We are lucky to live less than an hour from the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park and even luckier to get to spend lots of time in one of the world’s first national park. It isn’t easy picking 5 hikes in a park that is so full of wonderful backcountry experiences, but I did it.
According to the park website: Established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park is America's first national park. Located in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, it is home to a large variety of wildlife including grizzly bears, wolves, bison, and elk. Preserved within Yellowstone National Park are Old Faithful and a collection of the world's most extraordinary geysers and hot springs, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
I’ve chosen 5 hikes that my family and I have enjoyed and that represent different areas and ecosystems in Yellowstone. So, whether you want to geyser gaze, watch trout spawn, photograph wildflowers or push a stroller, I have a hike for you!
Trailhead: On the northeast park entrance road west of Pebble Creek campground
Distance: About 0.5 mile one way
Difficulty: The trail is quite steep, but it is so short that almost anyone can make it.
Trail description: The short, steep trail switchbacks up the side of a hill through open sagebrush steppe, wildflowers and forested pockets.
What you’ll see: A beautiful lake nestled in a meadow at the base of Mt. Hornaday. If you visit in June you’ll see hundreds of cutthroat trout spawning in just inches of water in the inlet.
Otters and muskrats also make Trout Lake home. Get there at the right time and you’ll see otter pups playing on fallen logs and chasing each other around the lake. Cutthroat and rainbow trout draw anglers to the lake.
Trailhead: Behind Roosevelt Lodge
Distance: 4 miles roundtrip
Trail description: This loop trail departs from behind Roosevelt Lodge and climbs 300 feet onto the bench. Here the trail joins the Roosevelt horse trail and continues west to Lost Lake. (If you take the trail east, you loop back to the Roosevelt corrals on the horse trail or continue on to Tower Fall Campground.)
From Lost Lake, the trail follows the contour around the hillside to the Petrified Tree parking area. Cross the parking lot and climb the hill at its northeast end to loop back behind Tower Ranger Station. Cross the creek and return to the Roosevelt Lodge cabins. (It’s easier, if a little longer, to hike back the way you came or walk on the road back to Roosevelt Lodge.)
What you’ll see: Pretty Lost Lake, wildflowers, waterfowl, wet meadows, petrified tree, black bears (maybe, but carry bear spray any time you hike in Yellowstone).
Trailhead: Cascade Lake Picnic Area, 1.5 miles north of Canyon Jct. on the Tower-Canyon Road.
Distance: 4.5 miles roundtrip
Trail description: Fairly flat trail through meadows. This trail is often muddy through July, so hold off until Aug.
What you’ll see: Wildflowers and wildlife—in season. Lovely, Cascade Lake. Since the Canyon area can be such a zoo, this is a nice way to take a short break from the throngs.
You can make this a through trip by hiking 3 miles out the Howard Eaton Trail to the trailhead 0.5 miles west of Canyon Junction on the Norris-Canyon Road (leave a vehicle).
Or, from Cascade Lake take the strenuous, 1,400 foot climb in 3 miles to Observation Peak (11 miles roundtrip from the trailhead). The hike takes you to a high mountain peak for an outstanding view of the Yellowstone wilderness. The trail passes through open meadows and some whitebark pine forests.
Lone Star Geyser Trail
Trailhead: 3.5 miles southeast of the Old Faithful area, just beyond Kepler Cascades parking area.
Distance: 5 miles roundtrip
Trail description: This mostly level trail follows an old service road along the Firehole River through unburned forests of lodgepole pine. This trail can be accessed by bicycle with the final approach to the geyser on foot.
What you’ll see: Lone Star Geyser erupts about every 3 hours. Even if you miss the eruption, the ride or walk along the Firehole River is lovely. Plus, it is fun to see a geyser off the boardwalk, even when it is just gurgling.
There aren’t many trails in the park where bikes are allowed, so take advantage of this one.
If you get a chance, check out Kepler Cascades near the trailhead. John W. Hoyt, the governor of Wyoming Territory visited the Park in 1881 looking for a decent wagon route connecting his Territory to the Park. Included in the party was a young boy named Kepler.
According to the book “Yellowstone Place Names,” then Superintendent Norris named the cascade after “the intrepid twelve-year-old son of Governor Hoyt, of Wyoming, who shared all the hardships, privations, and dangers of exploration with his father.”
Two Ribbons Trail
Trailhead: Approximately 5 miles east of the West Entrance, no marked trailhead, look for wayside exhibits next to boardwalk in large pull-outs
Distance: Approximately 1.5 miles (2 km) roundtrip
Trail description: This is a completely boardwalked trail that winds through burned lodgepole pine and sagebrush communities next to the Madison River. This is a nice walk for someone pushing a stroller.
What you’ll see: Good examples of fire recovery and regrowth as well as buffalo wallows. Waterfowl on the Madison River.
Need a trail guide?
My go-to, favorite hiking book for Yellowstone is Bill Schneider's Hiking Yellowstone National Park.
Other family-friendly hikes in Yellowstone (or a bit more description of the ones above).
Want to Spend the Night?