Yellowstone National Park

Hiking In Yellowstone:

Northwest Corner

Is characterized with high steep ridges and low valleys.  This can make long climbs and descents for the hiking in this area. The views of forested hills, mountain peaks, streams, and lakes are an awesome sight as a result of a hard day's work.   Wildlife viewing at almost any time of the year is a given.  Elk, Deer, Moose, and Bighorn Sheep call this region home.  All the trails in this area will run between Bozeman and West Yellowstone along Highway 191.

Daily Creek Trail - milepost 31, Highway 191  to:

        Jct. with Black Butte Trail cutoff          2 miles (3km)

        Jct. with Tepee Creek Trail cutoff        2.4 miles (3.8km)

        Dailey Pass                                            5.3 miles (9km)

        Jct. with Sky Rim Trail                          6 miles (9.6km)

* The Dailey Creek Trail is the easiest access to Sky Rim Trail from Highway 191.  This particular trail will give you lots to view.  Moose can be seen during the summers and elk during the spring and fall.  There are also many grizzly bears that frequent in this area. 

* This hike starts out climbing gradually through meadows and open hillsides and eventually meets up with the Black Butte Trail cutoff.  As you head down the trail you will eventually meet the Tepee Creek cutoff.  You will travel through some meadows for the next mile or so and take you to the park boundary and the Tepee Creek Trail in the Gallatin National Forest.  About four miles from the trailhead, you will begin to climb steeply as you come upon the Daily Pass.  1,600 vertical feet takes you to the Daily Pass from the beginning of your hike. 

Sky Rim Trail - Junction with Dailey Creek Trail - 6 miles in to:

        Bighorn Peak                                           4 miles (6.5km)

        Jct. with Specimen Creek Trail              6.5 miles (10.5km)

        Shelf Lake                                                7 miles (11km)

        Sheep Mountain                                        9.5 miles (15km)

* Starting from the junction of the Dailey Creek and Sky Rim, this trail will take you along the boundary ridge of the park.  This ridge will be a series of small summits that climb and drop steeply.  Be careful as many hikers have had trouble keeping to the posted trail.  The first challenge will be about 2.7 miles into the hike where you will reach a big, broad, open ridge where the trailhead will disappear.  Stay on the crest of this ridge and continue to go in a southerly direction until you connect back onto the trail.  In just another mile you will hit your second challenge, as the trail descends into a saddle in the ridge the tread will disappear again.  Keep up the steep, rocky ridge to the southeast until you are at the top of that ridge.  Once you have reached the top, the trail will then become obvious again.  The junction with the Black Butte Creek Trail is marked with orange markers in a small group of trees.  To continue on the Sky Rim Trail from the junction, stay with the top ridge and head east.  You will then descend to another saddle which is in the middle of some precipitous terrain that will take you to the Bighorn Peak.  You will make three more small summits to the junction of Specimen Creek Trail.  If you want to continue on the Specimen Creek Trail, it will guide you to the Shelf Lake approximately a half mile down and then another eight miles back to Hwy. 191.  From the junction though, you will follow the Skyline Trail as it becomes steeper up to the Sheep Mountains.  This will have you climb 1,000 feet in the one mile to the summit.  You will find a large movie-type screen; which is just some radio-relaying equipment.  You will sometimes find the Bighorn Sheep that are known to frequent in this area. 

Black Butte Trail - milepost 28, Highway 191 to:

        Dailey Creek cutoff                                2 miles (3km)

        Jct. with Sky Rim Trail                           6.7 miles (10.7km)

        Summit of Bighorn Peak                        7 miles (11km)

* The Black Butte Creek Trail travels from the Gallatin Highway to the Skyline Trail and gives the shortest, steepest route to the summit of Bighorn Peak.  The views on top of this trail are awesome!  This trail climbs 3,100 feet in 7 miles as it follows the forest along the valley of Black Butte Creek and also takes you past the Gallatin Petrified Forest.  There are signs of moose and mule deer on the lower ends of the trail, and the bighorn sheep in the higher regions.  From the summit of Bighorn Peak, it is only about 3.5 miles to Shelf Lake following the Skyline Trail east.

