Clear Lake and Ribbon Lake Loop ★—A relatively easy loop hike combines a trio of backcountry lakes with a stroll along the canyon rim. You can start from several spots, but we like beginning at the Clear Lake Trailhead. After less than a mile, turn left to reach tree-ringed Clear Lake. Lily Pad Lake is just beyond, and peaceful Ribbon Lake is about a mile past that. Retrace your steps to Lily Pad Lake, then turn north, then west, to approach the knockout vista of the Lower Falls at Artist Point. The rest of the loop follows the South Rim Trail along the canyon’s edge, offering views of thundering waterfalls and brightly colored rock walls.
5.8-mile loop. Easy to moderate. Access: Clear Lake Trailhead is 2 1/4 miles south of Canyon Junction on South Rim Dr.
Mount Washburn ★★★—This is one of Yellowstone’s most popular day hikes for good reason. The climb up to 10,243 feet is challenging but gradual, the peak’s slopes are known for a rainbow of wildflowers in summer, and the view from the summit is practically unmatched. You might spot bighorn sheep, black bears, or grizzlies up here—in fact, grizzlies tend to congregate on the slopes in fall to munch on whitebark pine nuts. The top approach begins from Dunraven Pass and follows a wide trail up above the tree line with ever-expanding views. From the top, you’ll see the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Hayden Valley, Specimen Ridge, Slough Creek, and even the Tetons on a clear day. There’s also a lookout on the summit, which provides welcome shelter from the often-whipping winds. You can also hike it from the Old Chittenden Road, a slightly shorter (5 miles round-trip) but steeper trail. Much of this hike is exposed to the elements, so don’t attempt it if there’s a chance of lightning.
6 miles round-trip. Moderate. Access: Trailheads are at Dunraven Pass and the end of Old Chittenden Rd.
North Rim Trail ★—The trail skirting the north rim, which is described more fully under “Canyon Village,” offers better views of the falls and the river than you’ll get from the parking areas. It’s a nice way to see a longer stretch of the canyon.
6 miles round-trip. Easy. Access: Trailheads are at Wapiti Lake Trailhead and Inspiration Point.
Observation Peak ★★—Climb past a riot of purple and pink wildflowers en route to 360-degree views on this classic summit hike. The trail begins by crossing patches of forest and meadows to Cascade Lake, a great spot for fishing or even swimming on hot days. Then hoof it 1,400 vertical feet in 2.6 miles through a whitebark pine forest to the Observation Peak summit. There’s an old wooden fire tower up here, but you’ll be more interested in the encompassing views of the Gallatins, Absarokas, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
9.6 miles round-trip. Difficult. Access: Cascade Lake Trailhead, 1 1/4 miles north of Canyon Junction.
Seven Mile Hole ★—The only way to reach the Yellowstone River in the Grand Canyon area, Seven Mile Hole Trail is a doozy: You’ll drop more than 1,000 feet in just 2.3 miles going from rim to river. But first, the trail wanders along the north rim, stopping at overlooks with views of 1,200-foot Silver Cord Cascade across the canyon. Soon you’ll graduate from gazing, as you hike into the canyon and pass dormant and active hot springs along the way to the wide Yellowstone River. Keep in mind that this exposed hike can be hot, and don’t underestimate the challenge of climbing back out of the canyon.
10 miles round-trip. Moderate to difficult. Access: Trailhead is at Glacial Boulder pullout on the road to Inspiration Point.
South Rim Trail ★—As with the North Rim Trail, this hike has more and better views of the canyon and river than you can see from a vehicle. It’s easy and not long, yet you’ll have it mainly to yourself because most folks are in and out of the bus at the parking lots.
7 miles round-trip. Easy. Access: Trailheads are Wapiti Lake Trailhead and Artist Point.
Yellowstone Lake Area
Avalanche Peak ★★—Looking for the best bang for your buck? It’s tough to beat this peak, which delivers fantastic panoramas of the park’s remote corners in just 2.1 miles. Of course, you’ll have to work for it—the trail rises a vertiginous 2,100 feet in that distance—but keep your eyes on the prize. The 10,566-foot summit is in view for most of the climb up talus slopes and narrow ridgelines. Once you get there, you’ll have unimpeded views over Yellowstone Lake and across to many of the park’s craggiest peaks, such as Hoyt Peak, Mount Sheridan, Mount Stevenson, and Top Notch. The window to ascend to these heights is narrow: The trail is often snow-covered into July, and increased grizzly bear activity makes fall a dicey proposition. Be alert for lightning risks anytime.
4.2 miles round-trip. Difficult. Access: Trailhead is 8 miles west of the east entrance.
Elephant Back Loop Trail ★—Here’s an opportunity to look down (literally!) on the island-dotted expanse of Yellowstone Lake, the Absaroka Range, and the Pelican Valley. This is a great photo opportunity and a fairly easy hike for a novice.
3.5 miles round-trip. Moderate. Access: From the east, the trailhead is on the right side of the road, just before the turnoff for the Lake Yellowstone Hotel.
Pelican Valley Trail ★—This trip across marshy meadows and alongside a peaceful creek could be either a hiker’s dream or a nightmare—depending how you feel about grizzly bears. The remote Pelican Valley is some of the best grizzly habitat in the continental U.S., and as such, the park restricts hiking to daytime, and only after July 4. If that excites rather than terrifies you, get a group of at least four and strike out into the wide-open valley. The trail wanders through meadows and traces the meandering Pelican Creek, where you might also see bison, wolves, elk, and eagles. The washed-out bridge across the creek at mile 3.1 makes a good turnaround point, but the trail extends all the way into the Lamar Valley for multiday excursions.
6.2 miles round-trip. Easy. Access: Trailhead is 3 miles east of Fishing Bridge, just past Storm Point/Indian Pond Trail.
Storm Point Loop ★—One of the park’s nicest lakeside rambles, this trail begins at Indian Pond and passes through a pine forest before popping out at Storm Point, the rocky western corner hemming in Mary Bay. You’ll gaze across the lake to views of Stevenson Island, distant Mount Sheridan, and the Tetons. Bonus: Marmot sightings are practically guaranteed on a stony outcrop near the shore. Grizzlies frequent the area in spring and early summer, so check with rangers to make sure the trail is open to hikers.
2.3 miles round-trip. Easy. Access: Trailhead is 3 miles east of Fishing Bridge, across from the Pelican Valley Trailhead (on the lake side of the road).
West Thumb/Grant Village Area
DeLacy Creek Trail ★★—Yellowstone’s largest and most impressive backcountry lake, Shoshone Lake, requires a significant haul on foot or kayak to reach—except by this quick, sneaky route. Head south along DeLacy Creek, passing open meadows that make wonderful habitat for moose and sandhill cranes, to Shoshone’s northern shores. Bask by the rocky beaches or explore farther down the lakeshore.
5.8 miles round-trip. Easy. Access: Trailhead is 8 3/4 miles west of West Thumb Junction.
Yellowstone Lake Overlook ★—Earn big views in record time on this short lollipop loop that gets you out of the forest and up to lovely vistas over Yellowstone Lake in less than a mile. The trail begins in lodgepole pine forest but quickly ascends a few hundred feet to an open, grassy hillside. A few minor thermal features are near the trail’s top, but the real star is the perspective of Yellowstone Lake from on high, framed by the Absaroka Range on the lake’s eastern shore.
1.7 miles round-trip. Moderate. Access: Trailhead is in West Thumb Geyser Basin parking lot.
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.