Mystic FallsHow to Get There

The falls are located behind Biscuit Basin, near the Old Faithful Area.   After about .5 miles, the trail takes a fork.  The left-hand fork goes directly to Mystic Falls and is about one mile long.  It is an easy hike.  The right-hand fork also goes to the Falls, but is nearly two miles long and is uphill the first half-mile.  A great view awaits at the top of the ridge.  The entire loop is about three miles long.

Brief Description

For those who love waterfalls in particular, one of the best short waterfall hikes is Mystic Falls.  The longer route offers a fantastic view of the Upper Geyser Basin (Old Faithful Area) and the ridgeline which runs to the west.  Mystic Falls itself is a spectacular waterfall which cascades about 70 feet down off the Madison Plateau along the Little Firehole River.  It is a bit unique among Yellowstone’s waterfalls in that thermal activity is visible from the bottom all the way to the top of the falls, with clouds of steam rising from seemingly dozens of places at the top, sides and bottom of the waterfall.  Although one will likely encounter other hikers on the trail, the Mystic Falls trail is one of Yellowstone’s many quick getaway trails.


Trailhead #1: Chittenden Road Parking Area, 8.7 miles (13.9 km)
Trailhead #2: Dunraven Pass Parking Area, 13.6 miles south of Tower Junction
Distance: 6 miles (9.6 km) roundtrip
Level of difficulty: Moderately strenuous

One of the most popular hikes in Yellowstone, the Mt. Washburn trail offers expansive views of the eastern side of the park on clear, summer days. Each trail is 3 miles one way, switchbacking to the summit.  An enclosed observation area allows you a respite from the wind and magnificent views for many miles around. Bighorn sheep are frequently seen during the summer on the upper parts of the trails. Alpine vegetation is visible on this hike, thanks to the high altitude.

The northern trail begins at the Chittenden Road parking area. The southern trail begins at Dunraven Pass parking area. Overflow parking is available at the Chittenden Road Trailhead.


Trailhead: 5 miles south of Norris Junction on the Norris-Madison road, just after Gibbon River Bridge
Distance: 2 miles (3 km)
Level of Difficulty: Difficult (don’t be fooled by the initial easy going)

This is a short but steep hike which is rated as difficult. Sometimes a walking stick left by previous visitors can be found at the trail registry box. If it is there, be certain to borrow it if you don’t already have one with you. After following the west bank of the Gibbon River for about 2/10ths of a mile, the trail begins to abruptly climb upward, climbing some 500 feet in about 7/10ths of a mile through a series of switchbacks. The trail affords a great view of Elk Park meadow and the wandering Gibbon River. Traversing mainly through lodgepole pine forest, the trail leads to Monument Geyser Basin, a small geyser basin which features mud pots, steam vents, sulpher pool, and some interestingly shaped cones. The basin is named after a slender, 8-foot tall cone which has the appearance of a monument. Experts are in disagreement as to whether or not the cone is a geyser. Nonetheless, this unusual cone currently emits steam through it’s narrow opening.


Trailhead: North of Alum Creek pullout, 4 miles south of Canyon Junction
Distance: 21 miles one way
Level of Difficulty: Moderately strenuous if you do the entire hike in one day

Mary Mountain Trail - bisonMary Mountain has two trailheads:  the eastern trail (noted above) climbs gradually up over Mary Mountain and the park’s Central Plateau to the Nez Perce trailhead between Madison and Old Faithful. Elk and bison can sometimes be seen in the distant meadows. The trail through Hayden Valley is often difficult to follow as bison regularly knock down the trail markers.   The western trailhead is a few hundred feet north of the Nez Perce Creek pullout.  Mary Mountain makes for a long day hike, and you will need to have a vehicle awaiting you at the opposite trailhead.  For shorter day hikes, the trail affords good opportunity to walk as far as you wish and then turn back.  Be aware that Mary Mountain trail traverses grizzly territory, so look for posted signs concerning grizzly activity.

Photo Above:  Bison traverse a meadow near the western end of the Mary Mountain trail.  Photo by Bruce Gourley.


