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Day hikes Yellowstone
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Stinson 108
Day hikes Yellowstone on 03/23/2014 11:50:18 MDT Print View

I just joined your group. Excited to be here. Many of you seem very familiar with Yellowstone National Park so I wanted to ask you to recommend a few day hikes. I am taking a group of high school kids from a small rural Kansas school to Yellowstone ( and more) this summer. Most in the group have no hiking experience and little or no experience with wilderness despite the rural community. I plan to be in Yellowstone for 3 days and I feel like we have to do the basic tourist things since none have been there before. But what about some kind of a 4-6 mile loop or out and back that might add to the experience? We will be at Canyon one night and then 2 at Madison, though I may switch the 2nd Madison to Fishing Bridge group site for the last night. After Yellowstone we head to Gates of the Ladore and then home via White River National Forest at Shrine Pass. Co. Thanks in advance for your tips!

Edited by stinson108 on 03/23/2014 12:04:38 MDT.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Day hikes Yellowstone on 03/23/2014 12:21:22 MDT Print View

There are dayhike trail suggestions at the Yellowstone National Park web site. In some cases, there are rough maps as well. You might want to think about how many cans of bear spray are needed, perhaps one at the front and one at the rear.


Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Scheduling Yellowstone on 03/23/2014 14:33:53 MDT Print View

I'm not an expert but here is my 2 cents having spent time in YNP.


It is a BIG place, driving time is a major factor. You want to leave your camp in the morning and stay out till evening. This means pack lunches are a must and the kids need to be prepared for changing weather.


You can't do everything so you need to prioritize what is most important. For my family it was animal watching, we didn't care much for hot springs. Depending on how many kids and vehicles you have you might want to split the group in two some days so they have a choice.


You'll see lots of buffalo, Elk and deer just from the road. If you're lucky you might see a bear but no guarantee. If you really want to see a bear or a wolf you need to spend time in either Hayden Valley or the Lamar Valley. The best time is in the morning and evening. Find these valleys on a map. Then think about how you could watch animals there and go do other stuff during the heat of the day when animals are less active (remember sack lunches!)

You'll want as many binoculars and spotting scopes as possible. Before the trip see how many you can round up. If you're in a rural area chances are there will be dads or uncles who could lone you the spotting scope they hunt with. I've heard rentals are available too.


There is a short and easy hike to see the Yellowstone Falls, very touristy. Bring binoculars and a scope if you can because there are a couple of osprey nest down in the canyon.

I haven't done it but I've heard the hike up Mt. Washburn is good. Its pretty common to see Big Horn Sheep up there.

There is a fire tower on a ridge above Highway 212 east of Cooke City. You drive up a dirt road to the tower and there is a great view of the Absaroka Mountains (the road is narrow so be careful but its not a 4x4 road any car can make it). The fire tower has great views and you can hike up the ridge (no trail) for a couple miles if you want.



This is a bit of a drive but it will be very scenic and it will feel a lot "wilder" then hikes like the hike to Yellowstone Falls. You might squeeze this hike in between watching wolves in the Lamar Valley. Just don't get caught in a thunder storm.

Other Considerations
A can or two of bear spray is a good idea. Talk to the kids about not leaving food out. Get as many binoculars and spotting scopes as possible and ALWAYS have them ready, or at least the binoculars. You never know when you'll see a cool critter you want a better look at.

I will actually be up there myself this summer. PM me once you have an account set up and I'll give you my contact info. I'll be happy to let you know any inside info I pick up if I beat you there. Last summer there was a bison carcass that was a great place to see wolves for a couple days.

Edited by Cameron on 03/23/2014 14:37:49 MDT.

Gary Dunckel
(Zia-Grill-Guy) - MLife

Locale: Boulder
re: Scheduling Yellowstone on 03/23/2014 17:01:47 MDT Print View

As luke mentioned, YNP is a huge Park, and driving it eats up a lot of time due to the traffic, cars stopping to look at a bison, etc. With just 3 nights in the Park, I think your time would best be spent doing the entire figure-8 route, and get a complete overview of what Yellowstone is. You could stop at several geyser basins for leg stretching, and eat your packed lunches at shaded roadside picnic areas.