Specimen Creek Trail - milepost 26, Highway 191 to:

        Jct. with Sportsman Lake Trail                2miles (3km)

        Jct. with Crescent Lake/High Lake         6 miles (9.5km)

        Shelf Lake                                                 8 miles (13km)

        Jct. with Skyline Trail                               8.5 miles (14km)

* This trail is a great one to see lots of wildlife.  You can see elk gathered in this valley from October to June.  Moose can be seen along the creeks at any time of the year, as well as the bighorn sheep who can also be seen among the slopes of Meldrum Mountain.

* The first six miles of Specimen climbs slowly through the forest and meadows along the creek and its North Fork.  There are two bridged crossings of the North Fork.  Crescent Lake Trail junction is where the slope increases, and by the time you get to Shelf Lake  two miles away, you will have limbed 1,100 feet.  Shelf Lake is a beautiful place to relax and enjoy the surroundings. 

Crescent Lake/High Lake Trail  - 6 miles from Specimen Creek to:

        Crescent Lake                                              1.5 miles (2.2km)

        High Lake                                                     6 miles (9.5km)

        Jct. with Sportsman Lake Trail                   10 miles (16km)

        Specimen Creek Trailhead                          17 miles (26.5km)

        via Sportsman Lake Trail

* The trail between Specimen Creek Trail to the Sportsman Lake gives a great 22-mile loop hike with a tour past two alpine lakes and tons of rugged mountain country.  Fires are prohibited in this area due to the slow growth of plants because of the thin soil.  This trail can be very difficult to follow at times as it has very poor trail markers.  It is also crossed with various game trails that can even be confusing for the rangers as well.  Be sure to check in with the West Entrance Ranger Station for the up-to-date information on this particular trail. 

* The first 1.5 miles of this hike to Crescent Lake climbs 900 feet up the side of a forested valley.  The lake has an 800 foot cliff surrounding it.  From Crescent Lake, the trail goes northeast up the side of a heavily wooded valley.  The trail will then climb back out of the valley and follows below the north boundary ridge of the park for about 2 miles.  Stay high in this section, do not drop back down into the valley.  The trail will eventually crest into the boundary ridge and go back down into the basin containing High Lake.  You will continue to go down the East Fork of Specimen Creek, dropping about 700 feet in the four miles before it connects with Sportsman Lake Trail.  It will only be 7 miles back to the Specimen Creek Trailhead on Highway 191. 

Grizzly Lake Trail - 1 mile south of Beaver Lake to:

        Grizzly Lake                                                2 miles (3km)

        Jct. with Mt. Holmes Trail                          3.5 miles (6km)

        Mt. Holmes Trailhead                                 6 miles (9.5km)

* Grizzly Lake is known as a fun hike.  The trailhead is a miles south of Beaver Lake on the Mammoth-Norris Road at a small paved pull-out.  The hike begins traveling through a meadow upon the sight of a burnt out hillside that burned back in 1976 and then again in 1988.  From the meadow, the trail will climb 250 feet through burned forest and along another meadow.  Elk can be seen in this meadow among the many wildflowers that inhabit the area.  The trail will start down the west side of the ridge, in which you will get a view of Mt. Holmes and the Gallatin Range that was interesting enough was actually helped by the fires of '88. The trail then drops to 300 feet to the shore of Grizzly Lake.  The trail will then continue along the west side of Straight Creek through meadows to take you to Winter Creek.  You can usually cross the creek on fallen logs and once again lead yourself back to the Mt. Holmes Trail only a quarter mile away; where the trailhead is only another 2.5 miles further.

