Mount Washburn

The end.

The end.

Friday, July 24

Today starts at the end.

Well, let me refine that. The end of the hike.

Jayne and I are doing Mount Washburn today, a famous Yellowstone hike that typically starts at Dunraven Pass, about five miles north of Canyon Village Junction at 8,859 feet. From the parking lot at the top of the pass, you can climb 1,384 feet over three miles up several switchbacks to the top of the mountain.

Less talked about is the equally long route up from the Chittenden parking lot farther north on the same road. And for those with two vehicles, you can go up one side and down the other, which is what Jayne and I choose to do. We meet at Dunraven pass, leave her car, and then take Bertha up the small gravel washboard road to start at Chittenden.

Scenic Chittenden parking area

Scenic Chittenden parking area

This little road is only open once the snow has all melted and is also closed if there has been heavy rainfall so if you’re planning to “thru-hike” Mount Washburn, you’d best check with the rangers to see if it’s open before arriving.

Early morning fog still clings to some hillsides

Early morning fog still clings to some hillsides

The more northerly face of the mountain is pretty exposed, the sub-alpine tundra grasses are short and hardy and when we start at 8:30 in the morning the strong winds have a sharp bite to them. Luckily the physical exertion of climbing combined with a wind breaker are plenty enough to keep me warm, hiking guide books say to bring extra clothes with because the top is usually colder.


The top of Mount Washburn has a fire tower on it which is visible for miles around, that’s our goal.

See the tower on the point to the right?

See the tower on the point to the right and the road cutting across the hillside to get there?

I’m guessing there was a fire up here, more recently than the big fires of 1988. The road passes through a swath of skeletal trees (visible in the previous photo too) and no young ones are visible poking up through the ground yet.


Notice the trail is more of a road than the typical hiking path. This route was completed in 1905 by Captain Hiram Chittenden for use by stagecoaches, and later automobiles, to reach the top of the mountain. In the early 1920’s, model-T Fords could be seen backing up the road to the summit. Yes, they had to go in reverse the whole way. That’s because early cars had no fuel pumps, and the gas tank was located underneath the seat. Too steep of an incline, and the gas couldn’t reach the engine! No thanks, I’d rather walk.

Click for larger image

Click for larger image

The peak flower season has now passed. There are still spots of color dotting the hillsides, but it’s no longer a rainbow carpet like it was a couple weeks ago.


While I don’t seem to suffer from elevation sickness the way some people do, I can definitely feel the difference hiking at high elevation like this. I start the hike with a slightly light-headed feeling that luckily fades after the first mile or so, drinking plenty of water I’ve heard helps. The shortness of breath sticks around the whole climb, but is manageable. When I first got to Yellowstone any hike would leave me short of breath, even flat ones. The longer I’ve been here, the more I’ve acclimated and the better it’s gotten. I suppose if I hiked over 9,000 feet on a regular basis it would become normal.


Just another pretty view…

Finally the tower appears around a bend, almost there! Despite the effort required to get up here, it seems to go by amazingly fast because the whole way up is a feast for the eyes. It would be hard to frame a picture that wasn’t scenic.


It’s hard to put into words how breathtaking the view from the top is. 360 degree views, and the fire tower has an enclosed viewing platform complete with scope and bathrooms. Score.

This vantage point offered early explorers their first complete look at Yellowstone

This vantage point offered early explorers their first complete look at Yellowstone

Four bighorn sheep ewes rest on the top of the hill nearby. By training the scope on them and then holding my phone up to the viewfinder, I can take a picture of them.

Sheep hill

Sheep hill

Magnified sheep hill

Magnified sheep hill

Towards the south, the view of the trail down to Dunraven follows a narrow ridge, behind it is the grand canyon of Yellowstone, Hayden Valley, and Yellowstone Lake far in the distance.Β It’s hazy today, but still impressive.

I can see for miiiiles aaaaand miiiiles

I can see for miiiiles aaaaand miiiiles

Someone lives in this tower! An NPS employee is walking around the top of the grounds, answering visitor questions in addition to his main duty of watching for fires. His residence is one room with glass walls on the top of the tower. Now that must be a pretty cool job, although I bet there are drawbacks that don’t immediately come to mind.


Won’t be my next summer job… couldn’t get Cas up here!

