Thirty-eight years later.
One Saturday in the winter of 1980 my roommate (Phil) and I, both students at Montana State University, drove to Yellowstone Park and skied into a frozen waterfall. I’m not sure which one, but I’ll never forget how outstanding it was to be in Yellowstone on a beautiful winter day. We were able to hike down to the base of the frozen falls before skiing back to the trailhead – It was as though we had the whole park to ourselves. I’ve been to Yellowstone several times since, but I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t returned during winter. Finally, this past weekend I made it back to the park with my current roommate, my wife Mardi. (Photo Tour)
It’s Tower Fall – not “Falls” (not sure why).
If recent Montana winters have taught me anything, it is to plan carefully, but then wait for good weather to do the hikes, especially when my wife is involved. Mardi is fit and loves to hike, but she’s not into dealing with deep snow, steep slopes, long off-trail routes, or cold, windy conditions. I call such outings “character builders”. My friend Kacey refers to them as “death marches”. So, after researching winter trails around Mammoth, we settled on a reasonable 5-mile round-trip hike to Tower Fall along on a trail that starts 24 miles southeast of Gardiner.
A great “starter-hike” for Yellowstone in winter.
The trail is actually a road that is closed during the winter. I was surprised to see how much it had been used, especially by cross-country skiers. We were the first ones out on Sunday (3/11/18), but we encountered about 15 people on the way back, mostly skiers, but a few on snowshoes, and a couple who were using microspikes. The turn-around point for the hike is the Tower Fall Overlook, which was nice, but I was way more impressed with the view from Calcite Springs. The boardwalk overlook provided a spectacular view of the canyon, including various interesting layers of rock formed by the Yellowstone Volcano and subsequent ice ages (see photo tour). Another highlight was the weather. When we started at 11 am it was 10 F, and by the time we finished at 2 pm it was 37 F, plus it was sunny with absolutely no wind – the kind of day that left us wondering why we don’t do this more often.
10 am Saturday – Left Helena, drove 175 miles to Gardiner, enjoyed great views of the mountains and wildlife in Paradise Valley south of Livingston.
Saturday afternoon – Walked around Gardiner, took a short drive north of town, walked along cliffs overlooking small herd of bison, enjoyed a nice dinner at a new restaurant called The Wonderland.
8:30 am Sunday morning – Drove 24 miles from Gardiner to Tower Junction. It was too cold to start hiking (0 F), so we drove through the Lamar Valley to Cooke City (33 miles one way), then returned to the Tower Junction Trailhead.
11 am Sunday morning – It was 10 F when we started the 5-mile round-trip hike. Mardi wore spikes but I wore snowshoes, thinking I might have a chance to hike down to the base of the falls (didn’t happen – too steep).
2 pm Sunday – We ended our hike (temperature was 37 F), started our drive home, stopped to check out the terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs, ate dinner in Bozeman, arrived back in Helena at 7 pm.
- Photo Tour
Includes photos taken before, during, and after the hike.
- Map of the Tower Fall area.
Zoom in or out to see more or less detail.
Below: This map marks hikes that have been featured on bigskywalker.com so far, including several in Glacier Park – Select full screen to expand, zoom in for more detail, or click on a marker for a link to the post.