There is no question that trying to figure out the best hikes in Yellowstone National Park for you and your family can get quite a challenge. Yellowstone National Park has over 900 miles of hiking trails, and since most of us don’t quite have the time to hike the entire trail system during our stay (let alone our lives!), narrowing down to the best hikes in Yellowstone for your particular capabilities and allotted time is something we all must do.
We have worked hard to do the research to help cut down on the guesswork when figuring out which hikes are right for you. If you have any questions, let us know in the comments section and we’ll email you personally as soon as we can!
Our Yellowstone National Park Itinerary helps take the guesswork out of you trip planning to Yellowstone. We cover even more hikes than included in this guide and rank them in order by popularity. We also cover what to pack, what to see while you are in the area, where to stay and other great tips!
UNCLE TOM’S TRAIL (FROM ARTIST POINT)
Uncle Tom’s Trail map, courtesy of the National Park Service
Artist Point is definitely a must-see in Yellowstone. From the overlook, you can see down into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone all the way to Yellowstone Falls. The view is simply breathtaking. Most visitors to Artist Point park in the nearby parking lot and take the quick (1-minute) walk to the overlook, which can get quite crowded.
To really get up and close to Yellowstone Falls, we recommend hiking from Artist Point to Uncle Tom’s Trail. This 2.0-mile (round-trip) hike has an elevation change of 325 feet (which happens to be down most of the way to the overlook for Yellowstone Falls). Some consider this hike to be very challenging (and you’ll see why as you read…), but the short distance means that it lasts only about an hour.
After a pleasant and easy walk along the South Rim trail, which has great views of Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, the trail leads to a set of switchbacks before arriving at a set of stairs. This isn’t a staircase like you’ve seen before-it is 328 steps in total and ends in a overview that gets you up close and personal with the massive Yellowstone Falls. On a hot day this is a great spot in particular, as the spray from the falls is continuous while you are at the bottom of the trail.
The trailhead is located in the Canyon Village area on the south side of the Yellowstone River at the end of South Rim Drive.
Hike option: If you are short on time or happen to want to avoid trying to find a parking spot in the Artist Point parking lot, it’s possible to hike just down the switchbacks and stairs by parking in the Uncle Tom’s Trail parking area. This cuts the hike down to only 0.6 miles (round-trip).
GRAND PRISMATIC OVERLOOK TRAIL
Grand Prismatic Overlook Trail map, courtesy of the National Park Service
Grand Prismatic Spring is one of the most photographed locations in Yellowstone. The variety and intensity of colors rivals any other natural wonder in the world. There are a couple of options on how best to see it, but the Grand Prismatic Overlook allows hikers to get above the spring and see it in a way unlike no other.
The Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook hike is a 1.2-mile (round-trip), moderately-easy hike. Climbing just 110 feet (in total), it requires a bit of effort but is well worth it.
After starting off on the unpaved Fairy Falls Trail, the hike stays fairly flat until the end when it climbs up to an overlook which offers amazing views of the Midway Geyser Basin, which includes the Grand Prismatic Spring.
Be advised the both bears and bison frequent the area, so you’ll have to be on alert when you hike here.
The Fairy Falls trailhead is located on the west side of Grand Loop Road, approximately 5.9 miles north of Old Faithful.
Hike option: If you are not able to make the hike up to the overlook, the Midway Geyser Basin trail is also a good option. This trail is on a boardwalk and is 0.8-miles (round-trip). This hike is flat, but quite crowded. While it doesn’t offer the same broad panoramic view as the Grand Prismatic Overlook trail, it’s very worthwhile and beautiful.
Grand Prismatic Overlook photo provided by Bernd Thaller
UPPER GEYSER BASIN LOOP TRAIL
Upper Geyser Basin Trail map, courtesy of the National Park Service
Even without this guide, perhaps the hike that you would have automatically gone on is the Upper Geyser Basin Loop Trail. This is a 4.6-mile (round-trip) loop that is either paved or on a boardwalk for most of the trail, with hundreds of geysers and hot springs right along the trail. There is only about 262 total elevation gain, and aside from the exposure to the sun on a hot day and perhaps the length, this trail is quite easy and gives rewards right from the start of the hike.
