FAIRY FALLS TRAIL

Trailhead #1: Steel Bridge parking area 1 mile south of the Midway Geyser Basin
Trailhead #2: Fountain Flats parking area
Distance: 5 miles (8 km) from trailhead #1; 7 miles (5.5 km) from trailhead #2
Level of Difficulty: Easy

197-foot Fairy Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in Yellowstone, dropping into a shallow pool of very cold, clear water, in a beautiful forested setting. There are actually several ways to get to Fairy Falls. The longest and most scenic route starts at the Fountain Flat Drive parking area (Trailhead #1 above). Follow the old road bed south over Firehole River Bridge. One mile past the bridge, the trail turns west and follows Fairy Creek through wet meadows and forest, reaching Fairy Falls at about the four mile point. After visiting the falls, the trail heads east, meeting an abandoned road about 1.5 miles from the falls. Traveling north on the old old roadbed will take you back to the Fountain Flat Drive, about 4.5 miles from the falls. Elk can be found in the meadows throughout the summer, as can buffalo, coyotes and the occasional bald eagle.  There are also a variety of backcountry thermal features in the vicinity of Fairy Falls, should you wish to further explore the area.

ELEPHANT BACK MOUNTAIN TRAIL

Trailhead: Pullout 1 mile (1.5 km) south of Fishing Bridge Junction
Distance: 3 mile (5 km) loop
Level of Difficulty: Moderately strenuous

This trail climbs 800 feet in 1-1/2 miles (2.4 km) through a dense lodgepole pine forest. After a mile, the trail splits into a loop. The left fork is the shortest and least strenuous route to the top. Although the ascent does not afford much in the way os scenery, the overlook at the end of the trail does provides a sweeping panoramic view of Yellowstone Lake and the surrounding area.

CYGNET LAKES TRAIL

Trailhead: Pullout about 5.5 miles west of Canyon Junction
Distance: 8 miles (14.4 km) roundtrip
Level of Difficulty: Easy

This trail travels through intermittently burned lodgepole pine forest and past small marshy ponds to the lush meadows surrounding Cygnet Lakes, which itself is small and boggy. The trail is day use only, and the trail not maintained beyond Cygnet Lakes.  Bears are known to frequent the area.

CASCADE LAKE TRAIL

Trailhead: Cascade Lake Picnic Area, 1.5 miles north of Canyon Junction
Distance: 4.5 miles (7.2 km) roundtrip
Level of Difficulty: Easy

This easy hike is an enjoyable stroll through forested areas, open meadows and over small creeks. Look for wildlife and wildflowers in the spring and early summer months. Most years, this trail remains very wet and muddy through July.

Photo:  Cascade Lake, courtesy National Park Service

BUNSEN PEAK TRAIL

Trailhead: Entrance of Old Bunsen Peak Road, 5 miles south of Mammoth
Distance: 2 miles to the summit (up to 10 miles roundtrip, depending on route)
Level of Difficulty: Moderate

As far as mountain scenery goes, this is one of the best short hikes in Yellowstone. The climb is fairly steep, climbing some 1300 feet in the two mile ascent. The peak itself is an ancient volcano’s core. The two miles of trail winds through both forest and meadow, with a number of scenic points (including some impressive views of Mammoth Village) along the way. Attempting to hike this trail before mid-June will oftentimes involve wading through one-two feet of snow near the top. The view from the top is spectacular, as the peak juts out into the Yellowstone Valley some 3000 feet below and gives the observer an almost 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains and valleys, including the Gallatin, Madison and Absaroka ranges. If you intend on taking pictures, bring along a panoramic camera! The peak is named after Robert Bunsen, who did early research on geysers.

BEAVER PONDS LOOP TRAIL

Trailhead: Clematis Gulch between Liberty Cap and the stone house
Distance: 5 mile (8 km) loop
Level of Difficulty: Moderate

One of Yellowstone’s shorter loop trails, this is a scenic hike with little elevation change and a good chance to see some of the Park’s larger animal inhabitants, including elk, deer, pronghorn, moose and occasional black bear. The trail wanders through both meadows and forest. Elk and antelope frequent the meadows, and smaller animals can be spotted in the forest. The trail passes by several ponds dammed by beavers (surprise), which are sometimes visible. Wildflowers in brilliant colors are plentiful during the early part of the summer, and the trail offers excellent views of the Mammoth area.

AVALANCHE PEAK TRAIL

Trailhead: West end of Eleanor Lake across the road to the east of the small creek
Distance: 5 miles (8 km) roundtrip
Level of Difficulty: Strenuous

This steep trail climbs 1,800 ft in 2.5 miles without the benefit of switchbacks, passing through a forested area and into an old avalanche slide area. It continues through a whitebark pine forest to a small meadow at the base of the bowl of Avalanche Peak, offering some of the most spectacular views in the park. The trail continues up a scree slope along the narrow ridgeline of Avalanche Peak, and an unmarked trail drops down the northeast side of the bowl and returns to the meadow. Whitepark pines are a source of food for grizzlies; be sure to check for any posted signs concerning grizzly activity.

ARTIST PAINT POTS TRAIL

Trailhead: 4.4 miles south of Norris on the Norris-Madison road
Distance: about 1 mile roundtrip
Level of Difficulty: Easy
Note: a new trail was cut in 2004, making this trail an even easier hike

This is one of the overlooked yet wonderful very short hikes of Yellowstone. The trail, beginning as a boardwalk,  meanders through a partially burned lodgepole pine forest, climbing slightly in elevation once reaching the thermal area. The thermal area within the short loop at the end of the trail features colorful hot springs and several small geysers. Two mudpots at the top of the hill allow closer access than Fountain Paint Pots.  The mudpots continuously spurt mud into the air and are a favorite of park visitors.

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