Hiking the Heart Lake Trail in Yellowstone National Park
Heart Lake Trail, Yellowstone National Park
Hike #6, Heart Lake Trail
Heart Lake Trailhead 8N1
Southeast Section - Heavy Traffic
Yellowstone National Park

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Location: Southeast Section (See map to the right)
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
Type of hike: Out-and-back, lollipop loop, point-2-point or overnighter
Distance: 20.0 mi/32.1 km round-trip to site 8H1
Elevation Gain: 645 ft.
Best time to visit: Anytime after July 1st

NOTE: This region is closed to travel until July 1st for bear management purposes.

Backcountry Camping: Yes. 11 sites - 8H1, 8H2, 8H3, 8H4, 8H5, 8H6, 8J1, 8J2, 8J3, 8J4 & 8J6. 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 - Heart Lake (8N1)
From Grant Village:
Drive approximately 5.4 miles south toward Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park via the South Entrance Road. The Heart Lake Trail will be on the left just past the Dogshead Trail. Get Directions from Grant Village

Heart Lake Trailhead Location

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Heart Lake Overview Map
Heart Lake Topo Map
Heart Lake Trail Stats

Trail Details
Trail Condition: Excellent
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
Total Mileage: 20.0 mi /32.0 km one-way to site 8H1
Type of Hike: Out-and-back, loop, point-2-point, overnighter
Wow Factor: Wild and scenic
Elevation Gain: 645 ft.

Nearest Facilities: Grant Village
5.4 miles south of Grant Village - Get Directions
Trailhead Coordinates
Latitude: 44.316970
Longitude: -110.599451

Heart Lake Coordinates
Latitude: 44.285370
Longitude: -110.497833

Approx. Elevations
Trailhead Elevation = 7,750 ft.
Heart Lake = 7,455 ft.
Elevation Gain = 645 ft.
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Heart Lake Photo Gallery
Heart Lake Trail Description

Heart Lake Trail Description (Trailhead 8N1) - Heavy Traffic

Heart Lake is located in southeast region of Yellowstone and is a popular destination for backpackers and outfitters. During your visit you can fish for cutthroat trout beside your campsite, climb to the top of Mount Sheridan for an unforgettable view, or just explore the many hydrothermal features found along the Heart Lake Geyser Basin.

As you head east along the first 4.0 miles of the Heart Lake Trail you'll pass through dense lodgepole pine forests that are occasionally interrupted by small wetland meadows. You'll traverse the Continental Divide and the southeastern rim of the Yellowstone caldera, both of which are nearly imperceptible in this region of the park. The Heart Lake Trail follows a 7.5 mile stretch of the Continental Divide Trail as it drops into the Snake River watershed.

After reaching Witch Creek and Factory Hill at 4.3 miles the trail becomes infinitely more interesting. From this high vantage point the views extend across Heart Lake toward Big Game Ridge and Mount Hancock. The massive summit of Mount Sheridan rises along the western edge of the lake to a height of 10,305 feet. Heart Lake looks deceptively close but it's still another 3.0 miles to the north end of the lake. Take your time on the descent and enjoy the thermal features along Witch Creek. This area is known as the Heart Lake Geyser Basin and there are a number of small hot springs that border this stream. At mile 6.0 the trail enters a wooded section to the east as it continues descending to the lake.

As the trail nears the lake you'll pass directly in front of the Heart Lake Patrol Cabin which was originally constructed in 1924. At mile 7.5 the trail reaches the edge of this remote body of water. Heart Lake is the fourth largest body of water in Yellowstone and lies within the Snake River drainage. It was originally named for Hart Hunney, a local hunter, but Captain John W. Barlow, one of the first men to lead an expedition to this region in 1871, believed it was the shape of the lake that should determine the spelling (heart) and this became its official name. The Heart Lake Trail continues in a counterclockwise direction around the lake while the Heart River Trail heads left along the northeastern shoreline. For this description we'll be following the Heart Lake Trail south to campsite 8H1.

From the north shore of the lake continue right (west) along the beach for a short distance where you'll cross Witch Creek on a wooden footbridge at mile 7.6. The sand at this end of the lake can be difficult to walk on with a heavy backpack but if you stay close to the waters edge it tends to be much easier. To the north and west the trail is bordered by a large meadow where large mammals can often be seen foraging for food. A large thermal area is easily accessible from campsites 8H6, 8H5 and 8H4 and extends west toward the slopes of Mount Sheridan. Use extreme caution when exploring any of these remote hydrothermal areas. The ground surrounding these hot springs can be extremely fragile and may give way under foot.