Bighorn Pass Trail at the Indian Creek campground trailhead to:

        Indian Creek footbridge                            2.5 miles (4km)

        Panther Creek footbridge                          4.5 miles (7.2km)

        Bighorn Pass                                               8.5 miles (14km)

        Jct. with cutoff trail to Fawn Pass              15 miles (24km)

        U.S. Highway 191 at milepost 20.5            19 miles (30km)

* The Bighorn Pass Trail crosses the Gallatin Mountain Range crossing the Mammoth-Norris Road to the Gallatin Highway.  A wide variety of scenic terrain will catch your eye.  This is heavily populated with grizzly bears, therefore there are many restrictions on hiking this trail.  It is highly recommended to travel in parties of four or more for overnight travel.  It is always wise to check in at the Backcountry offices throughout the park to check on the conditions of the area.      

* The trail starts on the west side of the bridge on the Indian Creek Campground entrance road.  You will zigzag through the south and around the campground before traveling along the Indian Creek for two miles through some meadows.  You should be able to see some wildlife such as moose and elk in these areas.  You will eventually reach and cross over the bridged crossing of Indian Creek and will travel up a small ridge that will drop down to Panther Creek.  The trail will also cross Panther Creek on a bridge and run through a pine, spruce and fir forest.  At the 6 mile point you should be out of the forest again and will see the remains after an avalanche slid off of Bannock Peak, north of the trail.  As you get closer to the pass the trail will get steeper and climb 1,100 feet in the last two miles.  You should be able to see some bighorn sheep along the slopes of Bannock Peak and Quadrant Mountain.  The trail will then descend steeply from the pass to the Gallatin River and follow through forest and meadow to the junction with the cutoff trail to Fawn Pass.  This allows you to make a loop between the two trails.  The Bighorn Trail continues for four more miles to the Gallatin River footbridge.  Elk can also be seen in this area as well through the months of late September to June. The trailhead is just a short distance which will lead you out to Highway 191.

Northeast Corner

The Northeast section of Yellowstone consists of wide, open Slough Creek Valley, the forested valley of Pebble Creek, and the rugged mountains that surround the two.  Trails in this region follow both of these valley, and the Bliss Pass Trail with strenuous, but scenic sights.  The best time of the year to enjoy this area would be late July when the snow has left the passes.

Slough Creek Trail (leaves from campground) to:

        Buffalo Plateau Trail Junction                        2 miles (3km)

        McBride Lake                                                 3 miles (5km)

        Bliss Pass Trail Junction                                 8 miles (13km)

        North Boundary                                               11 miles (17.5km)

* The best time to see wildlife in this area is during the fall time.  This is when the elk gather in the valleys and surrounding low ridges for the mating season and the coming of winter.  During the summer months the occasional moose and trumpeter swans can be seen.

* The trail begins from the gravel road leading to Slough Creek Campground.  It will begin to climb gradually through Douglas firs and then up to an open area where there is a good view of the Cutoff Mountain to the northeast.  The trail will then drop down to the broad open valley of Slough Creek.  From here is where the Buffalo Plateau Trail will turn off to the north.  From this junction, McBride Lake is located across the creek to the northeast in a rocky wooded section.  From the junction, the Slough Creek Trail will continue up the valley and climb a 200 foot ridge and then descend to the other side which is known as the "Second Meadow".  The trail will come near the creek again and then meet up with the Bliss Pass Trail.  The Slough Creek Trail continues north through grassy meadows and forest to the park's north boundary.

Lamar River Trail - Northeast Entrance Road, 4 miles west of Pebble Creek Campground to:  

        Jct. with Cache Creek Trail                                    3.1 miles (5km)

        Jct. with Miller Creek Trail                                    9.2 miles (14.7km)

        Cold Creek Junction                                                16 miles (26.8km)

* The Lamar Valley is one of the most underrated areas of Yellowstone.  Its beautiful open valleys, rolling hills, and spectacular mountain ranges are an absolute dream to view.  The wildlife that is most prevalent here are the elk and bison, especially in the winter months.  There are many different hikes in the Lamar area but the ones that are listed are perhaps the most popular.

