We were able to get our backcountry permits ahead of time for a small fee but at least we didn’t have to wake up early and stand in line, not knowing if we would be able to get the permits that we wanted. We did purchase 3 nights hiking around the Heart Lake area located in southeast region of Yellowstone. We drove 2 hours before we reached the Trailhead and began our hike around 10 am.
The first 4 miles of the Heart Lake Trail, we passed through dense lodgepole forests and small wetland meadows, and it was a gradual uphill to a high vantage point on Factory Hill with views across Heart Lake toward Big Game Ridge and Mount Hancock. The massive summit of Mount Sheridan rises along the western edge of the lake to a height of 10,305 feet, we were hoping to climb it if we arrived in camp early. Then we descended into the Heart Lake Geyser Basin where we enjoyed the thermal features along Witch Creek, taking time to dab our feet into the warm water of the creek. Along Witch Creek are numerous sulfur vents, these small vents, are called fumaroles, and do possess enough water in their craters to become hot springs or geysers, but below the surface, water boils. As the trail nears the lake we passed directly in front of the Heart Lake Patrol Cabin which was originally built in 1924. The cabin was locked as the Rangers had left the area for the season. Heart Lake is the fourth largest body of water in Yellowstone and lies within the Snake River drainage. It was named by Captain John W Barlow, one of the first men to lead an expedition to this area in 1871, believed it was the shape of the lake that should determine the spelling (heart) and this became its official name.
From the north shore of the lake we turned right along the beach for a short distance and then crossed Witch Creek on a wooden footbridge having hiked 7.6 miles so far. We hiked to our campsite 8H4, a very private campsite, nestled among tall conifer trees and set our tent up a short distance from the waters edge. It was such an idyllic site that we decided not to hike up Mount Sheridan, another 6.6 miles RT, after hiking 8 miles already, and instead went for a well deserved swim in Heart Lake. The highlight of the day came when I was on my way to the outhouse toilet, without the house, and I spotted a Great Horned Owl up high in the trees. We witnessed a beautiful sunset from our campsite, a wonderful end to a great first day. Click on thumbnail to view images
We awoke to breathtaking views across Heart Lake reflected in the stillness of the water. Our first mile on the trail mirrors the landscape beside the lake, rising and falling very gradually beneath the massive shape of Mount Sheridan. The trail is very picturesque and climbs about 100 feet through open terrain dotted with small clusters of conifer trees that stand tall against the steep hillside. The view looking out over the lake from the trail was unbelievable, the mirrored reflection was remarkable. When we came back to the lakeshore we found a huge elk horn lying on the beach. This is the time of the year to hear the bugling of the elks, and we were hoping to see some as well, but all we have seen is a mule deer. Just before lunch we met a couple from Portland who do a lot of backpacking everywhere so we talked to them for a while and they were the only hikers we saw for two days. The trail was rerouted due to flooding and to beaver activity, it was not very pleasant until we reached Basin Creek where we stopped for lunch. Then it was on to the Snake River Basin. The Snake River should not be crossed before July, however, due to the dry summer the river was navigable without boots on. We found our campsite, 8C5, near the Snake River, and we had a quick dip in the river before dinner. Again another amazing sunset before we hit the sack. Click on thumbnail to view images
The start of the trail today was on the Continental DivideTrail, following the Heart River crossing many log jams along the river. Hiking poles were a must for this part of the trail. There were many ups and downs along the trail and we were getting tired until we came back to the river and stopped for lunch for a well deserved break. Finally we reached our campsite, 8J1, looking over Heart Lake. When we arrived the lake was so still the reflections were amazing looking across the lake to where we had camped on day 1. We spent a lot of time on the beach, swimming and reading and just relaxing! Enjoying our last night in this wilderness we decided to build a fire in the fire pit watching the sun set over the lake. Click on thumbnail to view images
Our last day of hiking was greeted once again with beautiful morning reflections across the lake and the mist rising from the lake. We had another 9 miles to go before getting back to the car. Once back on the trail we followed the paw prints of a huge grizzly that was going the opposite direction, thank goodness. The print was as large as Bob’s boot, size 12. The couple we had met, who were going the opposite direction had seen the grizzly when they camped at the lake so we knew there was one in the area. Finally back on the beach we walked along for a few miles, not easy in soft sand, and we were happy to reach the Patrol Cabin once again. Climbing back up Factory Hill we enjoyed one last view, looking back at Heart Lake, reminiscing on the past 3 days of wonderful peace and solitude. The last 4 miles, with a gradual downhill, we booked it in about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
We were hungry and anxious to get to our reward dinner at the historic Old Faithful Inn. We did not have reservations so we had to get there early and hope for a cancellation. Built in 1903-1904 with logs and stone, the Inn is considered the largest log structure in the world. The towering lobby features a massive stone fireplace and a hand- crafted clock made of copper, wood and wrought iron serving as focal points. We were very lucky to get a cancellation for 6pm so we had time to enjoy some great tasting beer in the bar before going to dinner in the beautiful wood carved dining room. The only word to describe this trip is EPIC!, Click on thumbnail to view images