When we arrived in the Mammoth area of Yellowstone, we had aspirations of hiking the Sepulcher Mountain trail. Once we got to Mammoth, there was a stubborn fog that wasn’t going to lift any time soon. We didn’t want to hike the mountain without getting the satisfaction of the view at the top, so a local park ranger recommended we hike the Beaver Ponds trail instead.
The Beaver Ponds trail is a 5.5 mile hike through the sagebrush back country of Wyoming and Montana. If done clockwise, it starts with a steep climb that shares the Sepulcher Mountain trail. By the time we split, we were relieved we weren’t hiking Sepulcher Mountain! The trail starts in the town of Mammoth at an elevation of about 6200 feet. For us midwesterners used to our whopping ~500 foot elevation, the altitude in combination with the incline had us out of breath in no time. We persevered and it paid off! The views of rolling hills of yellow grass and sagebrush were a lot to take in. Atop each hill we snapped more and more photos, each giving a slightly different perspective of a photo already taken.
About halfway through the hike, as we were approaching the beaver ponds, we spotted 4 elk feeding in the marshy woods. There was elk scat along the entire trail, but we were still surprised when we saw the elk about 30 yards away. After all, this was our first day in Yellowstone and to see these creatures in their natural environment was nothing short of awesome. A short while later we ran into a man and woman who had seen “more elk than they could count” just past the beaver ponds and up the hill. By the time we got there, the elk had already moved on. It was a little disappointing but were still on a high from seeing the 4 earlier and the general enjoyment of the trail itself stayed with us.
When we reached the end of the trail, we were overlooking Mammoth and the Hot Springs for one last exceptional view. We made the trek down to town and there was another elk grazing on the lawn of the Mammoth Ranger Station. This was a common event based on the number of signs around town requesting visitors to refrain from approaching and feeding the animals. I can only imagine what it would be like to see elk taking over the lawns of the tiny town. What a sight that would be!
In all, the Beaver Ponds trail was the perfect trail to kick off our Yellowstone adventure. It had challenging climbs, breathtaking scenery and native wildlife that kept our interest the entire way. I would hike this trail again and again if I lived in the area. I greatly recommend it for anyone seeking to experience Yellowstone off the paved road.