Lifelist: Bechler River Trail, Yellowstone National Park
Cover image: Iris Falls. All images Lisa Verwys
“You’re one of those people, aren’t you?”- the ranger at the Bechler Ranger Station when he found out that I had traversed the entire Bechler River Trail in a day all by my lonesome. I was too tired to come up with a smart reply and went with “I guess I am,” which I suppose is the truth, and “it seemed like a good idea at the time,” which was most definitely not the truth.
Ultra Run/hike Solo
30 miles of run-hiking solo in the Yellowstone backcountry never really seemed like a good idea, to be completely honest. However, it was someplace new to explore, I had a free weekend, and I had family members backpacking the trail who needed a car shuttle. So I put it on my calendar way back in April where it loomed until August.
One of three river fords.
As the date got closer, I was not feeling particularly excited about the hike in the week leading up to the start. I was not in particularly great shape, I was fighting off a cold, Yellowstone was full of smoke from wildfires, plus I was letting fear seep into my psyche after being told numerous times that going solo was a terrible idea and that I was going to get eaten by a bear (spoiler alert: I did not get eaten by a bear).
Here’s how I made it through:
Sometimes people will ask me where I find motivation to get outside and do activities like hike 30 miles. I don’t think they are ever satisfied with my answer, which is usually either:
- I love being outside and active so I don’t need to find motivation.
- I try to not think about anything else (especially distractions), I just put my head down and make myself get out there until I either start having fun or am too far in to turn around.
Unfortunately, I can’t give you a magic answer about motivation. You are either intrinsically motivated to get outdoors or you want to be an outdoorsy person more than you want to fall victim to your own excuses. Sometimes you just have to believe that, even if you don’t have a great time, the photos, memories, and experiences will be worth it.
Early bird gets the sunrise.
The Bechler River Trail required me to lean heavily on motivation tactic #2. I focused on one step at a time: wake up, drive to the trailhead, get out, get moving, yell a lot to scare away bears. It didn’t take too long to find some actual motivation as I reached the Lone Star Geyser area just after sunrise. In my opinion, geysers are the most otherworldly sights in Yellowstone. When you see the steam rising out of the ground, you know you’re someplace special.
As for getting over the fear factor? I don’t have an easy answer for that either. I use mantras to soothe myself. Sometimes those mantras remind me that I am prepared for all of the factors that I can control. Sometimes those mantras amp me up and remind me that I’m a strong, capable person. And sometimes those mantras remind me to take a rational, reasoned look at the legitimacy of my fear.
When all else fails, throw two cans of bear spray in your bag and loudly rap DMX lyrics for a few miles. It worked for me.
Ready to give the Bechler a go? Here’s what you need to know.
The route: Lone Star Trail Head to Bechler Ranger Station
Total length: approximately 30 miles, including short spur trails to overlooks
Total time: 8 hours to several days.
Elevation Gain: 2050 feet
Descent: 3316 feet
Time to go: August or September is prime time. Don’t miss: the spur trail for Colonnade Falls. Things that I missed, but you shouldn’t: Mr. Bubbles hot spring. Take the obvious spur trail at the halfway point to this hot spring.
Be prepared for: 3 river crossings that can be knee-high or deeper. I opted to leave my shoes on because they drained well, but if you’re backpacking be ready to go barefoot.
Don’t forget: bear spray. You can rent it in the park if you don’t want to buy it.
If you’re backpacking: you need permits to stay overnight in Yellowstone. Check out the YNP website for full details on how to get them. Important info: this is a point-to-point trail, so you will need to either hike it out & back or arrange a shuttle or key swap.
Refueling: Afterward, head into West Yellowstone for pizza and beer at Wild West Pizzeria. Trust me.
Lisa Verwys would not be a very good motivational speaker, but she is pretty good at covering long distances by foot, not letting fear get in the way of her goals, and scaring bears away with her below-average rap skills. You can follow along with her adventures on Instagram and her blog.