Trailhead: Old Faithful Lodge cabin area
Distance: 6.8 miles (5.3 km) roundtrip
Level of Difficulty: Moderate

This trail climbs through lodgepole pine forest, some of which was burned in the 1988 fires, and along meadows and several rocky slopes before reaching the shores of  Mallard Lake, a nice little scenic lake.  If you are staying in the Old Faithful area, this is an excellent hike to get away from the crowds. 


Trailhead: Behind Roosevelt Lodge
Distance: 4 miles (6.4 km) roundtrip
Level of difficulty: Moderately strenuous

This moderately strenuous trail starts behind Roosevelt Lodge (Tower Junction) and goes into the forested hillside and climbs some 300 feet before coming to a fork. Take the west fork, which leads to Lost Lake in about a quarter of a mile. Waterfowl and beaver can be viewed at this scenic Lake.  Wildflowers are abundant in the wet spring months. The trail follows the shore of Lost Lake, heading north around a hill, eventually taking the hiker to the Petrified Tree, which is enclosed behind a fence to keep vandals away. To get back to Roosevelt Lodge, follow the trail at the northeast end of the Petrified Tree parking lot. You will climb a hill and then drop back down to the Tower Junction area. Hawks can frequently be seen atop the hill.


Trailhead: 3.5 miles SE of the Old Faithful area, at Kepler Cascades parking area
Distance: 5 miles (8 km) roundtrip
Level of Difficulty: Easy

One of the easiest five mile roundtrip hikes in Yellowstone, this mostly level trail follows an old service road along the Firehole River through unburned forests of lodgepole pine. Lone Star geyser erupts approximately every three hours, and is a crowd pleaser. This trail can also be accessed by bicycle with the final approach to the geyser on foot.


Trailhead: 3.5 miles east of Norris on the Norris-Canyon road
Distance: 0.3 miles (0.5 km)
Level of Difficulty: Easy; handicapped accessible backcountry site on lake

Ice Lake is a beautiful, small lake tucked in a thick lodgepole pine forest. Much of the area was heavily burned in the fires of 1988. There is a network of trails in this area, and kikers can continue from Ice Lake to Wolf Lake, Grebe Lake, and Cascade Lake, and then on to the Canyon Junction area.


Trailhead: 1 mile (1 km) south of Beaver Lake on the Mammoth-Norris road
Distance: 4 miles (6 km) roundtrip
Level of difficulty: Moderate with some short, steep climbs and rolling terrain.
Note: A log jam crossing is required to continue past Grizzly Lake.

This trail traverses through an area that not only was burned in the fires of 1988, but also in a 1976 fire. Starting out in a meadow, the trail then climbs 250 feet up a ridge. The trail then travels through burned forest and along a meadow in which elk can sometimes be spotted. Wildflowers can be seen along the trail in early summer. The trail also has a reputation of harboring a large mosquito population in the early summer. The route offers great views of Mount Holmes and the Gallatin Range, thanks largely to the 1988 fires. After arriving at a ridge above Grizzly Lake, the trail drops 300 feet to the shore of the Lake. From on top, the Lake is an eerie sight, as it is totally surrounded by burned trees.


Trailhead: 3.5 miles (5.6 km) west of Canyon Junction on the Norris-Canyon Road
Distance: 6 miles (9.7 km) roundtrip
Level of Difficulty: Moderately easy

Mainly used by fishermen and backpackers, this trail goes to Grebe Lake, which (along with Wolf Lake) make up the headwaters of the Gibbon River system. The lake is home to the Artic Grayling, a rare and unusual looking fish native to Yellowstone. Various waterfowl (ducks, loons, gulls and swans) also frequent the lake. The trail winds through both meadows and forest, much of it burned by the fires of 1988. Beginning on an old road bed, the trail eventually narrows into a footpath through the lodge pole pine forest. Deer and moose are oftentimes spotted along the trail and at the Lake. Be prepared for heavy concentrations of mosquitoes in June and July.

Pictured above:  Moose on the shore of Grebe Lake.  Photo by Bruce Gourley.

Related Yellowstone Net Pages