Yellowstone Lake State Park — A Birthday Celebration Hike

I recently turned 28. As a marker of the beginning of your life, it’s always interesting to use birthdays to reflect on how much you have grown and changed as a person. Looking back on this birthday, this was the first year I truly did not care about being recognized by many. This was the first year I did not care how many happy birthday messages I received on Facebook, how many people came out to a bar with me, or, throwing it back to younger years, how many birthday cards I received in the mail. (In case you’re wondering, it was four, with two of them being from people with companies I regularly pay money to.) In short, this was the first year I cared more about the quality of the celebration than the quantity and the size of the recognition. Growing up, more and more each year.

This birthday consisted of a Friday night dinner at my favorite restaurant in Madison, Liliana’s, with family and friends. Seriously, it’s the best. New Orleans inspired cuisine and drinks with live music in the background is a winning combination. My meal consisted of Cajun friend cheese curds, the chicken diablo, (a chicken breast stuffed with cheese and ham, wrapped in bacon, served over cheddar grits. The cheddar grits – such an amazing gift from the heavens. I can’t even explain how much you need these in your life.) beignets for dessert, and a southern sangria. Seriously, an amazing restaurant. I know this entry is a hiking entry, but I had to pause  and recognize the glory and deliciousness that is Liliana’s.

Back to the hiking part. Saturday was a day of hiking and camping with a few friends. Back when I was making a reservation, I opted to look for a park closer to Madison in case Friday’s birthday celebration got a little crazy. I found Yellowstone State Park, which is an hour drive from Madison. Perfect.

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Links:      Park Website         Park Map         Trail Descriptions

The campground at Yellowstone Lake is central in the park with trails on 3 sides and the lake on the other. A connecting trail passes through the campground making it easy to access the trails without driving or walking along a road.

From the campground, we took the Timber Trail north to the longer, Blue Ridge Trail. We traveled west on the Blue Ridge Trail to the Wildlife Loop, completed the loop and backtracked on the same path. Most trails are circular with the option of completing additional loops, creating a lot of potential to map out a longer hike without backtracking on the same trail too much. Somehow we ended up on the only 2 linear trails in the park.

Timber Trail

Length: .8 miles linear, we did the same half of it twice, so we ended up hiking .8 miles in total, seeing .4 miles of it.
Terrain: Grass and dirt
Difficulty: Moderate, this trail is short but it ascends/descends fairly quickly.

This trail actually surprised me. When I think of a connecting trail out of a campground, I think of an easy, short trail where tents are still visible through the trees. The forest was so thick along this trail you instantly felt secluded from the rest of the park. I was also surprised at the change in elevation on this short trail. Heading north from the campground we descended, which meant on the way back, after the bulk of the hike, we would climb. This was tough, but it made us feel like we really earned our dinner and beer later on.

Blue Ridge Trail

Length: 3.5 miles linear, we did about 1/3 of the trail twice, so about 2 miles
Terrain: Grass, dirt, mostly tree covered through the forest with a few openings of meadows, this trail crosses the road and follows along the lake for a portion, it crosses through a parking lot near the lake for a short stretch.
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate, this trail is mostly flat with a few larger hills.

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Much of the trail looked like this. Well kept with short grass on the actual trail, longer grass on the sides.

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At one point the trail passed through a meadow with tall grass on either side. Standing in the middle, if you’re short like me, the grass reached up to just below my shoulders. It was unique to be that surrounded by tall grass and plants – sort of a Moses parting the Red Sea feeling.

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Bat houses along the trail. The park has 31 bat houses to house more than 4,000 brown bats. An amazing benefit from housing this many bats? The park has virtually no mosquitoes. Read that again and appreciate what that means. The park has virtually no mosquitoes. Being outside, near a lake, in the summer, without being eaten alive? Unbeatable. Read more about the bat house project here.

Wildlife Loop Trail

Length: 1 mile loop
Terrain: Grass, some tree covered, mostly along the lake
Difficulty: Easy – we saw smaller children and dogs walking this trail

We completed this loop counterclockwise, continuing west on the Blue Ridge Trail. Doing the trail in this direction, we began with tree cover and ended walking on the shore of the lake. This was a nice way to break up the hike that had been mostly through the forest.

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A view of the beach across the lake.

True to it’s name, we did see wildlife along this trail, including fish jumping out of the water, turkey vultures circling over head, and geese.

From the beginning of the loop, we backtracked to the campsite for the rest of the birthday festivities.

Overall, a great experience and a great birthday.

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