Yellowstone National Park’s Undine Falls: Dine, then Undine

There are nine hundred miles of hiking trails in Yellowstone National Park. We hiked about twenty of those miles in the four days we spent in the park. Why so few? Easy. There’s a lot to see in this 2.2-million square acre park. This was the first trip to Yellowstone for any of us, and there were many boxes to check: Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic, Mammoth Hot Springs, et cetera, et cetera. Some of these “obligatory” attractions came with a side order of hiking, but we were there to make the most of the park and not everything we wanted to see was about the hike. The result was a lot of short treks – sometimes two or more in a day. The first of those was Undine Falls.

We had tackled Mammoth Hot Springs that morning, a pleasant mile-and-a-quarter stroll on boardwalk among the colorful springs of Mammoth and Minerva Terraces. Then we headed east on the Grand Loop Road to the Lava Creek Picnic Area for lunch. We ate leisurely, enjoying the bubbling of Lava Creek, and watching the small grey Uinta squirrels frolic among the roots and shrubs that surrounded the area. When we heaved ourselves up from the picnic table, we had only to cross the loop road to find the Lava Creek Trailhead. We had dined; now it was time to Undine.

Mini Review: The Old Faithful Ale from Grand Teton Brewing gets 77 points from Beer Advocate, We agree – it was nothing to write home about. It was light and easy to drink, though, so it went well with a picnic.

It took us a minute to locate the trailhead – it’s not marked on the road. There’s a sign atop the embankment, but it’s not visible from the easement. The trail is just east of the bridge over Lava Creek, and the coordinates at the end of this post will pinpoint the spot on Gaia GPS or Google Maps. The trail splits as it ascends the embankment. Take the left-hand spur; it goes to the trail sign before continuing onto the main trail.

When we reached the junction with the Lava Creek Trail, we turned west toward Undine Falls. Instantly we were deep in the Wyoming wilderness – or so it seemed. The trail meandered through a rolling countryside of tall grass and sagebrush, framed with bottlebrush pines and snow-capped mountains. Wildflowers were scattered about the landscape, organic confetti on a sage-green carpet. Birds flitted among the trees and shrubs, and a light breeze rustled the tall grasses of the Wyoming prairie. It’s hard to express how very back-country this half-mile felt despite being 500 feet from Grand Loop Road.

The star of the pre-falls hike? Wildflowers. They littered the terrain in copious amounts and in a veritable rainbow of colors. Blues, yellows, pinks, and purples spattered the topography in an abundance we hadn’t seen since the Four Pass Loop in Colorado (read here, here, here, and here). The half-mile to the falls was repeatedly punctuated with stops to a) admire, b) identify, c) discuss, or d) photograph the beautiful blooms. The answer was often e) all of the above.

We were following Lava Creek downstream, so we reached Undine Falls at its crest. Looking down, we saw white water plunging sixty feet to the pool below, crashing off of two breaks as it fell. The breaks were evenly spaced, dividing Undine Falls into thirds. Water tumbled from the crest to the first break, then danced its way over a second, cascading over the grey rock like sweet cream over strawberries. The second break whipped the water into frothy perfection as it spilled down the last tier to effervesce in the basin below.

A few precarious steps further on the trail, we gained a perfect vantage point from which to view the waterfall. One small and well-worn outcrop made for a sublime spot to snap pictures of the cataract, while the nearly sheer drop to the stream bed kept us alert and wary near the edge. Having looked our fill, we turned back and retraced our steps to the trailhead. The trip back was every bit as pleasant as the trip out, and we noticed even more wildflowers as we shuffled back to the lot at the picnic area.

Undine Falls is probably the best, and most rewarding, one-mile hike I’ve ever taken. It’s undoubtably a great route no matter when you take it but as is the rule in the mountain states: April, May, and June showers bring July flowers. That analogy suits my hiking style – clunky and awkward – but it’s also true. The beauty of the landscape, the splendor of the falls, and a convenient picnic spot make this short trek a must-do while in the park. So feast upon the beauty here, and after you dine … don’t forget to Undine. ♦

Note: Despite my play on words, the name of the falls is pronounced, “UHN-deen”

Date: July 11, 2022
Location: Yellowstone National Park, WY
Trailhead: 44.940884, -110.632120
Distance: 1.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 63 feet
Difficulty: Easy

BIT|Hiker acknowledges the indigenous peoples who are the original inhabitants of the lands on which we hike. Our research for this post indicated we were on ancestral lands of the Apsáalooke (Crow),  Cayuse, Umatilla, Walla Walla, and Tséstho’e (Cheyenne).

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