About Cave Falls
Cave Falls was an impressively wide waterfall spanning 250ft across the Falls River well downstream from its confluence with the Bechler River. Even though it was said to be only 20ft tall, there were more cascades and rapids both upstream and downstream of the falls. Had the falls dropped any higher, it very easily could have attracted more tourism infrastructure and tourist traffic than it currently does. In fact, of all the waterfalls we’ve managed to visit in the Bechler Region of Yellowstone National Park (also known as the “Cascade Corner” due to its high quantity of waterfalls), this one was by far the easiest one to visit. The rest of them typically required very long day hikes or backpacking trips (or paid horseback tours) deep into the undeveloped backcountry. Indeed, we only needed to walk about 0.3 miles round trip to experience both the overlook as well as its base. Heck, the falls was even visible from the lower pullout. It was a good thing that the excursion was short because a nasty thunderstorm that wound up dumping hail on us overtook our area just as we returned to the car.
Cave Falls got its name because there was an overhang adjacent to the left side of the falls that someone imagined was a cave. During my visit in August 2017, apparently that cave had collapsed as there were park service signs discouraging travel beyond them due to the danger of more unstable rocks falling. When I walked up to the overlook from a separate trail, that was where I was not only able to look across the breadth of Cave Falls from above, but I was also able to look further upstream at more cascades and rapids. The trail actually kept going upstream eventually towards Bechler Falls and the Bechler River and beyond, but I was content to experience the Cave Falls before returning to the car. That said, the signage at this part of Yellowstone National Park suggested that the nearby Bechler River Ranger Station was the trailhead for some backcountry hikes and backpacks leading to other impressive waterfalls of the Cascade Corner such as Dunanda Falls, Silver Scarf Falls, Ouzel Falls, Colonnade Falls, Iris Falls, and Union Falls among others. The western side of the Cascade Corner had always been a dream backpack of mine, and time will only tell if I would ever get the chance to finally get to experience it.
Overall, we had spent about 30 minutes away from the car, but I spent most of that time taking lots of photographs and videos. Julie took her time looking for huckleberries along the short trail. And prior to seeing the main part of the Cave Falls, there was also an interesting unnamed waterfall further downstream that was smaller and seemed to be a suitable spot for angling as I encountered a group of guys down there having a beer and catching fish. They thought I was going to stop at that small waterfall thinking that it was the main one so they went out of their way to tell me to keep driving or hiking further up the road to see the REAL big waterfall.
Finally, with the Bechler Region being as undeveloped as it was, there were numerous proposals to build a dam on the Bechler River or the Fall River to hold up the water, drown the Cascade Corner, and divert this water to the potato farmers in Idaho. Some proposals even went so far as to redraw the Yellowstone borders to remove the Bechler Region from its protection! Fortunately, advocates of Yellowstone were successful in defeating such measures. So these days, the potato farmers would get their water from the Grassy Lake Reservoir as well as Jackson Lake (the latter was within the boundaries of Grand Teton National Park and was built in 1930s).
Cave Falls kind of sat in an isolated corner of Yellowstone National Park that was reached from Idaho in the west by car. The most straightforward way for us to access the falls was by heading east of Ashton, Idaho along the East 3400 North (E 3400 N) Road, which deviated from the Hwy 47 about 6 miles east of the Hwy 47 junction with the US Hwy 20. Once on the E 3400 N Road headed east, the road would remain paved as it left town and entered the Targhee National Forest. This road would eventually become the Cave Falls Rd, which promptly became unpaved and started off initially smooth. But after about 10 miles from Ashton, the road became progressively more potholed and rutted.
When the road crossed over the Idaho-Wyoming border, it started to enter Yellowstone National Park, and strangely, the road became paved again. It would remain that way all the way to the junction with the spur road leading to the Bechler Ranger Station as well as towards the end of the road near the Cave Falls Picnic Area and Trailhead. Overall, the drive east of Ashton to the Falls was about 25 miles (under an hour drive).
Note that the Ashton-Flagg Ranch Road (or the Reclamation Road or the Grassy Lake Road) left Ashton along the E 1200 N Road instead of E 1400 N Road. While that road was the shortest distance to get from Ashton to the South Entrance of Yellowstone National Park, it wasn’t the most common given how rough this road was said to be.
For some geographical context, Ashton, Idaho was about 47 miles (over 2 hours drive) west of Flagg Ranch via the unpaved Ashton-Flagg Ranch Road or Grassy Lake Road, 54 miles (under an hour drive) northeast of Idaho Falls, Idaho, 55 miles (under an hour drive) south of West Yellowstone, Montana, 72 miles (90 minutes drive) northwest of Jackson, Wyoming, 144 miles south of Bozeman, Montana, and 266 miles (under 4 hours drive) north of Salt Lake City, Utah.
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