Starting from the Old Faithful Visitor Center, the trail winds through the largest concentration in the world of active geysers and hot springs. While the trail can be crowded, once you get about 1.4 miles into the hike and get beyond the Morning Glory Pool, the crowds start to think out.
You’ll likely be able to see several geyser eruptions along the hike, as many of them go off quite frequently and some can last for over 10 minutes. This is a great walk to do after you view Old Faithful, and you’ll never be bored. It’s rare that you can take a hike where the scenery can change drastically on the way back, and this is one of them which keeps it really interesting!
The Upper Geyser Basin Loop trailhead starts from the Old Faithful visitor center.
Hike option: If you are not up for the full hike, you can turn around at any given point on the boardwalk without any problem at all. There are plenty of crossover paths that still allow you to make it a loop. Also, the 0.7-mile Old Faithful Geyser Loop is another shorter option, and like its name says, it takes you around Old Faithful and is great to do while you are waiting for the show!
GEYSER HILL TRAIL TO OBSERVATION POINT
Geyser Hill to Observation Point Trail map, courtesy of the National Park Service
If you want to get a different vantage point to see the geysers (from a bit of a distance), this is a great trail for you. The Geyser Hill Trail leads to Observation Point. This 1.3-mile (round-trip trail) climbs about 160 feet as it zig-zags up to a viewpoint above Upper Geyser Basin.
This is a moderate hike as it does involve climbing, but what is nice about it is that it can get you away from the crowds of Old Faithful. Even though you will still have other hikers around you, it is a great place to view the basin.
The Geyser Hill Trail to Observation Point trailhead starts after hiking about 0.05 miles “counterclockwise” from the Old Faithful Visitor Center.
Hike option: This hike is great to couple with the Upper Geyser Basin Loop trail. Another option is to take the detour on the way back and make it a loop trail by visiting Solitary Geyser. This extends the hike to 2.2 miles.
MYSTIC FALLS TRAIL
Mystic Falls Trail map, courtesy of the National Park Service
One amazing part of Yellowstone National Park is the diversity of the landscape. While the Mystic Falls Trail is close to geysers and fumaroles with a devastated landscape, the Mystic Falls offers a completely different experience.
This moderate 2.4-mile (round-trip) hike has about 150 feet of elevation change. The trail travels across the Firehole River at the beginning before once again meeting up along the Little Firehole river for the last 0.4 miles of the trail. After 1.2-miles of hiking you’ll find yourself at Mystic Falls, which is a 70-foot waterfall surrounded by a green landscape.
This is a great trail to see both Mystic Falls and Biscuit Basin, which contains colorful springs.
The Mystic Falls Trailhead is on Grand Loop Road and starts behind the Biscuit Basin Boardwalk, about 2 miles north of the Old Faithful Junction.
Hike option: If you are up for making this a loop, after being on the trail for 0.6-miles, take a right onto the Fairy Creek-Little Firehole Trail. The trail then meets up with the Mystic Falls Trail. After taking a left, you’ll descend to Mystic Falls and return via the Mystic Falls Trail. This makes the hike a bit more challenging (with nearly 700 feet elevation gain) and extends the hike to a total of 3.4 miles.
MOUNT WASHBURN TRAIL (FROM DUNRAVEN PASS)
Mount Washburn Trail map, courtesy of the National Park Service
Mount Washburn offers one of the best viewpoints in the park, but you’ll have to work to get to it! This challenging 6.8-mile (round-trip) hike climbs nearly 1,400 feet. Leaving Dunraven pass, the trail is shaded from the morning sun as it climbs steadily (aided by a couple of switchbacks).
The trail is known for having wildflowers (toward the bottom of the hike) and various wildlife along the hike, including marmots, goats and grouse.
Be advised that it does get cold atop the 10,243 ft peak and you can also experience snow on the trail, even in early July. The observation tower on the top of the mountain provides amazing views.
The Mount Washburn Trailhead is on Grand Loop Road and starts 6.0 miles north of Canyon Village. The parking lot is not very large and can fill up by 10 am, so arrive earlier in the day if you want to be sure to get a spot.