The way back down follows a ridge, and every now an then the road through Dunraven pass is visible. The weather has become what I think of as ideal for mountain vistas: fluffy clouds cast patchy shadows on the landscape and add dimension to the photos.Β We picked a good day.


Behind us, the fire tower shrinks from view. Part of the road down is barricaded off because it’s eroding away.


This southern slope is much more protected than the other side, the wind is less strong. Whitebark pine dominated the summit, but as we get lower more spruce and fir take over where the soil is deeper and richer.


Wildlife on this hike has included numerous ground squirrels, one chipmunk, one marmot, plenty of sparrows… and now a second herd of bighorn sheep. We hear them before we see them, bleating through the trees below us. I catch a glimpse of a white sheep butt disappearing over the switchback below us, and then spot four or five young ones further beyond making their way down a rocky precipice – that’s where the noise is coming from. You can’t really see them in this picture, but it’s still a nice picture anyway I think.

There are sheep in there somewhere, promise

There are sheep in there somewhere, promise

At the bottom of the switchbacks, I turn around and see how far down we’ve come. We were on the top of that nub not long ago. Interestingly enough, despite the warming temperature and milder winds, it’s still colder going down than it was coming up, because gravity is doing the work instead of me.


Our 30% chance of afternoon thunderstorms is looking like an accurate forecast. The clouds get thicker as we descend. Through a break in the trees a beam of sunlight illuminates the canyon cutting through the rock to the south.


Around another bend, the road through Dunraven pass comes into view. We’ve made it back to the end!


Total, Mount Washburn is 6 miles, 1,400 feet of climb (coming from Chittenden), and took us about five hours. Not a bad day at all.


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At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.


  1. John on August 5, 2015 at 8:20 pm

    Funny, I just happened on this website by way of rvdreams. In any case, we hked Mt Washburn this same day! We got to the top about 1pm, coming up from Dunraven Pass so we must have passed you.

    • Becky on August 6, 2015 at 11:43 am

      What a small world John! To think we were that close.

      It sure was a good day for a hike huh? I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did! Oh, and welcome to IO. πŸ™‚

  2. Sherry in MT on July 28, 2015 at 8:10 am

    A great hike to be sure and you made lovely time and could you have picked a better weather day? Great job!
    Sherry in MT recently posted..The Week That Went To The DogsMy Profile

    • Becky on July 28, 2015 at 9:10 pm

      It was a lot of fun Sherry, worth the effort. πŸ™‚

  3. Diane on July 26, 2015 at 1:44 pm

    Wonderful post! We were recently in Canon City and saw a heard of big horn sheep…..a real treat! One was walking on the rail tracks, I was wondering why the train was going so slow. No trains where you were just pristine beauty!

    • Becky on July 27, 2015 at 9:45 am

      There use to be trail tracks leading up to Yellowstone when it first opened in the late 1800’s, that was how tourists got here back before motor vehicles. πŸ™‚

      Glad you had a chance to see bighorns! They’re neat animals.

  4. Norm H. on July 26, 2015 at 7:42 am

    I, too, felt like I was there enjoying the hike! Thanks for all of the pics! I’ll bet living in that lookout gets “exciting” when the lightning starts popping! Looks like you had the perfect day. Good to see the mileage meter climbing, and,yes, high altitude miles ought to be worth double. lol

    • Becky on July 27, 2015 at 9:43 am

      Maybe I’ll lodge a formal petition with the YCERP office, haha. Glad you enjoyed this Norm.

  5. Ed@Chasing Sunrises and Sunsets on July 25, 2015 at 1:26 pm

    All of your posts are good. This one was GREAT! Just another example of the fact that many people GO to Yellowstone, but few people SEE Yellowstone in all its diverse glory…us included. Won’t make THAT mistake again

    As for us, retirement is in hand, income is established, solar is done and operating, dash air conditioning is fixed and new tires were installed on the Bounder this past Thursday. It won’t be long now.
    Ed@Chasing Sunrises and Sunsets recently posted..Fingers Crossed-We’re CoolMy Profile

    • Becky on July 27, 2015 at 9:42 am

      Congrats Ed that’s exciting! Not long now…

  6. Jerry Minchey on July 25, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    Becky, I think you can truly say, “When I grow up, I want to be just like me.”