* The Lamar Trailhead (also named the Soda Butte Trailhead) is signed and provides a bridged crossing of Soda Butte Creek.  After crossing the bridge, you will travel across flat meadows and soon pass the cut-off trail to the horse-use trailhead and the junction with the Specimen Ridge Trail.  The trail then will pass the junction with the Cache Creek Trail and then descend 200 feet to the creek itself.  The crossing of the creek can be anywhere from calf deep to knee deep after mid-July.  Before that time it is not recommended to try and cross as it could be too deep and unsafe to do so.  From Cache Creek, the Lamar River Trail parallels the Lamar River to Miller Creek and the junction with the Miller Creek Trail.  Miller Creek is not as deep as Cache Creek, so it should be generally easier to cross.  The hike will then take you through forest and meadow and take you up and over several side hills.  There can be waterbirds and lots of wildflowers found in this region during the months of July and early August.  At Cold Creek Junction, the Lamar River Trail will join with the Mist Creek Pass Trail and the Frost Lake Trail.

North Area (Mammoth & Nearby)

This area of Yellowstone is all of relatively low elevation.  This will bring differences in temperature, plant life, animal distribution, and rock formation.  Summer comes earlier and winter later.  This area will get very little snow compared to the rest of the park that gets buried in the white stuff.  This makes for a great place for Yellowstone's animals such as the Bison, elk, pronghorn, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and coyotes.  They can be found to come in the months of November to May.  The rock formations here are some of the oldest in the park.  They were formed some 2.5 billion years ago when they were originally granite, slate, and sandstone until they were changed by the heat and pressures. 

Bunsen Peak Trail to:

        Summit of Bunsen Peak                                    2 miles (3km)

        Bunsen Road Hiking /Biking Trail                   3.8 miles (6km)

        Bunsen Trailhead                                              6.8 miles (11km)

* This hike is a good, short, steep one.  The view is especially good upon sunrise, like a glowing gold.  The climb to Bunsen's peak is only 1,300 feet, but you will look down upon the peak's north face and Yellowstone River Valley, which is only 3,000 feet below. This ancient volcanic cone has not erupted in 50 million years. 

* 5 miles south of Mammoth is where the trailhead of Bunsen Peak will lie.  You will walk a short distance up the Bunsen road and see the trail markers leading up to the left.  You will climb up through sagebrush and burned pine and fir.  When you reach the summit you are able to hike back down the backside (eastside) to the Bunsen Road Hiking/Biking Trail.  From here you will be able to either go down the Osprey Falls or loop back to the Bunsen Trailhead.

Beaver Ponds Loop Trail (5 miles-8km)

* This trail starts in Mammoth, in the gulch between Liberty Cap and a grey stone residence building.  This trail will travel up the gulch, gaining about 400 feet in a half mile.  Then it will join a junction with the Sepulcher Mountain Trail.  Here the Beaver Ponds Trail turns right (north) and continues up to a good vantage point.  The ponds are about 1.5 miles further.  From the ponds the trail will travel through sagebrush for 2 miles to the old Gardiner Road.  There are very nice views of steep bare slopes of Mt. Everts to the east and prominent Sheep Mountain to the north.  This trail will continue until it reaches behind the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel.

Yellowstone River Trail (18 miles)

* Travels from the Hellroaring Trailhead to Gardiner, Montana. It follows the Yellowstone River through the "Black Canyon" of Yellowstone.  This canyon is 1,000 feet deep and in many places the walls rise right from the water's edge.  On the west side is Knowles Falls, a 15 foot drop of the Yellowstone River.  Great places to hike in this area since other spots in the park can become too cold, wet, or mosquito infested.  It can be a hot hike though in the dead of summer and even into the early fall.  During the 1980's the footbridge over Hellroaring Creek was removed.

