Yellowstone National Park is the first national park in the United States, founded in 1872. Because of its beautiful natural features, it is one of the most recognized around the world. The park spans nearly 3,500 square miles atop a volcanic hot spot and is located mostly in Wyoming, but also has territory in Montana and Idaho. Yellowstone is famous for its canyons, alpine rivers, lush forests, hot springs and gushing geysers, including Old Faithful. It is also recognized for its hundreds of animal species including bears, bison, wolves and elk. Here are some of the best hikes, short and long, to take in Yellowstone that will allow you to experience some of the most memorable natural features and stunning scenery in the park.
8 Great Day Hikes In Yellowstone
1. Uncle Tom's Trail
Trailhead Location: Canyon Area - South Rim
This is a pretty short hike, but it’s also difficult. While it won’t take you long to actually hike up the trail, the views that you’ll see will have you in awe. The trail descends 500 feet toward the base of the Lower Falls along a metal staircase attached to the rim of the canyon. There are only a total of 328 steps that descend about 3/4 of the way down this steep-walled canyon.
2. Lava Creek Trail8.0 Miles Round-Trip - Moderate to Difficult; Trailhead Location: Near Mammoth Campground
There are different options for this trail and you could shorten it, but for a day hike it’d be best to do the 8 mile round trip option. From the trailhead just north of the Mammoth Campground the trail descends steeply to the Gardner River and continues onto Lava Creek before it heads east through the steep canyon. It’s a beautiful trail to hike and also can be difficult and hot, so plan for it.
3. Mount Washburn Trail
6.4 Miles Round-Trip - Moderate; Trailhead Location: North of Canyon Village on Dunraven Pass
This trail takes you to the lookout tower on the summit of Mount Washburn and is easily one of the best hikes Yellowstone has to offer. Whether you hike to the top from Chittenden Road (5.4 miles round-trip) or from Dunraven Pass Trailhead (6.4 miles round-trip), you can sit inside the lookout and take in the incredible scenery.
4. Fairy Falls Trail
5.0 Miles Round-Trip - Easy; Trailhead Location: North of Old Faithful
This an easier day hike that begins at the Fairy Falls Trailhead located a few miles north of Old Faithful. The trail passes just west of Midway Geyser Basin and along the way there are exceptional views of the largest and most color hot spring in Yellowstone, Grand Prismatic Spring (see image below). This is a very popular hike through open and new growth forest and the trail is hard-packed and easy to follow.
5. Bunsen Peak Trail
4.0 Miles Round-Trip; Trailhead Location: 4.8 Miles South of Mammoth Hot Springs Near Golden Gate
This is another great trail that will allow you to see some of the best sights in Yellowstone. Bunsen Peak is the tallest mountain in the Gallatin Range. Swan Lake Flat and Gardners Hole stretch out below and Mammoth Hot Springs is visible to the north. You won’t be disappointed by the stunning views you can see on this fun hike.
6. Mystic Falls
2.5 Miles as a Loop; Trailhead Location: Biscuit Basin 2.4 north of Old Faithful
If you're visiting the boardwalks at Biscuit Basin it's definitely worth the effort to hike the 2.5 miles round-trip to Mystic Falls and up to the Biscuit Basin Overlook. The trail can be reached by crossing the bridge over the Firehole River and then continuing along the boardwalk west toward the tree line. There’s a junction where you can choose to go left and right. The left route is easier and you can see great sights as you climb the height of the falls. Mystic Falls is located along the Little Firehole River, which begins high on the Madison Plateau near the western edge of the park. The river drops about 70 feet as it rushes through a narrow slot near the top of the falls. Steam can be seen rising from the nearby thermal features that flank the rivers edge.
7. Elephant Back Loop Trail
2.8 Miles Round-Trip;Trailhead Location: Near Lake Village, Bay Bridge & Fishing Bridge
Located south of Fishing Bridge and Lake Junction on the Grand Loop Road, this is a popular day hike that has spectacular views across much of Yellowstone Lake and toward the eastern edge of the park. The trail to the top of Elephant Back Mountain is well maintained and the grade never really feels that steep even though you're climbing about 800 feet to the summit. This is a great hike to take to see either the sunrise or sunset.
8. Observation Point Trail
1.1 Mile Round-Trip - Easy; Trailhead Location: Old Faithful Area
This is another short hike, but the view from Observation Point gives you a birds-eye view of the many thermal features and geysers that surround the historic Old Faithful Inn. If you hike to Observation Point early in the day you'll probably have this small overlook all to yourself, and the morning sun will provide you with the perfect light for taking pictures of this famed geyser. You can leave the big crowds behind and get a unique perspective of Old Faithful from 200 feet above this American landmark.
This article was written by Cameron Lafontaine.