Terraced Falls

Yellowstone National Park / Bechler / Teton County, Wyoming, USA

Rating: 2.5     Difficulty: 3
Partial look at Terraced Falls

TABLE OF CONTENTS



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INTRODUCTION

Terraced Falls was an impressive series of cascades and waterfalls tumbling in succession on the Falls River with a cumulative height of about 150ft. It was our introduction to waterfalling in the remote Bechler Backcountry region of southwestern Yellowstone National Park, which was also known as the "Cascade Corner" as most of the waterfalls within the national park's boundaries were concentrated here. Certainly living up to its reputation as being full of waterfalls, our adventure that took in additional waterfalls and cascades including a handful of them on Cascade Creek (one of the tributaries feeding the Falls River), and the Cascade Acres (a wide set of rapids and cascades on the Falls River itself). Some of the cascades on Cascade Creek were attractive on their own, and could have had their own signage and tourism infrastructure if they weren't merely incidental attractions on the Terraced Falls hike. Indeed, this was the type of excursion that could easily induce waterfall saturation within the 4 miles of round trip hiking to take it all in.

One thing that we remembered most about our experiences at Terraced Falls was the wild nature of the Bechler Backcountry. Indeed, there were lots of opportunities for dropoff hazards (especially at the end of the trail where I managed to lose an old Sony wide angle lens over the cliff on our first visit here in June 2004) and we were also cognizant that we needed to be bear aware as we were in grizzly country. We were actually lured here by a photo that was shown in the book The Guide to Yellowstone Waterfalls and Their Discovery, which was very different from the photo shown at the top of this page and probably left more to be desired by comparison. In fact, that photo from the book was taken from the opposite side of the Falls River and required a potentially dangerous crossing upstream from the brink of the first cascade of Terraced Falls. In both my attempts so far at visiting this waterfall, the situations weren't right to make the traverse and scramble to get that sought after view from the other side. One of these days, I'll make another attempt when the opportunity would present itself, especially when the Falls River would be low enough and the weather calm enough to make that traverse safely.

The hike began from the Cascade Creek Trailhead (see directions below). The trail began behind a sign towards the left side of the dirt pullouts (facing away from the Grassy Lake / Reclamation Road). From there, the trail descended as it passed by signs indicating entry through the southern boundary of Yellowstone National Park at about a quarter-mile down. The trail continued descending as it eventually reached a trail junction just as it started to follow along Cascade Creek at about 0.4 miles from the trailhead. The trail branching to the right, which crossed Cascade Creek, was called the South Boundary Trail and would ultimately join up with the Mountain Ash Creek Trail (which was led to one of the routes leading to Union Falls). The trail on the left continued towards Terraced Falls. As we continued to descend alongside Cascade Creek, it didn't take long before we started to encounter waterfalls within Cascade Creek itself.

The first waterfall we encountered was at its brink at about a quarter-mile beyond the South Boundary Trail junction. From the main trail, this was the only view we were afforded. However, there were informal scrambling use trails that led away from the main trail further downstream, and it eventually led me to the side and front of the falls roughly 160ft from off the trail. At 40ft tall, this waterfall was informally called the "Pothole Cascades" by a park employee named Mike Yochim who noted pothole formations in the bedrock of the stream during his visit around 1998 when he made the suggestion of this name.

Continuing down the main Terraced Falls Trail, it didn't take long before we started to notice another cascade on Cascade Creek at about 0.3 miles from "Pothole Cascades" or roughly a half-mile downstream of the South Boundary Trail Junction. This one was easily visible from the main trail so Julie and I both noticed it on our first visit in June 2004, and I saw it again on my second visit in August 2017. According to the Yellowstone Waterfalls book referenced above, it was named by Paul Rubinstein (one of the authors) as the "Diamond Cascade" given its confluence of four mini-tiers with a cumulative 15ft drop or so.

The next cascade on Cascade Creek was another 400ft or so further downstream. This one was also visible from the main trail and we managed to only be able to view it from a distance. It appeared that the creek fell over a rounded rock layer, and the name given by the authors of the Yellowstone Waterfalls book named it the "Humpback Cascade", which seemed to be an appropriate given its shape.

