By Hunter Rothwell
The Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition was the first
to record their experience on what is known today as Mt.
Washburn. Named in honor of expedition leader Henry
D. Washburn, the peak is one of the most rewarding day
hikes in Yellowstone. Thanks to the foresight of those who
established the park, Lt. Doane’s description from 130 years
ago could have been written this year.
With over 3 million annual visitors, Yellowstone is very
busy during the summer. But very few explore the first
national park beyond the main thoroughfares. A majority
of the park, which is larger than Rhode Island and
Delaware combined, is left to solitude and is truly an
undisturbed ecosystem of natural wonder. With a little
initiative and a taste for adventure, visitors can summit
the 10,223-foot Mt. Washburn, which is perhaps Yellowstone’s
crown jewel for sightseeing.
The Washburn Range is one of only two mountain ranges
that are completely within the boundaries of the park (the
Red Mountains being the other). Although not the park’s
highest peak, Mt. Washburn is special for its location:
barely north of the absolute center of Yellowstone. From its
summit, the 360 degree, birds-eye view shows the entirety
of Yellowstone National Park, from horizon to horizon.
From the Dunraven Pass Trailhead, Washburn is a relatively
moderate three-mile hike with a subtle 1400-foot
elevation gain. One of the park’s three active fire lookout
towers is located on the summit. There is a small visitor
center and restrooms on the first floor, an observation deck
on the second, and a ranger’s residence on the top floor. The
spectacular Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is directly
below, to the southeast. If it is a clear day, you can view the
Tetons 50 miles south.
With a 150 percent of the normal annual snowfall this past
winter, there is still a good amount of snow in the higher
elevations, which ads an element of challenge to the hike.
Some areas require a straight up ascent or wallow through
deep snow, as opposed to the gentle switchbacks hikers
enjoy after snowmelt. However, the reward is the same,
and a more experienced hiker will find this the best
time to go and have the upper regions of Yellowstone
all to him or herself. Many families find great
enjoyment in snowball fights and sliding
down the steep snow banks – snow in the
summer is an attraction in itself.
The trail will be clear by late July and the
snow will be replaced by wildflowers.
There is always a chance of spotting an
elk, bighorn sheep and even a grizzly. This
is an extremely accessible destination for
hikers of all experience levels. Don’t miss
the opportunity to see the whole park in
one glance. Mt. Washburn is the best seat
in the house.