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The Hoodoo Basin: A Hidden Gem of Yellowstone

Updated: Sep 5, 2023

The following is an immersive description of our overnight pack trip into the Hoodoo Basin of Northeastern Yellowstone National Park. Fran Hellmann, a family friend of over 25 years, shares the camp's itinerary, taking you along for the journey to this hidden gem of Yellowstone. This camp is among our most intense and spectacular experiences, calling adventure seekers and backcountry lovers to this unique and sacred geological site.

 

The Hoodoo Basin- where goblin-like spires and formations jut up out of the earth in grand arrays of sculptures created by thousands of years of erosion. Discovered by a small group of miners in 1870, you will see the Hoodoos and surrounding country much as they did in what are some of nature’s seemingly timeless creations. Come and be amongst the relatively few people to have ever visited one of Yellowstone’s greatest natural wonders!


Day 1

Beginning our journey, we will mount our horses and within minutes, leave all traces and evidence of the modern-day world behind. We will follow the Lamar River through its beautiful wide open valley, a place that is frequented by buffalo, elk, antelope, and wolves. We will pass several features that were named by or for some of Yellowstone’s early explorers.


As the beautiful, wide open valley gradually narrows, we will eventually find ourselves high above the Lamar at its confluence with Miller creek; so named for one of the miners that discovered The Hoodoos. Here, we turn and begin to follow Miller creek in an area that was deeply scarred in the fires of 1988. As we ascend the creek, we will find a scarred landscape that begins to give way to beautiful intermittent lush meadows where a moose might perhaps, be seen. In one of these meadows, we will make our first camp. The evening will bring the first of many good evenings to come with a home cooked meal served, good conversation, and reflection of the day’s sites and events around a cozy fire. As the warmth of the fire surrenders to the chilly evening air, we will retire to our tents and be lulled to sleep by the rushing sound of the nearby creek.

Day 2

As the light of a new day begins to filter through the fabric of your tents, you will arise and make your way to a warming fire and be treated to a hot and hardy breakfast. With camp cleaned up and mules packed, we will mount our saddled horses and continue our journey up Miller Creek and pause at the remains of a giant petrified tree. Soon, we will ride past the Miller Creek backcountry patrol cabin that sits in the midst of a very young forest and then begin to make a 2000 ft ascent up a set of switchbacks to the high country.


As we make our climb, we are awarded a great view of Saddle Mountain and a silver thread that is Miller Creek that disappears into the serpentine-like canyon that it has carved. As we near the crest of our initial ascent we will leave the trail briefly and make a short climb to the top of a dome like meadow. There, we will be treated to an awe inspiring 360 degree view of several of Yellowstone’s prominent peaks including Saddle Mountain, Hoodoo, Parker, Caster, and Pollux Peaks and more. Continuing, the trail runs through a beautiful, verdant valley that is frequented by herds of elk before climbing to a perch on the shoulder of Parker Peak, just below its summit. Traversing the valley ahead of us, we will climb upon a bench and make a gradual decent through the edge of a meadow where we’ve seen grizzly bear cubs frolicking. As the rising landscape to our left diminishes, those goblin like formations that are known as The Hoodoos will be revealed in a bowl-like cutout in the hillside with a small opening on one side through which a tiny spring flows. From there, we will climb the slope on the opposite side and make our camp close to the rim. Surely, there will be a lot to think and talk about over another home cooked meal before the light of day turns to dusk, and dusk to darkness which, on a cloudless night, can reveal more stars than you’ve ever imagined exist.


Day 3

As the third day dawns, a great fire and hot breakfast will help to stave off the chill of the frosty morning air. Our camp here is at 9,700 ft elevation. The morning will be spent at your leisure exploring and photographing the Hoodoos. In the afternoon, we will mount our horses and follow the trail east along a ridge to the easternmost point in Yellowstone Park. No words can describe this place! The country here is a vast, wide open, and beautiful grassland. As we approach the park boundary, looking to our right, we will find ourselves at the head of a sloping V-shaped valley lined with dendritic type tributaries that become the Lamar River; to our left, a steep drop-off with a breathtaking view of the One Hunt drainage; ahead of us, the head of another valley in which lie the headwaters of Sunlight Creek. As we turn around and head back to camp, we will see Parker and Hoodoo Peaks standing like monuments in the distance. With appetites satisfied, we will once again, retire to our tents to drift off to sleep with thoughts of the day’s magnificent experience still fresh in our minds.


Day 4

Soon, the dawning of another day will be upon us; yet, another day that will begin with a great breakfast and a fire to warm us. Mounting our horses, we will bid farewell to this magical and beautiful land and head back to our camp on Miller Creek. With time and energy provided, upon reaching the shoulder of Parker Peak we may pause to scale its 10,203 ft summit. This lofty perch will provide grand sweeping views from all sides sure to render you in a state of jaw-dropping awe. From that high peak, we will retreat and continue making our way back through the beautiful meadows. Soon, Miller Creek will come into view looking like a tiny silver thread. Descending the switchbacks, we will in a short time, find ourselves back amongst the lodge pole pines in that very young forest on the valley floor, and before long, back at our camp alongside the creek. Indeed, there will be another fine dinner to be had before we, once again, are lulled to sleep by the rushing sound of the creek.


Day 5

Once again, on this final morning of our adventure, as you emerge from your tent and walk through the dew-laden grass, the smell of the crisp mountain air will be replaced with the smell of breakfast cooking on an open fire. With mules packed and horses mounted we will make our way down Miller Creek to its confluence with the Lamar River. As that great river valley widens and we crest a hill, the twinkling reflections of vehicles on the distant roadway will soon catch your eye; a bittersweet sign that our journey is about to end.



 

Pictures by Fran Hellmann from his trips to the Hoodoos in 2001, 2003, and 2007.


 

Each summer, the Skyline crew and a group of adventurous clients return to this unique basin via horseback to photograph and explore this geological wonder.

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