Hotsprings and Waterfalls Llama Hike, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13318A, Supported Trekking


  • Discover the pack-free joy of llama travel
  • Enjoy the waterfalls of Cascade Corner
  • Soak in natural hot springs


  • Llama pack support
  • Round-trip trailhead transportation
  • Naturalist llama wranglers


DatesSep 15–20, 2013
Difficulty3 (out of 5)
StaffPaul Minkus

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Trip Overview

The Trip

This late-summer hiking and base camp outing tours the remote & magical Bechler River region of Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park.  Tucked into the southwest corner of the park, the region is a waterfall lover’s paradise, abundant in plants, wildlife, and bubbling geothermal features. Its trembling hot springs within a gorgeous canyon creates a natural relaxing spa that's perfect for soaking our cares and trail dust away. The valuable partners in our outing group will be the gentle and well-trained pack llamas that will carry our gear and the group’s commissary.  Countless experienced wilderness travelers regard Yellowstone as a living laboratory, and one of North America’s premier hiking destinations. Our trip will be a moderate and enjoyable hike while carrying only day packs, interspersed with layover days and the opportunity to pursue personal interests and activities. The approach of autumn brings the blossom of early fall colors and the bugling of elk.


A pre-trip orientation session precedes every Sierra Club National Outing. The purpose of this meeting is to get acquainted and discuss how we can safely & enjoyably travel as a group in the wilderness. On Saturday evening, September 14th we will have the all-important group outing orientation session. This mandatory meeting will be held in the meeting room at Antler Motel in Jackson, WY at 5:00 p.m.

Day 1: There will be a scheduled pick-up of participants from Jackson area lodging facilities. This is included in your trip price. Participants will be picked up beginning at 7:00 a.m. After everyone has been picked up, the shuttle will proceed to the Bechler River trailhead.  After loading the llamas, our hike will start at around 11:00 a.m. Our hike takes us through the beautiful Bechler Meadows. It is a 6.5-mile walk over easy terrain with little elevation gain to Trail Springs Camp at the mouth of Bechler Canyon. Our biggest challenge will be a late-day crossing of the Bechler River before making camp for the evening.

Day 2: From Trail Springs, we will break camp and hike approximately seven miles, while gradually ascending a beautiful canyon trail with about 1,000 feet elevation gain. We will have a couple fords of the meandering river before arriving in the late afternoon at Three Rivers Camp.  We will set up a comfortable base camp near Three Rivers, where we will spend the next two nights.

Day 3: This is a leisurely layover day. We will day hike in the beautiful Three Rivers area at the head of Bechler Canyon. This area is the junction of three major tributaries of the Bechler River. It also home to many beautiful waterfalls that we will explore. Nearby are thermal spas to visit and soak in. The most famous is “Mr. Bubbles," which is is a large pool that is considered the best hot spring spa in Yellowstone. 

Day 4: This is a moving day. After packing, we will retreat down the canyon and return to Trail Springs. The day will allow for a leisurely morning and time around camp so participants can have the opportunity to pursue personal interests and activities.

Day 5: This is a short hiking day. We will pack up and move camp up to Boundary Creek. After setting up camp, we will day hike to the thundering Dunanda Falls, and find the best place to soak in the numerous thermal features along the creek. Returning to camp, we will enjoy our last dinner together surrounded by the forest and meadows, and blessed with a full moon.

Day 6: After packing up one last time, our final day on the trail returns us through the meadows to the Bechler trailhead. We will say goodbye to close llama companions and their wranglers. We will be met by our shuttle van in the early afternoon and should be back in Jackson before dinner.



Getting There

The Bechler River trailhead is located in the southwest corner of Yellowstone National Park. Included in the trip price is round-trip van transportation to the trailhead from Jackson Wyoming. As the gateway to both Yellowstone and Teton national parks, Jackson is one of the most vibrant and enjoyable tourist destinations in the American West. The Jackson Airport has daily regional and transcontinental air service provided by many airlines. There are also transportation services that can take you from the airport into Jackson. Jackson is also a convenient place for supplies and lodging both before and after the outing. The leader will do his best to assist in ride coordination and furnish roster information so participants may contact each other. Specific information and directions about transportation, lodging, and the Jackson vicinity will be provided upon registration. Detailed departure bulletins will also be sent prior to meeting in Wyoming.  

Accommodations and Food

The leader takes pride in providing appetizing and fulfilling meals. Past trip participants have roundly praised the quality of his menu! Dinner is the largest meal of each day with soup, main course, and dessert on most nights. An occasional glass of wine may enhance our dinner! The leader can accommodate vegetarian diets. Participants with dietary restrictions or requests are encouraged to discuss this situation with the leader. Participants will assist with all camp chores, including the preparation and clean up of meals on a rotating basis. The Sierra Club will provide stoves and cooking equipment. Our pack llamas will carry all of our food and the group’s equipment. The first meal provided will be lunch on September 15th, and the last will be lunch on September 20th. The leader does not provide trail snacks as people have diverse needs and preferences. 

