Waterfalls, Yellowstone National Park
After we checked into the hotel and had lunch, we drove down toward the Grand Teton National Park. We stopped at the Kepler Cascades and I went and took some photos while my grandmother waited in the car.
I actually got to see them twice because we stopped here again on the Circle of Fire tour. It is right by the road and there's a wooden overlook platform that sticks out over the river.
Yellowstone is full of waterfalls. The Upper Falls and Lower Falls are the ones most people think of when they think waterfalls in Yellowstone. But there are many other falls and cascades in the park many easily accessed from the road, such as Firehole Falls, Gibbon Falls, Kepler Cascades, Lewis Falls, Moose Falls, Rustic Falls, and Undine Falls.
We stopped at here twice. Once on the first day where I just stayed in the car, and once on the Ring of Fire tour where I actually got out and took photos. They were named for a 12 year old son of Wyoming's Territorial governor, and they were a favorite stop on early tours of Yellowstone.
For some reason, seems illogical to me that you can't take photos of both falls from the same point. I think my dad tried but did not succeed. Because the canyon bends between the Upper and Lower falls, there is no location where they can be seen at the same time, except from the air.
The park service says that the Upper Falls is upstream of the Lower Falls (which makes sense) and is 109 ft. high. It can be seen from the Brink of the Upper Falls Trail and from Uncle Tom's Trail.
The Lower Falls is 308 ft. high and can be seen from Lookout Point, Red Rock Point, Artist Point, Brink of the Lower Falls Trail, and from various points on the South Rim Trail. The Lower Falls is often described as being more than twice the size of Niagara, although this only refers to its height and not the volume of water flowing over it. The volume of water flowing over the falls can vary from 63,500 gal/sec at peak runoff to 5,000 gal/sec in the fall.
As Crocodile Dundee would have said: “That’s not a waterfall, THIS is a waterfall”! Wow, I’ve seen a few waterfalls in my time but the Lower Falls was right up there with some world famous ones (Iguazu, Victoria, Niagara)! This straight-on view shows it dropping 308-ft (94-m) off another ledge in Yellowstone NP, twice the height of Niagara Falls. This waterfall carries the largest volume of water of any in the American Rocky Mountains. The 2nd photo shows a close-up shot of spectators standing on what appears to be a natural rock bridge right at the edge of the waterfall – I bet that was a thrill to be standing so close to such raw power! Some other hikers obliged us with a final shot (3rd photo) of Sue and I with Lower Falls in the background.
It only took us about 20 minutes to reach a location where we could see Upper Yellowstone Falls, with this zoom shot showing a group of spectators gathered directly above the ledge where the river makes its 109-ft (33-m) plunge. The 2nd photo gives a better impression of what it actually looked like from our distant vantage point on the opposite bank. At the bottom of the waterfall, the Yellowstone River makes a sharp left turn as it continues its flow down the ‘Grand Canyon of Yellowstone’ (3rd photo) which is now being created by the fast flowing current cutting an ever deeper channel (I even threw in a rainbow at no extra charge!). About 10 minutes later, after walking a bit further along the trail, we took a look back for another view of Upper Falls with that first bridge in the distant background (4th photo).
By 1:30 PM we had managed to reach the area where the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River are located, a few miles south of Canyon Village. This was our main objective for the day because we had not done any real hiking at all in either Yellowstone or Grand Teton – this was our last chance! We got into our hiking gear, filled up our water bottles and off we went, heading along a trail on the south bank of the river as shown here while leaving the car park area beside the bridge we had used to cross the river.
The water was churning and the rocks looked jagged as the river flowed past an old highway bridge with spectators on the other side of the river (2nd photo). This bridge allows visitors to reach the viewing platforms above both waterfalls as they stand on the brink where the flow plunges hundreds of feet. We would be looking at the waterfalls from a distant view point on the other side of the river. With the sun still beaming down, it was nice to be able to hike in the shade of the trees along the river bank as we climbed up and down over the rough terrain.
We were surprised to find that Yellowstone NP had a much ‘flatter’ landscape than we were expecting for something located in the Rocky Mountains. The surface of the world is broken into various plates of land that float on molten magma deep below and it so happens that Yellowstone is at the edge where the North American plate is sliding north past the Pacific plate. Over the past two million years, as the Yellowstone area passed over a strong volcanic vent located here, there have been violent eruptions blasting material skyward and eventually resulting in a landscape that appears to be more of a plateau than mountains. The last big blast was 630,000 years ago and produced an oval caldera of about 35 to 40 miles (the purple outline in the map) with various hot spots still bubbling away below ground.
We crossed the caldera boundary at an elevation of about 8000-ft as we continued south from Yellowstone Lake to Grand Teton NP, where we had booked accommodations for the next two nights. As we passed Lewis Lake (one of those little ones at the bottom of the map) we saw the small (29-ft) Lewis Falls delivering water from the crater rim into the caldera (2nd photo).
