ElevationAscent: 1,384' 422 m
Descent: -1,383' -422 m
High: 10,249' 3,124 m
Low: 8,871' 2,704 m
GradeAvg Grade: 7% (4°)
Max Grade: 31% (17°)
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“A Yellowstone classic - great history and spectacular views. Perhaps the best trail in the Park!”— Tom Carter
The old road bed that you are following was originally constructed in 1905 by Captain Hiram Chittenden of the Army Corps of Engineers. It was used by stagecoaches, and later automobiles, to reach the summit. Imagine it's 1920, and model-T Fords are zooming by at a hellacious speed of 4 mph! If your imagination is good enough you'll see that they are backing up the mountain -- that's right, in reverse! In those early days, automobiles had no fuel pump; it was gravity feed. The gas tank was under the seat and if the road was steep enough the gas could not flow up to the engine. The only solution was to back up instead!
As you gradually climb higher, the lodgepole pines (two-needled) and subalpine fir (single-needle) trees give way to distinctive five-needled whitebark pines. The bark of its seedlings is covered with a fine white coating and mature trees often display a whitish cast. At higher elevations, near timberline, the whitebark pines become dwarfed and gnarled by harsh weather conditions.
The old road twists and turns its way to the mountain top, providing dramatic views to the rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, the huge open meadows of Hayden Valley, Yellowstone Lake, and on a clear day the Tetons 50 miles to the south. It's also fun to track your progress as the Washburn fire lookout station grows closer and closer. As you near the top, the trail encircles the lookout and reaches the summit from the north, 3.7 miles from the trailhead.
The first fire lookout station on the summit of Mount Washburn was constructed in 1921. The current station was built in 1940. In 1979, a small Visitor Center was added. Because of its central location, Mount Washburn affords the best possible overall view of the park. General Sherman of Civil War prominence summed it up well when he stated, "Any man standing on Mount Washburn feels as though the whole world were below him."
On a cold day it is even possible to make out the steam from an eruption of Old Faithful!
Thanks to guidebook author, Tom Carter, for sharing this trail description. To learn more about visiting Yellowstone, check out his book, Day Hiking Yellowstone.
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Need to Know, Runner Notes, History & Background
Land Manager: National Park Service - Yellowstone National Park