Select Page

Ask Me: The 10 Best Short Hikes in Yellowstone

Ask Me: The 10 Best Short Hikes in Yellowstone

Hi Michael,

I have recently stumbled onto your site and have been enjoying it very much. My husband and I are planning a trip to Yellowstone in a few weeks. We’d like to take in a few short hikes. We are both in our late 60s and in decent shape. We spent a few days in Arches this spring and took a few five-mile hikes through the park and enjoyed it thoroughly. What hike could you recommend for us? We are thinking about limiting our hikes to fives miles because of the change in elevation/terrain and weather conditions we may encounter there.

Thank you.

Strafford, N.H.

Hi Jeanne,

Thanks for writing and finding The Big Outside. You are heading to a fantastic park for short walks and hikes any time of year, although I think autumn is ideal because of good weather and fewer people; some of the photos in this story were shot on an October trip I took.

You should read my “Ultimate Family Tour of Yellowstone” for ideas on the best spots to visit and take very short walks while driving through the park, including the Midway Geyser Basin and America’s largest hot spring, Grand Prismatic.

Grand Prismatic Spring, Midway Geyser Basin, Yellowstone.
Grand Prismatic Spring, Midway Geyser Basin, Yellowstone.

As for hikes of five miles and under, here are the ones I’d suggest, listed in no particular order.

Bunsen Peak

The summit of 8,564-foot Bunsen Peak, about five miles south of Mammoth Hot Springs, overlooks a huge swath of the park, from the Gallatin Range to the west, across the high plateau that comprises much of Yellowstone, to the Beartooth and Absaroka Mountains. The round-trip hike on the Bunsen Peak Trail is four miles.

Lamar River Valley

The Lamar River Valley in the park’s northeast corner is a great area for seeing wildlife like bison and elk and occasionally wolves. Hike out and back as far as you want on the Lamar River Trail, which is pretty flat and passes through open terrain with big views.

Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside, which has made several top outdoors blog lists. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip. Please follow my adventures on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube.


View from near the summit of 10,243-foot Mount Washburn.
View from near the summit of 10,243-foot Mount Washburn.

Mount Washburn

Mount Washburn is 6.2 miles out-and-back from Dunraven Pass on the Grand Loop Road; there’s a shorter, five-mile out-and-back to the summit from a trailhead on a dirt road just north of Washburn, that ascends more than 1,700 feet. The views from 10,243-foot Washburn take in the Tetons, Beartooth and Absaroka Mountains, and the Madison Range. The Indian paintbrush, lupine, and other wildflowers bloom in late July and early August. Hike it in early morning or evening for a good chance of seeing bighorn sheep.

Gear up right for hikes in Yellowstone. See my reviews of the best hiking shoes and the 8 best daypacks.

Lower Yellowstone Falls, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, Yellowstone National Park.
View of Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River from Lookout Point, North Rim Trail.

North Rim Trail, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

The North Rim Trail along the rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River (lead photo at top of story) is arguably the park’s most scenic walk, with constant views into the deep canyon, including Lower Yellowstone Falls. (In fact, I put it on my list of the best national park dayhikes in the country.) Various points of road access allow you to choose a hiking distance, but the entire trail is fairly flat and under four miles. You can also walk across a bridge past Upper Yellowstone Falls to reach the south rim and make it a longer hike by following the South Rim Trail for the views from the other side.

Uncle Tom’s Trail, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

The Uncle Tom’s Trail on the south rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River is short—it only descends about 500 feet—but the more than 300 metal stairs you follow down it lead to a spectacular viewpoint near the base of Lower Yellowstone Falls.


I can help you plan the best backpacking, hiking, or family adventure of your life. Click here now to learn more.


Fairy Falls

The Fairy Falls Trail, in the Midway Geyser Basin, leads to one of the park’s nicest waterfalls, 197-foot Fairy Falls, passing views of the park’s biggest and most colorful hot spring, Grand Prismatic Spring. There are a couple ways to get there, both fairly flat. The shorter route, five miles round-trip, begins a mile south of Midway Geyser Basin, where you cross a steel bridge. The longer route of eight miles round-trip begins at the parking area at the end of Fountain Flat Drive. From the falls, you can continue 0.6 mile one-way to Spray and Imperial geysers, and then double back.

Old Faithful, Upper Geyser Basin.
Old Faithful, Upper Geyser Basin.

Upper Geyser Basin

The Upper Geyser Basin is home to the world’s largest concentration of geysers, hundreds of them, including Old Faithful. You can walk the almost flat trail and boardwalk for several miles from Geyser Hill to Biscuit Basin and Black Sand Basin, or take a shorter tour. Get a map and guide to the Upper Geyser Basin and take time to explore it. You don’t want to miss this area.

