Backpacking Hazards: Driving to the Trailhead

Unless you are lucky enough to live literally on the border of a big wilderness area, nearly every backpack trip requires a drive to the trailhead. And while it is natural for folks to worry about bears or rattlesnakes or even falling off a cliff, the truth is that if you are careful in the backcountry, the most dangerous aspect of nearly any backpack trip is the drive to the trailhead. Witness the annual carnage on America’s highways. This is especially true for our Yellowstone backpacking trips due to the nature of driving in Yellowstone National Park.

In Yellowstone, the roads are narrow and winding with limited passing opportunities, and severe weather can make driving even more difficult. But the real problem in the world’s first national park is that most of the drivers on the road are distracted, gawking at the scenery or at the wildlife as they drive, instead of watching the road with two hands on the wheel. Plus some of them drive rented motor homes, and they are not used to driving large vehicles on narrow roads. Sometimes, to view scenery or wildlife, people stop their vehicles in the middle of the road, including on blind curves, maybe even with the car doors doors swung wide open! So the only way to avoid disaster is for you to jam on the brakes or be content to take their car doors off! Sometimes the motorists just drift across the center line as they gawk at the roadside bison. In other words, many visitors seem to leave their brains back home in Peoria! OK, maybe I’m exaggerating just a bit. I’ve never taken anyone’s doors off. But I’ve had close calls. Fortunately, a requirement of Big Wild guides is that they be good drivers. We do put safety first. But please, when you get into our vehicle, buckle up. Statistics prove that human drivers are much more dangerous than grizzly bears. Don’t take the chance that one of them will cause your ultimate demise!

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