Yellowstone’s Back Door

Explore Eastern Idaho’s entrance to the park

Published online: Apr 05, 2021 Articles, East Idaho Outdoors Kris Millgate
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Photos and story provided by Kris Millgate, Tightline Media.

More than 4 million people visit Yellowstone National Park annually. They arrive by the busload and enter through one of five entrances set up in Wyoming and Montana. Want to join their caravan? Get in line at the toll booth. Want to avoid the crowd? Use Idaho’s entrance. The one that’s not on the radar. The one that accesses the park through the Gem State’s seed potato country. The one that welcomes foot and hoof. No motors allowed. Welcome to Bechler Meadows. 

You need a permit for overnight trips in Bechler. Backcountry campsites are extremely limited and some are specifically designated for groups stringing pack animals (horses and llamas) so nabbing a spot is pretty tricky. If luck isn’t in your favor, still go. Just pull a long day instead of an overnighter.

Access the Bechler Meadows Ranger Station by driving through Ashton toward Cave Falls. The loop from the trailhead along Boundary Creek to Dunanda Falls and back through Bechler includes a suspension bridge. It’s a flat trek, but it’s long. 17 miles long. You need all the daylight you can get. If you start at sunrise and hike a swift pace, you’ll have time to rest at the falls for two hours before you have to head back and be out before dark.

But what if…

I want to go without bear spray because I’m not going overnight.

Don’t do it. Even sunrise starters are greeted in the parking lot by rangers. A few of them stay on site so they’re always checking permits and supplies and that includes bear spray. Carry it. Even for day trips. If not for a bear, then for that long-legged moose munching willows that are taller than you. 

I want to soak in the stream.

Go right ahead. There are hot springs at the base of Dunanda Falls. It’s like a bunch of little bathtubs divided by rock rows. Move among the pools until you find your preferred soaking temperature. 

Pack a swimsuit so you’re not hiking out in wet clothes. Find thick cover in the trees to dress. There’s no changing room in the woods. No bathrooms, either, so pack your own toilet paper. Plumbing and power don’t exist. 

I want to eat lunch at the falls.

You’re going to work up an appetite being out for such a long walk so eat for sure, but don’t expect a dining hall. This part of the park is undeveloped. A clearly marked and maintained single track trail is all you get. No buildings. No vending machines. Put lunch in your backpack before you reach the trailhead and shove plenty of snacks in there too. 

I want to drink from the river.

Do not put your lips in the liquid. It looks clean and clear, but just like other watersheds in the West, the risk of aching your belly with wild water applies in Yellowstone. Drinking directly from the source can make you sick. Carry tap water in your pack like a camel. Better yet, carry a filter. Clean as you cross streams so you can drink as you go without getting sick and you won’t have to haul as much water weight. 

I want to fish.

Cast away, but you need a special license. Idaho fishing licenses only work in Idaho. The park has its own pass system. You need a national park pass and a park fishing license. It’s worth the add-on because the meadow region is the wettest place in the park. You’ll be walking along and through wadable water often. Might as well fish it. Expect small trout. Anything longer than your forearm is rare, but it could happen. Catch and release.   

Late summer fishing conditions are warm enough to skip waders. Fish in your shorts instead. They’ll dry and so will your shoes, which will already be wet from multiple creek crossings. Hiking shoes that hold their own in current are recommended. 

I want to go before it’s too hot.

Not recommended. You want hot, late summer for a reason. Remember the line above about the wettest place in the park? Yeah, that’s problematic. Bound into Bechler too early and you’ll be frantically swimming swollen rivers instead of casually crossing skinny creeks. You’ll also be running instead of walking and you’ll be waving your arms like a maniac. Mosquitoes are intolerable in the wet season. Hot and dry puts problems to bed. If it’s a bad bug year, wait until the first frost, which can happen in August. That eliminates discomfort. 

Visit www.nps.gov/yell for information.


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