Yellowstone Discovery: Mammoth to Tower Junction

The Road out of Mammoth

In our last post we blogged through Mammoth Hot Springs – today we are heading North on the Grand Loop Road from Mammoth to Tower Junction/Tower Fall.

I love this section of Yellowstone because it is filled with sweeping valleys, windswept hills and one of the largest petrified forests in the United States. The Northern Loop is typically less crowded than the Lower Loop – which can make for a relaxing drive (depending on the day and time).

You will most likely encounter a lot of wildlife on this section of the road, from the elusive Grizzly bear to bison and elk.

As you leave the Mammoth area – towards Tower Junction, you will cross the formidable Gardner River Canyon – this bridge overpass provides gravity defying views of the Gardner Canyon rushing below.

The road rambles with twists and turns through Yellowstone’s north country – with popular roadside stops at:

  • Lava Creek Picnic area (a favorite haunt of me and my mom during our YNP visits) – this quiet spot (although busy in peak summer months) is on the edge of Lava Creek and provides shade and scenery during your lunch or snack break.
  • Undine Falls is worth a roadside stop
  • Wraith Falls is an easy 1/2 mile hike that offers wonderful views of this gracious waterfall. I recommend this hike for those with little time that want a great view and a taste of YNP backcountry
Wraith Falls
  • Roadside you will see Phantom Lake – which isn’t a lake except in early spring when winter snow temporarily melts in this basin. I love the names within Yellowstone – Phantom Lake sounds like something out of C.S. Lewis or Tolkien
  • One of our favorite boardwalk trails is – the Forces of the Northern Range Exhibit. It walks you through sage and tall grass against the shadow of the mountains. This trail teaches you about all the forces (volcanic, erosion, etc) that created this part of the park. You also have the opportunity to see many specimens of petrified wood. Yellowstone volcanic eruptions led to many trees to being ‘frozen’ in ash and these remnants of stone wood are a testimony to the volatile history and fight for life in the park. Please don’t take any samples of the petrified wood/stone – leave it for future generations.
Forces of the Northern Range boardwalk
  • Winds of Change – Fire Exhibit – another great boardwalk to learn about the ecology of Yellowstone and how fires have shaped this land.
  • The Petrified Tree: The remains of a petrified Redwood tree buried alive by the Absaroka mountain volcano building over 50 million years ago

Roosevelt Lodge – While each Yellowstone lodge and camping area is close to my heart – I love the rugged wildness of Roosevelt. It truly embodies the western spirit and staying at the Lodge you feel as though you stepped back in time.

Visitors can rent rustic cabins and enjoy home cooking at the Roosevelt Lodge restaurant. This area is home to the popular chuckwagon – which takes visitors on a fun backcountry wagon ride for a ‘chuckwagon’ style dinner.

Roosevelt offers AMAZING views of the Absaroka Mountains and nearby Lamar Valley.

Like to horseback ride? Roosevelt is the place for you – they have stables and horseback riding rentals.

This area has several good hikes including Lost Lake trail (my battery died on this hike – so no pictures 🙁 )

Roosevelt Lodge reservations can be made here

Roosevelt is right on the cusp of Tower Junction, which intersects the Grand Loop Road with the Lamar Valley (road from Northern Loop to Northeast entrance at Cooke City)

The Lamar Valley is one of the best places in the world to see wildlife. While off the beaten path I definitely recommend making time for a detour at Roosevelt and heading towards Cooke City. You won’t regret it (stay tuned for a future blog about this section of byway)

Just past Tower Junction is the beautiful and haunting Tower Fall.

Tower Fall

Tower Junction, the Yellowstone River plunges a stunning 132 feet. The unusual rock formations north of the fall were created by lava flow the cracked as it cooled.

My rendition of Tower Fall in art:

Art for sale on Etsy

Usually you can hike to the base of the falls -but the trail has been closed on my last two trips

Calcite Springs thermal feature near Tower Fall

Visitors can stop at the Tower General Store for souvenirs. Tower also has a neighboring campground.

Next entry we’ll take a Lamar Valley detour before heading south towards Mount Washburn and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

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