Hiking the Sentinel Meadows Trail
Sentinel Meadows Trail, Yellowstone National Park
Hike #1, Sentinel Meadows/Imperial Meadows to Fairy Falls
Fountain Flat Drive Trailhead OK6
Southwest Section - Moderate to Heavy Traffic
Yellowstone National Park

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Trailhead Location: Southwest Section (See map to the right)
Difficulty: Easy - Out-and-back, point-2-point, loop or overnighter
Distance: 10.5 mi/16.8 km as a loop
Elevation Gain: This is a very flat hike
Best time to visit: May-October (can be wet throughout the year)

Backcountry Camping: Yes. 4 sites - OG1, OD1, OD4 & OD5
Click here to view a list of backcountry campsites for this area.

NOTE: Area closed until Memorial Day for bear management purposes.

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

Finding the Trailhead - Fountain Flats Drive (OK6)
From West Yellowstone:
From the center of town enter Yellowstone and drive 14 miles to Madison Junction. Turn right and continue toward Old Faithful. At 19.6 miles make a right on Fountain Flat Drive. The trailhead is located at the end of Fountain Flat Drive. Get Directions from West Yellowstone

NOTE - This trail is closed until Memorial Day for bear management purposes.
Backcountry permits can be obtained in West Yellowstone at the West Yellowstone Visitor Information Center (307) 344-2876, or at the Old Faithful Ranger Station. For information call the Central Backcountry Office: (307) 344-2160

Read more about obtaining Yellowstone Backcountry Permits.

Sentinel Meadows Trailhead Location

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Sentinel Meadows Overview Map
Sentinel Meadows Trail Stats

Trail Details
Trail Condition: Good
Difficulty: Easy
Total Mileage: 10.5 mi /16.8 km as a loop
Type of Hike: Out-and-back, point-2-point, loop, overnighter
Wow Factor: Where the buffalo roam
Elevation Gain/Loss: Imperceptible

Nearest Town: West Yellowstone
19.6 miles southeast of West Yellowstone - Get Directions

Trailhead Coordinates
Latitude: 44.567174
Longitude: -110.835217

End Coordinates
Latitude: 44.567174
Longitude: -110.835217

Approx. Elevations
Start Elevation = 6,800 ft.
Finish Elevation = 6,760 ft.
Elevation Gain/Loss = Imperceptible
FREE Trip Planner
Yellowstone Backcountry Info

Sentinel Meadows Photo Gallery
Sentinel Meadows Trail Description

Sentinel Meadows & Imperial Meadows Trail Descriptions (Trailhead OK6) - Easy

You can almost picture the tipi's of the Nez Perce Indians stretched across the distant horizon among the herds of bison that still frequent this landscape. Walk in the footsteps of Chief Joseph and enjoy one of the last places on earth where buffalo still roam free.

This hike is located in the Firehole Bear Management Area (BMA) and does not open until Memorial Day weekend.

From the parking lot at the end of Fountain Flat Drive the trail heads south on wide gravel path for about 0.4 miles until it reaches a concrete bridge that crosses the Firehole River. On the right just before the bridge is the small spring known as Ojo Caliente. After crossing the bridge the trail makes a right and follows the river briefly before reaching campsite OG1 (★★★★) at just about one mile. This is a great place to camp if you want an overnight backcountry experience that requires very little effort. The campsite sits in a stand of pine trees at the western edge of Sentinel Meadow. From a bluff just past the campsite we watched a grizzly and her two cubs foraging along the northern edge of this large meadow. Much of the landscape in this region is open with intermittent clusters of new growth lodgepole pines mixed with areas containing significant numbers of fallen trees.

Just past campsite OG1 the trail climbs the first of two very small hills located along this 0.9 mile section of the hike. These two small bluffs provide elevated views of the thermal features located throughout the meadow. Mound Spring, Steep Cone and Flat Cone Spring (the Sentinel Meadow Group) are the most prominent geothermal features in this meadow and are easily identifiable by their large sinter cones. At 2 miles a spur trail (unmarked, difficult to follow) enters from the right and provides access to the Queen's Laundry Bathhouse which was built in 1881 by the park's second superintendent Philetus W. Norris. What remains of this log structure was included in the National Register of Historic Places in 2001 because it was considered one of the oldest federally funded projects built specifically to attract tourists to the area.

From this junction the trail turns sharply to the southeast and enters a narrow field before reaching an unnamed pond on the left. After passing this small pond the trail enters Fairy Meadows where you'll have outstanding views in all directions with Fairy Falls visible in the deep notch to the southwest. Fairy Meadows is often wet but not impassible and when you're crossing this meadow you'll need to keep an eye out for the orange trail markers that are barely visible on the far side of the meadow. At mile 3.0 you pass to the north of the Fairy Meadows Group, a cluster of small hot springs. There are two small streams to cross (very easy) before you reach the trees and the junction with the Fairy Falls Trail. At this point you have the option to make this a very short loop by continuing directly east for 0.2 miles and rejoining the Fountain Freight Road. Follow this old road back to the trailhead for a very comfortable 5 mile loop. Option 2 continues in the following paragraphs.