Hellroaring Trailhead to:

        Yellowstone River Suspension Bridge                  1 mile (1.5km)

        Buffalo Plateau Trail Jct.                                       1.6 miles (2.5km)

        Hellroaring Creek Trail Jct.                                   2 miles (3.2km)

        Hellroaring Creek Ford                                          2.2 miles (3.5km)

        Hellroaring Creek Stock Bridge                            3.3 miles (6.1km)

* The Hellroaring Trailhead (3.5 miles down from Tower on the Tower-Mammoth road) will drop down into a series of switchbacks to the Yellowstone River.  This is about 600 vertical feet in a mile, which going down is fine, but coming back up can be actually quite hard as you struggle to keep a good pace.  When you cross the suspension bridge, the trail will lead you into an open sagebrush area and will continue to the junction with the Hellroaring Creek Trail.  If you continue on the Yellowstone River Trail, you will come to a ford of Hellroaring Creek in about 0.4 miles.  The ford will be filled with big rocks and boulders which can cause unsure footing, so be sure to be careful.  This creek is big and does have a fast rapid, and should not be crossed here until the water goes down.  There have been several close calls and deaths in this area, so caution should be used.  It is best to travel across this in around August or later.  Always check with the Tower Ranger on the conditions if you are thinking of attempting the ford. If you do not want to go the route with the ford, there is another way.  There is a stock bridge across the Hellroaring Creek 1.8 miles up the Hellroaring Creek Trail to your right.  Then there will be another trail back down on the other side of the creek that rejoins the Yellowstone River Trail.  This will add about 3.6 miles to the hike, but it is a much better choice as far as safety is concerned.  On the west side of Hellroaring Creek Ford, the Yellowstone River Trail climbs open slopes to a ridge above the walls of the Black Canyon.  The view here is just amazing.  The trail will then gradually descend to Little Cottonwood Creek and then onto Cottonwood Creek.  The trail will then follow the river closely and the black walls of the canyon rise prominently.  When you get to 3.5 miles from Cottonwood Creek, the Yellowstone River Trail meets the Blacktail Creek Trail and heads south, crossing the suspension bridge and climbs 1,100 feet out to the Mammoth-Tower Road.  The Yellowstone River trail will take you west from the junction, past Crevice Lake, and onto Crevice Creek.  There will be a bridge that will take you over a tumbling stream to the junction of Crevice Creek Trail which will be a 2,000 feet climb in 2 miles through open sage and grassland to the north boundary.  After this junction, the Yellowstone River Trail climbs up steeply over the ridge and back down to a point downstream from Knowles Falls, where a good view of the falls is available. From the falls, the trail will again follow the Yellowstone River until the river enters another narrow stretch of the canyon.  The trail will climb up and down in this area.  Gardiner will only be about 6 miles away, so the trail will travel above and away from the river.  You will see some neat rock formations and will enjoy the scenery most don't associate with Yellowstone.  The trail will exit just north of the Yellowstone River Bridge in Gardiner. 

 Central Area (Nez Pierce Valley, Hayden Valley, & Central Plateau)

The Central Area is an interesting area of the park as geologically the area was the center of one of the largest volcanic eruptions ever to have occurred on the surface of the earth.  Biologically the area is home to the bison and the grizzly bear, two of the park's most magnificent animals.  Historically, this was the area that the Nez Perce Indians used as an escape route to attempt to reach Canada in 1877.

Mary Mountain Trail (also known as Nez Perce Creek Trail) to:

        Nez Perce Creek bridge                                        2 miles (3km)

        Magpie Creek                                                        4 miles (6.4km)

        Mary Lake                                                             11 miles (18km)

        Trailhead on Canyon-Lake Road                          20 miles (32km)

* The trailhead originates from the Madison-Old Faithful Road, about 6 miles south of Madison Jct..  The trail will lead you through the Nez Perce Creek through lodgepole pine forest and meadows for the majority of the hike.  Bison can be seen often in this area during the spring months (late April, May, and early June).  It is also a good time to see the newly-born calves.  Grizzly bears can also be seen in the valley during the spring months.  There is no overnight camping allowed in the surround areas as there is too much bear activity.

