Lower Falls and South Rim Trail – Yellowstone National Park

All my life, I have dreamed of going to Yellowstone National Park. So this summer after winning a trip to Glacier National Park we decided to drop south and visit Yellowstone for a few days. I was disappointed. Which may seem sacrilegious for an outdoors blog, but Yellowstone simply couldn’t live up to 30 years of expectations cooked up in my mind. Had I had time or energy to venture deep into the backcountry I might have felt different, but one thing is for certain, Yellowstone front country is sadly filled with gift shops, gas stations, parking lots and other “amenities” that detract from the otherwise breathtaking scenery. Having said that, however, there were still parts I managed to enjoy.

Lower Falls from Artist Point

Of all the attractions offered at Yellowstone, Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone proved the most rewarding. My family and I pulled up to the overflowing parking lot at Artiest Point. It took us hours just to get into the parking lot due to the clog of cars blocking the road to take pictures of an Elk. I regret to say I added to the part of yellowstone I hate by stopping myself and taking a picture of the same Elk.

Roadside Elk causing quite a traffic jam

Once we reached Artiest Point the views of Lower Falls and the Yellowstone River were simply amazing. The crowds present at Artiest point, however, rivaled those at Wal-mart on black friday. Desperately seeking escape from the crowds we ventured down the short South Rim Trail that was clearly marked as a Bear Frequenting Area. I was willing to take my chances if it meant getting away from the people.

Lower Falls from Artiest Point
Lower Falls from Artiest point
Bear Frequenting Area

The South Rim Trail proved very pleasant and practically isolated. We passed a few people as we hiked but that was all, a few. The South Rim afforded beautiful, up close views of Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon with the occasional view of Lower Falls.

The surprisingly desolate South Rim Trail
Up Close views of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Views along the South Rim Trail
Lower Falls viewed from the South Rim Trail
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone from the South Rim Trail

At the West end of the South Rim Trail we found Uncle Tom’s Trail. A brochure promised up close and personal views at the base of Lower Falls via 328 steps. Going down is easily deceptive and we all decided to go see the enormous falls.

Sign at Uncle Tom’s Trail
Down, down, down the Uncle Tom “trail”

328 steps later we were close to the falls but hardly at the base. But we were rewarded by up close views of beautiful rainbows caused by the the falls billowing mist. Then punished by a steep climb back up the crowded steps.

Lower Falls from Uncle Tom’s Trail
Yellowstone River from Uncle Tom’s Trail

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Yellowstone River
Rainbow at the bottom of Lower Falls

All in all Lower Falls is breathtakingly Beautiful. Had this short hike been miles from paved roads and other signs of civilization I would have been beside myself. As it stands now the NPS has done a terrible job of upholding their mission to leave the Natural Beauty unimpaired. But if you find yourself in Yellowstone, as I believe everyone should at least one in their life, be sure to escape the crowds on this short, easy hike along the South Rim.

Map of Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

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6 thoughts on “Lower Falls and South Rim Trail – Yellowstone National Park”

  1. I couldn't agree more with you! Last summer a foreign family tried putting their daughter on a bull elk that was grazing near an overlook – like they thought the park was a huge petting zoo or something. The bull startled, ran, turned around, and proceeded to charge them…. I can't stand going to overly crowded parks, let alone the tourist traps they've built for gift shops and what not. Great post! I will have to check out this trail, it looks beautiful. I just know I will get overly irritated with the high density of people.

  2. You have some beautiful pictures of the Falls. Yes, Yellowstone has become very touristy. I think it has been for many years. Very popular place to go. My husband remembers going as a boy and the bears would come right up to the cars to be fed. They have since stopped allowing that.

  3. I've visited Yellowstone many times. I love the park – with it's canyons, forests, and geysers, it's unlike anything you've ever seen. I've had enough geology classes, that all the hot springs and other geothermal wonders intrigue me. But, yes during the summer months the park is totally overrun with people. Too bad, Yellowstone is such a neat place. We're loving it to death.

  4. I understand your disappointment. For me it is a sad feeling to be in such an incredible and beautiful place and feel like I am part of this hoard of people clogging the place up and taking away from it's grandeur. One one hand I am glad that so many people want to see and appreciate the natural landscape, but it is not a fulfilling experience for me to share it with thousands of others at the same time — it is distracting and a bit intimidating. I hope you get to go back soon and explore the backcountry at your own pace. Thanks for the photographs.

  5. i completely agree!! we moved from nebraska to northern california last summer. we took the scenic route & camped our way across (badlands, bighorn, yellowstone, etc….) & the crowds & chaos at yellowstone was very disappointing. i had never been & it did not live up to my expectations either. glad i can say we've been there but don't think i'd plan a trip back. btw, we lived in san antonio for four years & i fell in love with texas!!! my favorite place in the whole country!! 😉

  6. Loved your post the pictures were amazing. Totally agree with you about how busy it can be during the summer months but just like any place like that the farther out and especially up you go the less crowded it is. I will keep checking back becasue I am always interested in new places to go.

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