The Golden Gate Canyon runs between Mammoth Hot Springs and the Yellowstone Plateau. The name of Golden Gate (the identifier sign is seen as traveling from Mammoth) depicts the “gateway” to the interior of the park. As sunlight hits the canyon walls they take on a golden-orange appearance due to colored lichen that cling to the rugged walls and peaks. Cathedral Rock in particular, that juts out from the northern part of Bunsen Peak, takes on a golden appearance.
As you travel through the canyon you are traveling the path of the first stagecoach route into Yellowstone. The initial bridge (The Golden Gate Bridge of Yellowstone) was built entirely of wood planks in 1885 by Lieutenant Daniel Kingman and the U.S. Corp of Engineers. Because of his pioneering development of this passage through Golden Gate Canyon, it is called Kingman Pass in his honor. Located directly above the bridge is Huckleberry Ridge Tuff, a volcanic ash formation that came from the first Yellowstone caldera, 2 million years ago.
Rustic Falls: After passing through Swan Lake Flats of the Yellowstone Plateau, and as you enter the canyon that will take you to Mammoth Hot Springs, you will see Glen Creek drop 47 feet as Rustic Falls. Spring is the best time to view the falls because there is a greater flow of water than later summer. After passing over the brink, the water beautifully fans out as it tumbles down the terraced cliff creating a unique textured look to the falls. As is the case with most waterfalls, Rustic Falls is the result of a river passing over a geologic crossroads of different rock types that erode at different rates. In this case, the cliff that Glen Creek plummets over is composed of erosion-resistant rhyolite.
A pullout at the brink of the falls offers a view of the falls looking downstream and another pullout approximately 400 yards down from the brink provides a great upstream looking view of the falls tumbling over the brink. The adventurous can hike down to the creek from this second pullout for some unique photo ops.
Pillar of Hercules: This large solitary boulder seems to serve as a sentinel at the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge of the Yellowstone. Over the years, the Pillar of Hercules has been removed and replaced as the road has been improved and the bridge renovated or rebuilt. The 1893 painting by Thomas Moran clearly shows the iconic boulder next to the wooden bridge and Rustic Falls in the distance.