What do you want to see most in Yellowstone?
1. Amazing Thermal Features
Mammoth Hot Springs
The Mammoth Hot Springs 1.75-mile boardwalk trail enables you to see this iconic landmark up-close. It takes about an hour to explore the Upper and Lower terraces, home to about 50 hot springs. Liberty Cap is among the best known of the Upper Terraces features. Rising 37 feet in the air, this cone got its name in 1871 because of its resemblance to the peaked caps worn during the French Revolution.
2. The High Country Above Treeline
Take the direct route to views over Yellowstone Lake, the Tetons and the Absaroka Range on this short-but-steep 4-mile round-trip hike to a broad, 10,566-foot summit. From the trailhead, climb through a forest of spruce, fir and whitebark pine (watch for grizzlies) to a wildflower-strewn meadow. Press on above treeline and across the scree slopes to reach the dramatic summit.
This justifiably popular 6-mile round-trip trail has fantastic wildflowers in July and August, wildlife-watching (look for bighorn sheep, elk and bears) and big views from the summit fire tower. Start early to avoid summer afternoon thunderstorms. From the pass, switchback up to a ridge that leads to the 10,243-foot peak where you'll spot the Hayden Valley, several geyser basins and the southern edge of the Yellowstone caldera.
3. Stunning Waterfalls
If hot springs and waterfalls are on your hiking list, head to Fairy Falls, a 5.2-mile easy, round-trip hike that meanders through a young lodgepole pine forest in an area devastated by the 1988 fires. The Fairy Falls trailhead and parking lot are located one mile south of Midway Geyser Basin. Hike the revamped spur trail to Picture Hill where visitors snap photos of the Grand Prismatic Spring and Excelsior Geyser from above.
After Picture Hill, backtrack to Freight Hill and then connect with the Fairy Falls Trail.
At 220-feet-high, Fairy Falls is the park's tallest front-country waterfall. If you still have energy, continue to Imperial Geyser, a little more than .5 mile farther down the trail.
Enjoy views of the 79-feet-high Wraith Falls on an easy, 1-mile-long round-trip hike. Walk through sagebrush meadows, marshland and conifer forest before you reach the falls. The trail, surrounded by wildflowers if your timing is right, starts at a pullout 0.5 miles east of Lava Creek Picnic Area on the Grand Loop Road.
4. A Beautiful Mountain Lake
Enjoy incredible views of Yellowstone Lake during this 2.3-mile easy loop hike. The trail begins at a turnout at Indian Pond, 3 miles east of the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center. Hike along the lake's shoreline, through a meadow and a lodgepole pine forest and look for marmots, bison, eagles and bear.
A short uphill climb leads you to the tranquil Trout Lake, which feels much farther away than the 1 mile you hiked in. Bring a picnic and spend time looking at the lake's reflections of the blue sky and mountains. Park on the small pullout about 1.5 miles south of Pebble Creek Campground on the Northeast Entrance Road.
Get a Park Map
You'll receive a free park map when you enter the park. But if you'd like to plan your trip in advance and get a lay of the land, consider purchasing a Trails Illustrated map of Yellowstone on REI.com that includes hiking trails, iconic sights and more. You'll get a sense in advance of how far you need to drive to see everything on your bucket list.
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