Yellowstone National Park

States: Wyoming, Idaho and Montana

Established: March 1, 1872

Area: 2,221,766 acres (898,318 ha)

History of Yellowstone National Park:

Yellowstone National Park (Arapaho: Henihco’oo‘ or Héetíhco’oo) is a national park located primarily in the U.S. state of Wyoming, although it also extends into Montana and Idaho. It was established by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872. Yellowstone, widely held to be the first national park in the world, is known for its wildlife and its many geothermal features, especially Old Faithful Geyser, one of the most popular features in the park. It has many types of ecosystems, but the subalpine forest is dominant. It is part of the South Central Rockies forests ecoregion.

Native Americans have lived in the Yellowstone region for at least 11,000 years. The region was bypassed during the Lewis and Clark Expedition in the early 19th century. Aside from visits by mountain men during the early-to-mid-19th century, organized exploration did not begin until the late 1860s. The U.S. Army was commissioned to oversee the park just after its establishment. In 1917, administration of the park was transferred to the National Park Service, which had been created the previous year. Hundreds of structures have been built and are protected for their architectural and historical significance, and researchers have examined more than 1,000 archaeological sites.

Yellowstone National Park spans an area of 3,468.4 square miles (8,983 km2), comprising lakes, canyons, rivers and mountain ranges. Yellowstone Lake is one of the largest high-altitude lakes in North America and is centered over the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest supervolcano on the continent. The caldera is considered an active volcano. It has erupted with tremendous force several times in the last two million years. Half of the world’s geothermal features are in Yellowstone, fueled by this ongoing volcanism. Lava flows and rocks from volcanic eruptions cover most of the land area of Yellowstone. The park is the centerpiece of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the largest remaining nearly-intact ecosystem in the Earth’s northern temperate zone.

How to get to Yellowstone National Park:

There are five entrances:

  • From the west, West Yellowstone (Montana);
  • From the north and northeast, Gardiner and Cook City (Montana);
  • From the east on US 14/16/20 from Cody (Wyoming);
  • From the south, at Flagg Ranch (Wyoming), which is north of Grand Teton National Park and Jackson (64 miles away).

Airports: West Yellowstone (summer only), Bozeman and Billings in Montana; Cody and Jackson in Wyoming.

When to go to Yellowstone National Park:

More than half of the 3 million annual visitrors come in July and August. In September and early October, the weather is good, the visitors few, and the wildlife abundant. In May and June, you can see newborn animals, but the weather may be cold, wet, and even snowy. Between about November through April most park roads are closed to vehicles.

During the winter season, mid-December to mid-March, Yellowstone becomes a fantasy of steam and ice; facilities are limited but sufficient. Only the road between the North and Northeast entrances stays open to cars, but guided snowmobiling is permitted on some groomed roads. Heated snow coaches offer tours and give cross-country skiers access to about 50 miles of groomed trails.

Hiking trails in Yellowstone National Park:

Old Faithful

Fairy Falls

Round trip 5 or 7 miles, 8 or 11.2 km, easy.

Fairy Falls, 200 feet (61 m) high, is one of Yellowstone’s most spectacular waterfalls. Choose from two routes:

  • Shorter route: Park 1.0 mi (1.5 km) south of Midway Geyser Basin, cross steel bridge, walk 1.0 mi (1.5 km) to the trailhead.
  • Longer route: Park at the end of Fountain Flat drive and walk 1.75 mi (2.8 km) to the trailhead.

From the trailhead, walk 1.6 miles (2.6 km) through a young lodgepole pine forest to the falls. You can continue 0.6 miles (0.97 km) to Spray and Imperial geysers. This adds 1.2 miles (1.9 km) to the hike.

Mystic Falls

Round trip 2.5 miles (4 km), moderately strenuous.

The trail begins at the west end of the Biscuit Basin boardwalk near Avoca Spring about 2.0 miles/3.2 km north of Old Faithful. (You can also begin 0.25 miles/0.4 km south of Biscuit Basin. Park in pullouts on either side of the road.) The trail parallels, but does not cross, the Little Firehole River for 0.7 miles (1.1 km). The trail climbs steeply to an overlook of the falls, which are 70 feet (21 m). To make a loop hike, which is 0.2 miles (0.3 km) farther with elevation gain/loss of 500 feet (152 m), continue on the trail above

the switchbacks until it meets the Little Firehole Meadows trail. Turn right, descend to an overlook of Old Faithful, and continue downhill to rejoin the Mystic Falls trail.

