Yellowstone National Park, Bear Encounter In The Back Country
In 1872 Yellowstone became Americas very first national park.
After our trip, I can tell you it is like no other place on Earth, and I for one am glad these protections were put in place. The park is over 3,000 square miles of the cleanest air and most unspoiled views you could ever hope to see.
Yellowstone has something for every type of visitor to the park. The grand loop road will take the sight seers to all of the major tourist attractions around the park.
You’ll see expansive fields with herds of bison leisurely chewing on prairie grasses while the bear roll around and wrestle in each other in the sun, geysers, waterfalls, and mountains.
There are hotels and camp grounds inside the park for people who want to make it more than a day trip so they can do some hiking, or spend some time fly fishing, or even just nature watching.
You can also get a back country camping permit and disappear into the wilderness Lewis & Clark style, which is how we decided to do Yellowstone. There are a limited number of places you can camp in the back country, to keep it as unspoiled as possible.
No matter how you decide to do Yellowstone, it cant hurt to start planning your visit at https://www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm where you can get information on the sight seeing, campgrounds and back country permits as well as weather alerts, which come in very handy as it can snow here in the Summer. Yellowstone has its own unique weather patterns, so know before you go.
Plan your trip to Yellowstone
One thing to keep in mind if you decide to do a back country trip is the altitude. We live on the New Jersey coast at sea level. Yellowstone has an average elevation of 8,000 feet, so the air is a little thinner than we are used to, which will takes its toll on you as you are trying to hike a steep trail up the side of a mountain.
Before heading out to do your trip it is a good idea to spend a few weekends hiking with your new back pack around some of the parks in your local area to get your body used to carrying the extra weight. Also, don’t think that you are going to cover the same amount of ground as quickly as you do at home if you live at lower elevations.
We had done several weekends of hiking in preparation for our trip and still had some pathetically short walks between breaks when hiking up to our first mountain top to take in the views.
There was one point on a particularly steep trail that we took a water break, and had to convince ourselves that we could actually make it another hundred yards before our next break. We did, and then decided we would make our next break spot the shade of the tree line ahead on the trail, a whole 200 yards, because we got this, we’re bad asses, we practiced.
Then we came to the ice cream tree. We named it this because it had fallen across the trail and we had to climb over it to get to the shade of the pines a few dozen feet farther, and because there were a few occasions leading up to this trip when we should have skipped the ice cream after dinner and didn’t, that we called this spot good enough for taking our next break.
After resting for a few minutes, and discussing some dietary changes we would be making when we get back home, we cinched up our back packs and got back on the trail. To truly take in the vastness that is Yellowstone you need to see it from one of the mountain tops. The untouched panoramic wilderness will give you a whole new appreciation for the importance of our National Park system.
Yellowstone back country is worth the effort
I can’t tell you just how long we sat on top of that mountain and just enjoyed the view. Other than John and Dee who were still down by the lake, there were no other people as far as the eye could see. It was like we had America and all its beauty to ourselves. When we had finished soaking in the sun and fresh air we started down the mountain to meet back up with John and Dee.
The trip back down the mountain was much easier than the trek up. We made better time, and maybe had started to get used to the thinner air. Perhaps it was just calming effect mother nature had on us that we just enjoyed the rest of our hike, and laughing with each other as family, and making memories that will last a life time.
To this day when we see something about Yellowstone on tv our son will say “oh man do you remember the Yellowstone trip” and you can hear the longing to go back in his voice. When ever any of us talk about this trip we can’t help but smile recalling the big sights and the small incidents that make a family trip special.
Like when you’re too cool to listen to your dad when he says to stop hopping down the mountain and you bust your ass and immediately have to play it off like you wanted to stop and take in the view…
The best family vacation
These are the things that make road trips special to us. We laugh. We laugh often. When you are watching tv and your son says “hey we’ve been there” and you spend the next hour recalling the little things that may have seemed insignificant at the time, but turned out to be one of the most memorable parts of the trip.
When you do the back country camping you are isolated. Your cellphone isn’t going to work. You are going to have a bug bite or 15. Hell, you’re going to have to dig a hole to take a dump, which becomes an amusing dinner conversation among the group on the first night. Do you go with the Squat? Do you hold a tree and lean back? Build a seat out of a few rocks?
You’re also going to see things no one else will see. One morning Loretta was the first one awake in our camp so she built a small fire and put the percolator coffee pot on. While she was waiting to hear that trade mark bubbling sound, a moose decided to come keep her company just on the other side of the fire. She was feeding small sticks to the fire, he was chewing a few leaves.
