Yellowstone On Your Own Two Feet

Gorp.com
Yellowstone's Hot Springs  (PhotoDisc)

Yellowstone's status as the oldest U.S. national park assures its popularity among car-bound tourists and hardcore backcountry explorers alike. And while Old Faithful is certainly worth all the attention, Yellowstone's true wonders are to be found on the park's trails, well removed from the crowds and traffic.
With over 2.2 million acres of scenic splendor and 1,200 miles of trails to choose from, Yellowstone is a hiker's sure-footed smorgasbord. Casual hikers should start with Natural Bridge Trail, an easy 3-mile roundtrip named for the rock formation created by centuries of freezing and thawing of the Bridge Creek. Upper Geyser Basin, a five-mile loop along the Firehole River, passes alongside some of the most interesting thermal features in the park, including the Morning Glory Pool and Old Faithful. Fans of the netherworldly hot pools and steam vents should also target the 1.2-mile out-and-back trail to Artists Paintpots.
The more ambitious should tackle Tower Falls, a one-mile out-and-back trail that gains over 200 feet and ends at a thundering 132-foot waterfall. The Fan Creek Trail is another of the park's well-kept secrets—it cuts through one of the most attractive mountain valleys in the park and yet is often overlooked. Gain roughly 430 feet along the 10-mile out-and-back hike, and practice your fly-casting in the creek when your feet demand a rest. The equally untrammeled Agate Creek Trail bypasses many of the thermal features that make this park famous, dipping through green valleys and meadows before topping out at Specimen Ridge for staggering panoramas of the entire park.
Elephant Back Mountain, Avalanche Peak, and Mt. Washburn are the hardest of Yellowstone's day hikes. The first is a four-mile trip that climbs 800 feet in 1.5 miles. Switchbacks ease the ascent...somewhat. It may take a full day to reach the summit of Avalanche Peak in east-central Yellowstone, but the views of Yellowstone Lake, the Absaroka region, and the Tetons will soothe your mind as your quads recover. Mt. Washburn, a volcano that erupted 600,000 years ago to create the Yellowstone Caldera, also makes for a tough one-day push, gaining 1,500 vertical feet along its 5.2-mile roundtrip route as it weaves through fields sprinkled with wildflowers and populated with bighorn sheep.

Published: 31 Jul 2002 | Last Updated: 5 Dec 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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