Hiking the Chain of Lakes in Yellowstone
Chain of Lakes, Yellowstone National Park
Hike #19, Chain of Lakes (Ice, Wolf, Grebe & Cascade Lakes)
Ice Lake Trailhead 4K2
Wolf Lake Trailhead - marked but has no trail number
Grebe Lake Trailhead 4K3
Cascade Creek Trailhead 4K4
Cascade Lake Trailhead 4K5
Northwest Section - Heavy Traffic
Yellowstone National Park

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Location: Northwest Section (See map to the right)
Difficulty: Easy - Out-and-back or point-2-point
Distance: 10 mi/16 km as a multi-day, point-2-point
Elevation Gain: 978 ft.
Best time to visit: June-October (Certain areas can remain wet throughout the summer)

NOTE: Each lake can be hiked to individually. This description combines them all into a 2-day backpacking trip beginning in the west with Ice Lake and traveling east to the Cascade Lake Trailhead. See maps for details. Requires a shuttle.

Backcountry Camping: Yes. 12 sites - 4D1, 4D2, 4D3, 4E2, 4E3, 4E4, 4G2, 4G3, 4G4, 4G5, 4G6 & 4G7

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

Finding the Trailheads
Ice Lake (4K2) - Starting Point
Wolf Lake (trailhead is marked but has no number)
Grebe Lake (4K3)
Cascade Creek (4K4)
Cascade Lake (4K5) - Finish

From Canyon:
Drive approximately 8.2 miles west on the Norris/ Canyon Road heading toward Norris Junction. The Ice Lake Trailhead is located on the right near a bend in the road. Get Directions from Canyon Village.

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Ice Lake Location

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Chain of Lakes Overview Map
Chain of Lakes Trail Stats

Trail Details
Trail Condition: Excellent - Wet in the spring (see below)
Difficulty: Easy - Requires multiple fords
Total Mileage: 10 mi /16 km point-2-point
Type of Hike: Out-and-back or point-2-point
Wow Factor: A series of beautiful backcountry lakes
Elevation Gain: 978 ft.

Nearest Facilities: Canyon Village
8.2 miles west of Canyon Village - Directions
Ice Lake TH Coordinates
Latitude: 44.716678
Longitude: -110.633891

Cascade Lake TH Coordinates
Latitude: 44.749789
Longitude: -110.491994

Approx. Elevations
Trailhead Elevation = 7,881 ft.
Finish Elevation = 8,015 ft.
Elevation Gain = 978 ft.
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Chain of Lakes Photo Gallery
Chain of Lakes Trail Description

Chain of Lakes Trail Description - Ice LakeTrailhead to the Cascade Lake Trailhead - Heavy Traffic

Between Norris and Canyon lies a series of beautiful backcountry lakes that are easily accessible from a handful of trailheads. You can hike to the lakes individually or as a relaxing 2 to 3 day backpacking trip. Rainbow trout, cutthroats and grayling can be found in many of the lakes on the Solfatara Plateau.

ICE LAKE - Mile 0.5

Ice Lake is located just 0.5 miles from the trailhead which this makes this a very easy and popular day hike and/ or overnight backcountry destination. There are three campsites located on the shores of this 224-acre lake—4D1, 4D2 & 4D3 (★★★★). Ice Lake is surrounded by lodgepole pines and all the campsites are located very near the waters edge. According to a local guide book this lake is considered fishless but it may contain a small population of rainbow trout. If you're a beginning hiker or backpacker looking for a manageable backcountry experience that doesn't require a lot of mileage, this is the perfect place to explore.

NOTE: Campsite 4D3 is reserved for parties with special needs. The lake is also very close to the main road which means you'll probably hear traffic as it passes nearby on the Norris-Canyon Road.

See the Wolf Lake description below for a continuation of this hike.

WOLF LAKE - Mile 4.1
Located approximately 3.0 miles to the east of Ice Lake this 51-acre body of water is another beautiful spot along the Solfatara Plateau. The trail between both lakes is rather uneventful with lodgepole pines lining the trail for much of the trip. At mile 2.0 the Howard Eaton Trail intersects with the Wolf Lake Trail (see map above). There are a few short, rolling hills over the next 2.0 miles and much of the elevation gain for this hike takes place between these two lakes. At mile 3.5 you'll need to ford the Gibbon River. Even in the spring it's not very deep but we recommend crossing just upstream from where the trail actually meets the river. A path leads to the right and a point along the river where it's a bit easier to wade across (for these trail descriptions we are traveling in a west to east direction). After crossing the Gibbon River the trail climbs a small hill before descending to Wolf Lake at mile 4.0. Campsite 4G7 (★★★★) will be on the right as you reach the lakeshore. The food storage pole is located just to the left on the northwest side of the lake. This is a nice campsite but it's close to the trail and offers little privacy from other hiking parties that may be passing through.

