YELLOWSTONE RIVER PICNIC AREA TRAIL

Trailhead: 1.25 miles  NE of Tower Junction on the road to the NE Entrance
Distance: 3.7 miles (5.9 km) roundtrip
Level of difficulty: Moderately strenuous
 
A moderate trail which starts at the Yellowstone River Picnic Area and rises up to the eastern lip of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, following the rim of the Canyon until reaching the Specimen Ridge Trail two miles from the picnic area. There are some spectacular views of the Canyon and River from this trail. Watch for ospreys and perhaps the occasional eagle soaring below and for wisps of steam issuing from steam vents near the bottom of the Canyon walls. Note the bright yellow tint of the Canyon walls. And keep a careful lookout for bighorn sheep, which are known to inhabit the area. (Some years ago, I rounded a corner without looking and almost tripped over one which was standing in the trail!)

WRAITH FALLS TRAIL

Trailhead: Pullout ¼ mile east of Lava Creek Picnic area, Mammoth-Tower Road
Distance: 1 mile (1 km) round trip
Level of Difficulty: Easy

This short, easy hike takes only minutes.  It travels through open sagebrush and Douglas-fir forest to the foot of Wraith Falls cascade on Lupine Creek.  It is a good option for families with young children who are not yet capable of walking long distances.

UPPER GEYSER BASIN TRAILS

Trailhead: Boardwalk in front of Old Faithful Visitor Center
Distances: Several miles of trails, including a loop to the east and one to the west
Level of Difficulty: Easy

Daisy GeyserAlthough Old Faithful Geyser, the most famous geyser in the park, is located in this area, the trails oriented around Old Faithful Village offer the opportunity to see many other interesting geysers, such as Castle, Beehive, Firehole, and Daisy, as well as Morning Glory Pool.  These short easy trails are handicap accessible.  Trail guides are available in the Visitors Center.  In addition to thermal features, bison and elk frequent the area.  Be sure to keep your distance from the wildlife!

Photo: Daisy Geyser from the rarely viewed back side, by Bruce Gourley.

STORM POINT TRAIL

Trailhead: Pullout at Indian Pond, 3 miles east of Fishing Bridge Visitor Center
Distance: 2 mile (3 km) loop
Level of Difficulty: Easy
 
If you would like to get a good view of Yellowstone Lake off the beaten path, without expending much effort, this could be the trail for you. This easy trail starts at the Indian Pond parking area, meanders through a large open meadow where wildflowers and waterfowl are common (as well as bison), then drops into the tree line until you reach Storm Point. Storm Point is a windy projection of rock that juts out into Yellowstone Lake. The view is great, with Stevenson Island and Mount Sheridan being to the south. Also, there is a marmot colony on Storm Point. The critters are usually easy to spot and are fun to watch, especially for kids. You can go back the way you came, or head west down the sandy shores of Yellowstone Lake, following a trail that leads along the Lake and then into the woods to the west, bringing you back to your starting point after a total of about 4 miles of hiking. WARNING: This area is known for its grizzly activity, and the trail is often closed because of grizzlies. Check at the Lake or Fishing Bridge ranger station before setting out. Make noise as you hike.

SPECIMEN RIDGE TRAIL

Trailhead: 2.5 miles east of Tower Junction
Distance: 1 to 11 miles one way
Level of Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
 
This is a moderate trail which takes one to the lip of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone at the one mile point, then turns to the east and gradually climbs through sagebrush and grassy meadows, reaching the top of 9614-feet Amethyst Mountain at just over the eleven mile mark. For those wishing to do an overnight backpacking trip, the trail continues and the 17.5 mile mark brings you to the Lamar trailhead. This area is a popular feeding place for elk, and the occasional coyote can be spotted. Bighorn sheep may also be spotted. Wildflowers are plentiful in early summer. This trail can also be reached by starting out from the Yellowstone Picnic trailhead.  Specimen Ridge is a challenging all day hike.

