One of the most beautiful parks in the country, Yellowstone is a heaven for hikers, whether you are a beginner or an adrenaline junkie, hiking with the kids, a dog or alone. Wherever you look, the views are spectacular. There are trails that require climbing steps, up and down, like Uncle Tom’s Trail, those that will take you to magnificent waterfalls like Fairy Falls Trail and others that require serious climbing skills like Bunsen Peak Trail that gains in elevation more than 1200 feet. With old forests, lakes big and small, geysers and other thermal features, every trail is an adventure in itself and it is easy to get addicted and keep coming back to explore them all.
1.Uncle Tom's Trail
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Popular and very scenic, Uncle Tom’s Trail is not for weekend warriors. To get from the highest point of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone to the bottom of the Lower Falls, which drop 308 feet, you have to go down 500 feet, descending 328 steep steps. No problem, you think, until you have to come back all the way up. Fortunately, there are steel platforms and plenty of benches to catch your breath. This trail has been in use since 1905, and before the steps were cut into the rock, Uncle Tom actually had to take you down on a rope. The effort is truly worth it because the falls are breathtaking. The trailhead is at the parking lot at the end of Artist Point Road.
Uncle Tom's Trail, Yellowstone National Park, Phone: 307-344-7381
2.Lava Creek Trail
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Lava Creek Canyon Trail is an 8.4-mile both-ways trail considered moderately difficult and very popular, so expect crowds. The trail runs mostly downhill at a fairly low elevation, so it is free of snow earlier than many other trails, making it a popular early spring hike. It runs mostly downhill along the Gardner River, passing by Undine Falls, through Lava Creek Canyon, and running mostly through shady, dense pine and spruce forests. It offers fantastic views of the 60-foot Undine Falls, magnificent Lava Creek Canyon and, beyond it, the Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces. It is common to spot buffalo, white-tailed deer, and even black bears along the way. The trail can also be used by horseback riders. The trailhead is located on the Mammoth to Tower road at the Lava Creek Picnic Area.
3.Mount Washburn Trail
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Mount Washburn Trail is one of two main trails to the top of 10,243-foot Mount Washburn – the Chittenden Road Trail and the Mount Washburn South Trail. The Mount Washburn Trail, which starts at Dunraven Pass, is more popular because it is more scenic, with its twists and turns and fantastic views. It goes gradually up 1,300 feet along an old road bed, mostly through open fields full of wildflowers, and it offers fantastic views of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Yellowstone Lake, and Hayden Valley. The trail is considered moderately difficult and is not too crowded, so you can enjoy some peace and privacy. The trailhead is located at the parking area at the end of the Grand Loop Road.
4.Fairy Falls Trail
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Fairy Falls Trail is a 6.6-mile easy both-ways trail that runs along the scenic Grand Prismatic Spring, through a forest that burned down in 1988 but is slowly regenerating, passing by the bottom of one of Yellowstone's tallest falls, ending with a fantastic backcountry geyser. The trail is very popular and can get crowded, so do not expect any solitude. The trailhead is located on the Old Faithful to Madison road, about a mile from Midway Geyser Basin. The trail starts by crossing the Firehole River Bridge, continuing on the Fountain Freight Road along the south bank of Midway Geyser Basin until reaching the massive and beautifully colored 370-foot Grand Prismatic Spring. The trail continues through the slowly regenerating forest, which after the fire provided a home to a large number of species. Fairy Falls, which you will reach after about 2.5 miles, is formed by Fairy Creek shooting over the edge of the Madison Plateau, plunging 197 feet to the pool at the bottom.
5.Bunsen Peak Trail
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Bunsen Peak is a 4.4-mile moderately difficult out-and-back trail that features a number of steep switchbacks. The upper part of the trail is rocky and steep with plenty of scree. It gains 1,282 feet in elevation, so be prepared to climb. The views are fantastic all along the way, but once you reach the top the views are spectacular. You can see Gardners Hole, Electric Peak, the Gallatin Range, Swan Lake, and a number of other smaller lakes. In the summer the trail is surrounded by wild raspberries and wildflowers. The trailhead can be found on US-89, about 4.8 miles in the direction towards Norris Junction, on the left side as you come out of Golden Gate Canyon.
