Hiking the Mary Mountain Trail
Mary Mountain Trail, Yellowstone National Park
Hike #9, Mary Mountain/Nez Perce Trail
Mary Mountain Trailhead 4N1 (From the Hayden Valley)
Northeast Section - Light to Moderate Traffic
Yellowstone National Park

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Location: Northeast Section (See map to the right)
Difficulty: Easy - Out-and-back or point-2-point
Distance: 19.2 mi/30.8 km as an out and back to Mary Lake
Elevation Gain: 993 ft.

Backcountry Camping: None

Full Description: Read the full description or view photos of this hike.
Trail Maps: Beartooth Publishing - Yellowstone National Park

Finding the Trailhead - Mary Mountain (4N1) - Hayden Valley
From Canyon:
Drive approximately 4 miles south on the Grand Loop Road heading toward the Hayden Valley. The Mary Mountain Trailhead is on the right just as you enter the Hayden Valley. A large turnout/parking area is located opposite the trailhead next to the Yellowstone River. Get Directions from Canyon Village

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Mary Mountain Trailhead Location
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Mary Mountain Overview Map
Mary Mountain Trail Stats


Trail Details
Trail Condition: Fair - Can be wet/some basic route finding
Difficulty: Easy
Total Mileage: 19.2 mi /30.8 km round-trip
Type of Hike: Out-and-back or point-2-point
Wow Factor: Wildlife viewing opportunities
Elevation Gain: 993 ft.

Nearest Facilities: Canyon Village
4 miles south of Canyon Village - Get Directions
Trailhead Coordinates
Latitude: 44.683568
Longitude: -110.493890

Mary Lake Coordinates
Latitude: 44.604463
Longitude: -110.639877

Approx. Elevations
Trailhead Elevation = 7,715 ft.
Mary Lake Elevation = 8,259 ft.
Elevation Gain = 993 ft.
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Mary Mountain Trail Description

Mary Mountain/Nez Perce Trail Description (Trailhead 4N1) - Hayden Valley - Light to Moderate Traffic

There are very few places in Yellowstone like the Hayden Valley. This area is prime grizzly bear habitat and a popular destination for viewing wildlife, including; bears, bison, wolves, pronghorn antelope and elk. The Yellowstone River threads its way through the Hayden Valley as it heads north toward the Canyon area where it drops more than 400 feet over two massive waterfalls before entering the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

The Mary Mountain Trailhead is located about 4 miles south of Canyon Village on the Grand Loop Road. This is a relatively flat hike through open terrain until about mile 7 where it enters the woods and climbs almost imperceptibly to Mary Lake. At an elevation of 8,000 ft. the Hayden Valley is often covered in snow until late May and early June. It's best to hike this trail later in the summer to avoid the soggy trail conditions often prevalent during the spring.

This segment of the Mary Mountain Trail hugs the northern edge of the Hayden Valley for several miles before entering the woods about 2.6 miles short of Mary Lake. There is a patrol cabin at Mary Lake which sits in the middle of the Central Plateau about halfway between the Hayden Valley and the Lower Geyser Basin to the west. The Mary Mountain/Nez Perce Trail crosses the entire length of this high plateau over a distance of 19.8 miles. This description covers the eastern half of the trail from the Hayden Valley to Mary Lake.

From the trailhead the hike climbs a small hill before dropping gently toward Alum Creek which can be seen off to the left. As you reach the top of this low hillside plumes of steam can be seen rising above the trees surrounding the Crater Hills area and Sulphur Mountain just to the south. At 1.5 miles the trail threads its way through a narrow spot in the valley where a large stand of pine trees encroaches from the south. After passing this forested area the terrain opens once again revealing a landscape that is often dotted with hundreds of bison for as far as the eye can see (please read note below).

At mile 3.3 the trail moves closer to Alum Creek which is now bordered by a series of small thermal features. As you continue heading west you'll begin crossing a handful of small feeder streams that descend from the hillsides to the north. Crossing these tiny creeks is usually fairly straightforward but you may find yourself deviating from the trail slightly to find a suitable spot to hop across or, to avoid the damp ground that invariably surrounds these waterways. You may also find it necessary to leave the trail to avoid the bison that graze in the valley as well. They always seem to lounge around in spots that are near to the trail so take the necessary precautions when hiking around these wild animals.

