There are a variety of very short day hikes in almost every corner of Yellowstone National Park—from trout-filled lakes, to beautiful mountain top vistas—and these are some of the best day hikes that Yellowstone has to offer.
The following trails are listed in ascending order from shortest to longest, and they range in distances from just a few hundred feet to several miles.
Uncle Tom's Trail
Short and Steep - Difficult Trailhead Location: Canyon Area - South Rim
While this isn't a very long hike, the trail descends 500 feet toward the base of the Lower Falls along a metal staircase attached to the rim of the canyon. When the trail was first constructed in 1900 by "Uncle" Tom Richardson there were over 500 steps and a series of rope ladders that lead visitors to the base of the falls. Today there are only a total of 328 steps that descend about 3/4 of the way down this steep-walled canyon. Regardless, the view of the Lower Falls from the bottom of this trail is spectacular. As you look across the falls you can see tourists at the "Brink" of the Lower Falls viewpoint. NOTE: This hike is very strenuous and is NOT recommended for anyone who suffers from a heart condition or has difficulty breathing.
1.0 Mile Round-Trip - Easy
Trailhead Location: West Thumb Geyser Basin
This is another great hike located near the West Thumb Geyser Basin area. The trailhead is accessible from the northeast corner of the large parking lot. The trail crosses the road and then climbs a small hill through new growth forest before descending to the north side of the lake. There is a nice, wide beach that can be walked in either direction. On the return trip you can follow the power lines up a short hillside where you can look through the trees toward Yellowstone Lake.
Harlequin Lake Trail
1.0 Mile Round-Trip - Easy
Trailhead Location: Between West Yellowstone & Madison Junction
Harlequin Lake is located about 1.5 miles west of the Madison Campground and Madison Junction. The parking lot is located on the south side of the road near the Madison River. This small lake is a very peaceful place considering how close it is to the West Entrance Road. The trail climbs a very gentle grade through new growth forest to reach the southern edge of the lake where you can sit underneath the shade of young trees and enjoy the view. Lily pads cover much of the shoreline and if you look closely you'll often find waterfowl hidden among the giant leaves of the lilies. On the return trip you'll have a great view of Three Brothers Mountains which are visible across the tops of the dense forest of pine trees growing along the trail.
Observation Point Trail
1.1 Mile Round-Trip - Easy Trailhead Location: Old Faithful Area The view from Observation Point gives you a birds-eye view of the many thermal features and geysers that surround the historic Old Faithful Inn. If you hike to Observation Point early in the day you'll probably have this small overlook all to yourself, and the morning sun will provide you with the perfect light for taking pictures of this famed geyser. Leave the crowds behind and get a unique perspective of Old Faithful from this picture perfect location that sits 200 feet above this American landmark.
Storm Point Trail
2.0 Mile Loop - Easy
Trailhead Location: North Shore of Yellowstone Lake
This is a beautiful hike to a rocky point located on the northern shore of Yellowstone Lake just east of the Fishing Bridge area. It's the perfect place for a casual early morning or late evening walk, and on a clear day you'll be able to see the Grand Tetons 'peaking' up between Flat Mountain and Mount Sheridan (see photo below).
The hike begins at the Indian Pond Trailhead and passes to the right of this small lake before entering a heavily wooded section that skirts the shoreline. The forest on this side of the loop is very dense and it can feel a bit claustrophobic but it's only a short distance to Storm Point where the landscape opens to a rolling, grassy beachfront. Mount Sheridan dominates the view across the lake to the south, and the high rugged peaks of the Absaroka Range are visible to the east. During your visit you'll see a healthy population of marmots that live among the craggy rocks that dot the area. They are very curious animals and will often sit and watch you while you explore the area, darting for cover if you get too close.
2.0 Mile Loop - Moderate
Trailhead Location: West Thumb Geyser Area
From the parking lot at West Thumb Geyser Basin head to the very northwest corner to find the Lake Overlook Trailhead. Head west through the woods and cross the highway via the crosswalk. Continue on until you reach a trail sign that points to the overlook. From here you can continue straight (left) along this path, or head right and follow the loop in a counterclockwise direction to the top. Heading left from this juncture the trail begins climbing but it's a fairly gradual grade to the top of this spectacular lookout. From the wooden bench at the top you can sit and look out across Yellowstone Lake toward the Absaroka Mountains. The Red Mountains and Mount Sheridan dominate the skyline to the southeast, and directly south (right) the distinct shapes of the Grand Tetons rise above the treeline. This is a busy but very rewarding hike that offers sweeping panoramas of the largest high-elevation lake in North America. Yellowstone Lake has a surface area of 132 sq. miles and is located at an elevation of 7,733 ft.