Coffee with a moose
Two animals in the woods just letting each other be and using the same resources. As I came out of the tent I thought she was kidding when she whispered “There’s a moose over here by me”, she wasn’t.
We sat and drank our coffee and just watched this large beautiful animal as he went about his morning routine before heading down to the lake for a drink and then up and over the mountain on the other side.
There are a few other things to keep in mind when doing the back country in Yellowstone. You will need a way to purify your water. You can filter it with a variety of products on the internet, or you can boil it, or both. We did both.
Each night before bed we would filter enough water to fill everyone’s water bottle, boil it, and refill our water bottles so they could cool over night and we had nice fresh cold water the next morning.
The back country is also not sprayed for mosquitoes and ticks like the parks in many populated areas, so you’re going to want to bring some bug spray. Plan on a can a day. Seriously. If you see a short cut on your trail across the prairie grass, skip it and stick to the trail.
Yellowstone is 100% Natural
My son and I learned the hard way walking to the lake for water one evening, when you walk through that tall grass you are going to disturb the mosquitoes. The swarm that ensued was nothing short of horror movie material. It literally dimmed the sky around us, and we got so many mosquito bites the backs of our heads swelled and we ran a fever for a few hours.
When preparing for the trip some of the reading material you come across says not to wear perfumes and deodorants as the sweet smells can attract unwanted attention from the wild life.
By the time we came out of the wilderness back to our truck, to say we smelled less than fresh would be an understatement.
In heading from the trail head parking area towards the grand loop, we passed one of the campgrounds in the park with a sign that caught all of our attention. You can use the showers in the campgrounds for a small fee ( I want to say it was like 2 bucks a person but I honestly don’t remember. If it was 50 bucks each we would have payed it.)
Don’t pet the fluffy cows
You are going to encounter wildlife in their natural habitat. Bear, Moose, Wolves, Elk. Leave them the hell alone. All of them can kick your ass, and none of them want to take a selfie with you. Take your pictures from afar and keep your bear spray on your belt loop just in case you happen to have an unfortunate encounter.
Speaking of an unfortunate encounter with a bear, as we were hiking back to the truck we were in a single file line in a thickly brushed heavily wooded trail headed out. Loretta up front, followed by Jayden, Dee, John and me bringing up the rear.
Then I heard something that made my heart race. My Wife yelled Bear!
I can’t see her. The trail is too tight. The only thing I can see is the back of Johns back pack. I don’t know how much time I have to intervene, but I know I need to move. Now.
Fist fighting a bear
(Insert dramatic slow-mo super hero run here)
It’s amazing how the human body and mind can work when the fight or flight mode kicks in. With a quick side step and damn near horizontal lean forward, I pushed John to the right while I went around him on the left.
I reach out with my right hand on Dees shoulder so she didn’t step in front of me while simultaneously popping the center chest strap on my pack.
Reaching to pop the belt strap as I strode past my son and dropping the pack off my shoulders as I burst to the front of the line ready to take on the bear mano-a-mano.
King of the jungle
In my head I let out a roar like King Leonidas at the end of 300 that let every creature in the forest know “I’m the alpha male here”.
I would find out later, that wasn’t how it sounded in real life…
As I flared my arms out to the side like a secret service agent ready to take a bullet, my eyes found and focused on the bear. He was running up the hill into the thicker trees and away from us. My lions roar worked.
Turning around to see if my wife was ok, I couldn’t help but notice she was holding her camera. She was trying to take its picture, or mine to prove to the life insurance company that’s how it really went down, she still won’t say which one.
As it turns out it wasn’t my lions roar that scared the bear off. It was when Loretta yelled bear. He had his head down and didn’t see us coming, and when she yelled it scared the hell out of him so he took off.
Super hero status
Oh, and don’t give me any credit for valor on this one. Remember how I was saying how amazing the mind and body work when in a situation like this?
At lightning speed I decided that there’s 5 of us, so the odds are in our favor of scaring this thing off, but possibly not before it mauls my beautiful bride.
And in that moment I realized, it would be far less painful to fist fight a bear than to hear “Remember that time you didn’t try to save me and I got mauled” every single time we talked about the Yellowstone trip for the rest of my life.
I’m going to be completely honest. I’m glad neither one happened. I REALLY did not want to fist fight a bear. Pretty sure I lost that fight before it started.
And we have a story that we still laugh about every time we talk about Yellowstone.
Watch our video on our most recent trip to Yellowstone here: