The 8 Best Hikes in Yellowstone National Park

Hikers walk through the geysers of Yellowstone National Park on a boardwalk

John Elk / Getty Images

In 1872, Yellowstone National Park became the first national park in the United States, and for many it is still the most iconic. Incorporating over 2.2 million acres of unspoiled wilderness—including volatile geysers and hot springs, idyllic lakes and meadows, and majestic mountain peaks—it is a hiker’s paradise. In total, Yellowstone offers more than 900 miles of hiking trails, providing opportunities for every interest and experience level. Below, we've rounded up some of the best, from famous routes that will bring you to landmarks like Old Faithful and Fairy Falls, to quieter trails that take you away from the crowds and into the park's spectacular backcountry. We have chosen to focus on day hikes, since these can be undertaken without a permit. 

Before setting out on any Yellowstone adventure, remember that you need to be entirely self-sufficient and plan in advance. Pack plenty of water, snacks, and weather protection; always tell someone of your plans and when you expect to be back, and be sure to brush up on safety advice for hiking through bear country. 

01 of 08

Fairy Falls Trail

Hikers in front of Fairy Falls, Yellowstone National Park

NPS / Jacob W. Frank/ Flickr / Public Domain Mark 1.0

Located in the Old Faithful area and part of the Midway Geyser Basin, the Fairy Falls Trail is one of the park’s most popular. Totaling 5.4 miles, it's an out-and-back route that takes hikers through a forest of lodgepole pines to the foot of Fairy Falls, a mesmerizing veil of water that plunges some 200 feet down a sheer cliff face with a cavern at its base. The trail typically takes three to five hours, but if you find yourself inspired by its considerable beauty, you can extend your hike by a further 1.2 miles by continuing on to the Spray and Imperial Geysers.

Keep in mind that this hike is only possible in summer, fall, and winter due to a spring closure of the Bear Management Area. There are two trailheads—one at the end of Fountain Flat Drive, and the other at the Fairy Falls parking lot, located 1 mile south of Midway Geyser Basin. 

Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190, USA
02 of 08

Grand Prismatic Overlook Trail

Elevated view of Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park

Ignacio Palacios / Getty Images

The Grand Prismatic Overlook Trail is also found in the Midway Geyser Basin. This 1.2-mile, out-and-back route begins at the Fairy Falls parking lot and ascends 105 feet to an overlook with stunning views of the geyser basin and Grand Prismatic Spring. The third-largest hot spring in the world, Grand Prismatic Spring features multi-hued rings in all the colors of the optical prism (blue, green, yellow, red, and orange). These are caused by layers of microorganisms, arranged in rings around the edges of the mineral-rich water. The trail takes one to two hours to complete, and like all other trails in the Midway Geyser Basin, is closed in the spring due to increased bear activity in the area. Otherwise, hiking is possible all year round. 

03 of 08

Howard Eaton Trail (Old Faithful Area)

Lone Star Geyser during an eruption, Yellowstone National Park

kwiktor / Getty Images

The 6.3-mile, out-and-back Howard Eaton Trail is located in the Upper Geyser Basin. The route leads up a burned hill and through a picturesque spruce-fir forest before descending to the backcountry Lone Star Geyser—a much less crowded alternative to the world-famous Old Faithful geyser situated nearby. With a 12-foot cone, the geyser erupts roughly every three hours, sending a plume of steam 45 feet into the air. The hike takes three to five hours, although you may want to allow extra time to wait for the eruption.

It’s important to stick to the marked trail on this route due to heightened bear activity and the risk of breaking through the thin hydrothermal crust in some off-trail areas. To reach the trailhead, follow the orange trail markers from the Old Faithful Ranger Station for a quarter of a mile. 

Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190, USA
04 of 08

Observation Point Trail

Sign at the start of Observation Point Trail, Yellowstone National Park

Melissa Kopka / Getty Images

For panoramic views that encompass the dynamic power and mystery of the Yellowstone landscape on a grand scale, choose the Observation Point Trail. Located in the Old Faithful area, this 1.6-mile, out-and-back route heads up a series of switchbacks to a viewpoint that overlooks the entire Upper Geyser Basin. Getting to the lookout and back takes one to three hours, but you also have the option to continue on for another 0.9 miles to Solitary Geyser, which erupts with relative frequency.