While few come to Yellowstone National Park to view Gibbon Falls, their accessibility and the general popularity of waterfalls make them a stop for most people driving the park's scenic southern loop. At least so it seemed from the many people clambering for a photo when we stopped there. The relatively unimpressive falls drop only 70 feet and all the best photos I have seen of it are from its base with a delayed shutter speed but I saw no way of getting to it from the small pullout from which we hurriedly gazed down. If rushed for time, it's not exactly a must see but if you are tired of looking only at geysers and hot springs, this could be a good way to break things up.
The Lower falls are much more impressive than the Upper, given that they are, at 93 metres, almost 3 times higher. Here there are multiple viewpoints, unfortunately not at the rim up close, but if you take the Uncle Tom's trail down the 328 steps and inclines to the platform, along the way you'll get close views of the falls.
Attention. - This climb is very strenuous, even on the way down, so be very careful with your health and take it easy.
About 2 kms from Old Faithful, heading towards West Thumb, there is a marked pull-out for Keppler Cascades. A nice short walk takes you to an overlook of the cascades, which part of is more like a small waterfall. This could be coupled with a hike out to Lone Star Geyser, although we didn't have the time do it.
As the first attraction after entering the park from the south, you will not likely be alone when you visit these falls. They are not as prominent as nearby Lewis falls but for someone having just completed a long drive to the park they make a great first or last stop.
From the main parking area the falls can be accessed on either side of crawfish creek. For differing views both sides may provide added familiarization. The falls are about 30 feet (9 meters) but seem slightly smaller to me. It could be the fact that they are nearby the much larger volume Lewis falls which falls a similar height.
I have heard accounts that the pool beneath the falls is deep enough to jump from the top of the cliff into. I always use caution when hearing these kinds of claims. On a hot day the prospect of taking a dip in the creek may be fairly inviting though. In any case, these falls are a good first or last stop when using the southern entrance to the park.
For more information about this and other Yellowstone waterfalls check out Paul Rubenstein's book Yellowstone Waterfalls and their Discovery page 55.
Lewis falls was not so surprisingly named after Meriwether Lewis from the Lewis and Clark expeditions. Lewis and Clark never visited Yellowstone but their names are remembered in many of the lakes, streams, and natural features of the area.
These falls themselves are very prominent in the area they are in. From the Southern Park entrance this would be one of the first real attractions (after Moose Falls). They are 30 feet (9 meters) and tumble down a rock face. The falls contain a fairly large volume and are easily accessible.
For more information about this and other Yellowstone waterfalls check out Paul Rubenstein's book Yellowstone Waterfalls and their Discovery page 51.
In the summer these falls take on a demure form that zig zags its way through a deep canyon. However, when the runoff is at higher levels it becomes much more impressive. The total drop is about 20 feet (6 meters) which is not exceptionally tall.
The main reason to visit this waterfall is that it is so easy to access on a one way loop road just after Firehole Falls only 2.3 miles south of Madison Junction and on the way to the geyser basins. The falls are located just before the end of the drive and can be accessed by pulling to the side of the road and walking just a few feet to the precipice of the canyon.
Cars will be flying by on the grand loop road which nears the river just upstream from the cascades. This is one of those cases where you are staring at a beautiful piece of scenery and seeing hundreds of people passing it by as you look upon it.
For more information about this and other Yellowstone waterfalls check out Paul Rubenstein's book Yellowstone Waterfalls and their Discovery page 36.
Undine Falls is about 60 feet (18 m) tall. The three tier cascade is visually quite different than most waterfalls I’ve seen. The first drop is your more typical vertical drop followed by a broad fanning area and the last drop is a similar fan hoping from rock to rock.
Like several other waterfalls in the park the access to this waterfall is very simple. A turnout on the road followed by a 20 foot walk ends in a viewpoint which overlooks the small canyon that was formed by Lava Creek. Another great waterfall (Wraith Falls) lies just upstream of these falls. Undine falls were featured as the cover photo on 1977 issue of National Geographic.
The word Undine comes from wise usually female water spirits of German mythology. They lived near waterfalls and could gain souls by marrying mortal men. As of yet, I have not found any of these water spirits.
For more information about this and other Yellowstone waterfalls check out Paul Rubenstein's book Yellowstone Waterfalls and their Discovery page 58.
Wraith Falls are one of the lesser seen waterfalls in Yellowstone. The main reason for that is probably its location. Just upstream from the impressive Undine Falls it is also more difficult to reach. A well groomed 0.5 mile trail leads you along a boardwalk through a forest of Douglas-fir and across a bridge then up a small hill and to a viewing spot.
The Falls are a segmented cascade that flows 100 feet (30 m) down a solid slab of rock. Near the top of the falls are some interesting outcroppings which resemble bricks and mortar and are in tower like shapes. Lupine Creek flows down these falls and into nearby Lava Creek before going over Undine falls just down the road.
For more information about this and other Yellowstone waterfalls check out Paul Rubenstein's book Yellowstone Waterfalls and their Discovery page 59.