Thursday, April 19, 2018

Tower Fall - Yellowstone National Park

Tower Fall is often billed as being a feature on par with Yellowstone Falls and Old Faithful.  But that is not the reality.  The viewpoint for the waterfall has two huge flaws that mar the experience of visiting this waterfall.  1. You can't see the full waterfall from the viewpoint. and 2. The parking area is often over-crowded.  Save yourself the headache and skip this waterfall.

Location: Tower Fall is on the eastern side of the upper loop of the Grand Loop Road.  It is 1 mile south of Roosevelt Lodge and 16 miles north of Canyon Village.

Hiking Distance and Time:  The viewpoint for the waterfall is only 100 yards down a paved trail.  The whole hike could take as little as 5 minutes.

Open Season: The road between Roosevelt and Tower Fall generally opens the second week of May. In 2018 it is scheduled to open May 11. The road between Canyon Village and Tower Fall opens the end of May.

Date of Visit: Monday, June 12, 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.
I'm not going to mince words with this, Tower Fall is the biggest disappointment in Yellowstone National Park. You can skip this waterfall and you won't have missed much.

Promotional pictures for Yellowstone often have paintings of Tower Fall.  These paintings show the full waterfall as it cascades over a cliff.  A natural tower shaped of stone stands near the brink of the falls and gives the waterfall its name.  These paintings lead you to believe that you'll see this exact same view when you visit Tower Fall.  These pictures are deceiving. 

In reality there is no trail down to the bottom of the waterfall.  Instead you look at the waterfall from a vantage point across a small ravine.  Trees block your view of the base of the falls.  It's hardly the iconic image you expect.
As if to make things even more disappointing, even the plaque at the viewpoint has a misleading painting of the tower on display.  You can't help but wonder if you're even in the right spot. 
Even with the disappointing viewpoint Tower Fall would be an okay stop on your route through Yellowstone if it wasn't for the awful parking situation at the trail head.  The Tower General Store shares a parking lot with Tower Fall. The parking area is little more than a glorified pullout along the Grand Loop Road. The area is on the edge of a steep hill, and so the parking lot isn't big enough to hold all the cars stopping for the store and the waterfall.

I drove by this area 4 days a week during the second half of my summer in Yellowstone.  I would pass the area on my way to work at Roosevelt Lodge at about 7:00 every morning and the parking area was deserted.  But it was a different story when I drove home from work at 4:30.  This area was a nightmare every single afternoon.  There would be cars trying to parallel park on the side of the road while other cars backed up into traffic. I took this picture through the windshield of my car on a "good" day.
Part of the problem is that everyone driving along this section of the Grand Loop road sees all the cars parked here and thinks, "Wow! There are a lot of people here, this area must be really special. Let's check it out!" So they join everyone in the over-crowded area, and just add to the chaos.

Every day, as I tried to navigate the congestion, I'd wish the park would put up a sign in this area.  I dreamed of signs that said something like, "Tower Fall: It's not worth it." So I decided to make my own.

Seriously, if you are travelling through the Tower Area and you see a mass of cars in the Tower Fall/General Store Parking lot just keep on going.  The waterfall is not worth the headache you will get trying to park there.

If you do happen to visit the area when the parking area is clear, and you feel like stopping to see the waterfall, there are a few things you can do to make the area worth your time.  After you view the waterfall leave the paved trail and follow a unpaved trail down some switchbacks to a viewpoint of the Yellowstone River. 
If you are really adventurous you can continue down to the river's edge.  There is a "trail" of sorts down to the water, but it's not well maintained so proceed with caution.  I expect the park service to close this area for restoration at any time so this may not even be an option during your visit.
If you can get down to the water's edge you'll have an interesting view of the cliffs of yellow stone that give the park it's name.
When you are driving along the Grand Loop Road there is a small pull out on the east side of the road just north of the Tower General Store.  This pull out gives you a view of the back side of Tower Fall.  You can see Tower Creek bend around a stone tower before falling over the cliff.  I actually prefer this view to the waterfall side.
Another area of interest just south of the Tower General Store is this cliff with volcanic columns.  This is another area that turns into a traffic nightmare so drive and park with caution in this area.

Recommendation: Tower Fall is only worth a stop if the parking area is clear, and even then you could probably skip it and sleep just fine.

Directions:  The Tower Fall Parking Area is located 2 miles south of Roosevelt Lodge, and 16 miles north of Canyon Village.  There is no trail between Roosevelt Lodge and Tower Falls so you will need to drive there.

Places Nearby: Calcite Springs is just a mile north of Tower Fall.  The springs themselves are underwhelming, but the viewpoints let you see the Yellowstone River run through a canyon of volcanic stone. Skip Tower Fall and visit Calcite Springs instead.

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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