In planning for our time in Yellowstone we knew we wanted to do a lot of hiking. But, how do you plan for a hike? Yellowstone has over 900 miles of hiking trails and that felt a little overwhelming. What things do you take into consideration when deciding what hike to take: wildlife? difficulty? distance? These were all things we took into consideration while planning out our hikes while in Yellowstone. We had researched areas of interest prior to our trip as well as used Chimani’s Yellowstone National Park app. In the hiking section of this app it provides trail information – the scenery, the trail’s distance, approximate time the trail will take and the difficulty.
My husband has been an avid trapper his entire adulthood. One animal he has trapped is the beaver. The Chimani app indicated that Beaver Ponds Trail was a great place to see a number of beaver ponds, sharpened and chewed logs, and maybe even a beaver if our timing was right. The hike was approximately 4.5 miles and should take only 2 hours. The app also indicated it was a moderate hike but we felt like the distance and time frame was something the kids could handle.
Beaver Pond trail is located in the Mammoth Area. We asked a Ranger where this was located and after giving us directions they also mentioned that a mama grizzly and her 2 cubs have been spotted in this trail. The Ranger immediately asked if we had Bear Spray and if we were traveling in a group. As I was trying to process this new information and the actual odds we would see a bear, my very caution husband immediately became hesitant. He knew that seeing a bear up close would cause myself and our daughter to freak out. His initial reaction was that we would find another trail to hike.
As much as I love this cautious side of him I was disappointed that he was saying no. I really wanted to do this hike with the hopes of seeing beaver and dams. I was also a bit disappointed in not seeing a bear. So Pam and I went investigating for more information on the safety of traveling this hike where bears had been spotted. We spoke with another ranger and asked additional questions – she said hiking on trails with bears is common. She strongly encouraged taking Bear Spray, traveling in a group and making noise. We could accommodate all of these and with the excitement of seeing a potential bear and of course the beaver on this hike we set off. The Ranger also gave us one last piece of advice: to do the hike in reverse. She felt we would be closer to the beaver ponds if we started where most people ended.
It did not take long for us to start seeing wildlife; within minutes of starting this trail we saw a female elk on the hill. Being so close was awesome and the elk did not even seem to be phased by our presence. This felt like a positive sign that we would see things on this hike. This trail traveled up hill with several switchbacks throughout the timber.
I have never been on a hike like this one. It was steep and we were huffing and puffing quickly. The kids were troopers! The amount of complaining at this point in the hike was minimal. It was the afternoon and temperature was on the warmer side but there was plenty of shade to take breaks under. Everyone had water and we took our time. During the hike we talked, laughed, sang songs and played games. Some may say I have a “loud” personality and I used it to the fullest during this hike. I was doing what I could to keep those bears at a distance! Pam kept joking that we had no worries of sneaking up on anything because we have “a Meeghan” to make all the noise needed to for our hikes. I do wonder, was she joking?
We continued through timber still not seeing any ponds or signs of beavers. We kept thinking it has to be coming up soon, right? This actually wasn’t the case at all. We did find ourselves walking through fields of sage brush, snow capped mountains in the distance, and smaller foothills all around. The thought of encountering bears was ever present in our minds. We had encountered a family of four traveling opposite direction of us. They informed us they had indeed seen the momma grizzly and her two cubs not long before. It seemed as if the odds of us encountering bears on our quest to see beavers was growing.
About 3.5 miles in, we came upon two rangers on horseback. They had been out removing downed trees from the trail and were happy to chat with us. By this time, we had a few questions: had they seen the bears, where were the beaver ponds, and could they hear us coming. The Park Ranger assured us that we were on course for the Beaver Ponds and he also told us the bears, a Mamma Grizzly and two cubs, one black and one cinnamon, were off the trail about 100 yards ahead of us. He gave us some pointers on how to navigate the trail and when to expect seeing the bears. Not wanting to surprise the bears on the trail, As precaution, I once again went over the bear safety check list with the rangers, bear spray, check, hiking in a group check, and make noise as to no surprise the bears. They replied, Check!! You’ll ain’t sneaking up on ANYTHING! They laughed and said they could hear us coming a mile away. We left the Rangers as they headed back to Fort Yellowstone. They did not seem concerned about us traveling on this hike in any way and that made us feel even more confident about our ever increasing odds of encountering a the mamma grizzly and her two cubs.
The Rangers had warned us about a boggy area in the trail and told us to veer left at the fork in the trial. They had last spotted the bears in a field just past the bog to the south of the trail about 100 yards or so in a field. Wayne and Jeremy took point as we continued down the trail. The terrain changed from grassy and rocky into more of a forested area, As we came upon the wet boggy area we spotted the fork in the trail. As we approached, we saw the black colored cub about 30 yards in front of us, in the middle of the left fork, right where the ranger had told us to go. Immediately, we seemed to have forgotten the bear safety rules and instead of making noise Jeremy, the cautious one, held his hand up like he does when hunting and pointed ahead. As the trail leaders hushed the pack of hikers, Wayne signaled for the big guns aka Pam and her Cannon Rebel to come the front of the column, Ironically, Pam’s SD card was full and she barely got any photos of the bears!
That’s when we spotted the cinnamon colored cub rambling up to his sibling. That was about the time we realized Mamma Grizzly was no where to be seen, Panic was started to set in as everyone grabbed for their bear spray, Mamma Grizzly popped into view out of the timber just beyond her cubs.
Mamma bear crossed the trail in front of us and her 2 cubs followed. It seemed like they were oblivious to us being there. Mamma bear traveled up the hill to the left of us and found a nice shady spot to lay down. It appeared she fell asleep within minutes of sitting down. The bear cubs stayed down in front of us about 50 feet away from mom and continued to play with one another and climbing trees. We all could have stood there and watched them for a long time but we moved on to make sure we didn’t make the bears feel pressured. It was so exciting!
Spotting the bear boosted everyone’s morale. We realized seeing animals in the wild could be a rewarding experience as long as we respected the animal and their space. We got a shot of adrenaline that we desperately needed to continue on. The Rangers had indicated we were getting close to the ponds so we pushed on hopeful to see beaver.
We finally came upon the first of a series of ponds. The first one was pretty boggy. We had to maneuver around water and mud. Unfortunately as we moved through all three ponds, we never saw a beaver. In fact, we never saw any signs of beavers. We got excited at one point at a log jam but realized it was caused from rushing water and not beaver. We had found the ponds but no beaver and no signs of any beaver. The beavers had moved through there years ago. All that was was three empty ponds.
Not seeing ANY signs of beaver was disappointing but the other wildlife we saw up close on this hike was amazing something that made this hike well worth it. The changes in terrain were also quite amazing but as the hike continued we also realized we were still very far from the end. We also noticed changes to the weather. Clouds moved in, the skies began to darken, and the temperature dropped. We really started booking it. This is the point where the complaining really began. Motivation became the ice cream treat we would have at the end. We ended up hiking between 6-7 miles total. The actual Beaver Pond trail head didn’t start until until about 2 miles in which is why this made the hike so long.
So a couple things to note while hiking in Yellowstone-
- Make sure you actually know the specific distance of the trail and where it begins and ends. We hiked 2-3 miles before we even reached the trail head;
- When hiking in bear country make sure you hike in a group, have bear spray, and have a “Meeghan” to make noise while you hike;
- there is no shame in bribing your children through a hike. Besides once they had ice cream in hand they forgot all about the hike;
- And lastly, there are NO beaver on Beaver Pond Trail
Good Luck and Happy Hiking!