Hike option: If you really want a challenge, take the Mount Washburn spur trail from the Canyon Village area. This 16.0-mile (round-trip) hike climbs nearly 3,000 feet to Mount Washburn, but offers views along the entire route. You can also take the hike one-way to Dunraven Pass, which is a distance of 11.1 miles.
Mount Washburn photo provided by Zhenya Kuzina
TOWER FALLS TRAIL
Tower Falls Trail map, courtesy of the National Park Service
The Tower Falls Trail is an easy, 0.9-mile (round-trip) hike that descends 300 feet to Tower Falls. Tower Falls drop 132 ft. and are nearly unobstructed.
While these falls are not as dramatic as some of the larger waterfalls in the area, it is definitely worth doing if you have the time.
Be advised that the hike back up can get you winded if you are not used to hiking.
The Tower Falls Trail starts 2.4 miles south of Tower Junction on Grand Loop Road, right behind the Tower General Store.
Hike option: If you don’t want to go the whole way down, there is an overlook only 0.1 miles into the hike which will require only a few feet of elevation change and is much easier.
Tower Falls photo provided by Frank Kovalcheck
ARTIST PAINT POTS TRAIL
Artist Paint Pots Trail map, courtesy of the National Park Service
The Artist Paint Pots Trail is an easy 1.1-mile walk with really impressive color. The hike starts off by briefly winding through a pine forest before coming upon colorful hot springs and mud pots as well as fumaroles.
There is a short climb (108 feet elevation gain in total) which provides a great overview of the area. The mix of greens, blues and reds with the backdrop of Mount Holmes is really impressive.
The Artist Paint Pots Trail is located on Grand Loop Road, 3.9 miles south of Norris and about 2 miles north of Gibbon Falls.
CALCITE SPRINGS OVERLOOK TRAIL
Calcite Springs Overlook Trail location, courtesy of the National Park Service
The Calcite Springs Overlook “Trail” is a short and easy, 0.2-mile (round-trip) paved trail. This is a very easy walk to an amazing viewpoint. The Yellowstone River winds through this canyon, and has carved out steep basalt cliffs.
The spot makes for amazing photography, especially with the mountainous backdrop.
The Calcite Springs Overlook Trail is located on Grand Loop Road, 1.2 miles south of Tower Junction. It is not well marked on the map, so keep a keen eye out.
MUD VOLCANO TRAIL
Mud Volcano Trail map, courtesy of the National Park Service
Located in the Hayden Valley area of Yellowstone, the Mud Volcano Trail is a 0.8-mile (round trip) loop that climbs only 124 feet and is easy.
Shortly after beginning the trail, you’ll come across Dragon’s Mouth Spring. This is a cave with gases and boiling water that makes thundering sounds constantly, making the mouth of the cave look like it’s breathing.
Continuing on the trail, you’ll come to Mud Volcano, which is a boiling pit of mud. Afterwards, the trail climbs stairs before getting to one of the most beautiful spots on the hike, Sour Lake.
After Sour Lake, the trail heads past Churning Caldron on the way back to the parking lot. This is a constantly bubbling geothermal feature that is quite smelly!
The trail is mostly boardwalk, and does include stairs if you continue to Sour Lake and make the loop around.
The Mud Volcano Trail is located on Grand Loop Road, 9.9 miles south of Canyon Village.
Hike option: If you want to make the hike very short, you can just head to Dragon’s Mouth and Mud Volcano. While you’ll miss Sour Lake, this will get you to the main features on the hike.
FURTHER INFORMATION ON YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- Ahead of your trip, be sure to download our extensive itinerary for Yellowstone National Park.
- We have several blogs on Yellowstone, including our epic 10 Reasons to Love Yellowstone National Park, Hiking the Mud Volcano Trail and Uncle Tom’s Trail. Be sure to read them ahead of your trips for details on Yellowstone!
- We have a number of standard and personalized posters for Yellowstone National Park.
- Do you have amazing photos from your trip? Let us turn them into one of our custom, vintage-style posters, postcards and note cards that are personalized and made just for you!