Monument Geyser Basin Trail
2.0 Miles Round-Trip - Moderate Trailhead Location: Between Madison and Norris Junction
The Monument Trailhead is located between Madison Junction and Norris Junction near Beryl Springs. This is a moderate to difficult hike of just over 2 miles with incredible views of the Gibbon River as is winds through Gibbon Meadows to the north. The larger peaks at the southern end of the Gallatin Range provide an amazing backdrop to this short but fun day hike.
From the parking lot the Monument Trail follows the Gibbon River for about a half mile before it turns sharply and begins climbing the 500 ft. to this small geyser area. It's a fairly steep grade through new growth forest but thankfully it's not a very long climb to the top. The thermal area contains a handful of smoldering fumaroles and smaller steam vents that emit clouds of gas that swirl around these unique cone shaped formations. There is a very nice view of the Gibbon River as it flows south through Gibbon Canyon just as you reach the top of this hike.
Fern Cascades Loop Trail
2.5 Mile Loop - Easy to Moderate
Trailhead Location: Old Faithful Area
This trail begins just south of Old Faithful at the Howard Eaton Trailhead (OK2). While this is a short loop it's best to do this hike as an out and back from this trailhead. If you do the entire loop you'll be taken into the residential area just to the west of Old Faithful and it gets a bit confusing trying to find your way back to the trailhead through the maze of unattractive park service buildings.
The first part of the trail is a bit tricky but if you follow the wide dirt road up the steep hill toward the cell tower you'll be on the right track. Just before you reach the tower a large orange marker will be visible on a tree to the left. At this point you'll want to keep an eye out for the main trail which splits off just as the road makes a hard right. It's easy to miss this junction and if you reach the cell tower you've gone too far.
From this juncture the trail meanders through very typical Yellowstone scenery, ascending gradually through a mix of new growth and burned forest all the way to the cascades. At 1.3 miles two small signs will point you in the direction of the cascades. The trail to the overlook is steep with loose gravel so use caution. The cascades along Iron Spring Creek are filled with a myriad of downed trees which makes it difficult to see anything but for us the best view was north looking toward Old Faithful and beyond toward Mount Holmes and the Gallatin Range. From here we would recommend returning to the Howard Eaton Trailhead via the same route.
Artist Point Trail to Point Sublime
2.6 Miles Round-Trip - Moderate
Trailhead Location: South Rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
This hike begins just south of Canyon Village and can be accessed from the parking lot near the Upper Falls/Uncle Tom's Trail parking lot (read description above) or by driving to the Artist Point Trailhead. It doesn't matter where you start this hike, the views of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone are absolutely stunning. The unique and colorful rhyolite rock formations that shape the canyon walls seem to capture light perfectly, adding incredible depth and dimension to this remarkably dynamic geologic feature. The canyon itself is approximately 20 miles in length and varies in depth from 800 to 1,200 ft. and it's maximum width reaches 4,000 ft. across. Pine trees seem to defy gravity, and grow perched on the steep and unstable slopes of this grand canyon.
From a variety of viewpoints along the Artist Point Trail you can look almost straight down at the Yellowstone River as it carves its deep path along the canyon far below. The highest waterfall in Yellowstone, the Lower Falls, is often visible to the west, dropping a total of 308 ft., nearly twice the size of Niagara Falls. The trail to Point Sublime traverses the sheer cliffs along the southern edge of the Grand Canyon making this an unforgettable Yellowstone day hike.
