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Bunsen Peak

Yellowstone National Park

July 27th, 2011

4.5 miles
1410 vertical feet
Total Time: 4:39

Starting elevation
7302 feet
Max elevation
8616 feet

Rating: 8/10

Directions: From West Yellowstone, drive east to enter the park. Just past the Madison Campground, turn left toward Norris. At the next intersection, head straight toward Mammoth Hot Springs. A few miles before you reach Mammoth, you'll notice a horse trailer parking lot on your left. Slow down and turn into the Bunsen Peak trailhead parking area on your right.   View Driving Map

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GPX File

When we arrived at the small dirt parking lot (with room for about 15 cars), we squeezed into the last remaining space. If it's full when you arrive, you can park near the horse trailer area.

After getting ready, we were underway around noon. We slipped past the gate at the entrance, passed Glen Creek on our right, and immediately turned left up the singletrack toward Bunsen Peak. The trail climbs steadily uphill, at a fairly constant, moderate grade. As the trail rises, you get better views of the snow-flecked mountains to the southwest. On the mostly green hills in front of them we could see patches of yellow wildflowers, and also dead trees downed like matchsticks, presumably from the 1988 fires. There are also lots of burnt trees along the trail to Bunsen Peak.

Glen Creek

Our goal for today: Bunsen Peak

Looking back at the parking lot

After climbing a bit, the trail levels off briefly as it passes a section with a steep drop-off to the northwest, providing views of the park road leading toward Mammoth. After this brief respite from the climbing, the trail starts a series of switchbacks heading up to the peak.

View looking back down the trail

The road toward Mammoth

On the edge toward Bunsen Peak

Looking out over downed and burnt trees

We ran into several groups of hikers heading in the opposite direction. Only a few were still heading uphill at this time. We passed some nice displays of wildflowers, including paintbrush, some blues and purples. The trail eventually leaves most of the flowers behind and becomes a bit rocky at times. It's nothing a 5 year old can't handle, though.

Hiking past wildflowers

We reached the top, at over 8500 feet elevation. There's a tiny building, transmission tower, and cables lying on the ground at the top. But the great views to the southwest are unimpeded. We sat down for lunch, enjoying the view of the mountains on the other side of the wide green valley below. As you might expect, it was a little windy, but not overly so.

View from the top

View across the valley from the top

Panoramic view looking mostly south from the top
(Click image to view full size)

View looking southeast

View looking north

Looking down at the decimated forest

After lunch, we continued along the ridge heading roughly southeast. If we wanted, we could have kept heading along the ridge, descending on the other side all the way to Osprey Falls and then returning along the Bunsen Peak Road Trail, a wide dirt road we could clearly see on the valley floor from the peak. That would be about a 7 mile loop without including the side trip to Osprey Falls, 10 miles with it. But we wouldn't be going that far this time. I just wanted to go a little further to see the view from further along the trail, which is pretty much flat at this point.

View to the east

When we got to the next peak a couple minutes later, we saw other hikers playing in a snow patch a little further. That looked like fun. That also explained what I had seen about an hour earlier -- when we'd first reached the peak, I saw someone throw a snowball just before leaving, even though I didn't see any snow in the area. Now I knew where it came from.

Snow patch near the summit

We made our way down to the snow patch, which was probably about 50 feet square. The boys had a lot of fun playing on it, especially since it was a warm day. Afterwards, we started the return trip, back the way we'd come. The descent was easy, only about an hour (it'd taken us about 2 hours to ascend). When we arrived back at the parking lot (about half full now), we were just in time to look up and see raptors soaring in the air above.

Heading back down

Cliffs to the northwest

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