Into the Cascade Corner

Into the Cascade Corner

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Knight, Phil

Even though nearly four million people swarm Yellowstone each year seeking to experience its magic and majesty, a relatively small number leave the roads or boardwalks. Even fewer make it to the remote and fabled Cascade Corner. But if you like water—hot, cold, flowing, falling—you will love this incredible place.

Cascade Cornucopia
The truth is that southwestern Yellowstone simply drips with waterfalls. The Falls River and its tributaries—including Boundary Creek, the Bechler River, Mountain Ash Creek, and Proposition Creek—sport at least 95 waterfalls and cascades. Yellowstone’s wettest region collects up to 80 inches of moisture annually, much of it in frozen form. All this water, irresistibly pulled by gravity, spills off the southern and western reaches of the vast Pitchstone Plateau, giving the Bechler River area the apt nickname “Cascade Corner,” bestowed by superintendent Horace Albright in 1921. Trapper Osborne Russell was one of the first to document the region in 1830, but Native Americans have traversed the Bechler Meadows for centuries, and a wagon road once crossed the meadows.

Known as the Bechler Region today, this corner of Yellowstone is accessed mainly by trail. Only one major fall—Cave Falls—is accessible by road. This is a place designed for amazing backpacking trips. Set aside three or four days, or a week, and you can disappear into some of the most spectacular backcountry in the Rockies.

There’s plenty of wildlife to watch in the Bechler, too: moose, beaver, sandhill cranes, and black bears. The Bechler wolf pack still roams here, as does the occasional grizzly. You may spot elk or mule deer, as well as bald eagles and many types of waterfowl. Due to the wet conditions, this is also a good place to spot amphibians such as Columbia spotted frogs and boreal toads.

If you like swimming in rivers and creeks, this is your paradise. Not only are there dozens of creeks to choose from, with hidden pools and drops everywhere, but you will also find Yellowstone’s finest swimmable hot springs. After all, most of Yellowstone’s hot springs are far too hot to venture into, and the Boiling River is the only roadside hot spring you can soak in, but it has become a little too popular. In the Bechler, however, several hot springs mix with cold rivers, offering such spectacular swimming holes as Mr. Bubbles and Silver Scarf Falls. Certain creeks even flow warm—up to 90 degrees. Find one of these and pick your Jacuzzi.

Fishing the Cascade Corner can be challenging but rewarding. Above Iris and Colonnade falls on the Bechler River, you’ll find mainly native cutthroat trout rising to your fly. These are smaller but much easier to catch than the lunkers on the lower river. In Bechler Meadows and along lower Boundary Creek, wily rainbows and cutbows up to 26 inches long lurk in smooth, clear water below overhanging, grassy banks.


Sliders
But of course, the main attraction is the waterfalls. There are dozens of fascinating and unique ones to visit: Acheron, Twister, Ragged, Tendoy, Sluiceway… the list is long and they all have their charms, but a few waterfalls stand out among the many.

Dunanda Falls (on the cover of Yellowstone Waterfalls) warrants a trip on its own. Reachable by a nine-mile hike, Dunanda takes Boundary Creek over a 150-foot drop in a stunning curtain of sparkling droplets. Here you can scramble behind the falls to cool off, then choose from several hot springs pools below the falls to warm yourself back up. Cool, heat, repeat. Relax. Then head for nearby Silver Scarf Falls—a warm cascade—and get the full-on human noodle experience.

Dropping 250 feet, Union Falls combines Mountain Ash Creek and an unnamed tributary. These rushing creeks come together to form this stunning fall, fanning out across a cliff like a bridal veil for some princess of the waters. To reach it from the Ashton-Flagg Road (Grassy Lake trailhead), you must ford the Falls River itself. Just a mile into your hike, you face this challenge. More than one hiker has been turned back by high water, and others have lost their packs when they slipped in and had to swim for their lives. Thus, Union becomes an even more worthy destination. Try this hike later in the season for a mellower river crossing. But do bring a rope for belaying one another across the river.

The Bechler River, named for Gustavus Bechler (chief cartographer on the 1872 Hayden Survey), boasts several gorgeous falls, and you can see most of them from the well-traveled Bechler River Trail. One of the most elegant falls is Colonnade, which makes two vertical drops (35 feet and 67 feet) within a short stretch of river.

At Three Rivers Junction, the Bechler River arises from three remote tributaries—the Ferris, Gregg, and Phillips forks. Follow any of these forks and you will encounter a series of falls and cascades as you get deeper and deeper in. Thirty-three waterfalls have been mapped within two miles of Three Rivers Junction. These falls were not discovered until as late as 1920-21 by explorer W.C. Gregg. Score the campsite at the junction and head out for your own exploratory mission.

Access
Reaching many of these waterfalls or hot springs requires crossing the vast backcountry of Bechler Meadows. This is by no means a hardship, as the great tawny grasslands lure you on, the spiky peaks of the Tetons piercing the sky to the south and the Pitchstone Plateau looming ever closer to the north. The biting insects can be voracious here, so be ready to fight them off.

You can also approach the Bechler from the north, crossing the Continental Divide via a long, forested hike from Lone Star Geyser near Old Faithful. For the hardy, a fabulous but difficult spring ski trip is the 27-mile traverse from Old Faithful to the Bechler ranger station through the Bechler Canyon.

To reach the area from the west or east, take the Ashton-Flagg Road #47 either east from Ashton, Idaho, or west from Flagg Ranch, near the southern border of Yellowstone. This 37-mile dirt road follows the southern boundary of Yellowstone Park and is generally passable to most vehicles. A few side roads to trailheads may require high clearance. The Cave Falls road is paved and leads to the Bechler ranger station, where you can obtain backcountry permits, fishing licenses, and rangerly advice, as well as a good starting point into Bechler Meadows. From the Ashton-Flagg Road (also known as Reclamation Road) you can reach the Grassy Lake, Cascade Creek, Fish Lake, and Beulah Lake trailheads. The National Park Service can also provide details about when and where to go in the Bechler. Backcountry permits are required for overnight trips, and these can be reserved online in advance.

 


Phil Knight has been stomping around the high country of southwest Montana for 25 years. Having seen some amazing parts of this planet, he'd still be hard-pressed to beat a serene Montana evening by a waterfall.

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