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The Mystic Falls Trail is a 3.5-mile-long loop trail that follows the boardwalk and runs along the Little Firehole River before reaching the 70-foot Mystic Falls. The trail will take you by lovely Black Opal Pool, by a magnificent blue pool called Sapphire Pool, past Jewel Geyser and many other hot springs and geysers, and through a slowly regenerating area of burnt forest until you reach a spectacular spot overlooking the Upper Geyser Basin. It is the best and least crowded place to watch Old Faithful, with good binoculars. The first part of the trail is easy and fun for the kids, so bring them along. After that there is a short but rough climb to the Madison Plateau. As you go down from the overlook, be careful of small rocks that slide down the steep incline. Look for cute yellow-bellied marmots along the trail. The trailhead can be found at the Biscuit Basin parking area.
7.Elephant Back Loop
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Elephant Back trail is 3.6-mile-long loop trail that climbs up the steep east slope of Elephant Back Mountain until it reaches the spot with one of the most beautiful views of Yellowstone Lake. Most of the trail goes through a forested area, but about a mile and half along the trail, as you approach the edge of the plateau, the trees clear out, opening up to a spectacular view of the lake and the Absaroka Range. Most of the trail is fairly easy, except the last 300-foot-long steep portion just before the top of the wide plateau. This area is favored by grizzly bears and you will see notices at the start of the trail to be careful. They have at times forced the closure of the trail to avoid dangerous close encounters. The trailhead is on the Yellowstone National Park main highway, between Lake Village and West Thumb.
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The Observation Point Trail is a 1.1-mile-long fairly unused loop trail that will very quickly take you deep into the park’s backcountry. Along the way you will enjoy a fantastic viewpoint of Old Faithful Village and Geyser Hill and will pass the Solitary Geyser thermal area. Most of the trail is fairly easy and level except for a small steep portion just before you reach the Observation Point, about 200 feet above it. The trail runs through bits of old forest that survived the 1988 fire, but it is mostly a mix of regrown pine forest. The trailhead is at the parking lot at Old Faithful Village north of Old Faithful. The view of the Old Faithful Village from the Observation Point is fantastic and is a nice spot to wait for the eruption of Old Faithful.
9.Bechler Falls Trail
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Bechler Falls Trail is one of the very few short trails through the southwest part of Yellowstone – most are multi-day backpacking hikes to majestic falls like Union, Colonade, and Dunanda. However, its mere 1.3-mile length does not mean the trail is less exciting. Bechler Falls is a powerful small cascade on the Bechler River. The trail begins at the much larger Cave Falls and passes by the scenic confluence of the Fall and Bechler rivers. It winds gently through the cool, verdant woodland and in the summer is surrounded by fields of colorful wildflowers. It stays alongside at least one of the rivers almost all the way. The trailhead can be found at the end of the unpaved Cave Falls Road.
10.Divide Lookout Trail
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At 1.5 miles, the Divide Lookout Trail is a short unmarked trail that steadily climbs up a fairly steep ravine to the 8,779-foot-high summit on the Continental Divide. The fact that the trail parallels the Continental Divide is one of the main reasons for taking this trail, which runs through dense lodgepole and fir forest that prevents any views along the way. The trail ends on a flat summit in the clearing in the woods, completely surrounded by tall trees, a site of the now dismantled Divide Lookout fire watchtower. Occasional gaps in the forest allow for a restricted but lovely view of Mount Sheridan and Shoshone Lake. The trailhead can be found at the large pullout between Old Faithful and West Thumb.
