air. For the next ten minutes it kept chugging out steam like a subterranean steam engine, roaring away, before finally subsiding again. It was beautiful.

Suitably wowed, we went on our way and hiked on to Old Faithful. Our initial goal was the all-you-can-eat lunch buffet at the Old Faithful Inn. By the time we staggered out to look at the geothermal features we could hardly move, we’d eaten so much! The Old Faithful Geyser itself was surrounded by huge crowds of tourists, who were kept well back from the steam and boiling water. Having enjoyed Lone Star in a more natural setting, we didn’t spend much time waiting for Old Faithful to erupt, but instead went on the boardwalk tour of the many other geysers and hot pools in the area. It really is a fascinating place, well worth a visit if you can stand the crowds!

After dawdling about taking lots of photos, we had to do some fast hiking to get out of the park to camp – inside the park you can only camp at designated campsites, and you need permits for those. Unfortunately, my left leg which had been bothering me for a few days now started to stiffen up really badly, and we ground to a halt just inside the park boundary. So we made an early start the next day, and crossed the state line into Idaho and out of the park before any rangers hit the trail. Then it was just a long long roadwalk into Mack’s Inn and Island Park, a holiday resort where we stayed last night, and enjoyed more campground beers with Mithrandir.

And now we’re doing what we should have done several days ago – we’re temporarily off trail in West Yellowstone, as I have an appointment tomorrow for some therapeutic massage on my leg. It’s been getting more and more painful, with downhills being particularly difficult; we have a tough section coming up along the Montana / Idaho border, with lots of ascents and descents, and I need my legs to be in good working order!

Neil and Mithrandir on the way to Brooks Lake
Pinnacle Buttress from Brooks Lake
One of many river crossings on this section
Some pretty meadows in early morning sunshine
Heart Lake, Yellowstone
Trailside hot pool, Yellowstone
Mithrandir and Neil, Lone Star campsite
Lone Star Geyser at sunrise
Lone Star Geyser, getting warmed up
Lone Star Geyser – what we’d been waiting for!
Lone Star Geyser
Old Faithful Geyser and crowds
Hot pool near Old Faithful
Grotto Geyser, near Old Faithful
Near Old Faithful
Crossing into Idaho

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    Oh dear Tanya, sorry to hear about your leg, speedy recovery. Yes tremendous hike through Yellowstone. Did you come across Buffalo? They are big beasts, I climbed out of my tent one morning to find one standing about 30 ft away. Mack’s Inn is about 2 days away from Old Faithful, I stayed there and got a really good deal on a room, just be cheeky, ask if they are busy, when they say no, just make a low offer. Then next stop Lima, you may see some cd trail bikers along there.

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