Closest entrances: Norris is 28 miles from the West Yellowstone (west) entrance; Mammoth Hot Springs is 5 miles from the Gardiner (north) entrance.
Distance: 21 miles from Norris to Mammoth Hot Springs
Driving north from Norris wends you past grassy meadows on one side and jagged cliffs on the other, with plenty of stands of trees and small lakes providing habitat to bison and elk. Pause at the Nymph Lake Overlook for a nice vista over the water and several steaming hot springs. The boggy meadow areas just beyond are popular with moose.
Pull over at Roaring Mountain, 4 miles north of Norris, to check out a hillside steaming with fumaroles. As steam vents developed here, the ground became hot and acidic, bleaching and crumbling the rock and taking the undergrowth with it. The hill earned its name in the 1880s, when the vents were loud enough to “roar.” Today, the sound is more like a hiss.
A half-mile past Beaver Lake, you’ll reach Obsidian Cliff. Native Americans began collecting chips of this glassy black volcanic rock for tools as long as 11,000 years ago, and pieces from this very cliff were discovered as far away as western Canada and the Midwest, thanks to ancient trade routes.
Continue on as Willow Park opens up to the west, an open meadow where you might see beaver, moose, or coyotes. Indian Creek Campground, one of the park’s choicest places to pitch a tent, lies on the north end of this area. Just up the road, the Sheepeater Cliff picnic spot is worth the short detour. The peaceful area sits well off the road along a basalt column cliff that cooled into its present columnar shape from lava 500,000 years ago.
Keep going north to cruise through Swan Lake Flat, a wide-open expanse with huge views of the Gallatin Range.
At the northernmost edge of the Yellowstone Plateau, you’ll begin a descent through Golden Gate. This steep, narrow stretch of road was once a stagecoach route constructed of wooden planks anchored to the mountain near a massive rock called the Pillar of Hercules, the largest rock in a pile that sits next to the road.
Beyond Hercules are the Hoodoos, an ominous-looking jumble of travertine boulders on the north side of the road, which have tumbled off the mountainside above to create a pile of unusual formations.
One of the best hikes in the area is to 8,564-foot Bunsen Peak. The 4.6-mile round trip travels through grizzly-frequented meadows to a sweeping view over the Blacktail Plateau and Yellowstone River Valley. And though you can’t summit the peak on a bike, the old Bunsen Peak Road circling the mountain is one of the few off-road spots open to bicycles. Access both trailheads 5 miles south of Mammoth.
Once you head north from Mammoth, you’re off the Grand Loop and on the North Entrance Road. The biggest highlight on this segment is the Boiling River ★★, a spot where a hot spring pouring into the Gardner River forms a soak-friendly pool (no skinny-dipping allowed). Park at the Boiling River lot and walk the short trail to the best place for a dip; do it early in the morning to escape the crowds or, even better, at dusk to watch the canyon’s bats put on a show.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.