Find your next adventure in your Inbox. Sign up now for my FREE email newsletter.


Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone.
Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs, multi-hued travertine terraces formed by thermal waters rising through limestone, is unquestionably one of the most inspiring areas of the park. Water constantly pools and trickles down the terraces and steam billows from them. Boardwalks weave through the lower terraces and a one-way loop road through the upper terraces. Plan to explore this area for an hour or more of leisurely walking for the dramatic light of early morning.

Lone Star Geyser

The Lone Star Geyser Trail, which begins near Kepler Cascades, just south of Old Faithful, is an almost five-mile round-trip hike to Lone Star Geyser, which is several feet tall and erupts about every three hours. Go early in the morning to avoid the crowds and give yourself time to sit and wait for the geyser to blow.


You live for the outdoors. The Big Outside helps you get out there. Join now and a get free e-guide!


Along the Blacktail Deer Creek Trail, Yellowstone National Park.
Along the Blacktail Deer Creek Trail, Yellowstone National Park.

Blacktail Deer Creek Trail

The Blacktail Deer Creek Trail, which begins about 6.7 miles east of Mammoth on the Grand Loop Road, winds north across gently rolling grasslands and meadows with long views of partly forested hills and a good chance of seeing a bison herd. The trail drops more than 1,000 feet in 3.7 miles to the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone River, where, for a longer outing, you can hike either upriver or downriver along a trail through conifer forest, with views of the cliffs rising above the meandering river. But the first few miles of the Blacktail Deer Creek Trail are fairly easy, before it begins descending more steeply into the canyon, and you can turn back at any point.

Read about how climate change is affecting Yellowstone and other parks in my book
Before They’re Gone—A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks.

See all of my stories about Yellowstone National Park, including “Photo Gallery: Yellowstone in Autumn,” and all of my stories about national park adventures at The Big Outside.

Good luck, thanks for writing.


—Michael Lanza


Tell me what you think.

I spent a lot of time writing this story, so if you enjoyed it, please consider giving it a share using one of the buttons at right, and leave a comment or question at the bottom of this story. I’d really appreciate it.

About The Author

Michael Lanza

A former field editor and primary gear reviewer for Backpacker Magazine, Michael Lanza created The Big Outside to share stories and images from his many backpacking, hiking, and other outdoor adventures, as well as expert tips and gear reviews to help readers plan and pull off their own great adventures.


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Avatar

    Thank you for this post! Once I’m able to take a vacation to Yellowstone, I wanted to try a few small half-day hikes and I feel like these are perfect! A question about hot springs though, are there any mineral hot springs that you can take a dip in or all of these just crazy, super hot? Thank you so much for you post and happy trails!

    • MichaelALanza

      Hi Rhen, good question, and the answer is simple: no, the hot springs and other thermal features in Yellowstone are deadly hot and dangerous. It’s also illegal to enter them. There is a pool known as Mr. Bubble in Bechler Canyon that’s in a creek fed partly by water from hot springs, so it’s a mix of cold creek water and hot water that reaches a comfortable temperature. You can pretty much only reach it on a backpacking trip. Otherwise, stay out of all thermal features in the park. Have a good trip.

      • Avatar

        Boiling River

  2. Avatar

    Black Canyon Lake and Timberline Lake are two of my favorite day hikes. The Beaten Path and Sundance Pass (Lake Fork to West Fork drainages) are my favorite backpacking trips. The Beaten Path is definitely the most popular hike and the water features, glaciers and mountains are great. The views at the top of Sundance Pass rival anything I’ve seen in Glacier or in Colorado (I haven’t hiked any other high altitude areas). The fishing is usually fantastic too.

  3. Avatar

    I think the hiking is much better between Cooke City and Red Lodge in the Beartooths. There are countless lakes, great peaks and a fraction of the people. There are numerous good, short hikes off the Beartooth Highway.

    • MichaelALanza

      I’ve wanted to get into the Beartooths, John. Got any favorite trails there?

  4. Avatar

    Yes, totally agree with your list! But, I’d also add the Beaver Ponds Trail in Mammoth (5 mile loop) 🙂 It’s one of the local favorites.

    • MichaelALanza

      Thanks for the great suggestion, Amelia.

  5. Avatar

    Awesome photos! Yellowstone fascinates me, especially because of the super volcano underneath it (I wanted to be a volcanologist when I was 12).


Welcome to the Big Outside

photo of Michael Lanza

Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside and former Northwest Editor at Backpacker magazine. Click my photo to learn more about me and my blog. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside now to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. And click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This