Family friendly hiking in Yellowstone

Family-Friendly Hikes in Yellowstone
Local lore has it that 98% of Yellowstone’s visitors never make it past a visitor center,
parking lot, or boardwalk. Yet, away from the crowds and traffic, you can discover firsthand even more of that unique Yellowstone magic. A waving field of brilliantly colored
wildflowers, an unexpected deer bounding into the woods, or the slap of a beaver tail on a
quiet pond. These are the discoveries waiting just a walk away.
So, why not grab your family, a friend, or your exercise partner and join Yellowstone’s
elite 2% by getting away a Yellowstone hiking adventure. Here is just a sampling of
Mystic Falls (Upper Geyser Basin/Old Faithful area, 2 miles) You will need to go to the
Biscuit Basin area (just north of Old Faithful) and hike to the far end of the boardwalk
here. The trail winds through a mile of burned forests to the falls. Mystic Falls is a
beautiful sight.
For the adventurous, you can continue on the past the falls up a series of switch backs to
Mystic Falls overlook. While it is somewhat steep climb, the view at the top is well worth
it. You will have a view of both Biscuit Basin, as well as the Upper Geyser Basin across
the road. If you are lucky, you may even see geysers erupting in the basins.
Lone Star Geyser (Upper Geyser Basin/Old Faithful area, 5 miles) This trail was
created from an old service road and is perfect for hiking, bicycling, or cross-country
skiing in the winter. (You can rent bicycles from the Snow Lodge.) The road is level and
still partly paved in some places so the five-mile roundtrip is doable for families.
The trailhead is located a few miles south of Old Faithful (watch for Kepler Cascades).
You can’t miss it. The trail follows the bubbling Firehole River. Watch for elk, moose,
and bison along the river munching on riverbank grasses.
The trail leads to the Lone Star Geyser, a tall cone easy to spot against the scenery. The
geyser erupts about every 3 hours with 30-50 foot eruptions emanate from its 12-foot
cone, followed by a roaring steam phase. Check the logbook located on the wooden
stand in front of the geyser. It will give some general information about the geyser and
possibly the time of the last eruption. The show is well worth waiting for. If we are early,
we bring a blanket and refreshments and relax until show time.
Beaver Ponds (Mammoth area, 4.5 mile loop) While we have yet to spot a beaver, this is
one of our favorite kid-friendly trails. This short loop takes you past Mammoth Hot
Springs and through both fields and forests. It is a lower elevation, easy to hike trail.
Early morning or evening are the best times for spotting elk, deer, bear, and beavers.
Don’t forget your camera to capture spectacular views of the Gardner River valley, the
Absaroka's and Mt. Everts. In fall, the Aspen trees turn glorious shades of yellow and if
you are lucky, you might hear a bugling elk in the distance.
Bunsen Peak Trail (Mammoth area, 4.2 miles round-trip) This is a good, short, steep
hike to the top of the eroded remains of an ancient volcano cone. You will need to exert
some energy to manage the 1,300-foot elevation gain in a little more than two miles. But,
once you reach Bunsen's Summit, these views are amazing as you look south over the
park. On a clear day you can see the Teton Mountains. This hike is best down early in the
morning. Take advantage of an early start and get to the top of Bunsen as the sun is
rising—the golden glow of Electric Peak to the west is a sight to behold.
Mount Washburn Trail (Between Canyon and Tower areas, 6 miles round-trip) This is
one of the best higher altitudes hikes in Yellowstone. While it can be strenuous, just take
your time, stay hydrated, dress in layers (bring extra clothing in case it is cold or windy at
the top), and take plenty of breaks to soak in the views. This is a hike that even families
with older children will enjoy. Watch for spectacular displays of wildflowers, elk,
bighorn sheep, and mountain goats.
At the top, you will find a spectacular vista of the Yellowstone and its surrounding
mountain ranges. There is also a lookout tower at the summit with restrooms and
telescopes. Make sure to take time to relax before heading back down.