At 4.6 miles there is a larger stream that crosses the trail and this watercourse can require a bit of scouting in order to reach the opposite side. There are usually narrow areas between the opposite banks where you can jump across, but this will all depend on the time of year and how much water is flowing in the stream. I usually carry a pair of sandals on hikes like this just in case the stream crossings are deeper than expected.

After negotiating this un-named creek the trail begins to dry out significantly as it climbs through a depression between the surrounding hills. Some basic map and route-finding skills will help you navigate through this area. There are only a few orange trail markers spaced along the trail here and the ones that do exist are usually laying on the ground, having been knocked over by the bison who tend to use them as scratching posts. The Google Earth map below provides a great overview of this area.



For the next 1.5 miles the trail climbs slightly in elevation to a high point at 6.1 miles that offers spectacular views of the Hayden Valley as well as the Washburn Range to the northeast. This is a great place to grab a snack and soak in the open landscape that makes this hike so special. From this point the hike is somewhat less interesting as it enters a heavily wooded section for the final 3.5 mile stretch to Mary Lake. At 8.5 miles the trail passes a nondescript thermal area and remains in the woods until reaching the lake. Mary Lake is located just south of Mary Mountain and is the headwaters for Nez Perce Creek. This small stream flows west where it eventually empties into the Firehole River near Midway Geyser Basin and the Nez Perce Picnic area. Mary Lake is a small lake and does not contain any fish.

OPTION: This hike can be done as a point-2-point by leaving a car at either trailhead and crossing the entire length of the Central Plateau (19.8 miles). From the Hayden Valley Trailhead heading west you'll climb gradually to Mary Lake (approximate elevation gain is 1,000 ft.). After passing the lake the trail drops at a steady grade for 2.6 miles before leveling out once again. From this point it is a flat hike to the trailhead near Midway Geyser Basin. This is a great hike from either direction.

NOTE: The Hayden Valley is often home to large herds of bison and other mammals including grizzly bears. When hiking in this area the Park Service recommends traveling in groups of three or more and carrying bear spray. For more information on wildlife encounters click here.



Click here to download your FREE Yellowstone Backcountry Trip Planner - Contains backcountry campsite information, backcountry permit information, park service phone numbers, bear management information and hiking/backpacking checklists.

WARNING: YOU MUST BE WELL PREPARED and carry the necessary equipment to make your hike a safe one. You are responsible for your own well-being while trekking in these remote wilderness locations. Help or rescue can be hours or even days away.

Read more about obtaining Yellowstone Backcountry Permits.







Nearby Hiking Trails
Sevenmile Hole (Trailhead 4K6) - Hike along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon before dropping to the Yellowstone River.
Howard Eaton (Trailhead 4K7) - Heads south through the Hayden Valley.
Ribbon & Clear Lakes (Trailhead 4K7) - Can be done as a nice loop or out-and-back. Provides access to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Artist Point (Trailhead 4K8) - A very popular destination with spectacular views of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.



Nearby Campgrounds
Canyon Village Campground - Canyon Village Campground is located approximately 4 miles north of the Mary Mountain Trailhead and has 273 sites with a special section for tents only. Campsites are $29.00 per night. Includes 2 showers per day. Campground has flush toilets. Reservations are accepted. Click here to make online reservations or call: 1-866-439-7375. Generators are permitted from 8am - 8pm. A gas station, lodging, general store, restaurants, laundry, dump station, and visitor center are located at this campground - Get directions from the Mary Mountain Trailhead to the Canyon Village Campground.



Yellowstone National Park Backcountry Permits
Overnight backcountry permits can be obtained at the Canyon Backcountry Office. Hours vary depending on the time of year - (307) 344-2160. Read more about obtaining Yellowstone Backcountry Permits.

Post Hike Meals
There are a variety of restaurants located in Canyon Village along with a general store.

Directions to the Mary Mountain Trailhead
Beartooth Publishing Outdoor Recreational Maps
The following map from Beartooth Publishing covers all of the hiking trails located in Yellowstone National Park. For more information about these maps click here.






Directions to the Mary Mountain Trailhead

Click the map to launch directions from
Canyon Village to the Mary Mountain
Trailhead/Hayden Valley.


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