If you’re ready to put some miles on your feet, Yellowstone National Park’s got enough hikes to keep you entertained for an entire summer. Shuffle along the boardwalks around famous geothermal features, take woodsy trails through wildlife territory, scramble up peaks or, if you’re truly ambitious, embark on a multi-day backpacking trip.
Prime hiking season is mid-July through the beginning of September, when you can count on mostly dry trails, blue skies and, on the other end, summer thunderstorms (usually short-lived but worth avoiding on peak bags). Of course, lower elevation trails dry out by June or sometimes even May, and sunny autumns can stretch the hiking season into October—it just depends on that year’s weather.
Bring bear spray, bug spray (and don’t confuse the two), a map and a friend.
Find Yellowstone hikes you can do in your flip-flops.
1.2 miles round trip, double wide trail and boardwalk
The Artist Paintpots are gurgling, multicolor springs that sometimes up the ante with atmospheric steam. This easy needle-loop trail tours a scene of watery weirdness. Plan plenty of time to stop for photos.
Directions: From Norris Junction, head south on the Grand Loop Road. The spur road for Artist Paintpots is a right turn at almost 4 miles.
Canyon Rim South
Up to 7 miles round trip, 3.5 with shuttle, or just hike sections
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone offers arresting scenic viewpoints into Upper and Lower Falls. Many tourists drive from point to point, but it’s a gorgeous walk between points and if you leave a car at each end (Artist and Inspiration Points), you can make it a shuttle.
Directions: From Canyon Junction, head south 2.3 miles on the Grand Loop Road. Turn left over the Chittenden Bridge to find parking.
3.4 mile round trip needle-loop
One of the Park’s top hikes, Mystic Falls isn’t known for solitude, but it does offer a lovely stroll through the ’88 burn, ending at a 70-foot waterfall. Start on the Biscuit Basin Boardwalk, veering left at the Little Firehole Meadows Trail, then stay right at the Mystic Falls loop trail junction.
Directions: From Old Faithful, head north 1.8 miles, parking in the Biscuit Basic Boardwalk area.
Upper Geyser Basin
Up to 5 miles round trip, with multiple shorter loop options, mostly paved or boardwalk, wheelchair accessible
This popular walk serves as Yellowstone’s pull-out-all-the-stops finale, with erupting geysers galore, including Old Faithful. Buy the map-brochure at the visitors section so you can pick which loop you’d like to do, or just do them all.
Directions: From Madison Junction, head 16 miles south, taking the Old Faithful exit.
Feel like you got out and hiked something, without getting too expedition-y about it.
Monument Geyser Basin
2.4 miles round trip, steep 700-foot elevation gain
Getting geysers to yourself can be tricky in Yellowstone, but a steep hill climb weeds out the wimps at the lesser-visited (but nonetheless spectacular) Monument Geyser Basin.
Directions: Head 4.6 miles south from Norris Junction, parking just south of the Gibbon River bridge.
4.2 miles round trip, 1300-foot elevation gain
Bunsen Peak delivers a relatively easy summit with lots of views over Gardiner, the Gardiner River, the Mammoth Terraces, Electric Peak, the Absarokas and Mount Holmes. Bring water as there aren’t easy filtering options.
Directions: From Mammoth, head south almost 5 miles to Golden Gate. Continue to the Glen Creek Trailhead parking lot.
6.2 miles round trip, 1400-foot elevation gain
There’s a reason there are 20 powerscopes and a cush “lookout” on the summit of Mount Washburn—it’s a popular hike. You’ll see why—this classic trail boasts an explosion of wildflowers, near-guaranteed bighorn sheep sightings and 360-degree summit panoramas. Hike it in the morning or on an impeccably perfect day to avoid summer afternoon thunderstorms.
Directions: From Tower Junction, head 8.7 miles south, turning onto Chittenden Road. Travel for 1 mile over gravel to the parking area.
Lone Star Geyser
5.4 miles round trip, on an old service road
No Texas reference here—Lone Star Geyser is named because it’s a big geyser a ways away from the other geysers. Count on eruptions of 10-15 minutes every 2-3 hours, with plumes ranging from 30-50 feet. This popular trail unwinds along the Upper Firehole River and, since it doesn’t have much elevation gain, it also makes a great bike ride.
Directions: Park in the Lone Star Trailhead, 2 miles east of the Old Faithful intersection.
With these hikes, plan on longer days, tougher boots and sleeping like a baby afterwards.
Seven Mile Hole
10 miles round trip, 900-foot descent followed by 900-foot ascent
Seven Mile Hole drops into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, so unlike most hikes, you hike down before you hike up. The trail starts in a pretty lodgepole forest, follows the rim of the Canyon, then plunges down along switchbacks with dramatic canyon views. Be sure to filter water at the river or bring plenty, as there are no sources on the climb out.
Up to 10 miles round trip, a few hundred feet elevation gain
This long amble along Hayden Creek is notorious for good wildlife watching—bison galore and often grizzlies in the morning. It’s also known for being a little swampy, so bring your waterproof hikers.
Directions: From Canyon Junction, head south 4.4 miles to park at a pullout near the Mary Mountain Trailhead.
8.2 miles round trip
Osprey Falls makes for a beautiful 150-foot plunge, with a dreamy little hangout area in the waterfall mist. This moderate trail covers some good wildlife-watching terrain.
Directions: Head south of Mammoth to Golden Gate, parking in the Glen Creek Trailhead.
9 miles round trip
Maybe this wildflower-strewn trail is called Observation Peak because you have to wait for the view, which starts to pop out once you reach the ’88 burn area near the summit. From the top, take in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Gallatin Range and Mount Sheridan.
Directions: Park 1.3 miles north of Canyon Junction.
Most visitors never see the “real” Yellowstone—the hundreds of square miles you can only reach by sleeping on the trail.
Yellowstone has an established backcountry system, meaning you camp in pre-designated sites with limits on how many people can stay. Permits are required in advance so Park officials know who’s supposed to be where. Backcountry sites may be reserved in advance, but you’ll still need to get your permit in person at a ranger station within 48 hours of your departure. Many backcountry sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Find more information on backcountry logistics here.
Before you get into the backcountry, you’ll want to thoroughly research trips and load up on maps—but here’s a few ideas to get you started.
18 miles round trip, 3700-fot elevation gain
Recommended as a 3-day trip
You’ll stare at this pretty peak from many eatery porches in Gardiner—the sixth highest peak in the park is just begging to be climbed.
42 miles as a shuttle
Recommended as a 6-night trip
A once-in-a-lifetime trip that requires thoughtful planning and impeccable conditioning, this long haul crosses multiple mountain passes with lots of high-alpine views, wildlife, lakes and rivers.
Black Canyon of the Yellowstone
Recommended as an easy 3-day trip
If you’re sneaking into Yellowstone early in the season, this is your trip—a relatively easy stroll along the Yellowstone River, bookended with sturdy suspension bridges and peppered with wildlife.
Up to 20.6 miles, round trip
Recommended as an overnighter
This one’s for the fisherman, since Slough Creek is known as some of the world’s best cutthroat trout fishing—although we’ll warn you, they’re plump and smart.
27.4 mile needle-loop, round trip
Recommended as a four day trip
This trail loops around the massive Shoshone Lake, full of fish and lined with pretty forest. For the least bugginess, hike in late August.
Enjoy hiking and backpacking through Yellowstone—and especially the smug satisfaction of seeing incredible sections of the Park that so many visitors miss.