At this junction continue right and follow the Fairy Falls Trail toward the waterfall itself. At 3.6 miles you'll pass the superheated pool known as Column Spouter as you continue your way south along the trail and Fairy Springs at 4.25 miles. Locomotive Spring is the most active feature in this group. At 4.5 miles the trail makes a very distinct left-hand turn that seems to take you away from your destination but it eventually turns back toward the falls and campsite OD4 (★★★★). OD4 is located on Fairy Creek and has views of Twin Buttes to the west and Fairy Falls to the south. Just past campsite OD4 the trail becomes very wet and crosses this marshy section on a series of alternating wooden planks (some rotten) before connecting with the Fairy Creek Trail at 5.8 miles. From here we recommend taking a short detour west and hiking to Spray Geyser and Imperial Geyser before rejoining the Fairy Falls Trail. Spray Geyser is the first to appear and is set back in a hillside and may reach heights of only 6 feet. On occasion Spray Geyser has been known to erupt at heights of 25-30 feet. Imperial Geyser is a bit farther up the trail. Just follow the colorful stream that is the discharge from this very active geyser. Imperial Geyser can reach heights of 20-60 feet.

Back on the Fairy Falls Trail the hike passes through new growth pine forest for 0.4 miles until it reaches the base of Fairy Falls. This is a delicate waterfall of about 200 feet that cascades from the plateau above in a very thin strand. Halfway down this shear cliff the water finally makes contact with the rocks below in a prominent cave-like structure that continues to the base of the falls. This is a great place to break up the hike and enjoy lunch near this beautiful waterfall.

Leaving Fairy Falls the trail heads east through dense pines until it connects once again with the Fountain Freight Road. This is the busiest section of the hike and the trail through this area is well travelled and looks more like pavement. Campsite OD1 (★) is about halfway between the falls and Fountain Freight Road and is not a very attractive site. It sits in the middle of this new growth without a view or access to water.

After reaching Fountain Freight Road you'll have a unique view of the boardwalks that surround Grand Prismatic Spring and Excelsior Geyser. You'll follow this old road north along the Firehole River and back to the trailhead. Campsite OD5 (★★★★) is located on the north shore of Goose Lake and is only available to those with special needs or bicycle parties. This is a great beginner hike for anyone that wants a wilderness experience without having to hike too far off the beaten path.

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
Lone Star (Trailhead OK1) - A very popular hike to Lone Star Geyser (open to mountain biking and cross country skiing for the first 2.7 miles).
Howard Eaton (Trailhead OK2) - Provides access to Shoshone Lake and the Bechler River Trail.
Biscuit Basin (Trailhead OK4) - Provides access to Summit Lake and the Fairy Creek Trail.
Fairy Falls (Trailhead OK5) - A popular hike to Fairy Falls via Fountain Flat Drive (mountain biking is allowed on Fountain Freight Road).
Mary Mountain (Trailhead OK7) - To Mary Lake (Trail closed until June 15th for bear management purposes)
Mallard Creek (Trailhead OK9) - An easy day hike or overnight destination from the Old Faithful area.

Nearby Campgrounds
Madison Campground - Madison Campground is located approximately 6.4 miles north of the Sentinel Meadows Trailhead and has 278 sites with a section for 'tents only'. Campsites are $24.25 + per night. Electrical hookups are available. 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. An ice and vending machine, recycling and a dump station are located at this campground - Get Directions from the Sentinel Meadows Trailhead to the Madison Campground.

Grant Village - Grant Village Campground is located approximately 30 miles southeast of the Sentinel Meadows Trailhead 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 Sentinel Meadows Trailhead to Grant Village.

Yellowstone National Park Backcountry Permits
All overnight backcountry permits for the northwest section of Yellowstone National Park can be obtained at the West Yellowstone Visitor Information Center on the corner of Yellowstone Ave. and S. Canyon St./route 191 in West Yellowstone (307) 344-2876 or at the Old Faithful Ranger Station. Read more about obtaining Yellowstone Backcountry Permits.

Post Hike Meals

Don't forget to stop in at one of the following restaurants if you're staying in West Yellowstone.

Wolf Pack Brewing Co located at 139 North Canyon Street in West Yellowstone - Directions
Wild West Pizzeria at 14 Madison Avenue in West Yellowstone - Directions

Maps for Hiking Sentinel Meadows
Beartooth Publishing Outdoor Recreational Maps
These maps from Beartooth Publishing will cover all of Yellowstone National Park as well as Bozeman/Big Sky/Gallatin Range/Madison Range and West Yellowstone.
For more information regarding these maps click here.

Directions to Sentinel Meadows Trailhead
Click the Map to Launch Directions
From West Yellowstone to the
Sentinel Meadows Trailhead.


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