Backpacker treks through 1,000+ miles of Yellowstone trails

Ken Duell backpacked through all 1,000-plus miles of trails in Yellowstone National Park, chipping away at his goal over 25 years.

Ken Duell backpacked through all 1,000-plus miles of trails in Yellowstone National Park, chipping away at his goal over 25 years.

Yellowstone National Park on Facebook

Ken Duell set out to hike every trail in Yellowstone National Park nearly three decades ago.

As 2022 came to a close, he finally completed that journey. It took him 25 years, and throughout his trek, he only had one scary encounter with a grizzly bear, officials said.

“Ken chipped away at his goal over ∼25 years, taking 1-2 trips, consisting of short-day hikes to multi-day backpacking trips, to the park each year,” Yellowstone National Park said in a Nov. 17 Facebook post.

Officials shared photos of Duell hiking — and canoeing — the trails.

Facebook users chimed in to celebrate his accomplishment and to ask about any bear encounters.

“In his many miles of hiking in the park, he only had to pull out his bear spray once during an encounter with a mother grizzly and cub,” officials said. “The encounter resolved without incident, with both the hikers and bears backing away from each other.”

Others asked about the stretch of river he canoed down. Officials replied he boated down the Lewis River Channel between Lewis Lake and Shoshone Lake, the only park river open to boating.

Though he did hike a significant portion of his trek alone, he also had company with part-time companions Randy and Leslie Smith, backpackers from the West Coast, the Billings Gazette reported.

Some of the trails Duell, 57, hiked to complete his mission were not scenic or enjoyable, they told the outlet. So how did they describe those hikes? “Grim,” for starters.

“Just awful. … Hot, dry, dusty, and you could hear traffic noise,” Randy Smith told the outlet.

Duell hiked through blizzard conditions and even dislocated his shoulder in the backcountry, the outlet reported.

But Duell himself was much more upbeat about his journey, gritty parts included. Exploring new areas motivates him when the trail gets tough, he told officials.

What were some of his most memorable moments? “Spending time in the remote Thorofare. … Encountering a herd of stampeding bison in Slough Creek” and “getting to personally thank trail crew members for their work on his last segment of trail on Mount Holmes,” officials said.

“Every time I see a new area of the park, I’ve had what I call a magic moment,” he told officials. “These moments created a rich quilt of memories for me.”

Brooke (she/them) is a McClatchy Real-Time reporter who covers LGBTQ+ news and national parks out west. They studied journalism at the University of Florida, and previously covered LGBTQ+ news for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. When they’re not writing stories, they enjoy hanging out with their cats, riding horses or spending time outdoors.

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