About another 150ft or so downstream of the "Humpback Cascade" was a pair of cascades falling in twisting succession. At first, I was only able to look down unsatisfactorily near the brink of the upper drop of these cascades, but further down the trail another 350ft or so was a view (as well as informal scrambling path to improve that view) towards the front of the lower drop of the pair of cascades as well as a teasing hint of the upper drop, which was obstructed by trees. It turned out that Julie and I also saw these falls in a much more fuller and less obstructed state in our June 2004 visit so it was fairly easy to see. These pair of waterfalls were known as the "Cleft Cascades". When I looked downstream from the view of this falls, I was also able to see where Cascade Creek joined the Falls River though I had to pay real close attention to it. Otherwise, there was no signage or other indication that the trail was now about to follow downstream along the Falls River starting just 200ft further on.

In the next quarter-mile or so, the trail continued skirting along the Falls River though it climbed somewhat so it would require a steep scramble to access the Falls River from there. The next water feature was where the Falls River was flowing loudly as whitewater became more prevalent. It turned out that these whitewater rapids and sloping waterslides comprised the so-called Cascade Acres, which was difficult to see cleanly due to the rugged terrain and trees in the way, but I was definitely able to hear it breaking the otherwise tranquil silence of this part of the Yellowstone backcountry.

In another 0.3 miles from Cascade Acres or roughly a half-mile downstream of the "Cleft Cascades" was where the trail was almost level with the Falls River. I suspected that this was where the potential crossing of the Falls River to access the other side was at. There were a couple of faint trails of use here, corroborating my suspicion, but given the high rate of flow on both occasions I've done this hike (as well as the threat of flash flooding from neighboring thunderstorms during my second visit in August 2017), the I couldn't safely make that attempt.

Finally at around 0.4 miles from Cascade Acres or nearly 3/4-mile from the "Cleft Cascades" was the start of the waterfall series comprising Terraced Falls. The first of the waterfalls couldn't cleanly be seen due to the presence of trees getting in the way as well as the steep dropoffs by the trail going right into the Falls River. Just another 500ft further was the precarious rocky outcrop perched right at the brink of the main series of drops of Terraced Falls. This was the spot where I had lost my Sony lens back in June 2004 so I made sure that my camera was properly secured on my second visit, and that I was as surefooted as I could be for a fall here would most certainly be fatal.

From that rocky outcrop, I was not only able to witness the power of the Falls River dropping below me, but I was also able to look at the expanse of the backcountry further downstream. The trail actually continued a short distance further from the rocky outcrop above Terraced Falls. There used to be signage here saying that the trail was closed back in June 2004, but regardless of whether that sign was there or not, there was still a dangerously steep gully that the trail disappeared into.

While in my younger days, I perhaps foolishly took a chance and went down this very steep gully to the banks of the Falls River, it turned out that I would have to wade out into the Falls River anyways to get a more frontal view of it from its base (as shown in the Charles Maynard book about Yellowstone Waterfalls. Given how steep the descent was, it was definitely a big concern of mine whether it was possible to climb back up, and wet shoes wouldn't have helped my cause had I tried to risk it for that better photo. Nevertheless for the real adventurous risk taker, had I persisted further downstream, the scramble would have eventually led to the 55ft Rainbow Falls.

The rocky outcrop at the brink of Terraced Falls was pretty much the turnaround point of this hike, which was about 2 miles in each direction from the trailhead (or 4 miles round trip). It took me about 2.5 hours away from the car on my second visit when I did this solo. It probably took Julie and I a similar amount of time on our first visit back in June 2004. The catch, however, was that it was a mostly uphill hike on the return so it was pretty much an upside-down hike.




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PHOTO JOURNAL

Even though Terraced Falls was within the Yellowstone National Park boundary, it felt like its access trail and road was closer to the Grand Teton than it was to some of the park's main attractionsEven though Terraced Falls was within the Yellowstone National Park boundary, it felt like its access trail and road was closer to the Grand Teton than it was to some of the park's main attractions
One of the most popular spots to try to photograph the Grand Teton Mountains at sunrise was the so-called Mormon Row, where historical barns were foreground subjects to the imposing skylineOne of the most popular spots to try to photograph the Grand Teton Mountains at sunrise was the so-called Mormon Row, where historical barns were foreground subjects to the imposing skyline
The nearest geyser basin within Yellowstone National Park to access from the Grassy Lake Road was the West Thumb Geyser Basin, featuring hydrothermal springs next to Yellowstone LakeThe nearest geyser basin within Yellowstone National Park to access from the Grassy Lake Road was the West Thumb Geyser Basin, featuring hydrothermal springs next to Yellowstone Lake
This was the Cascade Creek Trailhead. The Terraced Falls Trail began towards the left of that red truckThis was the Cascade Creek Trailhead. The trail of interest began towards the left of that red truck

