12 Top-Rated Hiking Trails in Yellowstone National Park
The nation's first national park, Yellowstone encompasses a staggering near 3,500 square miles of the American West, making it an incredible destination for hiking. Sitting atop an active volcano and ancient calderas, the park proudly displays the densest collection of hydrothermal features in the world. To access many of the attractions of Yellowstone National Park, the NPS has established plenty of hiking trails, including planked boardwalks atop the fragile crust of thermal environments. Iconic trails, like the Upper Geyser Boardwalk, are must-dos, and far-reaching adventures, like the Slough Creek Trail, can give you a taste of an uncrowded Yellowstone. Due to the park's large area and variety of unique regions to explore, it's highly advised to mark several days off the calendar for your next visit.
1 Upper Geyser Basin Boardwalk
Containing, for many, the highlight of Yellowstone National Park, the Upper Geyser Basin has the densest concentration of hydrothermal features in the world, including the always dependable Old Faithful Geyser. There is a lot to explore here, and within its two square miles, more than half of Yellowstone's 300 geysers can be found, ranging from the regal Castle Geyser to the thermophile-filled Morning Glory Pool. The 1.5-mile boardwalk trail of the Upper Geyser Basin and Geyser Hill follows along the Firehole River and provides plenty to admire. With predicted eruption times for five geysers along the boardwalk, including Old Faithful, there's always a good chance of catching a hydrothermal reaction.
The Upper Geyser Basin Boardwalk deserves a strolling pace, and between the erupting geysers, burbling hot springs, and fuming fumaroles, this dynamic area really does define what makes Yellowstone so unique. After you've finished seeing, smelling, and hearing the active Upper Geyser Basin on the boardwalk trail, it's easy to extend your adventure into the surrounding area. Other great day hikes, like the Lone Star Geyser Trail, are close by, and the Midway Geyser Basin is only a short drive away. Adjacent to the Old Faithful Geyser, the historic Old Faithful Inn, established in 1904, provides an impressive, rustic dining hall and timeless accommodations. Next to the Inn, the more-modern Old Faithful Visitor Education Center can provide you some valuable information about the area.
2 West Thumb Geyser Basin Boardwalk
Located on the west thumb of the massive Yellowstone Lake, the West Thumb Geyser Basin provides a water-infused environment both subterranean and above ground. Even in the parking lot of West Thumb Geyser Basin, gurgling geysers can be heard, and once out on the half-mile boardwalk, they can't be missed. Between Abyss Pool, Percolating Spring, and Twin Geysers, there's a lot to stop and see on the West Thumb Geyser Basin Boardwalk, including the underwater Lakeshore Geyser and Fishing Cone. Adjacent to the sulfuric smell and bright colors of the basin, Yellowstone Lake, the largest lake above 8,000 feet in North America, offers welcoming views of the deep water, including the occasional guided kayaking tour near the shore.
3 Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone: South and North Rim
While Yellowstone National Park might be best known for its wide array of hydrothermal features, the nation's first national park also delivers on some jaw-dropping views. No better example of that can be found than at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. With two rims to explore, and massive canyon walls to admire, even with the viewpoints, it's a challenge to comprehend the enormity of it all. On the North Rim, a recommended course of adventure includes the switch-back-filled Brink of the Lower Falls Trail, where you can nearly feel the water splash before it falls 300 feet into the canyon below. On the South Rim, Uncle Tom's Trail offers great views of the Upper and Lower Falls and serves as a worthy place to enjoy a picnic.
4 Midway Geyser Basin: Grand Prismatic Boardwalk
Located within a five-minute drive from the Old Faithful Inn and Upper Geyser Basin, the Midway Geyser Basin is home to one of Yellowstone's largest and most impressive hydrothermal attractions. Living up to its name, the Grand Prismatic Spring of the Midway Geyser Basin measures approximately 360 feet in diameter, and with clouds of steam churning above the vibrant hues of heat-loving bacteria, it looks like it belongs on another planet. Visitors to the Midway Geyser Basin are encouraged to tour the half-mile boardwalk that skirts the rim of the Grand Prismatic Spring and other mega-sized features of the area. Burbling next to the Grand Prismatic Spring, the Excelsior Geyser Crater is another supersized sight to see, including the thousands of gallons of hydrothermally heated water it pours into the nearby Firehole River.