11.Lone Star Geyser Basin
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The Lone Star Geyser Trail is a 2.5-mile trail to the Lone Star Geyser Basin, the main feature of one of the Yellowstone’s four majestic geyser basins. It is one of the most pleasant ways of reaching this cone-type geyser, located about 3 miles from Old Faithful. The trail follows an old road bed along the Firehole River. The trailhead can be found about 2 miles from Old Faithful Village, on the Grand Loop Road, upstream from the Kepler Cascades. At the cascades, the river tumbles 150 feet down a number of falls over large boulders. The trail is easy, level, and wide, running through a forested valley. It is also used by bikers as well. The geyser erupts every 3 hours for about half an hour and reaches up to 40 feet, making it well-worth the hike.
12.Mallard Lake Trail
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The Mallard Lake Trail is the 3-mile hike to the lake’s south shore. The trail gently climbs through a shallow ravine covered in colorful wildflowers and shaded by old trees. As you go up, the forest becomes more dense, but once you pass the ridge, the trail goes down towards the lake, surrounded by trees and tall grasses. The trail is a popular ski trail during the winter. If you want to extend your hike, the Mallard Lake Trail is part of a loop that includes the Powerline Trail, Mallard Creek Trail, and Upper Geyser Basin Trail. The trailhead is located just next to the Old Faithful, and its easy accessibility makes this hike very popular.
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Sentinel Meadows is the location of one of Yellowstone’s lesser known thermal features, about 2 miles from the Firehole River. The meadow is mostly level, humid grassland and is home to several white and fairly large geyser cones topped by a bubbling spring. There is also a number of smaller hot pools, many of which are surrounded by an expanse of terraces and various sinter formations. The trailhead can be found on the Fountain Flats Road and the trail runs along the Firehole River. Keep an eye out for bison and elk. The trail goes along the valley edge, and to get closer to the geysers, you have to get off trail for a while. The ground is marshy and the trail often crosses small brooks and streams and passes by hidden hot vents, so tread carefully when off-trail.
14.Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook
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Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook is one of the Yellowstone National Park’s newer trails, built to protect the spring and provide a great point from which to observe this fascinating phenomenon. The trail shares the trailhead with the Fairy Falls Trail. The wide and flat crushed gravel trail starts at the bridge crossing the Firehole River. It continues gently up through the regrown lodgepole forest until you arrive at the spacious viewing platform. The view of the Excelsior Geyser and Grand Prismatic Spring is spectacular. The Grand Prismatic can reach a temperature of 188°F and is the hottest at the blue waters at its center. The color turns green away from the center, where the temperature is 165°F degrees, as a result of Synechococcus bacteria. At the outer rim of the spring, Calothrix and Phormidium cyanobacteria turn the water orange and dark brown.
15.Shoshone Lake Trail
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The Shoshone Lake Trail is a 7.1-mile hike through dense lodgepole forests, crossing the Continental Divide, running through Shoshone Geyser Basin, and eventually joining the South Shore Shoshone Lake Trail. The trailhead is at the junction of Howard Eaton Trail and the Lone Star Geyser Trail. It continues by crossing the bridge across the Firehole River, running through a small hot spring area and along the river until it comes to a beautiful flowery meadow. After it passes the edge of the meadow, it starts a steady 350-foot climb until it reaches Grant Pass on the Continental Divide. After crossing the divide, the trail goes steadily down through the Shoshone Geyser Basin on the western side of the lake. There are no boardwalks through the basin, so be careful to follow well-worn paths as hot water and steam lie just beneath the Earth’s surface. Shoshone Lake is the second largest lake in Yellowstone Park and is very popular for camping, fishing, and canoeing.
16.Yellowstone Lake Overlook
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Yellowstone Lake Overlook Trail is an easy 1-mile trail through grassy fields and thin pine forests, running past a few gas vents and small pools until it reaches a small hill surrounded by a lovely meadow filled with wildflowers. The treeless hill provides a wonderful view of Yellowstone Lake, Duck Lake, the Red Mountains, and the Continental Divide. There are other, better vantage points for the lake, but being so close to the geyser basin, the trail gets quite a lot of traffic. The trailhead can be found close to the West Thumb parking lot.
