Hiking the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone Trail
Black Canyon of the Yellowstone Trail, Yellowstone National Park
Hike #1, Black Canyon of the Yellowstone
Hellroaring Trailhead 2K8
Northeast Section - Light to Medium Traffic
Yellowstone National Park
(2 or 3 Day Backpacking Trip)

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Location: North Central Section (See map to the right)
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult - Out-and-back, point-2-point or overnighter
Distance: 16.5 mi/26.5 km as a point-2-point
Elevation Gain: 2,842 ft. over 2 days
Best time to visit: April-November (This is a great early season destination)

Backcountry Camping: Yes. 19 sites - 2H1, 2H2, 2H3, 2H4, 2H5, 2H6, 2H7, 2H8, 2B1, 1R1, 1R2, 1R3, 1A1, 1Y4, 1Y5, 1Y6, 1Y7, 1Y8 & 1Y9
Click here to view a list of the backcountry campsites for this area

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

Finding the Trailhead - Hellroaring (2K8)
From Mammoth Hot Springs:
Drive approximately 14.5 miles east on route 212 towards Tower Junction. The trailhead will be on the left at the end of a dirt road (near an old gravel pit). Get Directions from Mammoth Hot Springs

NOTE - Backcountry camping permits for this hike can be obtained at the Albright Visitor Center (at Mammoth Hot Springs). Open daily, year-round. Hours vary depending on the time of year - (307) 344-2263.

Read more about obtaining Yellowstone Backcountry Permits.

Black Canyon Trailhead Location

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Black Canyon of the Yellowstone Overview Map
Black Canyon of the Yellowstone Trail Stats

Trail Details
Trail Condition: Excellent
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
Total Mileage: 16.5 mi /26.5 km as a point-2-point
Type of Hike: Out-and-back, point-2-point or overnighter
Wow Factor: A beautiful hike along the Yellowstone River
Elevation Gain: 2,842 ft. over 2 days

Nearest Facilities: Mammoth Hot Springs
14.5 miles west of Mammoth Hot Springs - Get Directions
Trailhead Coordinates
Latitude: 44.947495
Longitude: -110.453732

Blacktail Coordinates
Latitude: 44.955369
Longitude: -110.593668

Approx. Elevations
Trailhead Elevation = 6,378 ft.
Blacktail Elevation = 6,647 ft.
Elevation Gain = 2,842 ft. over 2 days
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Yellowstone Backcountry Info

Yellowstone Backcountry Trip Planner
Black Canyon of the Yellowstone Photo Gallery
Black Canyon of the Yellowstone Trail Description

Black Canyon of the Yellowstone Trail Description (Trailheads 2K8 to 1N5) - Light to Medium Traffic

This hike was completed in two days with an overnight stay at campsite 1R1. We began the trip at the Hellroaring Trailhead (2K8) and hiked south along the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone River to the Blacktail Deer Creek Trailhead (1N5).

From the Hellroaring parking lot the trail drops steeply in a series of well-graded switchbacks as it heads toward the Yellowstone River below. On the descent you'll have a spectacular view of the long sloping hillside of Buffalo Plateau as it climbs gently toward the northern border of the park. The rocky pinnacle of Hellroaring Mountain can be seen in the background towering above the surrounding landscape. As you near the bottom of this first hill the Garnet Hill Trail connects from the right at 0.7 miles and heads east toward Tower Junction. From here it's another 0.3 miles to a large steel footbridge (Yellowstone River Suspension Bridge) that crosses a very narrow and turbulent section of the Yellowstone River. The trail now meanders through sparse pine forests and large boulders as it continues to descend to the base of Buffalo Plateau. At 1.4 miles you'll pass the Buffalo Plateau Trail, and at 1.8 miles the you'll reach a 3-way trail junction near Hellroaring Creek. The Yellowstone River Trail (our destination) is on the opposite bank, and during periods of high-water you'll need to hike another 1.8 miles to the northeast where a wooden bridge spans this creek. The hike up to the bridge adds another 3.7 miles to the trip but it's an easy hike and it is the only option during the spring runoff. Hellroaring is much easier to ford at this location during the summer and it provides a direct route to the Yellowstone River Trail. There are four very nice campsites (2H5, 2H6, 2H7 & 2H8) along both sides of Hellroaring Creek that make for great overnight destinations if you're looking for a shorter hike in this area.

From this 3-way junction at mile 1.8 we continued heading north to the Hellroaring Creek bridge. As we walked along the base of Buffalo Plateau we could see a herd of about thirty elk moving in unison along the ridgeline to our right. Our presence seemed to make them nervous even though we were at least a half mile away. These elk were very skittish and yet if you visit Mammoth Hot Springs they appear to be completely accustomed to the hustle and bustle of tourists and vehicles coming and going around them. It was nice to see that this group of animals was still cautious toward anything that appeared out of the ordinary.

After reaching the bridge at 3.7 miles the trail heads south once again and skirts the base of Hellroaring Mountain. This area seems like the perfect habitat for mountain lions, lynx and bobcats, and there are numerous rocky outcrops and hidden crevices that would provide these stealthy hunters with an ideal vantage point for anything moving below. As we made our way down this section of the trail we couldn't help but feel as though we were being watched.

After reaching the bottom of the hill you'll come to a sign for campsite 2H3 and the Yellowstone River Trail. If you look to the left you'll see the spot where fording Hellroaring Creek is easier during the summer. Turning right puts you on the Yellowstone River Trail which continues west through open terrain before it begins climbing up and around a prominent hillside that separates the trail from the river. Campsite 1R3 (★★) sits in a small meadow at the top of this hill and it is the only site along the Yellowstone River Trail that does not have direct access to the river.

