Yellowstone Cliffs is a fantastic Fall hike, especially once you've reached the cliffs. Just gorgeous, see pics. The cliffs are striking any time, but right now the Fall foliage is about to peak. I'll give some key info on the trail first, then follow with details from our trek.
First, route and stats: no we did not go all the Windy Gap--20 miles RT was plenty for us, hiking from Carbon entrance. We started at 8:50 a.m. and got back to the car at 6:05, with about 30 minutes break at the cliffs, pic taking, etc. Hiking time was about 4h15 min or so each way. Ran into 5 people, including 3 backpackers, a runner, and a volunteer ranger. All extremely friendly. Second, obstacles: I've attached two pictures, one of a land and rock slide, plus trail erosion, along the trail between Ipsut campground and the Lower Carbon crossing; another of a rock slide in the scree leading down to the Lower Carbon crossing. The former (land and rock slide) is in the same place as the narrowed trail and rope used to be. (Last winter, I noted that this part of the trail looked as if the rate of erosion was picking up. Looks like that would be a yes). Watch your footing here, as the ground is not stable (i.e., soft with moisture and still sliding), and watch the trees dangling above (!). Another intense rain, and some re-routing may be in order--and may not be safe. The scree slide seems less serious/as if it could be much more easily repaired, but at the moment requires care in traversing. In the pic, the section to the left is where the rocks have slid across the path. One can fairly easily climb down through the scree and pick up the trail (which is not in any danger of being lost), but be aware that the scree is indeed loose and could easily resume sliding. Flora: yes, there are still a few wildflowers, especially up on the ridge where the cliffs are (in the summer, the place is festooned with all kinds). Today I saw several clusters of mountain gentian and one, lone orange agoseris, plus quite a bit of pearly everlasting--which looks like it's near the end of its "everlasting." Tree-wise--the area is resplendent (!) with old growth, virtually the entire way. Fauna: one snake and a chipmunk. No bears today, but we were on the lookout. They do hang out near the cliffs. No mountain goats either, who we have seen in the past grazing in a large herd in the meadows below the cliffs.
Details from our hike: actually, there's not a lot to add, except to say that this is a great hike to take if you want to have some solitude, and if you want to get out into some serious back country. The elevation gain from start to finish is about 3000 feet, and that last 2.9 miles to Yellowstone Cliffs is where most of it happens--in 23 fairly steep switchbacks. There's a sweet campsite at Yellowstone Cliffs, with two spots--we've camped there a couple times. A lovely, remote retreat, and a fine place from which to explore Windy Gap and Lake James.
Happy hiking, Everyone, and be safe out there! The light fades early this time of year--the forest was already quite dim in places at 3:40 yesterday!