START: 5 miles east of Mammoth Hot Springs on the road to Tower Junction, between Blacktail Deer Lakes and Blacktail Deer Creek. Look for a pullout on the north side of the road. The trail (called “Blacktail Creek Trail”) begins here.
END: Gardiner, Mont.
DISTANCE: 12.5 MILES
ELEVATION CHANGES: DROP OF 1,500′.
TIME REQUIRED: 6 hours
Yellowstone Hiking Guidebooks
Our favorite hiking guidebooks are by Tom Carter. He is the author of Day Hiking Yellowstone National Park, Day Hiking Grand Teton National Park, and Day Hiking the Wind River Range. These three guidebooks are small in size and very handy to pack along. Our favorite thing about Carter’s books is each trail description includes interesting facts. These guidebooks can be purchased in stores throughout the greater Yellowstone Region.
Following is an excerpt about Blacktail Creek Trail
The trail leaves the parking lot and heads north across the open meadow. It’s hard to believe this entire area was thoroughly burned by the fires of 1988. Some areas will take 100 years or more to completely regrow, but meadows like this significantly regenerated by the following summer.
Today, only a trained eye can spot remaining effects of the fire.
About a half mile from the road, the trail climbs a small hill and passes several fenced-in areas. Through the use of these “elk exclosures,” park biologists can study the effects of Yellowstone animals on the native vegetation.
Just past the exclosure on your left is a stand of aspen trees which burned. Historically, the aspens of Yellowstone have rarely reproduced through seeds. Instead, new trees sprout from the roots of other trees. That’s why aspens usually grow in clusters and in the fall the leaves of interconnected “clone” trees turn colors at the same time. The fires of 1988 caused a tremendous regeneration of aspens to occur, both from seeds and from the stimulated root systems of burned trees.
The next two miles take you over beautiful open meadows (excellent for wild flowers in mid-summer) before joining Blacktail Deer Creek and plunging 800 feet to the bottom of the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone. Shortly after you begin your descent, listen for a small falls on the creek just a few yards to the right of the trail. A little further down, notice the rock wall on the opposite side of the creek. It looks like a solid row of fence posts! This unusual geological formation is called “columnar basalt.” Cooling of an ancient lava flow caused the rock to contract and crack in these many-sided columns.
As you reach the bank of the mighty Yellowstone you are deep in the heart of the Black Canyon. If you have some extra time, drop your pack and stroll up the river for magnificent views of the river and the high canyon walls.
The trail continues across the Yellowstone country on a steel suspension bridge and joins the Yellowstone River Trail. Take a left (NW) and continue downriver towards Gardiner, Mont.
Almost immediately after leaving the trail junction you reach Crevice Lake. Notice the circular shape of this lake and the high banks that surround it. The lake was probably a product of the action of glaciers and flood deposits during the last ice age.
At the 5.5-mile mark, Knowles Falls is reached. Though only 15 feet high, the falls makes quite a roar. The trail continues closely alongside the river. Soon the water turns white and the most dramatic portion of the hike is reached as the trail winds through a massive rock slide.
Leaving the canyon, the trail starts out across open spaces and meanders back and forth across the park boundary. In the summer, this section of the hike can become hot and very dry. Pack plenty of water, and save some for this area.
After crossing Bear Creek (9.5-mile mark) on a footbridge, notice the remains of earlier hot spring activity above the trail on the right. Today, limestone deposits like these are commercially mined just north of Gardiner.
As you walk into Gardiner, Mont., sometimes called “Sin City” by park employees, you will easily be able to find the final attraction of this hike- the bottom of an empty beer mug!