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The Riddle Lake Trail is a 5-mile easy hike with an almost imperceptible elevation gain. The mostly flat and pleasant single-track dirt trail runs through grassy meadows and tall lodgepole pine forest and across the Continental Divide. Riddle Lake is a lovely blue backcountry lake with a small yet pleasant beach and fantastic views. Keep an eye out for wildlife, especially bears, which sometimes force the closure of the trail. Although easy, this trail is often almost deserted, so you have a good chance of enjoying it in solitude. The trailhead can be found south of the West Thumb on South Entrance Road, at an elevation of 8,000 feet.
18.Elephant Back Mountain
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Elephant Back Mountain trail is a 3.6-mile loop trail that climbs up the steep east side of Elephant Back Mountain. Most of the trail is easy, except for the short 300-foot climb to the top of the plateau. The trail ends at one of the most spectacular viewpoints of Yellowstone Lake. While most of the trail runs through dense forest, the trees open just enough towards the edge of the plateau, 900 feet above the lake shoreline and 1.5 miles away from it. You can also see the magnificent Absaroka Range from here. Keep an eye out for grizzly bears, the trail goes through their territory and you will see several notices along the trail. The trailhead can be found on the Yellowstone main highway, between Lake Village and West Thumb.
19.Pelican Creek Nature Trail
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Pelican Creek Nature Trail is, at less than 1 mile, one of the shortest trails in Yellowstone Park. It winds along the north shore of Yellowstone Lake, through dense pine forest. It is flat and easy and very scenic, great for kids and families. The trail starts at the point where East Entrance Road crosses narrow Pelican Creek, east of Fishing Bridge. Park rangers often offer interpretative walks for interested visitors. Keep an eye out for many birds, especially in the marshy area where the creek spills into the lake. You can see lesser scamp, mallard, Canada geese, common merganser and goldeneye, and even white pelican. There is a lovely sandy beach on the northern shore of the lake called Diamond Beach. Yellowstone Lake is incredibly beautiful and massive, and at 135 square miles it is the largest high-altitude lake in North America.
20.Storm Point Trail
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The Storm Point Trail is an easy 2.3-mile almost flat loop trail to Storm Point, a popular spot on Yellowstone Lake’s north shore. This rather unusual trail does not feel like it is located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains – it does not pass by the typical mountain scenery nor by any of the thermal features so common in Yellowstone. Instead, it looks more like a hike in California, through grassy fields and dense forests to end in a field of large sand dunes, rocky cliffs, and sandy beaches. Storm Point is often battered by wind and rains, and the trail offers a great opportunity to spot some wildlife, such as yellow-bellied marmots and birds by the water and bison in the meadows. Keep an eye out for grizzly bears, especially in early summer.
21.Clear Lake/Ribbon Lake Loop
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Clear Lake and Ribbon Lake are two smaller lakes located close to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, accessible by an easy and pleasant loop trail. The trail runs through flowering meadows and fragrant pine forests, past many hydrothermal features before reaching the lakes. Clear Lake is an emerald-green lake with hydrothermal activity showing itself through frequent bubbling from its bottom. Ribbon Lake is a small, charming lake covered with lily pads and surrounded by meadows and forests. The loop trail can be reached via the Wapiti Lake trailhead to Ribbon Lake, then winds back past Clear Lake. You can also start at Uncle Tom’s, pass by Clear Lake, continue to Ribbon Lake, and return via the South Rim Trail.
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Trout Lake is a 12-acre backcountry lake located less than third of a mile from the Northeast Entrance Road at the confluence of Soda Butte Creek and Pebble Creek. The lake is very popular with anglers because of its healthy population of cutthroat and rainbow trout. The lake is located on a fairly high bench above the Soda Butte Creek Canyon, in a deep depression, so the trail leading to the lake is fairly steep. It runs through dense, fragrant Douglas fir forest. Anglers are not the only ones looking for trout. Otters produce quite a show while trying to catch them, to the delight of photographers and hikers. Ospreys also feast on trout, and they do not need a license like anglers do. All trout are catch and release.