Just beyond campsite 4G7 you'll need to ford the Gibbon River once again where it exits Wolf Lake. In the spring this particular spot can be very deep and it may be necessary to skirt the river to the south in order to find a more suitable spot to cross. The ground near this campsite is very marshy and sandals are a must if you're traveling to this area.

After fording the Gibbon River you enter a large meadow dotted with small pines. In 0.2 miles you'll cross a very narrow section of the Gibbon River just before reaching campsite 4G6 (★★★★). This site is much more secluded and is set back from the lake.

After leaving campsite 4G6 the trail continues in a northeast direction, climbing through an old burn before descending into another small meadow. The scenery is very much the same with old and new trees lining the trail. At mile 5.3 the trail reaches the western end of Grebe Lake. The Gibbon River creates a beautiful arc as it leaves Grebe Lake.

Much of the forests along the Solfatara Plateau were burned in 1988 and new growth and standing dead trees are plentiful. Wolf, Grebe and Cascade Lakes are bordered by large meadows which helps to break up the repetitiveness of these large expanses of lodgepole forests.

See the Grebe Lake description below for a continuation of this hike.

OPTIONAL HIKE: Wolf Lake can be completed as a day hike or as an overnighter from the Wolf Lake Trailhead which is located just east of the Ice Lake Trailhead (easy to miss while driving). It is 5.3 miles one-way to Wolf Lake and there are two stream crossings along the way, and two more if you camp at site 4G6. In the first mile the Gibbon River meanders through a small meadow which can be wet in the spring but it is not impossible to avoid the wet areas if needed. After leaving the meadow the trail climbs a short, steep hill to an overlook where the Little Gibbon Falls drops 25 ft. into a small canyon. From the overlook you descend to a log bridge that spans the Gibbon River before climbing another small hill that leads to the junction with the Howard Eaton Trail. Here you can head west toward Ice Lake, or east toward Wolf Lake.

GREBE LAKE - Mile 5.5
This 156-acres Grebe Lake is a popular destination for day hikers, backpackers and fishermen. The lake has a healthy population of both rainbow and grayling. There are a total of four campsites that border the lake and all of them are top notch (4G2, 4G3, 4G4 & 4G5). Our two favorite sites can be found on the west and north sides of Grebe Lake (4G3 & 4G4).

After passing the west end of Grebe Lake you'll reach campsite 4G5 (★★★★) at 5.5 miles. There is considerable blowdown near the food storage pole but the tent sites are nicely shaded among a stand of dense pines and there are beautiful views of the lake from the tent area.

Continuing past site 4G5 the trail moves away from the lake briefly before reaching the spur trail to campsite 4G4 (★★★★★) at 5.7 miles. Site 4G4 is only 0.1 mile off the main trail. This is another one of our favorite campsites on the shores of Grebe Lake. The site has plenty of shade for your tent and there is easy access to the lake if you are interested in fishing for trout or grayling.

From this point the scenery opens up as you travel along the northern shoreline of Grebe Lake heading toward campsite 4G3 (★★★★★). This campsite is a personal favorite and a nice place to relax and soak up the Yellowstone scenery. The tent and cooking areas are located about a hundred yards away from the lake in a stand of pines that offer plenty of shade. Loons along with a variety of waterfowl can often be seen gliding quietly around the lake.

Site 4G2 (★★★★) can be found on the south side of Grebe Lake just off the Grebe Lake Trail. There are a number of standing dead trees surrounding this site which gives it a very different feel compared to the other three that border the lake. There is some shade near the fire pit but it's a little less plentiful at this campsite. A small rust colored stream enters the lake to the west of the site.

See the Cascade Lake description below for a continuation of this hike.

Cascade Lake is located at the east end of the "chain of lakes" and has three very nice campsites (4E2, 4E3 & 4E4) spaced comfortably around its perimeter. There is a gorgeous meadow to the northeast that offers great opportunities for wildlife viewing. Both cutthroat trout and grayling are present in the lake and average between 9 and 12 inches.

