Lower Yellowstone Falls, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, Yellowstone National Park.

Ask Me: The 10 Best Short Hikes in Yellowstone

In Ask Me, Hiking, National Park Adventures   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   9 Comments

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.


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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.


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.


Gear up right for hikes in Yellowstone. See my reviews of the best hiking shoes and the 7 best daypacks.


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 metal stairs you follow down it lead to a spectacular viewpoint near the base of Lower Yellowstone Falls.


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 geyser, Grand Prismatic Geyser. 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.


Stay dry and happy. See my reviews of “The 5 Best Rain Jackets For the Backcountry.”


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.


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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.


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.


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.

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.



I can help you plan the best backpacking, hiking, or family adventure of your life.

Got a question about hiking, backpacking, planning a family adventure, or any trip I’ve written about at The Big Outside? Email it to me at michael@thebigoutside.com. For just $75, I’ll answer your questions via email or in a phone call to help ensure your trip is a success. See my Ask Me page.

—Michael Lanza


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9 Responses to Ask Me: The 10 Best Short Hikes in Yellowstone

  1. Rhen Sanchezz   |  September 19, 2018 at 8:32 pm

    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   |  September 20, 2018 at 7:13 am

      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.

  2. John   |  September 15, 2017 at 12:04 pm

    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. John   |  September 15, 2017 at 12:09 am

    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   |  September 15, 2017 at 8:37 am

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

  4. Amelia   |  July 29, 2015 at 9:41 pm

    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   |  July 30, 2015 at 7:15 am

      Thanks for the great suggestion, Amelia.

  5. gemmajaneadventures   |  July 14, 2015 at 6:35 pm

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

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