5 Mount Washburn Trail
For the mountain climbers that come to Yellowstone, Mount Washburn is always on the top of the list. Accessed from the Dunraven Pass parking lot, just north of Canyon Village, Mount Washburn provides a healthy climb, great views, and an interesting glimpse into the park's ongoing history with forest fires. The 6.8-mile round-trip up and down Mount Washburn follows a Forest Service road, slowly exposing great views of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Hayden Valley, and Grand Teton the entire way. At the top of Mount Washburn, a working fire tower roosts at the peak, where a park ranger is most likely watching for fires as you visit. Space is reserved in the fire tower for visitor information and binocular stands, which serves as a great resting spot before heading back down the mountain.
6 Mammoth Hot Springs: Upper and Lower Terrace Boardwalks
Located on the far north side of Yellowstone National Park, near the Montana entrance, Mammoth Hot Springs proudly displays ancient activity still at play. Featuring an Upper, Lower, and Main Terrace to explore, Mammoth Hot Springs is a dynamic area full of color, steam, and growing geological formations. Along the boardwalk on the Lower Terrace, the cascading travertine of Minerva Terrace deserves a moment's appreciation, as do the changing colors of New Blue Spring on the Main Terrace.
Every inch of Mammoth Hot Springs is worth exploring, and chances are it will have changed if you visit a decade later. After the adventure, visitors to the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces can continue their hike on the nearby and wildlife-rich Beaver Ponds Trail. For longer stays to explore more in the area, including the winter activities, the nearby Mammoth Hot Springs Campground is one of the best campgrounds in Yellowstone, and one of the few open throughout the year.
7 Norris Geyser Basin Boardwalk
Defined by the scorched appearance of geysers, hot springs, and a fragile crust, the Norris Geyser Basin is the most active geyser area of Yellowstone National Park. Providing the clearest pictures of Yellowstone's volcanic upbringings, Norris is an otherworldly environment filled with colorful thermophiles, hissing steam, and three miles of boardwalk to explore it all. One of the area's largest features, Steamboat Geyser, is the world's tallest active geyser and has the capability to shoot water 300 feet into the air. Split between a Back Basin and Porcelain Basin, there's plenty to explore at the dynamic Norris Geyser Basin, including the Historic Norris Museum, all reinforcing its status as one of the top attractions of Yellowstone.
8 Slough Creek Trail
Venturing on the Slough Creek Trail in the northeast Tower-Roosevelt region of the park allows an out-and-back day hike or an exciting overnight adventure. Located within the Lamar Valley and the luscious meadows along Slough Creek, the Slough Creek Trail is a popular getaway for anglers and wildlife alike. While neither the bison or anglers are much for communicating their favorite spots off the walking path, the entire length of the trail is spectacular, revealing a less crowded, wide-open Yellowstone landscape. For those looking to camp along or near the Slough Creek Trail, backcountry permits are needed for overnight travel, and the primitive Slough Creek Campground adjacent to the trailhead has 16 sites available on a first-come, first-served basis.
9 Boiling River Trail
One of the few hydrothermal areas you can interact with at Yellowstone National Park, the influx of hydrothermal water into the icy cold Gardner River creates the heated swimming spot known as the Boiling River. Located just north of Mammoth Hot Springs, and a short drive from the Roosevelt Arch at the North Entrance of the park, the Boiling River is a popular thermal soaking area and requires just a half-mile trail to access.
While it is physically dangerous to soak in the Boiling River hot spring itself, the output of hot water into the Gardner River is plenty to warm things up. Limited facilities for changing into a bathing suit can be found near the Boiling River, and swimming can be off-limits if the water is too high. Catch the river at the right time, however, and you can feel for yourself some of the hydrothermal action that courses throughout the entire Yellowstone landscape.
10 Lone Star Geyser
Crossing paths with the Continental Divide Trail, the Lone Star Geyser was given its name thanks to its stray location within the Upper Geyser Basin and provides the easiest access to a backcountry geyser in the park. Without a doubt, the first people to stumble upon the scorched landscape surrounding the massive cone of the Lone Star Geyser were amazed at the sight, and even more in awe at the 30- to 45-foot spray of water that erupted out of the cone on a three-hour interval.