As the trail bends to the south a small metal sign marks the entrance to campsite 8H6 (★★★★). These first five sites are all very similar—each one is surrounded by tall conifer trees and each one is located a short distance from the waters edge. There are six backcountry campsites located along the western edge of Heart Lake beginning with site 8H6 in the north and ending at site 8H1 in the very southwestern corner. There are five additional campsites located on the north and eastern side (8J1, 8J2, 8J3, 8J4 & 8J6).

Continuing south past site 8H6 the trail reaches campsite 8H5 (★★★★) at mile 7.9. These two sites are located very close to one another so if you're searching for privacy during your trip you should consider camping at 8H4 or 8H1. Both 8H6 and 8H5 are still very nice sites and when you're camping in Yellowstone privacy is a relative term.

At mile 8.1 the Mount Sheridan Trail enters from the right. It climbs 2,800 feet in 3.3 miles to the summit of this grand peak which was named for the United States army general Philip H. Sheridan. Sheridan was an important advocate in the protection of Yellowstone and in 1886 he installed the First Calvary to help manage the region until the National Park Service took control in 1916. A food storage pole is located 200 yards up the trail which makes it easy for hikers to hang their backpacks during the steep trek to the summit. Please note: there is no water available along the Mount Sheridan Trail so plan accordingly.

Site 8H4 (★★★★★) is just past the junction for the Mount Sheridan Trail. This campsite is located 0.1 mile off the main trail and provides campers with a bit more privacy compared to the other sites on the west side of Heart Lake.

Over the next 0.7 miles the trail mirrors the landscape beside the lake, rising and falling very gradually beneath the massive shape of Mount Sheridan. There are breathtaking views across Heart Lake toward the Continental Divide and Chicken Ridge. At mile 8.7 the trail reaches the junction for sites 8H3 and 8H2 (★★★★). To reach the campsites the trail fords a small stream and then descends toward the lake. Site 8H3 is located to the north of 8H2 and can be reached by crossing the creek for a second time via a small footbridge. Both campsites are located a short distance from the lake and offer plenty of shade near the cooking areas. Drinking water can be collected from the lake or from the small stream located between these two campsites.

The last mile between sites 8H2 and 8H1 is very picturesque. The trail climbs about 100 feet through open terrain dotted with small clusters of conifer trees that stand tall against the steep hillsides. The reddish summit of Mount Sheridan dominates the view to the west and the sharp roofline of the lookout tower perched on its summit is just barely noticeable against the skyline. To the east the landscape drops gently toward Heart Lake as the trail reaches the shoreline near campsite 8H1 (★★★★★). This is the only site that is not situated next to the lake. It's a short walk (0.1 mile) to the lakeshore from the tent and cooking areas. The views from this small inlet on the southern end of the lake are very impressive.

Alternate Hike
Climbing to the summit of Mount Sheridan is a must if you're visiting the region for more than a few days.

Heart Lake is located within the Yellowstone Native Trout Conservation Area. All native fish must be released unharmed (catch and release only). This includes cutthroat trout, mountain whitefish and Arctic grayling. There is no possession limit for nonnative fish, which include brown trout, brook trout, rainbow and lake trout. Fishermen should use a single, pointed, barbless hook and lead-free artificial lures. All watercraft operating within Yellowstone National Park, including float tubes, are required to purchase a boating permit from the park service. You can obtain these permits at the backcountry offices located at Lewis Lake or Grant Village.

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
Riddle Lake (Trailhead 7K3) - A very popular and easy day hike to Riddle Lake.
Lewis Channel/Dogshead Trail (Trailhead 8K1) - Follows the Lewis River to Shoshone Lake. Great fishing.
Phantom/Pitchstone (Trailhead 8K4) - A quiet day hike or overnight destination in the southern region of the park.

Nearby Campgrounds
Grant Village Campground - Grant Village Campground is located approximately 5.4 miles north of the Heart Lake Trail and has 430 sites and full amenities. Sites are $29.00 + per night. Includes 2 showers per day. Reservations accepted. Generators are permitted from 8am - 8pm. Click here to make online reservations or call: 1-866-439-7375. A general store, restaurant, gift shop, visitor center and gas station (seasonal) are located nearby - Get directions from the Heart Lake Trailhead to the Grant Village Campground.

Lewis Lake Campground - Lewis Lake Campground is located approximately 2.9 miles south of the Heart Lake Trail and has 85 sites. Campsites are $15.00 per night. Reservations are not accepted. Generators are not permitted. Not recommended for motorhomes or trailers over 25' - Get directions from the Heart Lake Trailhead to the Lewis Lake Campground.

Post Hike Meals
There is a restaurant, general store, gas station, visitor center and gift shop located approximately 5.4 miles away at Grant Village.

Directions to the Heart 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 Heart Lake Trailhead

Click the map to launch directions
from Grant Village to the
Heart Lake Trail.


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