Yellowstone: Virginia Cascade, Terrace Spring, Firehole Falls

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Virginia Cascade was a worthwhile diversion from the Norris Geyser Basin area.  It’s only a couple of miles from Norris Junction.  The road runs next to Gibbon River, which provides the water for Virginia Cascade.  Unfortunately, there’s no good place to park at the point where you get the best view of the cascade (and it would be unsafe to walk back, since the road is narrow).

  So, you’ll have to settle for a view of the brink of the falls, at the point where the river is just starting to tumble downhill.

Climb down a bit from the road, and you’ll find a nice perch.

Virginia Cascade is located along the road that runs through the middle of the Grand Loop, connecting Norris and Canyon (this is the road at the middle of the park’s figure-8 highway).  To see the waterfall, take the short, one-lane, one-way road that parallels the main road. After your visit, once you’re back at the main road, turn back and return to Norris, then head south toward Madison.

Terrace Spring

Compared to Yellowstone’s other geothermal wonders, Terrace Spring is not the least bit exciting — and I knew that when I stopped.  I was looking for any excuse I could find, to avoid leaving Yellowstone and essentially ending my vacation.  Terrace Spring was at the side of the road, so I killed ten minutes here.

There are a couple of bubbling pools here, but nothing noteworthy enough to justify the park placing a sign.  Unless, like me, you’re avoiding the inevitable end of a great ten days on the road, you can safely bypass this attraction.

Terrace Spring is located on the Grand Loop Road between Norris and Madison.

Firehole Canyon Drive & Firehole Falls

Before finally giving up on my vacation, and hitting the road for Salt Lake City, I convinced myself that I had time for one more detour.  Firehole Canyon Drive was just a mile south of Madison Junction, so it wasn’t far out of the way.

Firehole Canyon Drive parallels the Grand Loop Road.  It’s a short drive on a narrow one-way road, that takes you along the edge of the canyon formed by the Firehole River.  The main attraction is Firehole Falls.

You’ll have to be satisfied with viewing the falls from the side of the canyon.  Some very rough, very steep trails dropped down to the river, but I don’t think you could safely make it down and up.

I did, however, find a nice viewpoint, a short distance from where all the other tourists were congregating.  It required a short (and only slightly dangerous) climb down to a ledge, where I settled in for a few minutes.  I had to keep glancing at my watch.  2 o’clock was my “go” time.  If I left Madison at 2, I’d be in West Yellowstone by 3, and Salt Lake City by 8.

1:55.  Plenty of time.

1:58.  Not quite yet.

2:00.  I stayed put.

2:05.  Alright, I had pushed it long enough.  I took one last look at the waterfall, calculated where I would be at that time tomorrow (at my desk, at work, of course), then climbed back up to the parking area, and drove off.

There was one more place to stop, further down Firehole Canyon Drive.  You can get a good look at the river…

… and at the area just above the brink of the falls.

There are very few places in Yellowstone where swimming is allowed, let alone safe, but Firehole River is the exception to the rule.  Watch for the designated swimming area along Firehole Canyon Drive.

And that was it.  I drove back to Madison Junction, then to the west park entrance.  I passed through West Yellowstone at exactly 3 p.m., right on time.  US Highway 20 heads west, then turns south…

… and crosses into Idaho, passing through a mostly flat landscape.  In other words, you get to have an extra half hour of staring at the mountains in your rear-view, as you lament the ending of your trip.

I made a brief stop in the potato-farming town of Ashton (watch for the town’s name on your next bag of spuds).

If you’re headed to Jackson, Wyoming and the Tetons, you will want to turn at Ashton, and take ID Route 32/33 through Driggs.  It’s a great route that passes through some scenic potato-farming land, all while in the shadow of the Tetons.  I drove this route twice, during my 2007 visit to Yellowstone & The Tetons.

As you drive along US 20, watch for the Tetons on the eastern horizon.  They can be tough to spot if the sky is hazy, but on a clear day, you can stare at them (instead of the road in front of you) all the way to Rexburg, where the highway makes a very large curve around a hill that’s topped with a giant LDS church.  Once you go around that hill, the Tetons are nothing but a memory.

From Rexburg south, US 20 is a speedy 4-lane highway, and eventually turns in to a freeway, before reaching Interstate 15.  From there, you can set your car, and brain, on cruise control.

In case you’re wondering, I did make it back to Salt Lake City, at almost exactly 8 p.m.  My flight left at 11:59, so I had enough time to eat dinner and check in at the airport.  As I sat at the gate, the announcement came: my flight was delayed.  If only I had known, I could have spent an extra half hour on that rocky ledge, staring at Firehole Falls.

Note: This trip was first published in 2008.

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