Fast forward to today, and the Lone Star Geyser still shows its impact on the area and spouts water roughly every three hours. To access and witness an eruption of Lone Star Geyser, it's a scenic 2.5-mile hike or bike ride down an old forest service road that meanders next to the Firehole River. While Lone Star is less visited because of this five-mile, out-and-back route, the grade is flat, and the terrain is easy, making this impressive backcountry geyser easily accessible for most levels of explorers. The key to making the most out of any visit to Lone Star Geyser is sticking around for the 20- to 30-minute eruption that occurs every three hours.
11 DeLacy Creek Trail
Located just under nine miles west of the West Thumb Geyser Basin, the DeLacy Creek Trail lends access to Shoshone Lake, Yellowstone's largest backcountry lake, and takes visitors through a rich environment along the way. The hike is a 5.8-mile, out-and-back trail that follows the flow of DeLacy Creek to the shores of Shoshone. Wildlife is commonly spotted along this moderately graded route, and the views of Shoshone Lake are breathtaking. Upon reaching the lake, visitors are encouraged to explore the shoreline before heading back the way they came, or if the warm weather is calling for it, to take a quick dip in the icy cold waters of Shoshone Lake.
12 Bechler River Trail
While seeing other people should be an expected occurrence at Yellowstone National Park, if you want to ditch the crowds for a day or two, your best bet will be found in the park's sprawling backcountry. Permits are needed for any overnight travel in the Yellowstone backcountry, and while your chances of running into other humans diminishes the farther you travel, your exposure to all sorts of wildlife increases tenfold. Proper protocol needs to be followed with backcountry camping in Yellowstone, including safe food storage, and hikers need to pack in, and pack out, all the necessary gear for a comfortable wilderness stay.
A great backcountry route is the Bechler River Trail, located in the remote southwest corner of Yellowstone. Comprised of an out-and-back route from the Bechler Ranger Station, the Bechler River Trail covers just over 30 miles of trail along a moderate grade, enabling ambitious hikers to complete the trek in less than two days. Bechler River Trail is worth more of a leisurely pace though, or at least some built-in time to appreciate the abundant waterfalls lining the trail. Prime hiking time for the Bechler River Trail begins in September, after the river crossings have subsided in strength and the mosquitos have diminished, and with heavy competition for the required backcountry permits, advanced reservations are recommended.
Where to Stay in Yellowstone National Park for Sightseeing
It's a trek from any direction to make it inside Yellowstone National Park, and for that reason, it's well worth spending a few nights within park boundaries. As well as 12 different campgrounds within the national park, Yellowstone provides lodges, cabins, and hotels to spend the night and stay close to all the action.
- Lodges: To experience an authentic Yellowstone adventure, it's a good idea to book a room at one of the many lodges within the park. The Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins, located within eyesight of Old Faithful, provides access to quintessential Yellowstone landscapes from clean, comfortable, and modern amenities. Located near the shores of Yellowstone Lake, Grant Village Lodge provides free parking, an attached restaurant, and great views from each spacious guest room. Up north near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Canyon Lodge and Cabins is well regarded for its prime location and affable service.
- Cabins: For those looking to stay at a cabin in the woods within Yellowstone, popular spots like the Roosevelt Lodge Cabins, which gives access to wildlife viewing, horseback rides, and hiking trails, could be right for you. Featuring wood-burning stoves and rocking chairs, the Rough Rider Cabins of Roosevelt Lodge will resonate with those looking for a rustic appeal. Farther south in the park, Lake Lodge Cabins provides western cabins with a wondrous backdrop, and just the right amount of modern facilities to ensure a comfortable night's stay.
- Hotels: To experience the most modern amenities with an overnight stay in Yellowstone, hotels and resorts like the Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Cabins provides newly renovated facilities, a central location within the park, and an in-house piano player that fills the wide-open lobby with music each night. North in the park, the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins can be found in a historic building with modern amenities, lending quick access to the nearby village, as well as nearby natural attractions, including the Boiling River and the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces.
More Outdoor Opportunities in Wyoming
For an overview of campground options in the adventure-dense regions of Wyoming, check out our articles on the Best Campgrounds in Wyoming, Best Campgrounds in Yellowstone National Park, and Best Campgrounds around Grand Teton National Park. For more hiking trails in Wyoming, our Best Hiking Trails in Grand Teton National Park and Top-Rated Hiking Trails in Jackson Hole articles can send you down some memorable paths.