Lone Star Geyser

Round trip 4.8 miles (7.7 km), easy.

The trailhead is east of Kepler Cascades pullout, 3.5 miles (5.6 km) southeast of Old Faithful overpass on Grand Loop Road. This level trail and bicycle path follows the Firehole River to the geyser. Lone Star erupts 30–45 feet (9–14 m) about every three hours. If you witness an eruption, please note the time and report it at the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center. Biking is not permitted beyond a barrier near the geyser.


Grant Village, West Thumb

Shoshone Lake (via DeLacy Creek)

Round trip 6 miles (9.7 km), easy.

Starting at a trailhead sign at deLacy Creek, 8.8 miles (14.2 km) west of West thumb junction, the trail runs along the forest edge and through open meadows to the shores of Yellowstone’s largest backcountry lake. Moose are seen here occasionally.

Yellowstone Lake Overlook

Round trip 2 miles (3 km), moderately strenuous.

The trail begins at a trailhead marker near the entrance to the West thumb Geyser Basin parking area and climbs through burned forest and a mountain meadow to a commanding view of Yellowstone Lake and the Absaroka Mountains. This trail is mostly level, with a moderately strenuous 400 foot (121 m) elevation gain near the overlook. Caution: hydrothermal area − Stay on designated trail and abide by detour signs at all times.

Riddle Lake

Round trip 5 miles (8 km), easy.

The trailhead is about 3.0 miles (5 km) south of Grant Village junction, just south of the Continental divide sign. This fairly level trail crosses the Continental divide and runs through forest and marshy meadows to the shores of a picturesque little lake.


Fishing Bridge/Lake Village

Elephant Back Mountain

Round trip 3.6 miles (5.8 km), moderately strenuous.

Starting at a pullout 1.0 mile (1.5 km) south of Fishing Bridge junction, this trail climbs 1.0 mile (1.5 km) through a lodgepole pine forest before reaching a junction. Either trail leads in another 0.5 miles (0.8 km) to a panoramic view of Yellowstone Lake.

Pelican Creek

Round trip 1.3 miles (2 km), easy.

Starting at the west end of Pelican Creek bridge, 1.0 mile (1.5 km) east of the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center, this easy trail travels through forest and along the lakeshore.

Storm Point

Round trip 2.3 miles (3.7 km), easy.

Starting at a large turnout at Indian Pond, 3 miles (5 km) east of the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center, this level loop crosses meadow and forest before reaching the tip of Storm Point, where you will find expansive views of Yellowstone Lake and surrounding mountains. The trail continues along the lakeshore and through a lodgepole pine forest before rejoining the road.

Canyon Clear Lake/Ribbon Lake Loop

Round trip 3 to 6 miles (4.8 to 9.7 km), easy.

Start at Wapiti trailhead on South Rim drive to Artist Point 2.0 miles/3.2 km south of Canyon Junction on the Grand Loop Road. This relatively level trail winds through meadows and forest and passes by three lovely backcountry lakes. You can hike the entire loop 6.0 miles (9.7 km), or you can turn around at Clear Lake 3.0 miles (4.8 km) round trip, or Lily Pad Lake 4.0 miles (6.4 km) round trip. Caution: Clear Lake is a hydrothermal area. Stay on the designated trail at all times.

Cascade Lake

Round trip 5 miles (8 km), easy.

Choose from two trailheads for this easy hike:

  • Cascade Lake trailhead, 1.25 miles (2 km) north of Canyon Junction on the Grand Loop Road.
  • Cascade Creek trailhead, 0.25 miles (0.4 km) west of Canyon Junction on the Canyon–Norris Road.

The Cascade Lake trail joins the Cascade Creek trail after 1.2 miles. if you begin on this trail, remember to bear left on your return trip. Either way, you will hike through forest and meadow to a pretty lake.

Mount Washburn

Round trip from Dunraven Pass 6.2 miles (5 km), from Chittenden parking area 5 miles (4 km), strenuous.

