A Few New Favorite Hiking Trails for Yellowstone National Park

The end of this season has snuck up on me. All of a sudden I have no more evening programs, and visitation is slowing way down. Although, Labor Day weekend is always busy. My parents recently came out to visit for a week and we were able to do a bunch of hikes I’ve wanted to do! Three people, compared to one, is much better for hiking in grizzly country. In fact, we saw two grizzlies while hiking! THANKFULLY, from a distance away; still, the feeling of seeing one in an area with no trees for safety makes you feel very vulnerable. Of course, trees don’t do too much for safety anyways, but it makes you feel better anyways.

There were a series of unfortunate events and my parents ended up having to stay with me in my little efficiency apartment; but we made the best of it! Check out some of these trails next time you are in Yellowstone; we focused on the eastern side of the park.

Natural Bridge
2.5 miles – Easy – old service road – Fishing Bridge/Lake Village Area

A nice evening walk before dinner, Natural Bridge can be considered to be a great “walk through the woods”. Since the trail is part of an unused service road it is nice and wide and relatively flat. The road portion leads to the view-point where you can see the small arch that is Natural Bridge. There is a trail that leads up and around the bridge; which is no longer “easy” but worth it.

After my parents and I came down from the bridge I noticed a big brown thing moving down the road, and sure enough, it was a bison! He was heading right towards us, so we moved off the trail into the woods. Everything seemed to be fine, the big bull was moving along at a steady pace, and we were standing behind some trees off trail and up a small hill. However, the bison stopped right across the trail from us to check us out.

It was a tense moment, with us all whispering with nervousness, but the bull decided we were not a threat and moved on. After a few minutes of waiting, we got back on the trail and continued on ourselves. My dad and I thought we spotted a bird and were stopped on the trail checking it out when we heard my mom gasp. Both of us wheeled around expecting to see the bison right behind us!

It was just some bicyclists though; but my dad and I had a good fright!

The view of the trail through the Natural Bridge.
The view of the trail through the Natural Bridge.

Trout Lake
1.2 miles – Easy to Moderate – Lamar Valley

Trout Lake is a short hike just west of Pebble Creek Campground. It is ranked easy, but does have a hill climb at the beginning that will make you catch your breath if you’re not use to the elevation. After the climb, you reach Trout Lake, a small but beautiful high alpine lake. The best time for this hike would probably be early summer; late June through late July. The wildflowers could be blooming, there may be river otters with pups, and the Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout could be spawning in the little stream inlet. Of course, there is no bad time to see this lake. It reflects the mountains around it and you will want to take your time walking around it. I saw some of my first Columbia Spotted Frogs on this trail as well!

Wapiti Lake Trail
Easy to Moderate – Canyon Village Area – South Rim Drive

This is a back-country trail found on the South Rim Drive near Canyon Village. We however thought this would be a neat trail to do a there and back on for a little bit. (Plus, we saw some back-country hot springs on the map and we wanted to see if we could find them!) All in all, since it was late in the afternoon we probably only did about 3 miles round-trip. The trail starts of going through an open meadow/sagebrush community and with it being this late in the year, it was golden splendor. It was a little hilly but not too steep.

As we started out on the trail making noise, I saw a Northern Harrier flying 3 feet from the tops of the grasses hunting! It was awesome! Before we headed off again, I did a quick 360* check around us and saw something big and black in the distance. Sure enough, it was a grizzly bear! Thankfully it was at least 300 yards away and moving south at a steady pace, not towards us. In the moment though, you want to find something with cover instead of standing in a meadow with grasses only thigh high. After seeing that bear though we were extra careful to make lots of noise from there on! On the trail we saw lots of wolf scat and we did make it to the thermal areas.

This will definitely be a trail we will do more of in the future.

Yellowstone Picnic Area
3.7 miles – Moderate – Tower-Roosevelt Area

This trail was an extremely pleasant surprise for us, and we were glad we took my coworkers recommendation to check it out! The trail does have a steady climb to it in the beginning, but the rest of the hike you are on top of the east rim of the Narrows of the Yellowstone River. This is the same bench you see from driving on the Grand Loop road from Tower Fall to the Lamar Valley Junction. A perfect hike for my family because it had everything we enjoy on it; a canyon, funny looking trees, rock formations, and a river view. We did not complete the hike because the end of it is walking along the road. Instead, we made it to the halfway point and turned around and went back the way we came. We heard birds of prey, watched an Osprey soar, and saw lots of weird insects!

Lost Lake Loop
2.8 miles – Moderate – Behind Roosevelt Lodge

The Lost Lake Loop trail seemed like it would be right up our alley, but we may have done it backwards. The trail description says to start behind the Roosevelt Lodge and begin your climb up the ridge there (about 300 feet). Two things; we decided to head to the Tower Ranger Station part of the trail first, and we found out the hard way that the climb is much more than 300 feet in elevation. Our recommendation is to follow the trail description like it says in the day hike guide to complete the loop, or just follow the description until you reach the Petrified Tree and turn around from there. While we were not a fan of the big climb after doing Yellowstone Picnic Area,  it still was a neat hike. The valley from Petrified Tree to the Lost Lake is beautiful, and so is the lake! A very pleasant surprise indeed. I have heard from visitors that this is a good place to look for Moose, I just don’t recommend going during the middle of the day like we did.

This trail is combined with the horse-back riding trail from the Roosevelt Lodge and we did pass a caravan. They met a bison and it was interesting to see how they reacted to it, both the bison to the horses and the horses to the bison.

Pelican Valley
6.2 miles – Easy to Moderate – Fishing Bridge Area

One of the mornings before work we did a small part of the Pelican Valley trail. Since we were limited on time we just decided to hike out to a certain time and then turn around and head back. I have wanted to do this trail all summer but it is recommended that you hike in groups of 3 or more. After going through the first small meadow, you head into the woods. There we were surprised to see a male mule deer rubbing on a small tree. He seemed to not be surprised by us, which was weird, considering I had just begun practicing being loud in different accents. After going through the first 1-2 miles in the woods the trail opens up into Pelican Valley. We saw birds of prey soaring for food, wolf scat, and a small herd of bison. Up ahead there were two people sitting on a small knoll in the valley and waved us to them. They could see a grizzly bear about 500 yards away, but it was close to the trail if we continued on. We decided to watch the grizzly bear from the knoll through our binoculars. He certainly was enjoying eating something in the grassy area next to the creek, but every now and then he would stand up on his hind legs sniffing the air. We watched this bear for 20 minutes until he stood up again, and then shortly afterwards took off in a full sprint away from us towards the woods. We think he finally may have gotten a good smell of us since we were up wind.

How could we top watching a grizzly bear in its natural habitat? So we headed back to my apartment for an early lunch.

3 thoughts on “A Few New Favorite Hiking Trails for Yellowstone National Park

  1. Thanks for the trail descriptions and photos. My 25 year old daughter and I encountered two big bison in the woods behind Trout Lake this past mid-May. We diverted but they seemed to follow us! A bit frightening similar to your Natural Bridge hike!


  2. Thoroughly enjoyed this read, Kaitlin. I am so glad your parents got to come out for what sounds like a great visit. Always like reading your posts!


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