The weather in the Southwest Yellowstone region can be quite unpredictable. September is generally a dry and pleasant time to travel. Rain is always possible, so all participants should be very well prepared for extended periods of bad weather. Daily afternoon temperatures in the 70s are not uncommon at this time of the year, and cool crisp nights as low as the 30s could be expected. The Bechler Region is one of the wettest in the park. By traveling in the late season, we expect to avoid the soggy conditions that are present earlier in the year. The leader and the outfitter feel that our journey is scheduled for a period when overall conditions in this region are best and quite enjoyable. The mountains should be in their early-Autumn prime with the mosquitoes absent and the elk bugling!

Trip Difficulty

This is an on-trail hiking outing that has been rated as (M) moderate. We will carry only day packs as the llamas will carry our load. Our route travels up to 35 miles of well-maintained trail, with an average of about 4-7 miles per day. The biggest challenges to participants are several wet stream crossings that can be thigh-high. The trail follows a river & creeks through vast meadows, and a gradual ascending canyon. The trailhead elevation is 6,200 feet, and there is minimal elevation gain. Our daily schedule will be flexible. One and a half layover days are planned where off-trail opportunities and personal activities may be enjoyed. The leader always takes the weather, health, and welfare of the group and its members into account. Our route offers some flexibility in scheduling and modification if needed. Those who apply for this outing should be mentally and physically prepared for such a journey. They should be self-confident in their abilities and be able to assure themselves and the leader that they are capable. Those without any backpacking experience should discuss the situation with the leader. The minimum age for trip acceptance is 16 unless the leader provides approval.

Conditioning Commitment:

Any backpack trip is a potentially strenuous activity. The demands on one’s system, both physical and psychological, require planning, discipline, and preparation in advance of the outing. The trip will afford maximum enjoyment and satisfaction for each of us if we arrive at the trailhead with our bodies and brains fully conditioned and prepared for both the obvious and the unexpected challenges of such an adventure. Each person accepted onto this outing agrees to this commitment. We will all reap the benefits of this on the trip! The leader would be happy to advise participants on suggestions for fitness preparation.

Equipment and Clothing

The leader expects that each participant will have sturdy, broken-in, well-waterproofed, mid-weight, hiking boots in excellent condition. Full equipment lists and comprehensive equipment consultations will be available at any time after registration.  It is expected that participants will only have to carry some of their daily personal gear, as our llamas will haul our group gear and food.



The Greater Yellowstone region is the irreplaceable crown jewel bionetwork of the “lower” United States. It encompasses 30 million continuous acres and is the largest and most important ecosystem in America. It is estimated that nearly 1/3 of all Americans will visit the world's 1st national park during their lifetime. Yellowstone National Park is currently experiencing increasing environmental pressure. Multiple concerns stem from global warming, efforts to expand mineral and petroleum exploration and antagonism to public land and wildlife protection. The adjoining Upper Green River watershed is threatened by gas and oil drilling and water removal. These plains are one of the most important big game migratory pathways in the Rocky Mountain region. The impact of scores of brightly lit drilling derricks spread for miles across the plains are difficult to assess. The region is also experiencing the growth of large coal fired electric plants, long distance gas pipelines, and unparalleled highway construction through fragile ecosystems. We will discuss these and other environmental issues on our outing.  

Our basic philosophy has been that the participants learn from listening to and interacting with each other. All participants on this outing will be encouraged to prepare a brief presentation for the group exploring local or regional conservation concerns. Participants are welcome to select their own topic or the leaders will make suggestions and provide reference sources. The leader has employed this discussion format with great success and enjoyment for the past 10 years. Past participants consider the presentations a stimulating and enjoyable highlight of their outing.

We'll practice minimal impact camping techniques and we will strive to leave little or no trace on the land we visit.



Paul Minkus, a longtime Sierra Club member, is 60 years old. The father of a very “special” 27 year old daughter, he lives in the Chicago area with his wife Donna, who herself is a National Outings leader. He has over 40 years of backpacking experience and has completed trips in well over a 100 of our nation’s wilderness areas and National Parks. Paul has a B.S. in Forestry and a B.A. in Education. He has completed the 80-hour Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification course and is a graduate of the 1996 Sierra Club leadership training class. An experienced hiker, paddler, skier, and cyclist, he has led 37 outings for the Sierra Club. Paul works as an athletic official and recreation coordinator and enjoys photography and golf in his spare time.

Assistant Leader:

Donna Kurtz takes advantage of every opportunity for outdoor pursuits with her husband, fellow Sierra Club leader Paul Minkus. Although Donna's career in business development and as an elected public official keeps her busy, she still finds time to bike, run, swim, hike, and cross-country ski as much as possible. Donna is certified in wilderness first aid and in her tenth year of outing leadership.

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