Elephant Back Loop Trail
2.8 Miles Round-Trip - Moderate
Trailhead Location: Near Lake Village, Bay Bridge & Fishing Bridge There are so many great day hikes in Yellowstone and this one is no exception. If you're short on time make sure you include this hike during your visit to the park. Located south of Fishing Bridge and Lake Junction on the Grand Loop Road this is a popular day hike that has spectacular views across much of Yellowstone Lake and toward the eastern edge of the park. The Lake Village area and the Lake Hotel are visible just below the summit along the lakes western shoreline. The trail to the top of Elephant Back Mountain is well maintained and the grade never really feels that steep even though you're climbing about 800 feet to the summit. The forest surrounding this area is relatively open and feels less claustrophobic than in areas of the park that contain new growth. When you reach the summit there are two long wooden benches that are perfect for contemplating the beauty of the landscape below. I would recommend going in the morning to watch the sunrise, or waiting until late afternoon or early evening when the light will be better suited for photographing this amazing panorama of Yellowstone Lake and the peaks that border its eastern edge.
2.8 Miles Round-Trip - Easy
Trailhead Location: Bridge Bay Campground
This small archway was first discovered in 1871 during a survey of the area by the Hayden Expedition. Formed by continuous frost and erosion from Bridge Creek, this rock arch is about 30 feet across and 50 feet tall and made of rhyolite—a fine grained volcanic rock. There are two ways to reach the natural bridge and both begin near the Bridge Bay Campground and Marina. The first option is via the foot path that begins at the parking lot located near the Bridge Bay Marina. The trail is easy to follow and turns to asphalt at 0.7 miles where it connects with option two and continues to the bridge. Your second option is slightly shorter and this trailhead is located just south of the Bridge Bay Campground entrance along the Grand Loop Road. From this gated trailhead you can either hike or bike the road 1.2 miles one-way to the base of the arch. You can follow a trail to the top of the bridge but hikers are not allowed to walk on or over the bridge itself.
NOTE: The Natural Bridge Trail is closed during late spring and early summer due to bear activity. Bears feed on the spawning trout found in Bridge Creek.
2.5 Miles as a Loop - Moderate
Trailhead Location: Biscuit Basin 2.4 north of Old Faithful
If you're visiting the boardwalks at Biscuit Basin it's definitely worth the effort to hike the 2.5 miles round-trip to Mystic Falls and up to the Biscuit Basin Overlook. The trail can be reached by crossing the bridge over the Firehole River and then continuing along the boardwalk west toward the treeline. Not long after entering this new growth forest you'll come to a trail junction that goes either left or right. The left route is the easiest path to the falls and along the way there are plenty of places to stop and take photographs as you climb to the height of the falls. For a nice 3 mile loop, continue climbing (steeply) past the falls to the junction with the Fairy Creek Trail. Head right and follow the trail to the Biscuit Basin overlook and then back down to the boardwalk and the parking lot.
Mystic Falls is located along the Little Firehole River which begins high on the Madison Plateau near the western edge of the park. The river drops about 70 feet as it rushes through a narrow slot near the top of the falls, which becomes significantly wider at its base. Steam can be seen rising from the nearby thermal features that flank the rivers edge.
NOTE: This trail opens on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend (usually the last Saturday in May).
Bunsen Peak Trail
4.0 Miles Round-Trip - Moderate
Trailhead Location: 4.8 Miles South of Mammoth Hot Springs Near Golden Gate
The big question is...what can't you see from the summit of Bunsen Peak? The tallest mountain in the Gallatin Range, Electric Peak stands by itself directly to the west. Swan Lake Flat and Gardners Hole stretch out below and Mammoth Hot Springs is visible to the north. Put this on your Yellowstone hiking list and you won't be disappointed. Click here to read the full description for the Bunsen Peak Trail.
5.0 Miles Round-Trip - Easy
Trailhead Location: North of Old Faithful This an easy hike that begins at the Fairy Falls Trailhead (OK5) which is located a few miles north of Old Faithful. The trail passes just west of Midway Geyser Basin and along the way there are exceptional views of the largest and most color hot spring in Yellowstone, Grand Prismatic Spring (see image below). Mountain bikes are allowed on the first mile of Fountain Freight Road until reaching the junction with the hiker-only trail that continues west to the base of this delicate 200 high waterfall. This is a very popular hike through open and new growth forest and the trail is hard-packed and easy to follow. There are plenty of logs near the falls that make for a great place to stop and have lunch during the hike. Much of this hike is through open terrain with very little shade so wear sunscreen and a hat if you hike to Fairy Falls during the heat of the day.
