Hiking the Pelican Cone Trail
Pelican Cone Trail, Yellowstone National Park
Hike #2, Pelican Cone Trail
Pelican Valley Trailhead 5K3
Southeast Section - Light to Moderate Traffic
Yellowstone National Park

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Location: Southeast Section (See map to the right)
Difficulty: Difficult - Out-and-back
Distance: 21.8 mi/35 km round-trip
Elevation Gain: 1,643 ft.
Best time to visit: July 4th-October

NOTE: Special Restrictions Apply: This area is closed until July 4th. It is open to hiking between 9am and 7pm.

Multiple Stream Crossings: 4 total - Easy - Bring sandals

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 - Pelican Valley (5K3)
From Fishing Bridge:
Drive approximately 3 miles east along the East Entrance Road heading toward Cody, Wyoming. The trailhead will be on the left just past the Storm Point/Indian Pond Trail. Get Directions from Fishing Bridge

Pelican Valley Trailhead Location

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Pelican Cone Overview Map
Pelican Cone Trail Stats

Trail Details
Trail Condition: Excellent to fair
Difficulty: Difficult
Total Mileage: 21.8 mi /35 km round-trip
Type of Hike: Out-and-back
Wow Factor: A beautiful summit that has very few visitors
Elevation Gain: 1,643 ft.

Nearest Facilities: Fishing Bridge
2.7 miles east of Fishing Bridge - Get Directions
Trailhead Coordinates
Latitude: 44.560023
Longitude: -110.323892

Pelican Cone Coordinates
Latitude: 44.648353
Longitude: -110.193086

Approx. Elevations
Trailhead Elevation = 8,000 ft.
Summit Elevation = 9,643 ft.
Elevation Gain = 1,643 ft.
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Pelican Cone Photo Gallery
Pelican Cone Trail Description

Pelican Cone Trail Description (5K3) - Light to Moderate Traffic

Pelican Cone is another incredible summit located in the heart of Yellowstone's vast wilderness, and it's just one of a handful of high peaks that offers spectacular views of the magnificent scenery that makes Yellowstone so special.

From the shade of the large parking lot adjacent to the Storm Point/Indian Pond Trail you'll cross a large meadow filled with sagebrush and wildflowers that leads you northeast to another stand of trees. Over the next mile the trail climbs gently as it passes through an old burn filled with brightly colored flowers poking up through the overlapping patchwork of dead and fallen trees. One flower in particular, fireweed, is known for its ability to quickly colonize areas that have been effected by fire, and in some regions of the park entire landscapes are covered by its purple/reddish hue as it grows in the open areas and blackened soils created by forest fires.

At 1.5 miles the trail exits this forested area and here you'll have an incredible panorama across the immense Pelican Valley as it extends along the eastern edge of Yellowstone. Caution: This is prime grizzly bear habitat and the park service has established certain restrictions for hikers traveling in the Pelican Valley. The area is closed until July 4th and it is recommend that hikers travel in groups of four or more. Visitors are only allowed to hike in the Pelican Valley BMA between the hours of 9am and 7pm. Make sure you carry bear spray, stay alert and make your presence known when hiking in this area. For more information on bears and bear encounters please click here.

At 1.6 miles the trail bends to the right, passing a thermal area and a small pond that sits off to the right. The trail continues heading southeast until it reaches a junction with the Turbid Lake Trail at 2.2 miles. As you hike along the edge of this broad valley you may have the opportunity to see a variety of large mammals that frequent the area, including grizzly bears, bison, wolves and elk. Carrying a pair of binoculars will help you identify wildlife from a safe distance and watching for animal scat and tracks will alert you to the presence of any larger mammals that may be in the area.

Over the next mile the trail heads northeast through knee-high sagebrush and tall grasses mixed with an overwhelming variety of unique and colorful wildflowers that make for some great photo opportunities. Pelican Creek can be seen off to the left, twisting in a series of large u-shaped arcs that eventually carry its slow moving waters to the shores of Yellowstone Lake east of Fishing Bridge. The valley itself is dotted with shallow pockets of water as well as the remnants of old stream channels that had at one time carried the waters of this small creek, but as its course meandered and changed over time they were eventually cut off from the main flow, leaving behind partially filled channels of water and grass.

At 2.2 miles you'll need to ford the shallow waters of Pelican Creek for the first time near the remains of an old wooden footbridge that sits abandoned in the middle of the creek. The best place to cross is just to the left of the bridge, and in mid July the water was only ankle deep in most places, making this one of the easier stream crossings in the park. Because of its shallow depth the water of Pelican Creek is usually warm, making it a real pleasure to wade through during the heat of the day. It's a good idea for this hike to carry a pair of sandals and a pack towel—or small bandana. This will make these fords much easier and will allow you to keep your feet dry.

After crossing Pelican Creek the trail changes in character and becomes much more narrow as it traverses the valley in a northeast direction toward Astringent Creek. Even though this area is very open, you are hiking on a slightly elevated plateau that sits just above the height of the creek. This can make spotting wildlife (especially bears) somewhat difficult, so remain alert and make noise when approaching small bluffs or depressions that obscure your line of sight or that of any animal foraging nearby.