SOLFATARA CREEK TRAIL

Trailhead #1: Loop C in Norris Campground
Trailhead #2: approx. 3/4 mile south of Beaver Lake Picnic Area
Distance: About 13 miles round trip
Level of Difficulty: Easy to moderate; highest climb is about 400 feet

Beginning in the Norris Campground, the trail traverses lodgepole pine forest as it follows Solfatara Creek for a short distance to the junction with Ice Lake Trail, then parallels a power line for most of the way to Whiterock Springs. It climbs a short distance up to Lake of the Woods, passing Amphitheater Springs and Lemonade Creek, two small thermal areas, before reaching the main road. Unless you planned ahead and have a car awaiting you in the parking area, you’ll have to turn around and retrace your steps to Norris Campground, or hitch a ride on the road.

PELICAN CREEK TRAIL

Trailhead: West end of Pelican Creek Bridge, 1 mile (1.5 km) east of Fishing Bridge Visitor Center
Distance: 1 mile (1.5 km) loop
Level of Difficulty: Easy

Yellowstone LakeThis very short but scenic trail passes through a forested area to the shore of Yellowstone Lake before looping back across the marsh along Pelican Creek to the trailhead.  The trail offers good bird watching, and bison frequent the area.

Photo: Yellowstone Lake by Bruce Gourley.

OSPREY FALLS TRAIL

Osprey Falls July 2013 by Bruce Gourley (brucegourley.com)
Osprey Falls July 2013 by Bruce Gourley (brucegourley.com)

Trailhead: 5 miles south of Mammoth on the Old Bunsen Peak Road Trail
Distance: 8 miles (12.9 km) roundtrip
Level of Difficulty: Difficult

Whether you start south of Bunsen Peak on the old Bunsen Peak road (the trailhead noted above) or north of Bunsen Peak on the other end of the old Bunsen Peak road, you will be traveling about 2.5 miles along the road (now closed to automobiles) before you actually reach Osprey Falls Trail. From the south, the road starts out on level terrain and skirts Swan Lake Meadows after which point it inclines slightly as it curves behind Bunsen Peak. From the north, the old road travels through a small meadow where birds and waterfowl are often seen before it starts a steady climb up through a forested area on the back side of Bunsen Peak. This route offers good views of Sheepeater Canyon, and moose and deer can often be seen in the area. The actual Osprey Falls Trail starts at the rim of Sheepeater Canyon and drops some 800 vertical feet through a series of switchbacks to the floor of the canyon. From there, the trail follows the Gardiner River up to the base of the 150 foot falls. You can stand at the bottom of the falls and enjoy the spray of the waterfall, but be careful not to lose your balance on the wet, slippery (and sometimes icy) rocks.

 

The entirety of the hike to Osprey Falls via the old Bunsen Peak roadbed and back is about eight miles and is rated “difficult” by some trail guides. For an even more difficult outing begin your hike by ascending Bunsen Peak and descending down the backside of the mountain (the trail on the backside of the mountain is not as well used and you may encounter some deadfall across the trail at times) to the Bunsen Peak roadbed, turn left (northeast) and walk a short distance to the Osprey Falls trailhead. Ascending and descending Bunsen Peak on the way to Osprey Falls and returning to your car via the Bunsen Peak roadbed is about a ten mile outing.

 

OBSERVATION POINT TRAIL

OBSERVATION POINT TRAIL

Trailhead: Firehole River footbridge behind Old Faithful Geyser
Distance: 1.1 mile (1 km) loop
Level of Difficulty: Moderate

Old FaithfulThis loop trail gains about 200 feet in elevation to a prominent overlook providing a great view of the Upper Geyser Basin.  Elk and bison are often in the area, and it is not unusual to have the overlook to yourself during an eruption of Old Faithful.

Photo: Old Faithful from Observation Point overlook, by Bruce Gourley

NATURAL BRIDGE TRAIL

Trailhead: Bridge Bay Marina parking lot near the campground entrance road
Distance: 3 miles (5 km) roundtrip
Level of Difficulty: Easy

The natural bridge is a 51 feet high cliff of rhyolite rock that has been cut through by the process of erosion in nearby Bridge Creek. The trail from the campground traverses a forested area for 1.2 mile before it joins the road and continues to the right (west) for 1 mile before reaching the Natural Bridge. A short but steep switchback trail to the top of the bridge starts in front of the interpretive exhibit. The top of the bridge is closed to hiking in order to protect the fragile rock. However, good views may be attained next to the bridge.

A bicycle trail to the bridge begins just south of the marina off the main road. The trail is closed from late spring to early summer due to bear management, as grizzlies feed on spawning trout in Bridge Creek during this time of year.