You can make this hike a little longer by continuing west past the falls to Spray Geyser and Imperial Geyser. This easy side trip will add another 1.4 miles to the hike but Imperial Geyser is a very active thermal feature that's definitely worth exploring.
Lone Star Geyser Trail
4.8 Miles Round-Trip - Easy
Trailhead Location: South of Old Faithful
This trail starts just east of Old Faithful at the Lone Star Trailhead which is situated just past Kepler Cascades. The parking lot can fill quickly by mid-morning but you can always find a spot at Kepler Cascades and walk to this trailhead. The hike is an easy 4.8 miles (round-trip) along a flat, paved road to this very large and very distinct cone-shaped geyser. The trail is nicely wooded and follows the Firehole River much of the way. This is one of the few trails in Yellowstone that accommodates biking and it's a nice mountain bike ride to this geyser.
Lone Star Geyser is approximately 7 to 8 feet high, one of the largest in the park, and has the appearance of a candle that has burned nearly to its base. The geyser erupts every three hours, give or take, which means you may have a little wait while you're there. There is a log book located at the geyser that usually lists the time of the last eruption. Make sure you make a note in the log book during your visit so the next group passing through can decide if they would prefer to wait. We were there about and 1-1/2 hours before the geyser finally erupted, shooting a large, slightly angled plume of water and steam about 30-45 feet in the air. It was definitely worth the wait.
Mount Washburn Trail
6.4 Miles Round-Trip - Moderate
Trailhead Location: North of Canyon Village on Dunraven Pass
Don't miss an opportunity to hike to the lookout tower on the summit of Mount Washburn. Whether you hike to the top from Chittenden Road (5.4 miles round-trip) or from Dunraven Pass Trailhead (6.4 miles round-trip), this is one of the best day hikes in Yellowstone. And, you can sit inside the lookout and take in the incredible panoramas in relative comfort. Don't miss this hike! Click here to read the full description for the Mount Washburn Trail from the Dunraven Pass Trailhead.
Purple Mountain Trail
6.0 Miles Round-Trip - Moderate
Trailhead Location: Near Madison Campground
The Purple Mountain Trail is located near the Madison Campground and is a moderate hike of about 6 miles round-trip. The view from the top is outstanding and on a clear day you can see as far south as the Grand Tetons. The Gibbon, Madison and Firehole Rivers are visible from the summit which is about 1,500 ft. above the valley below. The Grand Loop Road is clearly visible as it heads south toward Old Faithful and seems to mimic the twists and turns of the nearby rivers. The picture at the top of this page was taken from the summit. This is a great hike if you only have half a day and want a nice workout capped by a rewarding view.
It can be very windy at the top of Purple Mountain so carry a warm hat, a wind breaker or an extra fleece jacket to keep the chill away while you enjoy the view. If you hike this late in the day keep your eye on the weather as you near the summit. Afternoon thunderstorms are common during the summer and are often accompanied by lighting.
Undine Falls from the Lava Creek Trail
Option 1: 8.0 Miles Round-Trip - Moderate to Difficult
Trailhead Location: Near Mammoth Campground From the trailhead just north of the Mammoth Campground the trail descends steeply to the Gardner River. At .7 miles it crosses the river on a narrow swinging footbridge. If you like to fly fish this is a great spot to search for the small trout that inhabit this somewhat flat section of the Gardner River. After the bridge the trail continues south to the confluence with Lava Creek before it changes direction and begins heading east through the steep canyon. A large steel bridge know as Sheepeater Canyon Bridge rises about 200 ft. above the Gardner River and dominates the view along this stretch of the trail. From here you'll begin climbing steadily and after campsite 1A3 the trail steepens significantly all the way to Undine Falls (50 feet in height). This area can be a very hot place during the summer so plan on hiking this early in the morning when the sun is still behind Mount Everts.
Option 2: 0.9 Miles Round-Trip - Easy
Trailhead Location: Between Mammoth and Tower Junction From the Lava Creek Trailhead and picnic area located 4.4 miles east of Mammoth Hot Springs this is a very easy hike to the overlook on the north side of Lava Creek. There are no guardrails at this overlook so be careful if you visit this area with small children.
Option 3: Drive 4.0 miles east of Mammoth Hot Springs on the Grand Loop Road and park in the turnout for Undine Falls. No hiking required.
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 away.