Virginia Cascade Drive - Yellowstone National Park
This is a great drive that provides some unique canyon views and an adventure opportunity to see some remnants of one of the earliest roads built in Yellowstone. For 2.5 miles, this one-way (west to east) offshoot drive takes you first through a flat pine forest area until the road draws near to the river. From that point the road starts to climb up the canyon, paralleling the river as it cascades down the canyon on its way to Norris Meadows. As the road starts to climb there are periodic small pull-offs, some of which have an access trail down to the river. As the road climbs high above the canyon floor, there are some unique views of the tumbling river below. There are places along this stretch where the road has only a few feet on the canyon side before it drops steeply off all the way to the river down below.
You will pass through some unique rock formations bookending both sides of the road. Yellow-bellied marmots call this place home and can often be seen in the rocks, just a few feet off the road. When you approach the top of the canyon and the brink of the cascades (more like two consecutive 45-degree downward ramps), there is a short, single-lane pull-off area where you can park. This you should do so you can hike down (kind of steep and at times a little dicey) to see up close, not only the waterfalls, but a place known as Devil’s Elbow. Here you can see some remnants of the old stagecoach road and the stone retaining walls. What is hard to imagine, let alone understand, is how the stagecoaches actually made the extremely sharp curves, or switchbacks, as they climbed to the top of the canyon. Below is a little history on this original road:
"In 1887, the road from Norris to Canyon Junction was completed, and this drive is where some of the original road traversed. It was a treacherous road with many recorded mishaps. By the end of the century, Army Corps officer Hiram Chittenden considered the reconstruction of this section of road "of pressing importance." He described the road as having, “three of the worst and most dangerous hills on the entire system. . . . The Virginia Cascade hill is a positive menace to the lives of travelers. Several accidents have occurred here, . . . Stage drivers are often compelled to make passengers alight and walk down the hill. The Devil's Elbow—a very short turn of nearly 80 degrees is another dangerous place. Blanding Hill is a long, difficult, and dangerous ascent which is impossible to maintain in good condition. The long hill descending into the valley of the Yellowstone is composed of wretched material, which so cuts up in wet weather as to be impossible of ascent by loaded wagons. The dense forests on top of the plateau retain the snow so late that it has to be shoveled out every spring at great expense. It is proposed to cut out some of the hills, reduce the grades on others, surface the bad stretches and clear the timber away on the north side of the road so as to let the sun in. . . . It is estimated to cost as much as an entire relocation or about $2,000 per mile for 10 miles.” - Reference: Hiram Chittenden, Improvement of the Yellowstone National Park, Including the Construction, Repair and Maintenance of Roads and Bridges Annual Report of the Chief of Engineers for 1899, Appendix EEE (Washington D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1899).
Virginia Cascade Picnic Area: This picnic area is located at the east end of the drive and has 6 tables and a restroom. Directly south of the picnic area the Gibbon River flows gently through the Virginia Cascade meadow. This is a great place to take young children fly fishing as they can cast into the small stream and catch small rainbow and brook trout.
Virginia Cascade Drive and meadow has been mentioned in the related articles:
"Best Places to Go and Things to do with Kids in Each of Yellowstone's 14 Road Sections"
"Best 9 Picnic Areas in Yellowstone- For the Whole Family"