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Trail Mix: 12 Awesome Day Hikes in Yellowstone

Trail Mix: 12 Awesome Day Hikes in Yellowstone

Written by: , July 05th, 2016

Written by: Jim Morrison

Treks to stunning waterfalls, geyser basins, plunging canyons, and more await day trippers.

Yellowstone National Park covers more than 2.2 million acres with more than 900 miles of hiking trails in backcountry wilderness. If you can’t find a trail here, you can’t find it anywhere.

Stop by a ranger station or the visitor center for the latest information on the condition of trails. They may be closed. Ask about bear activity, weather, and fires in the area. No permit is required for day hiking in the park.

It’s impossible to explore all the beauty Yellowstone has to offer. So we’ve culled 12 great day hikes from the herd, each with a charm and a challenge.

Hiking washburn sunset

STORM POINT LOOP TRAIL

Level of Difficulty: Easy

Location: Fishing Bridge and Lake Village Area

This is a flat, fun loop through a forest leading to a rocky peninsula jutting into Lake Yellowstone. You get the trifecta of forest, beach, and water all in one trip.

The Payoff: A great place to get away from the crowds and enjoy the beauty of a wilderness sunrise or sunset.

TROUT LAKE

Trout-Lake

Difficulty: Easy

Location: Trout Lake

The Trout Lake hike is a pleasant walk in the woods where you might see otters feeding on cutthroat trout in the river or bears foraging. Ospreys dart from the sky to fish as well. The trail rises 150 feet through a Douglas fir forest to the lake.

The Payoff: A chance for some stellar wildlife viewing. Bring your binoculars.

 

MYSTIC FALLS

Level of Difficulty: Easy

Location: Old Faithful Area

Head through new growth forest then climb to the falls, where the river drops 70 feet as it rushes through a narrow slot. Often, geothermal activity creates an eerie steam. For more out of your trek, continue climbing past the falls to the junction with Fairy Creek Trail and head to the Biscuit Basin overlook.

The Payoff: Great views and one of Yellowstone’s classic waterfalls.

TOWER FALL OVERLOOK

Level of Difficulty: Easy

Location: Tower-Roosevelt region

The 132-foot waterfall on Tower Creek is stunning, crashing onto the rocks below. This very short hike features minarets sculpted by water through the basalt formation.

The Payoff: A stellar photo opportunity for very little effort.

UNCLE TOM’S TRAIL (FROM ARTIST POINT)

Uncle-Toms-Trail

Level of difficulty: Moderate

Location: Canyon Area

Go ahead, take the stairs, if you dare. Uncle Tom’s Trail carries you from the top of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone to the base of the 308-foot Lower Falls. This is more like climbing down and then back up a 20-story building. The vertical elevation change is about 500 feet at a steep angle. Don’t worry. There are plenty of benches and places to rest.

The Payoff: The iconic Yellowstone view of the waterfalls from the bottom of the trail, complete with a rainbow if you’re lucky.

 

ELEPHANT BACK MOUNTAIN TRAIL

Level of Difficulty: Moderate

Location: Fishing Bridge and Lake Village Area

Make time for this short hike with stunning views across Yellowstone Lake and the peaks that border its eastern edge. The hike gains 800 feet to the summit, but the trail is well maintained and it doesn’t feel that steep. The forest is open, making the viewing even easier. Try late afternoon or early evening for the best light.

The Payoff: Climbing a mountain without breaking too much of a sweat for an incredible vista.

BEAVER PONDS LOOP

Level of Difficulty: Moderate

Location: Mammoth Hot Springs Area

The trail begins steep, but mellows out with views of Gardner Canyon and leads to the ponds, which features a beaver dam and lodge. It’s generally not crowded and offers a good chance to see wildlife.

The Payoff: Feeling like you’re alone in the backcountry wilderness on just a short hike.

LONE STAR GEYSER

Level of Difficulty: Easy

Location: Old Faithful Area

This five-mile round trip starts with a cascade of falls and follows a river, first on one side and then the other, through a wooded valley to reach the centerpiece of Yellowstone’s four backcountry geyser basins. The Lone Star Geyser erupts about every three hours. There are several log benches in the area where hikers can sit and watch for the geyser.

The Payoff: The best geyser and river hike combination in the park.

SOUTH RIM OF THE CANYON

Level of Difficulty: Moderate

Location: Canyon Area

This is a must-do, a hike along the rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone with stunning panoramic views of both the canyon and falls. The canyon is 20 miles long and from 800 to 1,200 feet deep, though the trail is a 4.5 mile loop when done completely. At Artist Point, you will have an iconic view to rival the tunnel view at Yosemite or the view from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

The Payoff: A chance to experience the roiling river and the stunning rhyolite rock formations of the canyon, guaranteed to fill the memory card on your camera.

BUNSEN PEAK TRAIL

Level of Difficulty: Strenuous

Location: Bunsen Peak

This four-mile hike is short, but requires some work nearing the summit to climb a series of steep switchbacks. The vistas of the Gallatin Mountain Range are the best in the park. You’ll pass a stand of dead trees with an otherworldly feel and a rock formation called Cathedral Rock. There are plenty of photo opportunities.

The Payoff: If you’re lucky you may reach the telecommunications equipment on top and find you have the summit all to yourself.

MOUNT WASHBURN TRAIL

Washburn
Level of Difficulty: Strenuous

Location: Canyon Area

The trail switches back and forth through a forested area with mountain top views of the Grand Tetons, and iconic in-park features like Old Faithful Geyser Basin and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. During July, wildflowers blanket the mountain. You’re likely to see bighorn sheep. Nearing the summit, the temperature drops and there are often afternoon storms. Start early if you want to avoid them.

The Payoff: It will seem like you’re on the top of the world. You can sit inside the lookout on top and take panoramic shots in comfort at 10,243 feet.

AVALANCHE PEAK

Level of Difficulty: Strenuous

Location: Fishing Bridge and Lake Village Area

For many Yellowstone veterans, this is their favorite hike. It begins through forests of meadows with wildflowers, passes gurgling streams, may feature patches of snow even in summer, and concludes 2,100 feet higher on a barren peak with views that stretch across Lake Yellowstone. When the trail offers options, stick to the left so you can traverse the length of the ridge with the best views.

The Payoff: Isn’t the climb enough? OK, take a look at that view. Rock shelters on top make for a great place to share a sandwich.

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Want to hit the trails with an experienced guide? Join one of our lodging and learning programs in partnership with the Yellowstone Forever Institute on our Trails through Yellowstone program !