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Oh Give Me a Roam Where the Buffalo Home--Hiking Yellowstone's Lamar Valley

Yellowstone is synonymous with wildlife, and there is perhaps no area of the park where you will see better evidence why than the Lamar Valley.

Whether entering the valley from the east or the west, the view is jaw-dropping. The great expanse opens before you with seemingly endless fields of green and yellow flattened by glaciers and sliced by rivers still eroding through them.

Oftentimes these green fields are dotted by countless brown and black shapes of the valley's most prolific residents. Even though a midday or afternoon drive through the one road in and out of the Lamar Valley will almost guarantee a bison traffic jam, to truly walk among these giants and be one with the Lamar Valley is best done by a morning hike.

The valley is so alive in the morning, and it is a different form of life. It is wild life with the animals grazing unworried by traffic, not needing to hesitantly escort young across crowded roads, nor shying from the sounds of crowds. Instead of the bison hearing tourist crowds, we are treated to the sounds of exhales from massive lungs and the fog from this breath rising into the crisp morning air.

We arrived at the Lamar Valley Trailhead parking lot just after 7 in the morning. There were about 4 other cars in the lot at this time. We set out for an out-and-back along the Lamar Valley Trail. Within a few hundred feet of crossing the pedestrian bridge over the Lamar River, we were standing among a grazing herd oblivious to our awe.

At about 2 miles, the trail was shared, not with other hikers, but with a passing herd. The ground trembled as the massive creatures slowly walked past us. It was closet I had ever been to a bison in the wild, and it was exhilarating.

We continued taking the fork to the left to stay above Cache Creek. This trail turned to high forest with aspens and wildflowers. In hindsight, I would have liked to go right down towards the creek, but walking through the woods was a stark contrast to the open valley.

As we reached the "out" of the out-and-back, we decided to sit for a sandwich until we heard the growling of a grizzly below us. We decided not to chance an encounter and turned to head back the way we came. As we reached the fields again, a short storm passed.

As midday arrived, the foot traffic was increasing, as were the flies, and the temperature was rising. The wildlife was decreasing. We finished with just under 10 miles, happy we started early, and thankful for the memories we made.


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