“I want to go hiking in Yellowstone.”
More than 4 million people visited Yellowstone National Park last year and you can bet a large portion of them said those exact words. Travelers from all over the world come to see Old Faithful, the Grand Prismatic Spring, and bison in the valleys. While these features of Yellowstone are rightfully some of the highlights of the park, what stops many people in their hiking tracks is the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and the waterfalls of the Yellowstone River.
Hiking in Yellowstone in the Canyon Village area has something to offer everyone. If you prefer an easy stroll on a mostly flat hike, there’s a trail for you overlooking the 20 miles in length and more than 1,000 foot depth of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. If you crave that perfect landscape photo, every time you go up a hill or around the bend there is a different view of the falls or canyon that is worth another shot. If you prefer to scan the trees for birds and wildlife, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone can be a perfect spot for an afternoon with binoculars. And if you want to hang-tight to the canyon walls on a thrilling cliff hike, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone has that to offer too.
Planning Your Visit to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
There are a few options when hiking near the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone:
Option 1: Inspiration Point to Lookout Point
The trail from Inspiration Point to Lookout point is full of amazing views of the canyon and falls. Visitors should follow the North Rim Drive to the end and park in the area at Inspiration Point. Note this area can be busy during the summer months, so plan to arrive early. Leave the parking area on the North Rim Trail heading towards Lookout Point. While the hike is an out-and-back, it’s best to start at Inspiration Point and walk back towards the falls so you have the view the entire way.
At Lookout Point you’ll have good views of the Lower Yellowstone Falls at 308 feet high. Also, Lookout Point is thought to have been the location where Thomas Moran painted portions of the famous “The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone” painting that was later presented to congress and is believed to have played an important role in the creation of our first National Park.
Option 2: Uncle Tom’s Trail
If you’d like a closer look at Lower Yellowstone Falls (and are in good physical condition), you might also try Uncle Tom’s Trail on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Uncle Tom’s Trail takes hikers from the top of the South Rim down to the base of Lower Yellowstone Falls, some 500 feet down. The trail was originally constructed in the 1900’s for some of Yellowstone’s first visitors with ropes and more than 500 steps. Today, the hike is not as long (328 metal steps down to a viewing platform), but is still very strenuous and not for anyone who is queasy about heights or steep drop-offs.
Visitors should park in the first parking area off the South Rim Drive and take a short wooded hike to the trail sign leading to the steps. Pack plenty of water and take frequent breaks along the narrow metal stairs if you feel winded. When you arrive at the bottom of the staircase, listen to the thundering Lower Yellowstone Falls. It’s here you’ll fully understand the power of the largest volume waterfall in the Rocky Mountains, nearly twice as high as Niagara Falls.
Option 3: Seven Mile Hole
For visitors to the Canyon area looking for a longer hike or an overnight stay, the Seven Mile Hole trail offers 10 miles of out-and-back hiking along the Yellowstone River beyond the canyon and waterfalls. The trip leaves from the Glacial Boulder parking area near Inspiration Point and travels along the North rim of the canyon until turns and descends more than 1,000 feet into the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Hikers can take in stunning views of the canyon walls before eventually coming face to face with the Yellowstone River. Many choose to set up camp at one of the back country campsites here and spend time fishing for trout and enjoying the solitude of the Yellowstone River.
Trip Notes for Hiking in Yellowstone
- Most visitors to the Grand Canyon simply pull over at one of the view points for a few photos before jumping back into the car for more sightseeing. This can be frustrating if trying to navigate to a parking area or enjoying some solitude as you admire the canyon. If you are not keen on crowds plan to visit the canyon early in the morning or in the late afternoon to avoid the day-trip traffic.
- There are limited facilities near the Grand Canyon area. If you need gas, food, or even a decent restroom plan accordingly in the Canyon Village area before you begin your hike.
- Both Uncle Tom’s Trail and the Seven Mile Hole trails are strenuous and require careful footing. The only reliable water source given the thermal features in the area is the Yellowstone River. If you don’t have water treatment capacity, you’ll need to pack in all of your water for the hike.
- Hiking in Yellowstone can present more hazards than other parks. Trails are carefully placed to keep visitors away from hidden or dormant thermal features which can cause serious burns and injury. Wildlife in Yellowstone is truly wild; bears, bison, and other wildlife frequent the Yellowstone River just as much as humans. Hikers should be prepared with bear spray and always follow park regulations about approaching animals.