There are two options to the 10,000+ peak, both a six-mile round trip. The first leaves
from Dunraven Pass (the pullout area just past the restroom and overlook). Hiking along
an old road, the trail is nice but steep. This route features more challenging switchbacks
through the middle portion.
The second route starts from the Chittenden Road parking area. Watch carefully for the
sign on the north side of the road for Chittenden road just before the road curves and
heads down the backside of Mount Washburn. Drive through a few switchbacks to the
parking area. The trailhead is at the east end of the lot (behind the restrooms). This route
is a bit less scenic but offers a more gradual, straight path to the peak.
The trail will open later in the summer due to the altitude and previous winter’s snow
conditions. It may also close occasional due to bear activity. Check at any visitor center
for updates.
Tower Falls (Tower area, 1 mile) While many people pull into the Tower parking lot and
walk along the railing for a view, not everyone takes the time to hike the one-mile round
trip to the bottom of the falls. This trail is steep in parts and heavily used (early mornings
or evenings are not as busy).
It is worth traveling to the bottom for this incredible view from below of the powerful,
pounding water. It is a treat for all of your senses as you listen to the crashing water and
feel the mist on your face.
Lost Lake Trail (Tower area, 4 miles) This nice, short hike has a lot to offer with great
views, a nice waterfall, a small lake and even a petrified tree. The trail starts behind the
Roosevelt Lodge. You will hike up the hillside through the pines to a junction. At the
junction, you can choose to go left for another ½ mile to Lost Creek Falls. Then, return to
the junction. (Watch for raspberries along the trail in August.)
Or, turn right and hike one mile through a meadow to Lost Lake, an elongated lake
covered with lily pads. From the lake, you will wind down along the hillside until you
reach the parking lot for Petrified Tree. To get back to Roosevelt Lodge, take the trail at
the northeast end of the lot and follow it as it climbs to an open hilltop for views of the
Beartooth-Absaroka Range until descending to the Tower Ranger Station.
Elephant Back (Lake area, 4 miles) The 1871 Hayden Expedition creatively named
Elephant Back Mountain due to its vertical sides and rounded form at the summit. The
trailhead for Elephant Back Mountain is about a mile south of Fishing Bridge junction or
a mile north of Lake hotel. This hike requires a gradual or steep ascend for about two
miles – depending on your perspective! The trail begins in the trees and then splits about
halfway up. You can choose your loop (both go to the top and are fairly easy climbs
although the right loop is a bit longer). For variety, try one loop on the way up and the
other on the way down.
At the top you’ll want to stop and catch your breath while admiring the view. You can
see the Lake building complex, Yellowstone Lake, Pelican Valley and the Absaroka
Mountain Range. Then, you head back down. Watch for deer and moose along the way.
This trail also closes periodically for bear activity. Check at the Fishing Bridge Visitor
center for details.
Natural Bridge (Lake area, 2 1/2 miles) This trail was also a former road until the early
1990’s when you could no longer drive to this feature. Located 2 miles south of Lake
Hotel Junction on the Lake-West Thumb Road, the trailhead is just south of Bridge Bay
bridge, near the Bridge Bay Campground.
It is a very flat and easy hike that leads you to a natural bridge. This feature is also
discovered and named by the Hayden Expedition, the bridge has a span of about 30 feet
and rises about 10 feet above the creek. The top of the arch is about 40 feet above the
Pelican Creek Nature Trail (Fishing Bridge area, 1 mile) This short trail offers one of
the best opportunities to spot wildlife, experience marshes, spot pelicans, and take some
fantastic photos. The trailhead is located about 1.5 miles east of Lake Junction on the
East Entrance Road at Pelican Creek bridge.
This level trail follows Pelican Creek to the inlet of Yellowstone Lake. Crossing a
marshy area on a wooden boardwalk, the trail then cuts through a lodgepole forest and
ends on a beach at Yellowstone Lake. Watch for otters along Pelican Creek and a variety
of birds including ducks, pelicans, cormorants, and common mergansers. Hike this trail at
dawn or early evening for some incredible sunrise and sunset photos.
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