If your first night at the Madison CG begins in the late afternoon, there won't be much time to see anything. If you get set up by early afternoon, there would be time to race up to the Norris Geyser Basin to spend a few hours, which is pretty impressive.

But the middle day affords a bunch of good things. Drive to Old Faithful early in the morning and see the amazing upper geyser basin. Many tourists and a parking hassle, but it is the best collection of thermal features in the Park. Then drive east to West Thumb (it has a fair geyser basin), then along the beautiful west shore of Yellowstone Lake, up to Canyon, where you would turn west back to your camp at Madison. This lower loop of the figure-8 highway system is the best part of the Pack, in my opinion, and it would be a great way to spend a day. Another good thermal area is the mud volcano, which is a collection of funky mud pots and fumeroles. It's on the road between Lake and Canyon. Just north of that is the wonderful Hayden Valley, where you'll get your Bison fix. Just before your get to Canyon, there are the viewpoints of the upper and lower falls (worth checking out). The road between Canyon and Madison doesn't offer too much, other than the Norris geyser basin and the curious Artists Paintpots, and a good look at Gibbon Falls.

Short hikes around Madison/Old Faithful:

1) Drive east to the DeLacy TH and hike the flat trail to Shoshone Lake (~6 miles RT).

2) Easy hike on an abandoned fire road to the Lone Star geyser (~4 miles RT).

Short hikes around Canyon (these 2 could be accessed easily from Madison as well):

1) Cascade Lake, using the trail just north of the main intersection on the Canyon-Tower road. It's a gentle 4 mile RT hike though unburned forest and meadows. The route to the lake from the Canyon-Norris road goes through burned forest.

2) Grebe Lake, 6+ miles RT on a pretty flat trail. It goes through heavily burned forest, but it's quite nice at the lake. It's a good way to check out the effects of the 1988 burn, and how the forest has slowly recovered since. There's pretty decent fishing at the lake.

If you had two consecutive nights at Canyon, I might suggest driving up to Tower Junction and hiking Slough Creek up as far as you wanted to (an in and out hike, as are all that I've mentioned). Maybe eat your lunch at a nice shaded spot, then drive back out and go east to the Lamar valley to check it out--lots of wildlife, mostly bison. Then you will have a long drive back to Canyon. Don't try driving any further east (like to Cooke City), as it would take you forever to get back to Canyon.

Sorry if this all seems a bit confusing. The thing is, you really need to nail down what you want most to get out of your 3-night YNP experience. There are fantastic thermal features, good hiking, great backpacking, fishing, boating, and a large variety wildlife--lots of choices. You will have a great time, no matter how you approach it. I wish you had more time to spend there, as I usually advise people to plan at least 4-6 days to see the Park.

Edited by Zia-Grill-Guy on 05/06/2014 10:35:34 MDT.

Stinson 108
Thanks for the tips! on 03/31/2014 13:08:42 MDT Print View

Thanks for all the great info! One other question......I know the traffic is bad. I was thinking about skipping the whole upper loop of the figure 8. Mammoth Hot Springs is the only tourist type "must see" up there that I can think of, and it's been a dud the last few times I was in the park. any ideas on this? We don't have time to get out in the back-country up there.

Gary Dunckel
(Zia-Grill-Guy) - MLife

Locale: Boulder
Blow off the upper loop on 03/31/2014 14:02:23 MDT Print View

I would forget the whole upper loop, for Mammoth is about the only thing worthwhile. Too many crowds there for me, but I usually stop there when passing through, just to see my buddy who is the backcountry head ranger. Also, the roads from Norris to Mammoth, Mammoth to Tower Junction, and Tower to Canyon don't have many great roadside attractions, nor thermal features or wildlife viewing (except for the Lamar Valley east of Tower). So if I were to delete any one part of the Park, it would be the northern loop of the figure 8. That said, I think every bit of the Park has some good things to see/do, and great backcountry hiking/backpacking, but you are so limited for time.