Happy Trails to You
There are over 1,100 miles of trails in Yellowstone, offering a variety of lengths and levels. You will never run out of trails to hike!
Lace up your boots, grab your backpack and hit the trail!
Old Faithful may be the most famous feature of Yellowstone National Park, but it's just the beginning. The area is teeming with hikes that will take you past views unmatched. Just the names of some of Yellowstone's hiking trails will start your imagination racing: Mallard Lake, Mystic Falls, Lone Star Geyser, Fairy Falls. You'll be mystified by the wonders that await you along the way!
The National Park Service offers free, naturalist-led programs and interpretive walks and hikes; see the park's newspaper, Yellowstone Today, for the latest West Yellowstone hiking calendar. To top it all off, West Yellowstone's Rendezvous Ski Trails show their all-season versatility as a great destination to hike and run in the summer and fall. For further assistance planning your Yellowstone activities, please contact your hotel's activity director. Don't forget to check weather conditions and keep in mind there is always a chance you might see wildlife, so stay alert and be prepared for close encounters of the creature kind. Keep reading for a preview of some of the most breathtaking Yellowstone day hikes.
Fountain Paint Pot is a half-mile loop that serves as a greatest-hits collection of Yellowstone's hydrothermal wonders. The hike starts with a visit to the turquoise waters of Celestine Pool and Silex Spring, and then follows a boardwalk north to today's living geology lesson - a gurgling cauldron where tiny, heat-loving organisms convert solid rock into bubbling clay.
Located 3.7 miles south of the Norris Geyser Basin, Artists' Paintpots Trail is ripe with colorful geological activity. Along this quick 1.1-mile trek, you'll pass by milky blue pools, geysers, a fumarole, bursting hot springs, and the trail's namesake - mud pots! When you reach the top of the Paintpot Hill, you'll see two very active basins of mud, the Artists' Paintpots, formed when boiling water and steam break down the feldspar around them.
The hike up Mount Washburn is a Yellowstone classic. Get there by traveling 4.75 miles north of Canyon Junction by way of Canyon-Tower Road. As you work your way up this beautiful mountain, you'll find another arresting view around every turn. Seven miles round trip, but never terribly steep, Mount Washburn makes a perfect day hike for the whole family.
The Purple Mountain Trail can be found near the Madison Campground. This is a moderately difficult, 6-mile hike, but it ends in a 360-degree view of the Grand Tetons, as well as the Madison, Gibbon, and Firehole rivers, making it well worth the climb. Be sure to check the weather before you go. The summit of Purple Mountain sits at 8,392 feet in elevation and thunderstorms are a common occurrence, even in the summer months.
Uncle Tom's Trail is the quick trip to a view of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The 328 stairs of the trail can hardly be called a hike - round trip, the trek is only 0.7 miles - but the way is steep and you won't find a more intimate view of the Lower Falls. To access the trailhead, drive 2.2 miles from Canyon Junction and turn left onto South Rim Drive, where you'll soon cross the Yellowstone River. Continue another half-mile and watch for the parking area on the left.
For a more substantial and rewarding Grand Canyon hike, take the North Rim Trail. This 7.6-mile trek will give you an awe-inspiring chance to understand the sheer size of the canyon, as well as its spectacular falls. You'll weave in and out of views of the chasm's colorful walls as the Yellowstone River carves its way between them. The North Rim Trail begins at Inspiration Point, which can be reached by heading east on North Rim Drive from Canyon Junction. After about a mile, turn left on the paved road toward Inspiration Point. The road ends in a parking area.
Fairy Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in Yellowstone and an easy 5-mile hike that begins a few miles north of Old Faithful. Accessible from the west entrance of the park by way of the Grand Loop Road, this hike should take between two and three hours round-trip and will take you to a breathtaking view of this 197-foot waterfall. If you feel like extending your hike, continue on past the falls for a look at Spray Geyser and Imperial Geyser, or continue to Mystic Falls when you reach the junction of the Fairy Falls Trail and Mystic Falls Trail. You might also stop for a moment on the way to Fairy Falls and take a detour to Grand Prismatic Spring. No matter how you slice it, the Fairy Falls hike will take you through boatloads of beauty.
The Lone Star Geyser is situated 3 miles southeast of Old Faithful. You'll find it by driving 3.5 miles south of Old Faithful Junction on Grand Loop Road. The trailhead is just past the Kepler Cascades parking area. The hike to Lone Star Geyser is easy and tranquil with plenty of places to stop and enjoy the river flowing nearby. The geyser erupts every three to four hours and reaches a height of 35-45 feet. Relatively flat, this 5-mile hike is also a great option for cross-country skiers.
The hike to Mallard Lake is a moderately difficult 7.1-mile adventure through dense forest and onto the shores of the lake. This is a great day hike if you're looking for a good workout, or savor the tranquility of the lake's mirrored surface and stake out a camping spot for a night. Mallard Creek Trail can be found by turning right toward Old Faithful after passing Madison Junction. The trailhead will be on the left after Fairy Falls Trail. If you do decide to stay overnight, be sure to pick up a backcountry permit from the West Yellowstone Visitor Information Center or the Old Faithful Backcountry Office. This process can take a while, especially if it's your first time, so allow at least an hour for permit application.
Beula Lake is another scenic day hike with a backcountry camping option. The trailhead is 9 miles from the South Entrance of Yellowstone and can be reached by Ashton-Flagg Ranch Road. The trailhead is not very well marked, increasing your chances for relaxing, sparsely populated trek, but it can be easy to miss, so be sure to bring a map along. The hike is an easy to moderate 5.2 miles round trip, gaining the most elevation in the beginning then descending into Beula Lake.
Natural Bridge Trail will take you past one of Yellowstone's stunning works of natural architecture. Appropriately named, Natural Bridge is an arch of rock that creates a bridge between two large rock formations. It is the result of years of wind and water erosion. The trail to and from Natural Bridge is 2.4 miles in total and will take you through a pleasant wooded area. It can be accessed most easily from the east entrance of the park from which you will drive west 27 miles then take a left on Grand Loop Road. Four miles later you'll cross the bridge at the inlet to Bridge Bay where you'll see a sign for Natural Bridge and parking on the right.
Yellowstone Lake Overlook Trail is a quick jaunt that will lead you through tremendous views of Yellowstone Lake, Duck Lake, the West Thumb Geyser Basin, and Absaroka Mountain Range. The 2-mile loop gains about 400 feet of elevation through forest and meadows, making it moderately difficult. Located in the Grant Village area, the Yellowstone Lake Overlook trailhead will be on the right as you drive into the West Thumb Geyser Basin parking area.
The Beaver Ponds Loop Trail begins at the north edge of Mammoth Hot Springs. It will take you over the eastern foothills of Sepulcher Mountain where you can catch glimpses of the Gardner River and Mount Everts. You'll also pass by the group of ponds whose furry inhabitants give the trail its name. Five miles in total, this hike is relatively easy once you get past the initial climb.