Tower Fall, Yellowstone National Park, North Side

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The Yellowstone River might be one of the park’s most defining features, but on the north side, it’s a small creek that spills into the Yellowstone, that gets most of the attention.  Tower Creek flows past some odd-looking rock pinnacles, just moments before it tumbles 132 feet over Tower Fall, before mingling with the larger river.

There are three places to view the waterfall.  For the view in the picture above, you’ll need to make a short walk from a large parking area.  The trail is paved and easy, but unfortunately, it ends at one of those “stand right here and take a picture” viewpoints, which doesn’t offer a lot of variety of views.

The second viewpoint is at the end of a steep 4/10 of a mile trail, which leads to the bottom of the waterfall.  I didn’t take this trail, probably because it was getting late in the day, and I still had a lot of ground to cover.  I have also read that the trail to the bottom is often closed, over landslide fears, and that may have been the real reason I didn’t hike to the bottom.

There’s a third place to see the falls, that’s not as well marked.  Just north of the parking area, the Grand Loop Road passes above the brink of the waterfall.  It’s not marked, but there are a couple of turnouts that are big enough for a couple of cars each.  Park here, then walk along the edge of the road until you find the perfect viewpoint of those jagged, towering rocks, Tower Creek, and in the distance, the Yellowstone River Valley.

Here’s a closer look at the brink of Tower Fall.

Tower Fall isn’t just one of the park’s most beautiful attractions, it also carries historical significance. A famous painting by Thomas Moran in 1871 helped convince congress to create Yellowstone National Park, a year later.

Tower Creek was originally called “Minaret Creek” by the 1870 Washburn Expedition.  This seemed appropriate enough, since the pinnacles at the top of the fall look somewhat like minarets.  But there was a problem: the expedition had a rule, that no landmarks would be named after the friends of those people on the expedition — and one of them was dating a woman named “Minnie Rhett”.

North of Tower Fall, the Yellowstone River squeezes through a narrow canyon.

Look closely at this formation.  At first, it looks like someone built a wooden fence around the top of this hill, but it’s actually a sheer rock face.

After visiting Tower Fall, I drove back up to Tower Junction, then headed west, across the north end of Grand Loop Road, towards Mammoth Hot Springs.

Grand Loop, North Side

The north end of Yellowstone’s Grand Loop Road is only 18 miles long, but it travels through a lot of spectacular scenery.  You might not find a lot of specific things to photograph on this part of the road, but instead, you’ll enjoy a constant display of scenes like this one.

There are a couple of waterfalls along the road.  I bypassed the trail to Wraith Falls (a 100-foot-tall cascade over rocks that requires an easy, one mile round trip hike), and instead stopped at Undine Falls.

You can view Undine Falls from the edge of the road.  Undine Falls is about 60 feet high, and it spills over volcanic basalt rock.

After the falls, Lava Creek continues to tumble downhill.

The plan may change from year to year, but as of 2008, the only roads inside Yellowstone National Park to remain open year-round are the roads from the north entrance (at Gardiner) to the northeast entrance (at Cooke City).  The rest of the park roads are closed to wheeled vehicles, but might be open to snowmobiles and snow coaches.  Use of snowmobiles in Yellowstone remains controversial, so you should check with the NPS website before you go.

Note: This trip was first published in 2008.

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