Looking back along the Grassy Lake Road or Reclamation RoadLooking back along the Grassy Lake Road or Reclamation Road

The Terraced Falls Trail promptly descended into the forest from the trailheadThe trail promptly descended into the forest from the trailhead

Signs indicating that I was entering Yellowstone National ParkSigns indicating that I was entering Yellowstone National Park

The South Boundary Trail crossed Cascade Creek here and eventually would join up with the Mountain Ash Creek Trail towards Union FallsThe South Boundary Trail crossed Cascade Creek here and eventually would join up with the Mountain Ash Creek Trail towards Union Falls

Meanwhile, the Terraced Falls Trail continued descending alongside Cascade CreekMeanwhile, the Terraced Falls Trail continued descending alongside Cascade Creek

I had to scramble in order to get this satisfying look at the so-called 'Pothole Cascades', which was the first notable cascade on Cascade CreekI had to scramble in order to get this satisfying look at the so-called "Pothole Cascades", which was the first notable cascade on Cascade Creek

Although it wasn't the first cascade I noticed along Cascade Creek, this was the first one I got to see cleanly from the Terraced Falls Trail.  It was informally called the 'Diamond Cascade'Although it wasn't the first cascade I noticed along Cascade Creek, this was the first one I got to see cleanly from the Terraced Falls Trail. It was informally called the "Diamond Cascade"

This was the 'Diamond Cascade' as seen in higher flow back in June 2004This was the "Diamond Cascade" as seen in higher flow back in June 2004

The next cascade on Cascade Creek was shortly downstream of 'Diamond Cascade' and this one was known as the 'Humpback Cascade'The next cascade on Cascade Creek was shortly downstream of "Diamond Cascade" and this one was known as the "Humpback Cascade"

Looking downstream over the brink of the next cascade, which was called the 'Cleft Cascades'Looking downstream over the brink of the next cascade, which was called the "Cleft Cascades"

This was a more frontal look at the 'Cleft Cascades', which were the fourth and fifth cascades we noticed on Cascade CreekThis was a more frontal look at the "Cleft Cascades", which were the fourth and fifth cascades we noticed on Cascade Creek

Back in June 2004, Julie and I witnessed the 'Cleft Cascades' in higher flowBack in June 2004, Julie and I witnessed the "Cleft Cascades" in higher flow

Shortly downstream of the 'Cleft Cascades' the Terraced Falls Trail started following the Falls RiverShortly downstream of the "Cleft Cascades" the Terraced Falls Trail started followed the Falls River

This was one of the short cascades on the Falls River, which I believed to be part of the Cascade AcresThis was one of the short cascades on the Falls River, which I believed to be part of the Cascade Acres

Looking down at what appeared to be the mouth of the Cascade AcresLooking down at what appeared to be the mouth of the Cascade Acres

Looking across the Falls River where I suspected the river crossing to get to the other side would be as this was one of the few spots I could access the Falls River banks itselfLooking across the Falls River where I suspected the river crossing to get to the other side would be as this was one of the few spots I could access the Falls River banks itself

The narrowing Terraced Falls Trail then briefly climbed higher above the Falls River as it got closer to Terraced FallsThe narrowing Terraced Falls Trail then briefly climbed higher above the Falls River as it got closer to Terraced Falls

Looking across the first of the drops of Terraced FallsLooking across the first of the drops of Terraced Falls

Back in June 2004, we managed to get this wider but still obstructed look back at that first drop of Terraced FallsBack in June 2004, we managed to get this wider but still obstructed look back at that first drop of Terraced Falls

Looking down over the brink of Terraced FallsLooking down over the brink of Terraced Falls

This was the Terraced Falls Trail when it was pretty much adjacent to the hard-to-see Terraced Falls itselfThis was the trail when it was pretty much adjacent to the hard-to-see waterfall itself

This was the rock outcrop right at the brink of Terraced Falls. While this photo didn't convey it, there wasn't much margin for error when it came to that delicate balance between seeing as much of the waterfall as possible and not falling off the cliff!This was the rock outcrop right at the brink of Terraced Falls. While this photo didn't convey it, there wasn't much margin for error when it came to that delicate balance between seeing as much of the waterfall as possible and not falling off the cliff!