Over the next 2 miles the trail finally begins descending to the Yellowstone River, and as you near campsites 1R1 (★★★★★) and 1R2 (★★★★★) there is a rocky overlook that gives you a great view of the river and the two campsites situated in the meadows below. Both sites in this area are very similar and we stayed the night at 1R1 on this trip. The locations for each campsite are very flat and there is plenty of room to spread out if you are traveling in a larger group. If you plan to do a little fishing, these two campsites are a great place to wet a line. The river is wide and deep here and fishing for lunker trout will certainly keep you occupied during your stay. Click here for a complete list of Yellowstone National Park fishing regulations.

"To have some parts flowing free again . . . with deer grazing on its banks . . . ducks and geese raising their young in the backwaters . . . eddies and twists and turns for canoeists . . . and fishing opportunities such as Lewis and Clark enjoyed . . . would be the finest possible tribute to the men of the Expedition, and a priceless gift for our children." — Stephen Ambrose, Undaunted Courage

From campsite 1R1 to the junction with the Blacktail Deer Creek Trail it's an easy 3.2 mile walk through stands of pine trees and open meadows. There are three additional backcountry campsites (1Y5, 1Y7 & 1Y9) located on the north side of the river and each one makes for an ideal overnight stay. As we walked along the trail we spotted elk grazing just below a large talus slope, quietly enjoying the morning sun. At another location an elk shed remains embedded in the crux of a tree and you have to wondered just how long its been stuck in that position. The tree has completely grown around the antlers which protrude from either side of the tree trunk like something out of a cartoon. A little farther up the trail there was a loud splash and we turned to watch in amazement as a mule deer swam across the river to the opposite bank with very little effort. It took the animal less than 30 seconds to reach the other side where it quickly disappeared into the woods. These individual moments stay with you long after a trip has ended, embedded in your memory for years to come.

At mile 12.7 we crossed back over the Yellowstone River on the Blacktail Suspension Bridge (300 ft.). On the western side of the Yellowstone River you'll find campsites 1Y6 and 1Y8 as well as the Blacktail Patrol Cabin. If you start this hike from the Blacktail Deer Creek Trailhead (1N5) these two sites are only about 4 miles from the parking lot and they make for a great overnight fishing destination.

From the bridge the trail begins to climb steeply out of the canyon for the next 0.7 miles. Blacktail Deer Creek is on your left and the hillsides of this deep ravine are strewn with dead, broken and burned trees. This is often the most common scenery you'll encounter when hiking in Yellowstone, a place where wildfires still reshape the landscape on a regular basis. Before long your lungs and legs get a break and at around 14 miles the trail levels briefly as you skirt a small meadow near Blacktail Deer Creek. The climbing begins again at 14.3 miles and the ascent continues past campsite 1A1 all the way to the junction with the Rescue Creek Trail. The landscape on this high plateau is wide open and from this trail junction it's just a short walk down a small hill, past Blacktail Ponds, and on to the parking lot at trails end (Blacktail Deer Creek Trailhead - 1N5).

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
Blacktail Deer Creek (Trailhead 1N5) - Provides access to the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone & Yellowstone River Trail.
Tower Junction/Garnet Hill Loop (Trailhead 2K2) - An easy 8 mile loop with plenty of great scenery.
Specimen Ridge (Trailhead 2K4) - A long open ridge that tops out on Amethyst Mountain (9,614 ft.).
Slough Creek (Trailhead 2K5) - A premier destination for hiking, backpacking and fly fishing.
Agate Creek (Trailhead 2K7) - Climbs to a beautiful open ridge before descending steeply to the Yellowstone River. Great fishing.
Buffalo Plateau (Trailhead 2K8) - A long hike that climbs to the northern border of the park and the spacious Buffalo Plateau.
Lost Lake (Located behind Tower/Roosevelt Lodge) - An easy day hike to a beautiful waterfall, Lost Lake and a petrified tree.

Nearby Campgrounds
Tower Fall Campground - Tower Fall Campground is located approximately 6 miles east of the Hellroaring Trailhead and has 32 primitive sites and vault toilets. Campsites are $15.00 per night. Reservations are not accepted. Generators are not permitted. A general store and gas station (seasonal) are located near Tower Fall and Tower Junction - Get Directions from the Hellroaring Trailhead to the Tower Fall Campground.

Mammoth Campground - Open Year-round - Mammoth Campground is located approximately 15 miles east of the Hellroaring Trailhead and has 85 sites that are mostly pull-through. Campground has flush-toilets. Campsites are $20.00 per night. Reservations are not accepted. Generators are permitted from 8 am - 8 pm. A gas station, general store, restaurants, a hotel and visitor center are located nearby at Mammoth Hot Springs - Get Directions from the Hellroaring Trailhead to the Mammoth Campground.

Yellowstone National Park Backcountry Permits
Overnight backcountry permits for this hike can be obtained at the Albright Visitor Center (at Mammoth Hot Springs). Open daily, year-round. Hours vary depending on the time of year - (307) 344-2263. Read more about obtaining Yellowstone Backcountry Permits.

Post Hike Meals
The following restaurants are located in Mammoth and Gardiner.

The Corral Drive-In - Located in Gardiner (Awesome burgers) - Directions
K Bar & Cafe - Pizza and beer. 202 Main Street in Gardiner - Directions
Outlaws Pizza - You guessed it...Pizza. Located on Scott Street in Gardiner - Directions
Terrace Grill - Located in Mammoth and run by the park's concessionaire. Typical fast food.

Maps for Hiking Black Canyon of the Yellowstone Trail
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 Hellroaring Trailhead

Click the map to launch directions
from Mammoth Hot Springs to the
Buffalo Plateau/Hellroaring/Black Canyon Trailhead.


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