Background of “The Bench”
First up in my series of reviewing outdoor recreation opportunities in Park County is Polecat Bench! The Bench is located just a few miles north/northwest of Powell. Making this spot one of the few quick drives from town (for me at least).
Polecat Bench is a raised terrace-like feature which does not quite tower over Powell but can be clearly seen from just about anywhere in town. The Bench stands out from a geologist perspective. I could not hope to understand as much as the experts to explain why, so here is some interesting information that can explain it much better than I can! My friend Mark Fisher, an expert in geology, created and maintains this website!
I don’t even know where to start.
Going into these hikes, I approached them as a visitor. To find a place to park and access polecat bench I just googled “polecat bench” on maps. Which is how anyone not from here would try to find it.
This took me down 14A heading west from Powell. I turned right on 294 and drove for about 4 – 5 miles. Google wanted me to take a right but there was no road at all. There was just a barb wire fence. So, I doubled back and found a place to turn to access the bench. This took me down a dirt trail that eventually forked. My car was incapable of going left due to the conditions of the trail, so I went right. I followed this trail for about 2 miles and parked close to the slopes leading up to the bench.
There are no signs telling people where to go or a trailhead anywhere. This made getting where I wound up very confusing. The only reason I stopped was because there was nowhere else to go! My car was also not suited for driving on the trail that I went on. I was worried that when I stopped it would fall apart!
There are no entrance fees anywhere on polecat bench. In this way access was easy. However, various landowners have split the bench up into different sections. It is helpful to understand who owns the land you will be on but as I said you don’t have to pay for access. You just need to be respectful of the owners where it is privately owned.
Man was this quite the adventure.
Polecat Bench was the first place I went after I arrived in Park County. I knew next to nothing about it going in, just that locals would use this place to dump trash in years past.
Let’s just say I can see why!
There was not much going on at The Bench. Once you get up on top of it there is just a sea of sage brush stretching as far as you can see in every direction. There are some tire tracks crisscrossing all over the top of it. I was also able to make out some interesting figures that were A LOT farther away than I thought when I first saw them. But I’ll get into that a little later.
The Bright Side
That’s not to say my experience was negative! I’ve been hard on Polecat Bench so far, but I had a lot of fun poking around and exploring the sides and the top. On the slopes leading up to the bench, there are rocks that look very out of place in such a desolate area. This is because the Shoshone River used to run through The Bench thousands of years ago. I kept thinking that the next rock I turned over would have an amazing fossil!
There is a rich, natural history here that I could not help but feel connected to while looking at the features of this old riverbed. I imagined what used to be a river running right where I was standing. My car and I would’ve been completely underwater! There were many rock formations I could not help but stare at as I was walking past. They took on so many shapes and sizes. I found myself wondering how they got to look as they do now!
Saying that though once you’ve seen it there is not much value in going back to look at rocks realistically. Unless that is something important to you of course. It only takes a few minutes to scamper up and down the sides of the bench, and there is almost no variation in the landscape on the top.
I found myself wandering aimlessly while I was there. Nothing really attracted me and made me want to go explore.
Now let’s circle back to those figures in the distance…
I Got Super Lost
Yeah, apparently things on the horizon of a completely flat surface are a lot farther away than they look.
After looking around and hiking for a few hours I saw some shapes in the distance across polecat bench. Being the diligent outdoor recreation planner that I am, I decided it was my duty to find out what they are.
From where I was standing on the top, they looked maybe 2 or 3 miles away from where I was. I had plenty of light left in the day. So, I figured I’d go see what they were, then walk back to where I parked and go home.
I walked for a good hour and these shapes looked just as far away from where I first started. I came across some sort of structure that I rested at for a minute then decided to throw in the towel and turn around.
Now to get to these shapes I had turned off the trail way back when I first started walking over. This is where I really messed up. For some reason, I thought I would be able to walk in a completely straight line and somehow keep track of the angle that I was walking at in my head so that I could get back to my car (??).
As I was walking back it became very obvious that I was in a completely different area of polecat bench. I couldn’t see where my car was because it was tucked into the slopes leading up to the bench. I ended up running around the top looking for anything recognizable. But when everything looks exactly the same that proved to be challenging.
It took me an extra 2 hours to finally find my car.
What I Wish I Knew Going In
Obviously, I must start here with knowing the correct place to access polecat bench. There is a more common access point where people ride ORVs and mountain bikes, as well as hike. This point can be accessed from Powell by driving north on state highway 295. After about 7 miles turn right onto LP Oilfield Road. There is a place to park immediately after you turn off the highway right after the cattle guard.
Later I was told that rattlesnakes are known to settle around the bench. So, I definitely wish I hadn’t been stomping around the top for several hours off the trail!
It would’ve been great to know about the great mountain biking trail that is up there! I went back after this first experience and went mountain biking for the first time (I’ll talk about this in another post!).
I hate to start off on a negative note here, but I owe my complete honesty to you. If I had to sum up my experience in one word it would be “confusing“.
While it was fun to explore, nothing at polecat bench really captured my interest or attention for very long. There are so many beautiful places in Park County that you can’t see anywhere else in the world, the bench is not one of those places.
Access was a total nightmare (if you don’t know where to go). As I was there I could not help but worry about anyone who might try to go the same way I did.
One positive the bench has going for it is how close it is to Powell. I mentioned this earlier, if you have a mountain bike or an ORV this is a great place to get a quick ride in. Polecat bench has potential in this aspect.
For my next post, I’ll be talking about my experience at McCullough Peaks!
As always, you can find more from me here!
- Visitor Guide to Bridal Veil Falls (Clark Fork’s Canyon) - February 22, 2023
- Visitor Guide to Heart Mountain - October 24, 2022
- McCullough Peaks Review - October 10, 2022