Closest entrances: 27 miles to the east entrance; 43 miles to the south entrance
Distance: 16 miles from Canyon Village to Fishing Bridge
Heading south from Canyon Village, Grand Loop Road follows the wide Yellowstone River through Hayden Valley ★★, the park’s largest valley. Glacial till (sediments left behind from an ice sheet that once covered the valley) interferes with water soaking into the ground here, resulting in marshy areas and few trees. The valley is an idyllic place where grizzly bears, bison, wolves, moose, elk, and coyotes roam.
About 12 miles south of Canyon you’ll run into the unusual Mud Volcano/Sulphur Caldron area. Fumaroles (steam vents) and mud pots are the stars here: The area’s soil and clay sit over chambers of hydrogen sulfide gas, which forms sulfuric acid as it rises through the ground. That acid dissolves the soil into mud pools, which more rising gases (including steam and carbon dioxide) pass through to delightful effect—roiling, slurping gurgles of mud. If you’ve ever wondered what boiling mud would look like, well, here’s your answer.
The Mud Volcano itself was once much more dramatic: In 1870, members of the Washburn Expedition found a looming cone of mud over the feature, and by 1872, a thermal explosion had blasted it away. Today, its burbling mud pools are still fun to watch. A mile-long boardwalk extends through this small thermal zone to more features. At Dragon’s Mouth Spring, turbulent pulses of water splash out from an underground cavern; tongues of water combined with steady bursts of steam really do call to mind a lurking medieval beast. Black Dragon’s Caldron emerged from the earth in 1948 in a grand explosion, uprooting nearby trees and spraying the surrounding forest with mud. Since then, seismic activity has moved the feature several hundred feet south.
Just across the street, Sulphur Caldron’s yellowish, bubbling waters represent one of the park’s most acidic hot springs, with a skin-melting pH similar to that of battery acid. If you’re pressed for time, skip this.
A couple of miles beyond you’ll hit LeHardy Rapids, the geographic point where Yellowstone Lake technically ends and the Yellowstone River resumes. Topographer Paul LeHardy, a member of the 1873 Jones Expedition, gave the spot its name when he capsized his raft attempting to run the rapids. Watch for cutthroat trout leaping over the drops en route to their springtime spawning grounds at Fishing Bridge.
Fishing Bridge itself spans the Yellowstone River as it flows out of Yellowstone Lake, just off Grand Loop Road on the East Entrance Road. Built in 1937, the bridge once attracted mobs of fishermen eager to dip a line directly into the trout spawning area directly below; after trout populations subsequently dropped, the park outlawed fishing here in 1973. But it remains a prime spot for watching the trout swim, as well as the lake’s resident pelicans and Canada geese.
Fishing Bridge Visitor Center (tel. 307/344-2450) is worth a stop to peruse its displays on park bird life. There’s also a general store in the area, along with the Fishing Bridge RV Park. This is the only campground restricted to hard-sided vehicles (because of the area’s abundant grizzlies).
You’ll find an excellent hiking trail, Elephant Back Loop Trail ★, leading off the road between Fishing Village and the Lake Village area. The 3.5-mile loop leads to an overlook with panoramic views of Yellowstone Lake and its islands, the Absaroka Range, and Pelican Valley to the east. Instead of taking the entire loop around to the overlook, you can shorten the hike a half-mile by taking the left fork approximately 1 mile from the trailhead and doubling back from the overlook.
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