The Bechler region of Yellowstone National Park is a favorite among hikers, backpackers, and hot springs soakers looking to get away from the tourist crowds.
Located in the southwest corner of Yellowstone, this area is off the beaten path and does not see the tourist traffic prevalent across other areas of the park. People who visit the Bechler region do so to hike and adventure.
Dunanda Falls is an outstanding destination for day hikers or backpackers in the Bechler region. This hike features a spectacular waterfall and soakable hot springs.
Although the distance is long, it is flat for most of the way, making it doable as a day hike or an overnighter. For the best conditions, do this hike in September.
Distance and Elevation Gain
This is a long hike in terms of distance, but there isn’t much elevation gain. The one way distance is 8.2 miles, making for a roundtrip of 16.4 miles.
However, the net elevation gain is only 240 feet, and most of this gain occurs in the final 1.2 miles. The altitude on this hike ranges from 6,400 feet to 6,640 feet.
Dunanda Falls is an excellent backpacking destination, but given how flat the hike is, it also makes for a very do-able day hike despite the distance.
How to get to the trailhead
From the south, the Bechler Ranger Station and trailhead is a 1 hour and 15 minute drive from Driggs and a 1 hour and 30 minute drive from Idaho Falls.
From the north, the trailhead is a 1 hour and 40 minutes drive from West Yellowstone.
To get to the trailhead, you’ll drive 32 miles down the Cave Falls Road to reach the Bechler Ranger Station. The road starts out paved, before turning into a dirt road. However, this road is passable for 2wd vehicles.
Trail Breakdown and Logistics
There are a number of interconnecting trails in the Bechler Region, but they are well-marked by the National Park Service.
You will follow the Boundary Creek trail the entire way until just before reaching Dunanda Falls, so be sure to carefully read the sign at each trail junction.
The hike starts out in a lodgepole pine forest, but after a couple of miles it turns into a mix of forest hiking and beautiful open meadows. On clear days, you’ll have good views of the Teton Range to the southeast.
There are a few minor stream crossings along this hike, and one legit river fording. When I was here in late September, the water was still knee to waist deep while crossing this river.
However, the water was slow moving and the water temperatures was moderated by the influence of nearby hot springs.
Depending on the time of year and recent weather patterns, portions of this trail can get boggy. I hiked it in late September and encountered some wet marshy sections due to an unseasonably wet period of weather in the 1-2 weeks prior. But it was much more manageable compared to early/mid summer.
On a nice sunny day this was only a minor inconvenience, but it’s a good idea to bring a change of socks as well as a pair of sandals for the river crossing.
After hiking for 8 miles, you’ll reach a short spur trail to access Campsite 9A3. Head over to this campsite, and then follow an unmarked faint path down to the river below you.
Hike/bushwhack along this river for less than a quarter mile before reaching impressive Dunanda Falls ahead. This is the most dramatic way to take in your first views of the falls.
Alternatively, you can hike a short distance on the main Boundary Creek Trail beyond the junction with Campsite 9A3, and take a steep unmarked trail down to Dunanda Falls below. Either option to reach the falls is viable, but take care when descending the steep/loose terrain.
There are hot pools in the river below these falls that are wonderful to soak in. Plan on spending some time here enjoying the hot pools and the falls!
While Dunanda Falls is the main attraction on this hike, on your way back you can also take a short side trip to see another waterfall: Silver Scarf Falls. While not as dramatic as Dunanda, Silver Scarf Falls is still very scenic and well worth the visit.
Best time of year to hike to Dunanda Falls
The best time to hike this trail in my opinion is from mid August to mid/late October, in order to avoid terrible mosquitoes, high water, and boggy conditions that are prevalent in early summer.
September is really the prime month to do this hike, and late August can be very nice as well. October can also be a good time depending on the year, but usually by mid or late October much cooler, wetter, and snowier weather will arrive.
When my fiance and I did this hike, we didn’t see any wildlife of note. But this is Yellowstone, so of course there are plenty of big game animals that could be seen.
Grizzly bears and black bears inhabit this region, as do moose, elk, bison, and wolves. Given the presence of water in this region, many types of birds and waterfowl can be seen as well.
How bad are the bugs?
As I alluded to earlier, the mosquitoes and black flies are brutal in this area in July and early August. However, by late August and September they shouldn’t be an issue. Another reason to do this hike late in the season.
Dunanda Falls makes for an outstanding backpacking trip. There is a backcountry campsite (9A3) very close to the falls. And who doesn’t love the idea of camping near a soakable hot springs at the base of a waterfall?
If you spend more than one night here, there are also numerous options for exploring other trails in the area. You could also tie this in to a multi-stop backpacking trip around the Bechler area.
To reserve a backcountry campsite in Yellowstone National Park, you must either 1) purchase at a ranger station no more than 48 hours in advance, or 2) submit a request via mail for an advance reservation. The fee to reserve a backcountry site is $25.
Yellowstone National Park’s website outlines the process of securing a backcountry website. If walk-up permits are not available for Campsite 9A3 near Dunanda Falls, there are other campsites along this hike that would be viable backup options.
Afternoon thunderstorms are common in this corner of Yellowstone in June, July, and August. Although less common, they do occur in September occasionally as well.
Despite the frequency of afternoon thunderstorms, overall July and August are the driest months in the Bechler region in terms of rainfall.
In September, the frequency of rainfall decreases, but when it does rain it tends to last for a longer time and accumulate to higher amounts. This is because organized low pressure systems packed with Pacific moisture start to arrive at this time of year.
Cold and rainy systems start to become more common in October, and usually by late in the month this starts to impact trail conditions in this moisture-laden region.
The first accumulating snows typically arrive in October as well, although it melts quickly at this time of year since the elevation of this area is below 7,000 feet.
Large temperature swings between day and night are common in the Bechler area during clear weather. It can get below freezing here at any time of year, and by September freezing nights are the norm during clear weather.
October can be a fine time of year to hike here if a dry weather pattern is in place. However, you’ll want to prepare for wintertime temperatures at night at this time of year.
Here are a few items I consider to be essential for this hike:
- Extra layers
- Extra socks
- Bear spray
- 3 liters of water or a water purification system
- Personal locater device, such as a SPOT or DeLorme beacon
- First aid kit
Here are a few items I might bring depending on current conditions:
- Chacos or sandals for river crossings
- Bug spray with deet (if hiking before mid August)
- Rain jacket and rain gear (if anything but a dry forecast)
- Down jacket
- Ski hat and gloves