23.Beaver Ponds Loop
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The Beaver Ponds Trail is a 5-mile-long easy loop trail located close to Mammoth Hot Springs. There are two trailheads leading to Beaver Ponds, but the official one can be found at the Old Gardiner Road, behind the Mammoth Hotel. You will pass by the sign with an area map and some wonderful views of Mount Everts, Gardner Canyon, and the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness. The trail climbs steadily along Clematis Creek until it crosses the trail for Sepulcher Mountain. Keep right towards Beaver Ponds. The trail runs through lovely flowering meadows and passes by several scenic smaller ponds before reaching Beaver Ponds. After passing the ponds, the vista opens up, offering fantastic views of the surrounding mountains. Keep an eye out for bison, elk, and bears.
24.Wraith Falls Trail
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Wraith Falls Trail is a short and easy 0.3-mile hike that runs through a beautiful sagebrush meadow along a small stream and through a small stand of Douglas fir. It crosses Lupine Creek before reaching the viewing platform about 200 feet from the base of Wraith Falls, a scenic cascade on Lupine Creek. This 100-foot cascade flows rapidly over the edge of Blacktail Deer Plateau in the northwest part of Yellowstone National Park. The best view of the water falling down the steep, smooth rock face is from the end of the trail. The trailhead can be found about 5 miles from Mammoth Hot Springs on the Grand Loop Road.
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3.4 miles round-trip. Easy to moderate.
Slough Creek Trail is a 20.3-mile trail that runs from the Slough Creek Campground to the north boundary of Yellowstone National Park. The trail follows the Slough Creek all the way, passing across broad, open meadows and running through stands of tall Douglas fir. After 2 miles it meets the first meadow and the junction with the Buffalo Fork Trail. At 8 miles, it reaches the second meadow and meets the Bliss Pass Trail. For the first 11 miles the trail follows an old unused wagon road. The creek is very popular with anglers as it is full of cutthroat and rainbow trout. Keep an eye out for moose, bison, and bears; it is their territory.
25 Best Yellowstone Hikes
- Uncle Tom's Trail, Photo: Courtesy of khomlyak - Fotolia.com
- Lava Creek Trail, Photo: Courtesy of rjamphoto - Fotolia.com
- Mount Washburn Trail, Photo: Courtesy of lakephotography - Fotolia.com
- Fairy Falls Trail, Photo: Courtesy of Frank Fichtmüller - Fotolia.com
- Bunsen Peak Trail, Photo: Courtesy of YariK - Fotolia.com
- Mystic Falls, Photo: Courtesy of Krzysztof Wiktor - Fotolia.com
- Elephant Back Loop, Photo: Courtesy of reb - Fotolia.com
- Observation Point, Photo: Courtesy of vincebradley - Fotolia.com
- Bechler Falls Trail, Photo: Courtesy of Urric - Fotolia.com
- Divide Lookout Trail, Photo: Courtesy of lzf - Fotolia.com
- Lone Star Geyser Basin, Photo: Courtesy of dorin - Fotolia.com
- Mallard Lake Trail, Photo: Courtesy of khomlyak - Fotolia.com
- Sentinel Meadows, Photo: Courtesy of Aleksey - Fotolia.com
- Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook, Photo: Courtesy of Supitchamcadam - Fotolia.com
- Shoshone Lake Trail, Photo: Courtesy of wildnerdpix - Fotolia.com
- Yellowstone Lake Overlook, Photo: Courtesy of danmir12 - Fotolia.com
- Riddle Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Philipimage - Fotolia.com
- Elephant Back Mountain, Photo: Courtesy of cppzone - Fotolia.com
- Pelican Creek Nature Trail, Photo: Courtesy of htrnr - Fotolia.com
- Storm Point Trail, Photo: Courtesy of Fotolia.com
- Clear Lake/Ribbon Lake Loop, Photo: Courtesy of htrnr - Fotolia.com
- Trout Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Jillian - Fotolia.com
- Beaver Ponds Loop, Photo: Courtesy of Al - Fotolia.com
- Wraith Falls Trail, Photo: Courtesy of rjamphoto - Fotolia.com
- Slough Creek, Photo: Courtesy of htrnr - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of forcdan - Fotolia.com