While there’s plenty to see from Yellowstone’s roads, most of the park—98 percent—is rugged, beautiful, dynamic wilderness. To explore Yellowstone’s wild side, get off the beaten path and onto the park’s 1,300-mile trail system. From boardwalk strolls to multi-day backpacks, you’re sure to find something to suit your speed. Here are ten stellar options from the editors of Backpacker magazine. Go to backpacker.com/hikes for maps, downloadable GPS content and more.Black Sand Geyser Basin
Best for: Families; dayhike; hot-spring hunters
Named for the obsidian sand that is common throughout this basin, Black Sand Geyser Basin is home to numerous geysers and hot springs. This easy-going, 0.4- mile boardwalk stroll is a great way to see them. From the parking area west of Old Faithful, go southwest and turn right to access an observation deck overlooking Cliff Geyser. Next, cross a footbridge over Iron Spring and turn left onto the boardwalk that leads to Emerald Pool. Finish at the colorful Rainbow Pool.
FIND IT: From West Thumb, head southwest on Grand Loop Rd. In 0.2 mile, turn right onto Grand Loop Rd./John D Rockefeller Jr. Rd. Go 18 miles to trailhead parking on the left.Elephant Back Trail
BEST FOR: Dayhike; older kids; postcard views
Set aside a couple of hours for this 3.9-mile loop that leads to a prime overlook above Yellowstone Lake—the park’s largest body of water—and views of the Absaroka Mountains. From the Elephant Back Trailhead, follow the wide trail that climbs steadily through lodgepole pine forest. As you switchback up the mountain, look for pieces of obsidian (volcanic glass) in the rock. The trail crests a plateau after a mile and a half, and then heads southwest to an overlook. Grab a seat on the bench and soak up the five-star views, and then continue to follow the trail along the top of the plateau before tackling a steep descent back to the trailhead.
FIND IT: From Lake Village, go west on Grand Loop Rd./US 14/US 16/US 20 for 0.1 mile to a parking pullout on the right.Fountain Paint Pot
BEST FOR: Families; dayhike; an otherworldly geothermal experience
With its hissing fumaroles, bubbling mudpots, and propellant geysers, this 0.6-mile boardwalk loop serves as a greatest-hits collection of Yellowstone’s geothermal wonders. The hike starts with a visit to the turquoise waters of Celestine Pool and Silex Spring, then follows a boardwalk north to the hike’s namesake. A living lesson in geology, Fountain Paint Pot owes much of its gurgling charisma to tiny, heat-loving organisms that convert solid rock into bubbling clay. Past the Paint Pot, the boardwalk swings by the ever changing Red Spouter (a muddy pool in spring and early summer, and a hissing fumarole in late summer and fall), past Jet Geyser, and ends at a vantage point offering views of the rainbow-like runoff surrounding the Jelly, Clepsydra, and Spasm Geysers. Follow the boardwalk back to the parking lot.
FIND IT: From West Yellowstone, MT, go east on US 191/ West Entrance Rd. In 14 miles, turn right onto Grand Loop Rd. Go 8 miles to the Fountain Paint Pots parking lot on the right.Lone Star Geyser
BEST FOR: Dayhike; older kids; geyser gazers
A must-do hike in Yellowstone, this easy 4.8-mile out-and-back begins in the Kepler Cascades parking area and follows a paved trail to Lone Star Geyser, a backcountry spout that erupts with a spectacular 45-foot fountain of water about every three hours. The trail crosses the Firehole River after half a mile, and climbs gently through forest and several meadows. After 2.5 miles, the path ends near the geyser. To calculate Lone Star’s next eruption, continue 250 feet farther to a logbook with the geyser’s most recent eruption times. Relax and wait for the show, or turn around and follow the road back to the trailhead.
FIND IT: From West Thumb, head southwest on Grand Loop Rd./US 14/US 16/US 20. In 0.2 mile, turn right onto Grand Loop Rd./John D Rockefeller Jr. Rd. Go 15.1 miles to the Kepler Cascades parking pullout on the left.Bunsen Peak
BEST FOR: Longer dayhike; views; heart-pumping climbs
Perched on the edge of Sheepeater Canyon and Golden Gate Canyon, Bunsen Peak’s 8,564- foot summit offers sweeping views across Yellowstone’s northwest corner. See for yourself on this 7-mile loop that crests the peak and skirts the edge of Sheepeater Canyon. From the Bunsen Peak Trailhead, turn left at the first trail junction to start a clockwise loop. You’ll wind across a sagebrush-dotted landscape to the base of Bunsen Peak, then climb via switchbacks up Bunsen’s northwest ridge to reach the summit after 2 miles. Take in views of Electric Peak, the Absaroka Range and Mount Holmes, and then follow the trail as it zigzags down toward Sheepeater Canyon, around the base of the peak, and back to the trailhead.
FIND IT: From the North Entrance, head south on N. Entrance Rd./US 89 toward Lower Mammoth. In 7.1 miles, turn left into the parking lot.
More Great Hikes
A scenic, 15-mile drive leads from Pinedale northeast to the Elkhart Park Trailhead. You’ll start at an elevation of 9,100 feet. This trail offers short dayhikes into the Winds to destinations like Photographer’s Point and Miller Lake as well as longer overnight trips. Two trails lead into the wilderness: Pole Creek Trail and Long Lake Trail. Pole Creek Trail is a gentle uphill hike that heads east into the breathtaking Bridger Wilderness.
›› Go to visitpinedale.org.
Salt Lake City
Enjoy breathtaking views with easy access from Salt Lake City. Salt Lake’s trail network offers wonderful hikes into the surrounding mountains and canyons.
›› Go to visitsaltlake.com, call (801) 534-4900.
Hike to scenic South Pass from the trailhead on Oregon Buttes Road, 3 miles off Hwy 28. This easy, 1.5-mile (round-trip) hike gains just 30 feet as it meanders to great views.
›› Go to wind-river.org, call (800) 645-6233.