Mount Washburn

Washburn Mountain is one of the most enjoyable places in Yellowstone Park. From the summit, 10,223 feet high, hikers can see a spectacular 360 degree panorama of the whole park, the Grand Teton Mountains, Mount Holmes and even Old Faithful’s eruptions during clear weather. Mount Washburn Trail provides wonderful views of scenery, wildflowers and animals. A variety of life is seen in 5 life zones, from the Upper Sonoran zone at the foot of the mountain through the Canadian, Hudsonian, and Sub-Alpine zone to the Alpine zone at the summit. Each zone has a preponderance of its own living things.

Bighorn sheep, elk, wolves, coyotes, marmots and grizzly bears can be seen on the mountain. Male bighorn sheep can weigh 300 pounds, while females weigh around 200 pounds. Unlike domestic sheep, wild sheep have fur more like that of a deer than wool. Being highly agile, they evade predators in the mountains and herds survive the winter on slopes that the wind keeps free of snow. In November and December rams can be seen fighting over dominance and the opportunity to mate with ewes. Lambs are born in May and June and bands of ewes and lambs can be seen browsing on grass. Elk have been declining since wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone, but some can still be seen on the northern slope. Coyotes usually weigh around 30 pounds and can get up to 40 pounds, distinguishing them from their cousins the wolves, which weigh around 75 pounds to 125 pounds. Coyotes’ fur can be gray, tan or reddish and they have long, pointed ears and nose. They can be seen alone or in packs. Wolves are usually seen in packs and their eerie howling can be heard along the trail. Grizzly bears are best seen during March through November, when they are not hibernating. In the spring mothers can be seen with cubs.July and August are the best times to view wildflowers. Pink monkey flower, or Lewis’ monkey flower, after explorer Meriweather Lewis, the first to describe it, grows along streams perennially and blooms from late June through August. It is trumpet-shaped with five pink petals and a fuzzy yellow center, and is native to North America. Sky pilot grows at between 3000 and 4200 meters (1.86 miles to 2.61 miles, where few other plants can live, producing blue flowers from crevices in rocks. Silky phacelia blooms with spiky lavender flowers, often seen in open, rocky areas. Yellow violets grow below 6500 feet and prefer dry, sandy soil. They have five to ten yellow petals and lance-shaped leaves, and bloom in July and August. Blue lupines bloom from May to July in dry forest clearings. They are members of the pea family and their light blue flower forms a hairy seedpod that forcibly throws out seeds in midsummer. Yellow balsamroots are another native to North America. They resemble sunflowers and grow chiefly in open, dry meadows. Red paintbrush grows mainly in the subalpine altitude. Red paintbrush grows along trails, in open woods and meadows, and along the banks of streams. Legend had it that an Indian brave was given brushes with red paint to paint the sunset. After he was finished with his brushes he stuck them into the ground, and the plants grew from them. The true flowers are small and unnoticeable and are surrounded by red bracts. Blooms are seen in spring and summer.

Mount Washburn Trail is a six-mile path of moderate hiking difficulty, rising to the mountain’s summit. The trail is open from the middle of May through late September. An enclosed observation area at the top allows viewing out of the wind, with telescopes and restrooms. A fire observation post allows major fires to be discovered and monitored. There are two trailheads to hike up Mount Washburn, from the north from the Chittendon Road parking area or from the south at the Dunraven Pass parking area.

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