* The trail will follow an old road to the bridge over Nez Perce Creek and continue to travel through forest and meadow to the crossings of Magpie Creek and Cowan Creek.  Near Cowan Creek the trail will go through some more meadows and remain wet and marshy all summer long.  After the meadows you will enter a lodgepole pine forest and climb 900 feet steeply in some spots.  This will lead you right to Mary Lake, which is lined with trees and holds no fish but many waterfowl can be seen in this area.

South Yellowstone  

The south of Yellowstone has the Snake River, which runs through Wyoming, Idaho, and Washington.  It will wind through pristine meadows and marshes.  One can observe many of natures wonders in this area.  There are elk that you can find feeding on the high meadows.  The Rustic Geyser erupting on the shore of Heart Lake.  As well as many burnt trees in this area due to the many fires throughout the 1980's and especially during the big fire of 1988.  It has been suggested that this area is not for the beginner hiker.  There are too many streams and river crossings over long distances, as well as steep ridges that need to be climbed.  The best recommended time to hike these areas would be most ideal in the months of August and September.

Heart Lake Trail (5.4 miles south of Grant Village) to:

        Heart Lake                                                        8 miles (13km)

        Mt. Sheridan Trail Jct.                                      8.7 miles (14km)

        Sheridan Lake                                                    12 miles (19km)

        Basin Creek Lake                                              14.5 miles (23km)

        Snake River                                                        18 miles (30km)

        South Entrance                                                    23.5 miles (38km)

        Flagg Ranch                                                         26.5 miles (42.5km)

* The Heart Lake Trailhead is one of many dayhikers and backpackers, therefore there is heavy traffic on this particular hike.  This area is also good bear habitat, so it is not uncommon to see them here.

* The first 5.5 miles of trail will climb very gradually through burned forest to an open thermal area where there is an impressive view with Factory Hill and Heart Lake.  The trail will drop down steeply into the Witch Creek drainage, which contains a number of thermal features and provides  dramatic steam clouds on cold clear mornings.  The trail will then cross Witch Creek on bridges that will meet with the Trail Creek Trail which is a junction near the shore of Heart Lake.  The Heart Lake trail heads southwest at this junction and will cross another bridge over Witch Creek as it follows the shoreline of Heart Lake.  In another few hundred yards you will cross the run-off channels of Rustic Geyser and other thermal features located on the hillside to the west.  Always keep a safe distance from the thermal features as they are delicate and dangerous.  The water is very hot!  IN about a half mile, the trail will meet the junction with the Mt. Sheridan Trail.  The Heart Lake Trail continues on south of Heart Lake, passing Sheridan Lake and crosses Basin Creek.  There can be many migrating bird to spot in this area.  Such as: grosbeaks, finches, sparrows, waterfowl, and hawks during the fall time.  Grizzly bears are active in this area during the early summer.  If you continue to pass through the next junction (Basin Creek Trail with Snake River Trail) you will continue south up to Basin Creek Lake.   The trail will then lead you up to the ridge and descend you into the meadows of the Red Creek drainage. Red Creek is crossed about 2 miles down, in which another mile will bring you to the Snake River.  The Snake River should not be crossed before July, when after it is still thigh deep on most.  Once across the river, the Heart Lake Trail will join with the South Boundary Trail.  From here it'll be 5.5 miles to the next crossing of the Snake River at the South Entrance.  The water is deeper in this area and can be up over the waist, even up to and after mid to late July.  To avoid this crossing, it is suggested to hike south 3 miles and climb up a 200 foot ridge and slowly make your way across it carefully as it parallels the Snake River.  This should lead you back to the highway bridge over the Snake River which is near Flagg Ranch.

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