    • Becky on July 27, 2015 at 9:42 am

      Yep Jerry. πŸ™‚

  7. Scott on July 25, 2015 at 11:53 am

    I’ve done that hike and I was wondering if you had seen any big horn…Looks like you did. Yellowstone is one of my favorite place I’ve been. I want to live in Cooke city.

    • Becky on July 27, 2015 at 9:41 am

      Cooke city is on my list of places to go before I leave. I think all told we saw about 12-15 bighorns, all females and young.

  8. Lorraine on July 25, 2015 at 9:35 am

    I love you blog. I feel like I am hiking with you.Thank you

    • Becky on July 25, 2015 at 10:57 am

      You’re welcome Lorraine, glad you’re finding IO enjoyable. πŸ™‚

  9. Jodee Gravel on July 25, 2015 at 9:09 am

    Those shots from the top are stunning – what a vista! Not a fan of higher elevations for hiking but I sure enjoy going along with you on these hikes :-))))
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..Forest and Fish in Friendly Schafer State Park, WAMy Profile

    • Becky on July 25, 2015 at 10:57 am

      The views were simply amazing Jodee. Glad you enjoyed this. πŸ™‚

  10. Shelly in Durham NC on July 25, 2015 at 9:01 am

    Seems to me you should get double hike miles for uphill hikes at high elevations.

    • Becky on July 25, 2015 at 10:51 am

      Haha, sounds good to me Shelly! It is a lot more effort.

  11. Revchuckmac on July 25, 2015 at 8:29 am

    i want so badly to full time rv but my wife will not thus I’m living vicariously thru your blog and pictures. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. Have you thought of turning your blog with photos into a Coffee table book for those of us dreaming of the full time life thru your photos and stories? Again thanks Regards. Chuck

    • Becky on July 25, 2015 at 10:51 am

      Hello Chuck! Sorry you’re unable to full-time, but am glad that you’re enjoying IO.

      I have thought about it yes, but my phone camera isn’t high enough quality for printing photos. When you enlarge them there’s a lot of graininess, the 640 pixel width the majority of my pictures are is kind of their “ideal” size. I’ve blown a few of them up for desktops and they don’t look near as nice.

  12. roy vannoy on July 25, 2015 at 8:09 am

    Thanks for the great story, I felt as though I was hiking with you.

    • Becky on July 27, 2015 at 9:40 am

      You’re welcome Roy.

  13. Gary on July 25, 2015 at 6:59 am

    I enjoyed your hike today. The pictures and commentary was great. I wish I was still able to make hikes such as this one. We live in an amazing place and Yellowstone is just an example. Thanks again for sharing your adventure.
    Gary recently posted..Route 66 – TucumcariMy Profile

    • Becky on July 25, 2015 at 10:46 am

      Glad to have you along for the ride Gary!

  14. Barbara Peter on July 25, 2015 at 6:28 am

    I’m loving your Yellowstone posts, Becky! Keep ’em coming!

    • Becky on July 25, 2015 at 10:39 am

      Thank you for following along Barbara.

  15. Marilyn, Dania Beach, Fl on July 25, 2015 at 6:12 am

    What a wonderful and healthy way to spend the day. You have made your life just what you want and are enjoying it along the way. Good health and safe travels.


    • Becky on July 25, 2015 at 10:26 am

      Thanks Marilyn. I wouldn’t trade this life for anything.

  16. Terry Brawley on July 25, 2015 at 5:49 am

    Great description of your hike! I feel like I went along and saw the area too.

    • Becky on July 25, 2015 at 10:25 am

      Glad you enjoyed this Terry! I often feel like as I’m taking pictures on a hike I’m bringing you all along with me. πŸ™‚

  17. Ron on July 24, 2015 at 11:40 pm

    WOW!!! Another great adventure, they just keep getting better. You are seeing parts of Yellowstone that very few tourists take the time or effort to see. It has always amazed me that when you get 1/2 mile or more from the overlooks and pullouts that the crowds nearly disappear.

    • Becky on July 25, 2015 at 10:24 am

      It amazes me too Ron. When people complain that Yellowstone is too crowded, I say there are over 900 miles of hiking trails, you can only see 2% of the park from the road. Now Mount Washburn is more frequently hiked, but there are plenty trails you can take and rarely see a soul on.

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