If any part of Yellowstone deserves the title “untamed wilderness,” it has to be the Thorofare. Situated along Two Ocean Plateau and cut through by the upper Yellowstone River, this broad expanse of roadless country reaches from Yellowstone Lake into the Teton Wilderness south of the park.
This is the most remote country anywhere in the Lower 48; at its heart you’d need to hike 30 miles in any direction to reach a road. Because of the distances involved, many people choose to traverse the Thorofare via horseback.
There is considerable grizzly activity in this area, so various restrictions are in place. In addition, some major river crossings are impassable until late summer. Access to the Thorofare is via Heart Lake Trail, the Thorofare Trail, or through Teton Wilderness within Bridger-Teton National Forest.
The Thorofare Trail begins at Nine Mile Trailhead on the East Entrance Road and hugs the shore of Yellowstone Lake for the first 17 miles. This stretch was spared from the fires of 1988 and provides some incredible opportunities to watch sunsets over the lake, particularly from campsites near Park Point.
The trail continues along Southeast Arm and then follows the broad Thorofare Valley upstream beside the Yellowstone River (great fishing). There are several difficult creek and river crossings before you reach the Thorofare Ranger Station at mile 32, but this is not even the halfway point! Civilization is another 36 miles away.
To get there, follow the often muddy South Boundary Trail, which heads west over the Continental Divide, through four difficult creek or river fords, through forests burned in the 1988 fires, and past Snake Hot Springs before finally ending at the South Entrance Station.
Needless to say, trips into the Thorofare are only for those with a lot of stamina and extensive backcountry experience. Shorter variations are possible, of course, but most involve hiking in and out the same way. Check at the Lake Ranger Station for conditions in the Thorofare and study Yellowstone hiking guides before even considering a big trip here. It’s spectacular and remote country, but that means you’re on your own much of the time.
One way to cut nine miles off your hike into the Thorofare is by a boat ride across Yellowstone Lake. The folks at Bridge Bay Marina (307/242-3893) can drop you off at a few campsites on the east side, but this is a pricey option: $152 each way. Contact the Park Service’s Backcountry Office (307/344-2160) to find out which campsites are accessible by motorboat. These sites tend to fill up fast, so you’ll need to reserve well ahead.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Yellowstone & Grand Teton, 5th Edition