Site 4E2 (★★★) is the first campsite you'll encounter as you near Cascade Lake. Both the campsite and the cooking area are located just west of the lake which is surrounded by a mix of standing dead trees and new growth forest. A small hillside to the east is an easy climb and provides a nice view of the area.

After leaving site 4E2 the trail passes the northwest edge of the lake where a small hill descends to the meet the lake. At 8.1 miles the trail intersects with the Observation Peak Trail and from this location you can reach its spectacular summit in 2.6 miles (one-way). At this trail junction an old wooden trail sign indicates it's 3 miles to the top of Observation Peak but most maps confirm it's only 2.6 miles to the top. Observation Peak is a popular day hike from either the Cascade Lake or Cascade Creek Trailheads farther to the east. From the Cascade Lake Trailhead it's 9.4 miles round-trip to the summit. From the Cascade Creek Trailhead it's 10.4 miles to the top and back.

Campsite 4E3 (★★★★★) is located 0.1 mile north of this trail junction on the right. The few remaining tree that surround this campsite provide plenty of shade for both the cooking area and the tent site. 4E3 is located on a gentle slope just above a large meadow and looks across the meadow to the lake.

Continuing in an easterly direction from the Observation Peak Trail you'll cross a large meadow which can be wet and muddy during the springtime. A few small streams that descend from the hillsides to the north require a bit of footwork to negotiate but are relatively easy to jump across. At the east end of this meadow you reach the last campsite along this trail. Site 4E4 (★★★★) is another beautiful site that faces northwest. The area that leads to the site can be a bit marshy but once you reach the campsite the ground dries out considerably. This site is located well away from Cascade Lake but you have nice views across the meadow and of the Washburn Range to the north.

From campsite 4E4 the trail continues through the meadow before entering a forested area that leads to the Cascade Creek Trail junction at just over 9.0 miles. The Cascade Creek Trailhead (4K4) can be reached from this point in 1.7 miles. The Cascade Creek Trailhead is located on the Norris-Canyon Road. For this trail description we continue heading east, passing through another large meadow at 9.3 miles. As you near the east end of this large meadow the trail enters a dense stand of lodgepole pines where the trail splits. The left trail heads to the Cascade Lake Picnic Area. The right trail leads to the Cascade Lake Trailhead which is our final destination for this hike.

The nice part about hiking the Chain of Lakes is the relative ease with which you can access any of the lakes. Most of the trailheads for these hikes are located on the Norris-Canyon Road and all of the lakes are an easy trek from their respective trailheads, with Wolf Lake being the most secluded. This is a great 2 or 3 day backpacking trip that can be done as a point-2-point or an out and back to any or all of the lakes.

If you're staying at Cascade Lake it's worth the effort to climb to the summit of Observation Peak. It is 2.6 miles one way from the trail junction near the lake to the summit, and the views from the top are absolutely breathtaking. It's a strenuous climb that gains 1,400 ft. in less than 3 miles but your efforts are well rewarded. Much of the hike is open, and the views begin not long after you begin the climb. In May and June lingering patches of snow on the north side of the trail can make reaching the summit difficult so plan accordingly.

From the rocky summit of Observation Peak you can see as far as the Grand Tetons to the south, the Absaroka Beartooth's to the east and the peaks of the entire Gallatin Range to the west. Grebe, Wolf and Ice Lakes are easily visible from the top with the bright blue waters of Grebe Lake shimmering below the summits south side. A small unmanned lookout tower is located at the summit of this 9,397 ft. peak.

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.

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Nearby Hikes
Wolf Lake (Marked - no trailhead number)
Grebe Lake (Trailhead 4K3)
Cascade Creek (Trailhead 4K4)
Cascade Lake (Trailhead 4K5)
Cygnet Lakes (Trailhead 4N3)

Nearby Camping
Canyon Village Campground - Canyon Village Campground is located approximately 8.2 miles east of the Ice Lake 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 Ice Lake Trailhead to the Canyon Village Campground.

Norris Campground - Norris Campground is located approximately 4.2 miles west of the Ice Lake Trailhead and has 100 sites. Campsites are $20.00 per night. Reservations are not accepted. Generators are permitted from 8am - 8pm - Get Directions from the Ice Lake Trailhead to the Norris 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 and services located at Canyon Village.

Directions to the Ice Lake 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 Ice Lake Trailhead

Click the map to launch directions
from Canyon Village to the Ice Lake Trailhead.


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