Tuesday, April 10, 2018

South Rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone - Yellowstone National Park

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is the location of some of the most iconic views of Lower Falls. Make sure you take in the panoramic vistas at Artist Point. If you are agile enough you should hike down the 308 stairs on the Uncle Tom's Trail to a vantage point that is lower than the waterfall. If you have the time take a hike on the South Rim trail or venture onto some of the back country trials.

Location: South Rim drive is located about 2.5 miles south of Canyon Village. Artist Point is 1.5 miles down the road.

Hiking Distance and Time: Artist Point is located within a few yards of the parking lot.  Plan to spend about 10 minutes there.  Uncle Tom's Trail descends 500 feet into the canyon via a steel staircase.  Plan for an hour to hike down and back up the stairs.

Open Season:  Artist Point and some of the trails are open Mid-May though October.  Snow will keep some of the other trails closed for longer.  Uncle Tom's trail usually opens Mid-June.

Closure Information: Uncle Tom's Trail and the South Rim Trail will be closed for reconstruction until July of 2018.

Date of Visit: Multiple times during the summer of 2017

In the summer of 2017 I received a job with Xanterra Parks and Resorts in Yellowstone National Park. I moved there with my husband and our four young children. We lived in a 25 foot RV and spent all our free time exploring the park. This is one of many posts that I will write about specific features within Yellowstone National Park. Be sure to check out my other posts for more tips for your Yellowstone visit.

If there is one part of Yellowstone that I know better than any other, it's the Canyon Area. On each of my four trips to Yellowstone I made sure to stop in the Canyon Area at least once. During our summer in Yellowstone my family lived in the Canyon Village employee campground. We hiked on a trail in the Canyon Area at least once a week. We got to know the area very well, and I'm excited share the places we discovered with you.

The Canyon Area can be divided into four main sections. There's the village part with the hotels, campground, dining facilities, visitor center, gift shops and gas station. There is the North Rim of the Canyon, the South Rim of the Canyon. And finally there is the Upper Falls Area. Today we are going to talk about the South Rim Area.

The South Rim Drive is located about 2.5 miles south of Canyon Village.  It extends from the Grand Loop Road to Artist Point.  It is an out and back road.  You drive down 1.5 miles to the parking lot near Artist Point, and then turn around and drive back the way you came.  

There are several main parts along the South Rim Road. I'm going to talk about each of them in turn.

Artist Point

The most well known is Artist Point. And it's plain to see why.  From this overlook you can see the majestic lower falls as well as the iconic yellow walls of the Yellowstone Canyon.  You should definitely plan to make a stop here.  
However, since Artist Point is so popular it can be a nightmare to visit during peek tourist times.  As with the other popular areas in the park you should avoid this area between 10:00 am and 5:00 pm.  Also the vault toilets at Artist Point are the most disgusting toilets you will ever see in your life. These are consistently the worst bathrooms in the whole park.  So use them with caution.

Some people assume that Artist Point is the only place you can see Lower Falls.  This is not true. While the view is stunning from Artist Point there are plenty of other view points on the North and South Sides of the canyon.  So definitely plan to visit Artist Point, but don't make it your only stop in the Canyon Area.

Uncle Tom's Trail

If you have the mobility and energy to tackle 308 stairs I highly recommend you hike the Uncle Tom's Trail.

When my family hiked the Uncle Tom' Trail we had to start from Artist Point because the parking lot for Uncle Toms Trail was closed. We had to hike almost a mile along the South Rim Trail from Artist Point to the Uncle Tom's Trail. Finally we made it to the metal stairs, and started going down.
This trail is named after a man named H.F. Richardson who was known as "Uncle Tom."  From 1898 and 1905 he ran a tourist business where he took people into the canyon via stairs and rope ladders in this same area. Our ancestors were pretty hard core.

Today there are several platforms where you can catch your breath and admire the canyon from a different angle.
One thing I really liked about the hike was how the waterfall came into view.  First it was hidden behind a rock wall.  But gradually it started to emerge.
Finally we could see the whole thing.  I've seen this waterfall from every vantage point in the park, and it's always amazing, but the view from the Uncle Tom's trail is my favorite.
This is the only trail in the canyon where you end up lower than the waterfall. Besides the overlook at the Brink of the Lower Falls, this is the closest you can get to the waterfall.  Being this close really helps you appreciate the 308 foot tall curtain of water.
Going back up the stairs was more strenuous than going down.  But I in a way it was easier because we couldn't see the wide open canyon in front of us. I'd been worried about how my three year old would do on this hike.  9 months earlier she'd made me carry her down the 208 stairs in Mammoth Cave.  But she'd grown up quite a bit and insisted on walking down and up the stairs all by herself.
Unfortunately the South Rim and Uncle Tom's Trails closed halfway through the summer of 2017 so my family didn't have a chance to return to this trail.  The trails will re-open in July of 2018.  When the trails are open I highly recommend this hike. 

South Rim Trail

The South Rim Trail connects Artist Point to Uncle Tom's Trail and extends down to the Chittenden Bridge over the Yellowstone River where it connects to the North Rim Trail.  It is three miles long, and runs along the edge of the canyon most of the way.

Some parts of the trail look like this.
But a lot of the trail looks like this.  It was always a little nerve wracking to take four bouncy little kids hiking on a trail without guard rails.
But the views of the waterfall were always gorgeous.
This is one of my favorite pictures of me during the summer.
Halfway through the summer of 2017 the park closed the South Rim Trail.  It should open again in July of 2018.

When it reopens the trail will include a viewpoint across from the Upper Falls.  It will be pretty cool to be able to see both Upper Falls and Lower Falls during one hike.

Back Country 

There are also a few back country options accessible from the South Rim Road. These are great if you have extra time to spend in the park.

Point Sublime 
There is a trail that leads east from Artist Point.  This back country trail takes you to Point Sublime.  You can't see the waterfall from here, but you do have amazing views of the canyon.
We only saw a few people on this trail. Which was a nice contrast to the busy tourist area at Artist Point.
 There aren't any guard rails at Point Sublime so watch your kids carefully.

There are other back country trails south of the canyon.  A lot of the trails start at the Wapiti Lake Trail head parking area which is the first right turn off of the South Rim Drive.  We didn't do much exploring back there as a family. Brandon did take our kids to the thermal area near Clear Lake once or twice while I was at work.  He was busy wrangling four kids so he didn't take any pictures. So sorry, I don't have much information about that.

Recommendation: The South Rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone should be on your list of places to see in Yellowstone every time you visit the park. Artist Point is always worth a visit (unless its during peek tourist times) and the Uncle Tom's trail with its 308 stairs is a unique way to see the waterfall.

Directions: South Rim Drive is located about 2.5 miles south of Canyon Village. There is no direct trail that leads to the South Rim from Canyon Village so you will need to drive there.  Drive south from Canyon Village on the Grand Loop Road. A sign will indicate the road that leads to South Rim Drive. Artist Point is 1.5 miles down the road. Parking is available at Artist Point.  After July 2018 the parking area near the Uncle Tom's Trail will be open again.

Places Nearby: You may think that since you've seen the waterfall from the South Rim that you don't need to stop on the North Rim.  But the North Rim has other great views. The trail to the Brink of the Upper Falls is accessible via the North Rim.  So be sure to plan to drive on that road as well.

If you are wondering what the differences are between Upper and Lower Falls check out this post

Want more Yellowstone Vacation Ideas? Visit my list of Things you can't miss and hidden gems along the way.

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I would love to hear what you think. Did I get it right, or was I dead wrong? What was your experience like?


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