At 4.7 miles the trail reaches Astringent Creek where it crosses this stream on a small footbridge just before the Astringent Creek Trail junction at 4.8 miles. Continuing in a northeasterly direction the trail becomes a bit more primitive as it nears the northern boundary of the valley. The trail passes a small bubbling hot spring and a thermal area before reaching the edge of a forest and a low hillside that separates Astringent Creek from Upper Pelican Creek. From this side of the valley you'll have an unobstructed view toward the parks eastern edge and the mountain range that forms a barrier between the eastern boundary and the Absaroka Wilderness and Shoshone National Forest.

Just before you reach the Upper Pelican Creek Trail juncture at 6.6 miles the trail becomes somewhat indistinct but if you hug the treeline it will lead you to your second stream crossing where you'll ford Upper Pelican Creek. This is another easy water crossing and a great place to stop and fill your water bottles for the ascent up to Pelican Cone. While we collected drinking water from the stream we could see osprey hovering quietly overhead scanning for fish in the shallow depths of the creek below. The only thing that seemed remotely edible were the thousands of tadpoles that had gathered in large clusters in the shallows along the banks of the creek.

Leaving the creek the path climbs a small hillside where a metal trail sign rigged to a cluster of dead tree branches indicates the direction to the Upper Pelican Valley Trail and the Pelican Cone Trail. To reach the Pelican Cone Trail stay to the right and follow the faint path up another small hill and then to the left around a cluster of trees that skirt the valley floor. As you make this left-hand bend you should see an orange marker attached to a wooden pole where the Pelican Cone Trail enters the forest and begins its 4.0 mile climb to the summit. The grass in this area is rather thick, making it hard to follow the trail, but if you keep your eye on the orange marker you should see the trail as it starts up the hillside near the treeline. From this juncture the Raven Creek Cutoff Trail heads southeast across the valley, rejoining the Mist Creek Trail near the Pelican Springs Cabin.

From this point it's a fairly steady, but not steep, climb to the summit of Pelican Cone. What makes this section so difficult is the considerable deadfall that covers the next 3.0 miles of the trail, and climbing up, over, around and under downed trees can really sap your energy so be prepared for a good workout during the ascent/descent. Note: Trail conditions are always subject to change and if the park service clears the deadfall from this trail it's really not a bad hike to the lookout. Based on the condition of the trail over the last few miles, I'm guessing this trail doesn't get used very much and it's probably low on the priority list for trail maintenance.

After entering the woods at the base of the climb the next 0.75 of the hike are well shaded by tall lodgepole pines. This is one of only a handful of places along the entire trail that offers any significant shade so make sure you carry plenty of sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses to minimize your exposure to sunlight. At 7.8 miles the trail emerges from this unburned section of forest and enters an area that was significantly impacted by fire, and it's here that you'll experience most of the deadfall. There are sporadic views to the east through these standing dead trees and you will be able to see into Raven Creek and over toward Mist Pass. At 8.7 miles the trail enters another forested area that miraculously escaped the massive fire that consumed this hillside, and once again you'll have a little shade as the climb continues toward the summit.

An open hillside at 9.6 miles provides a wonderful view toward the Pelican Valley and Yellowstone Lake, both of which always look deceptively close. Over the last mile the trail is often very faint and can be completely overgrown so you'll need to look for subtle clues as to its location as you navigate through this section of dead and gnarled trees. Just below the summit the trail turns north and then one final switchback brings you face-to-face with the small weather-beaten lookout perched on the top of Pelican Cone. From the summit of this ordinary looking peak you'll have extraordinary views to just about every corner of Yellowstone and beyond. We spent about an hour on the summit and it still wasn't long enough to take everything in but remember, you're only halfway home!

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
Avalanche Peak Trailhead
Nine Mile (Trailhead 5K5)
Storm Point/Indian Pond Trailhead
Pelican Creek Nature Trail

Nearby Campgrounds
Fishing Bridge RV Campground - Hardsided Campers Only - Fishing Bridge RV Campground is located approximately 2.5 miles west of the Pelican Valley Trailhead and has 325 RV sites and full amenities. RV sites are $47.75 per night. 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 nearby. Get directions from the Pelican Valley Trailhead to the Fishing Bridge Campground.

Bridge Bay Campground - Bridge Bay Campground is located approximately 7 miles west of the Pelican Valley Trailhead and has 432 sites. Campsites are $24.25 per night. 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 Fishing Bridge - Get directions from the Pelican Valley Trailhead to the Bridge Bay Campground.

Post Hike Meals
There is a restaurant, general store, visitor center and gift shop located in Fishing Bridge with additional facilities at Lake Lodge/ Lake Village.

Directions to the Pelican Valley 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 Pelican Valley Trailhead

Click the map to launch directions
from Fishing Bridge to the
Pelican Valley Trailhead.


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