This trail is open all year round. To reach the trailhead, make your way to the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center, then walk 0.3 miles in a counter-clockwise direction around the Old Faithful boardwalk. Turn off at the signpost to Geyser Hill; the trail begins just after the Firehole River bridge. 

Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190, USA
Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08

Avalanche Peak Trail

Two hikers on Avalanche Peak Trail, Yellowstone National Park

NPS / Diane Renkin / Flickr / Public Domain Mark 1.0

Located in the Yellowstone Lake area, this jaw-dropping summer trail has a reputation as one of the most physically challenging day hikes in the park. Almost as soon as you enter the forest at the trailhead, you begin a rapid ascent that takes you up 2,100 feet in just over 2 miles. The first mile takes you to the base of Avalanche Peak, after which the trail switchbacks to a level area just below the summit. From there, it’s a short but arduous hike along the narrow ridgeline to the peak. Once you reach the summit, your efforts are rewarded by astonishing views of Yellowstone Lake and some of the park’s tallest alpine peaks. In total, the out-and-back trail takes roughly three to four hours to complete. The trailhead is located opposite the pullout at Eleanor Lake, 19 miles east of Fishing Bridge Junction. 

US-14, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190, USA
06 of 08

Dunraven Pass – Mount Washburn Trail

Sunrise view from the summit of Mount Washburn, Yellowstone National Park

kwiktor / Getty Images

Keen hikers with energy to spare can also take on the Mount Washburn Trail from Dunraven Pass, another strenuous option in the Canyon Village area. To the summit and back is a distance of 6 miles, with roughly 1,400 feet gained in elevation. The trail starts from the parking lot of Dunraven Pass (located 4.5 miles north of Canyon Junction), then heads around the mountain before following a series of switchbacks to the summit. On the way, keep an eye out for wildflowers and bighorn sheep—not to mention stunning views of the surrounding landscape from the summit. At the top of the mountain there’s also a fire lookout with an interpretive center built into its base. This trail is open in summer and fall only, and extra care should be taken in September and October due to foraging grizzlies. 

Mount Washburn trail head, Grand Loop Rd, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190, USA
07 of 08

Beaver Ponds Trail

Hikers on the Beaver Ponds Trail, Yellowstone National Park

NPS / Neal Herbert / Flickr / Public Domain Mark 1.0

This 5-mile, loop trail in the Mammoth Hot Springs area starts steep but flattens out quickly, with a total elevation gain of just 350 feet. Its forgiving profile and the fact that it is possible all year round make it a firm favorite for families—and anyone else wanting a tranquil adventure into the backcountry. The scenery is comprised of forests, stands of Douglas firs, and pretty sage meadows. This diversity makes it a good option for spotting wildlife, too, from grizzly and black bears to elk, moose, and mule deer. At the beaver ponds (located roughly halfway around the loop), keep an eye out for beavers and muskrats. The trail takes two to five hours to complete and has two trailheads. One is located near the stone house north of Liberty Cap, while the other is behind the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel

08 of 08

Osprey Falls Trail

Hiker standing on an outcrop of rock, watching Osprey Falls, Yellowstone

NPS / Jacob W. Frank / Flickr / Public Domain Mark 1.0

If you’re in the Mammoth Hot Springs area, check out Osprey Falls Trail as well. An 8-mile, out-and-back route that makes use of the Old Bunsen Peak Road for the first (and last) 3 miles, it takes you through meadows and dramatic burned forest before descending 700 feet into Sheepeater Canyon. This is one of the deepest canyons in the park, with an impressive viewpoint from which you can glimpse Gardner River’s Osprey Falls plunging over the edge of an old lava flow. In total, the waterfall has a drop of some 150 feet. This four-to-six-hour trail is recommended in summer and fall only due to an abundance of snow in the colder seasons. It’s also frequented by grizzlies, so be sure to bring your bear spray. The trailhead is located 5 miles south of Mammoth on the Grand Loop Road. 

Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190, USA
Article Sources
TripSavvy uses only high-quality, trusted sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. National Park Service. "The World's First National Park." Accessed May 24, 2022.

  2. U.S. Geological Survey. "Steam Explosions, Earthquakes, and Volcanic Eruptions—What's in Yellowstone's Future?" Accessed May 24, 2022.

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The 8 Best Hikes in Yellowstone National Park