There are over twenty lakes in Yellowstone National Park. They vary considerably in size, with the colossal Yellowstone Lake, being the largest. Many of the lakes are easily accessible by road, but some are backcountry lakes that require a bit more effort. A backcountry lake, by definition, is a lake that is inaccessible by road. Shoshone Lake is the largest backcountry lake in the continental U.S. The lake covers an area of over 8,000 acres and has a shoreline spanning 28 miles. While no roads reach this huge lake, there are a few access points. The Lewis River connects Shoshone Lake with Lewis Lake to the south. A handful of trails also reach the lake, with the DeLacy Creek Trail providing the most direct access.
We had seen several of the most popular sights in Yellowstone already, including the hike up Mount Washburn the day before. So we were eager to take a nice hike into the Yellowstone backcountry that would take us away from the crowds.
We hoisted our packs and headed for the trail. The path immediately led us into a dense lodgepole pine forest. These were tall skinny pines, unlike those we were used to back east. Those were more like Christmas trees; the majority being fat with thick low branches and smaller ones on top, forming a basic triangle. It was a relief being in the woods and away from the merciless sun that had beaten down on us since our arrival in the park.
The DeLacy Creek Trail is a relatively easy hike with minimal elevation gain en route to Shoshone Lake. It is six miles round-trip and while it is popular among backcountry campers it is far less crowded than most of the shorter hikes throughout Yellowstone. Many of the most scenic and highly touted sights in the park are visible right from the road or a short walk from a parking lot. That makes the longer hikes that much more desirable in my mind. I find it easier to appreciate my surroundings when I’m not joined by dozens of camera-toting tourists. Solitude on a trail, with a healthy dose of peace and quiet, is underrated.
After a mile or so we emerged from the thick woods to find a large meadow before us. DeLacy Creek snaked its way through the meadow. It was a very narrow stream, not more than a few feet wide. The dirt path led us along the edge of the woods with the meadow and the creek to our right. The creek looked shallow and slow moving. The meadow was mostly open and green with a few trees sporadically spread throughout.
After making our way farther down the trail I watched the creek slowly widen, in the process transforming the surrounding field into more of a marsh. That made the area a prime moose habitat as well as a bug sanctuary. Unsurprisingly we saw no moose, yet were thoroughly harassed by an army of insects.
The well-packed trail made hiking quick and easy. We moved quickly, taking few breaks along the way. And there wasn’t much scenery before the lake, so we had no reason to stop for photos. In fact, I think the only stop I made on the way was to stop and tie my sneaker. After an hour or so of weaving in and out of the forest we neared our destination.
We caught our first glimpse of Shoshone Lake off in the distance. At the end of the meadow the creek parted a wall of pines, creating a small window. The closer we got to the lake, the larger the tranquil creek grew. The path and creek paralleled each other for the final stretch.
The end of the creek, just before it emptied into the lake was almost entirely covered by lily pads. There were more lily pads than I could count. It was to the point where I could barely see water. The creek water was stagnant, allowing the large green and yellow lily pads to lazily float in place up to the creek’s end. Then, just as the creek drained into the lake, the trail took us through some trees to a small beach.
The expansive dark blue waters of Shoshone Lake stretched out before us. A healthy forest of pines covered the Pitchstone Plateau on the opposite side of the lake. Farther off to the south we saw the snow-clad mountains of the Teton Range. This enormous wilderness lake is truly something to witness. I had seen photos of the beautiful lake, but seeing it in person was better than I imagined. The best part of seeing the large forest-lined lake with mountains in the distance was that we had it all to ourselves. From the time we arrived at the beach until just before we started our return hike, about an hour later, we were alone. We successfully found the aforementioned solitude we had been craving.
Large pieces of driftwood littered the sandy beach. Tall grass grew along much of the water’s edge through especially grainy sand. We plopped our backpacks down on the sand and were quickly under attack by flies and mosquitoes hovering over the lakeshore. We wanted to escape the bugs and were hot from our hike so we figured we might as well cool off in the lake. So we sat on some driftwood and shed our shoes, socks, and shirts and headed for the water.
The lake was frigid, but refreshing. It gradually got deeper, so we waded pretty far out before the water was waist-high. I got too cold at that point and headed back to the beach, but Joe was braver, or perhaps crazier than I, and decided to dive in. He swam around briefly before reemerging with his arms raised triumphantly. Once back on the beach I dried off and relaxed on some driftwood with a book. Joe returned from his swim and wandered down the shore for a while.
We eventually reconvened and grabbed our packs to make the return trip to the trailhead. The DeLacy Creek Trail is an out-and-back hike, so we had to head back the same way we came. The creek was on our left this time with the woods beside the trail to the right. Much to my dismay there were still no moose in the wetland.
The hike back to the trailhead seemed to fly by much faster than on the way out to the lake. I paid extra attention to the makeup of the forest on our walk out. Interspersed throughout the pines were some very strange looking trees. These were ghastly white with long downward curving branches. It looked like they had octopus-like tentacles. The only thing resembling foliage on them was some green moss on the top of some of their branches. I’m still not certain if the trees were dead or alive.
Soon after examining the creepy trees we were back in the dark forest for the homestretch. The creek was gone from view and we started to see some more hikers on the trail. Within minutes we were back at the trailhead and my car.