From an elevation of 10,243 feet (3,107 m), Mount Washburn offers panoramic views of about 20 to 50 miles (32 to 80 km) in all directions. During July, wildflowers carpet the slopes. Look for bighorn sheep. The southern trail starts at the dunraven Pass trailhead and the northern trail starts at the Chittenden Road parking area. Both climb steadily about 1,400 feet (425 m). Conditions at the summit are typically colder and windier than at the

trailheads, and afternoon storms are common. Carry an extra layer of warm clothing and wind/rain gear.


Mamoth Hot Springs

Beaver Ponds Loop

Round trip 5 miles (8 km), moderately strenuous.

The trail begins between Liberty Cap and a stone house in Mammoth Hot Springs. It follows Clematis Creek, climbing 350 feet (107 m) through forest to meadows of sage and stands of douglas-fir and aspen. After hiking 2.5 miles (4.0 km), you reach the beaver ponds. You might see beavers or their sign, but you are more likely to see muskrats and water birds. The trail continues through mixed forest and meadows, and ends on the Old Gardiner Road behind the Mammoth Hotel.

Bunsen Peak

Round trip 4.2 miles (6.7 km), moderately strenuous.

The trail begins at the entrance of the Old Bunsen Peak Road trail, 5.0 miles (8.0 km) south of Mammoth on the Grand Loop Road. Climb 1,300 feet (394 m) through forest to the summit, which features panoramic views. Return by same route. The nearby Old Bunsen Peak Road trail is closed to vehicles but open for hiking and biking.

Wraith Falls

Round trip 1.0 mile (1.5 km), easy.

The trail begins at a pullout 0.5 miles (0.8 km) east of Lava Creek Picnic Area on the Grand Loop Road. This short, easy trail passes through sagebrush meadows, marshland,

and mixed conifer forest to the base of 79-foot (24 m) Wraith Falls on Lupine Creek.


Tower – Roosevelt

Lost Lake Loop

Round trip 4.0 miles (6.4 km), moderate.

The trail starts behind Roosevelt Lodge and climbs 300 feet up a forested hillside. At the junction, veer right (west). You reach Lost Lake in 0.2 miles (0.3 km). From there, follow the trail through a ravine to the Petrified tree parking area. From the parking lot, the trail climbs to a sagebrush meadow, descends to the tower Ranger Station area, and then 0.2 miles (0.3 km) to Roosevelt Lodge. If you encounter horses, move to the downhill side of the trail and remain still until they have passed.

Yellowstone River Picnic Area

Round trip 3.7 miles (5.9 km), moderate.

Begin at the Yellowstone River Picnic area, 1.25 miles (2 km) northeast of tower Junction on the Northeast Entrance Road. The trail climbs steeply to the east rim of the Narrows of the Yellowstone River and then follows the rim. Return the same way or make a loop by continuing to the next trail junction, where you need to turn left and descend to the road. (the Specimen Ridge trail, strenuous and poorly marked, continues northeast.) Walk west along the road for 0.7 mile (1.1 km) to the picnic area.


Lamar Valley

Slough Creek (to first meadow)

Round trip 4.0 miles (6.4 km), moderately strenuous.

The trail starts on the gravel road to Slough Creek Campground, climbs through douglas-fir forest, passes through an open area, and then descends to the first meadow of Slough Creek. This trail leads to popular fishing spots and to a private ranch north of the park, so expect to see people, horses, and an occasional wagon. If you encounter horses, move to the downhill side of the trail and remain still until they have passed.

Trout Lake

Round trip 1.2 miles (1.9 km), moderate.

The trail starts from a small pullout about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) south of Pebble Creek Campground on the Northeast Entrance Road and climbs about 150 feet (45.5 m) through douglas-fir forest to the lake.

Madison Purple Mountain

Round trip 6 miles (9.7 km), strenuous.

Look for the trailhead at a turnout about 0.25 miles (0.4 km) north of Madison Junction. You climb 1,500 feet (0.47 km) in 3 miles (4.8 km) to a panoramic view of the Gibbon and Madison rivers.

Harlequin Lake

Round trip 1 mile (1.5 km), easy.

Park at the third pullout 1.5 miles (2.4 km) west of Madison Junction on the West Entrance Road. Follow the gentle, uphill trail to a small lake.


Information sources:

Yellowstone National Park Visitor Guide

Guide to National Parks of the United States

Official website:

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