This was as much of Terraced Falls as I could see from the precarious rock outcrop right at its brinkThis was as much of Terraced Falls as I could see from the precarious rock outcrop right at its brink

This was as much of Terraced Falls as I was able to photograph back on our first visit in June 2004This was as much of Terraced Falls as I was able to photograph back on our first visit in June 2004

Looking back upstream from near the rock outcrop towards the upper tiers of Terraced FallsLooking back upstream from near the rock outcrop towards the upper tiers of Terraced Falls

Partial view of Terraced Falls from back on our June 2004 visitPartial view of the falls from back on our June 2004 visit

Looking towards the bottom of the Terraced Falls waterfall seriesLooking towards the bottom of the Terraced Falls waterfall series

Back during our first visit in June 2004, we saw these signs discouraging further progressBack during our first visit in June 2004, we saw these signs discouraging further progress

Despite the signs not being there during my recent visit in August 2017, this scramble down the gully was still steep and dangerousDespite the signs not being there during my recent visit in August 2017, this scramble down the gully was still steep and dangerous

Looking down at the steep scramble to the base of the falls as seen back in June 2004Looking down at the steep scramble to the base of the falls as seen back in June 2004

Unsatisfying view of the base of Terraced FallsAt the base of the waterfall - in case you're curious about what it looks like if you do the dangerous scramble to its base. I don't know about you, but I don't think it's worth it.

Hiking back along Cascade Creek on the returnHiking back along Cascade Creek on the return

The final climb leading up to the Cascade Creek TrailheadThe final climb leading up to the Cascade Creek Trailhead


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS


Comprehensive video showing all the main drops of Terraced Falls


Sweep showing the first major cascade on Cascade Creek featuring a slides and potholes


Short sweep checking out the 2nd major cascade on Cascade Creek


Sweep from top to bottom while doing closeup of the cascade


Right to left sweep of lowermost cascade of Terraced Falls before finding an informal scrambling trail that was extremely steep leading to the bottom of the falls


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DRIVING DIRECTIONS

Although Terraced Falls was within the Yellowstone National Park boundaries, the trail accessing it actually started just outside of it at the Cascade Creek Trailhead. In order to get to this trailhead, we had to drive west on the unpaved Grassy Lake Road for nearly 14 miles (about an hour drive) west of Flagg Ranch. The road became unpaved just past the bridge over Polecat Creek. The road had a few rough patches with potholes and some water-damaged ruts, but it was otherwise doable by passenger vehicles. The Cascade Creek Trailhead was about 2 miles further west of the dam holding up the Grassy Lake Reservoir. There was parking for a handful of cars by the trailhead, but there was also some spillover parking spots on the opposite side of the Grassy Lake / Reclamation Road.

For some context, Flagg Ranch was about 2.5 miles south of the South Entrance to Yellowstone National Park, 55 miles (75 minutes drive) north of Jackson, and 72 miles (under 2 hours drive) southeast of West Yellowstone, Montana. While Flagg Ranch was also a mere 48 miles (over 2 hours drive) east of Ashton, Idaho, it was on the Grassy Lake Road (also called the Reclamation Road), which was said to be pretty rough the closer to the Idaho border you go. I've never taken the Grassy Lake Road west of the Cascade Creek Trailhead before so I can't say much more about the road conditions.

For additional geographical context, West Yellowstone, Montana was 58 miles (at least 90 minutes drive) south of Gardiner, Montana, 90 miles (over 90 minutes drive) south of Bozeman, Montana, 108 miles (under 2 hours drive) north of Idaho Falls, Idaho, and 321 miles (about 4.5 hours drive) north of Salt Lake City, Utah.




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ITINERARIES

For more information about our itineraries involving this waterfall, check out the following links.




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MAP OF THE FALLS



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TRIP REPORTS

For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES





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NEARBY WATERFALLS




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