The Best Day Hikes in Yellowstone National Park

A zoomed-in view of the Grand Prismatic Spring from the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
A zoomed-in view of the Grand Prismatic Spring from the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook

Yellowstone was the United States’ first national park – and it definitely deserved protection!  Geysers, hot pools in fantastic colors, mountains, deep gorges, waterfalls, forests, lakes, and more are packed into the park’s 2.2 million acres.  You could hike for days and still be finding new features to see!

Sawmill Geyser in the Upper Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Sawmill Geyser in the Upper Geyser Basin

It’s well worth the time to visit Yellowstone.  My personal favorites mostly center around the Upper Geyser Basin (and the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook!), but there’s enough variation throughout the park to keep you busy for days.  Below I’ve outlined what I consider the best hikes in Yellowstone National Park – from short strolls to full-day outings.

Raft the Yellowstone River for full-family fun!

The 7 Best Day Hikes in Yellowstone National Park

Mound Spring along the Mammoth Hot Springs Trail, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Mound Spring along the Mammoth Hot Springs Trail

7. Mammoth Hot Springs.  The problem with recommending Mammoth Hot Springs is that its beauty depends on its current water output – which is based on the last earthquake.  Still, it’s likely that one or more springs will be flowing, creating beautiful multi-colored terraces.  You can also take the nearby scenic drive to see Orange Mound. 0.5-4.0 miles out & back or multi-loop

Fumaroles in Porcelain Basin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Fumaroles in Porcelain Basin

6. Norris Geyser Basin.  There are two trails in the Norris Geyser Basin: Porcelain Basin and Black Basin.  Both have their own collection of worthwhile-to-see features, including roaring fumaroles, colorful hot pools, world-famous geysers, and more.  2.9 mile multi-loop

Lower Yellowstone Falls from the Uncle Tom Trail, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Lower Yellowstone Falls from the Uncle Tom Trail

5. Uncle Tom’s Trail.  The Uncle Tom’s Trail is as much steps as trail – but the views of Lower Falls are fantastic!  It’s a short and sweet trail, and on a sunny day, the mist creates massive rainbows near the falls.  0.7 miles out & back.

Views from Mt. Washburn. PC WikiCommons

4. Mount Washburn.  There are two trails up Mt. Washburn; I personally prefer the Mount Washburn Trail from Cittenden Road route due to the less elevation gain and the views from the ridgeline out across the mountains of Yellowstone.  On a clear day, you can see for miles, even the steam from Old Faithful.  5.4 miles out & back.

Be sure to also check out Grand Teton National Park, just south of Yellowstone!

Lower Falls from Lookout Point, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Lower Falls from Lookout Point

3. Lookout Point/Red Rock Point. My favorite view of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is from Lookout Point – you get a good view of the canyon and a great view of Lower Yellowstone Falls!  It’s also well worth the trek down to Red Rock Point to see the falls from about halfway down the canyon.  0.5 miles RT

The Grand Prismatic Spring from the overlook, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
The Grand Prismatic Spring from the overlook

2. Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook.  The Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook is probably one of the most scenic overlooks in Yellowstone.  The famous spring is spread out right below you in all its rainbow colors, with plenty of steam to keep it ethereal.  If you can do it, Fairy Falls is a very worthy destination beyond the overlook.  1.6 miles (overlook) or 5.25 miles (Fairy Falls) out & back

Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Old Faithful

1. Upper Geyser Basin.  If you can only see one thing in Yellowstone National Park, visit the Upper Geyser Basin.  Not only will you likely be treated to an eruption of Old Faithful (it goes off about every 90 minutes), but it’s also highly concentrated with colorful hot pools, geysers, and steam vents.  My favorite time to visit is in the evening, but any time of day is good for seeing the geothermal features.  Amazingly, it’s big enough that you won’t be shoulder-to-shoulder with crowds of people on many of the boardwalks, even when the huge parking area is full.  Length varies from 0.1 miles to 4+ miles

Read about suggested hiking itineraries in Yellowstone National Park!

Bonus!

Views from Avalanche Peak, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Views from Avalanche Peak. PC WikiCommons

Avalanche Peak.  I’ve wanted to hike Avalanche Peak for years, and it never works out.  Alas, the Colorado-type mountain views will have to be saved for another time!  4.6 miles out & back

You can also kayak on Yellowstone Lake!

Need to Know

Yellowstone has an entrance fee, currently $35/vehicle, valid 7 days.  America the Beautiful National Park Passes are accepted.

The park is more or less accessible spring through fall, although some roads may be closed October to mid-May. (The Mt. Washburn Trail & Avalanche Peak Trail may be snowbound into July.)

Morning Glory Pool near sunset, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Morning Glory Pool in the Upper Geyser Basin near sunset

Services are available in West Yellowstone, Canyon Village, Old Faithful, and West Thumb.  Check the park map/visitor center for exactly what services are available where.

The park can be crowded, especially near trailheads.  In 2019, Yellowstone had 4 million visitors.  Small parking areas (specifically around famous features such as the Grand Prismatic Spring) will be full by 10am in the busy summer season, and some areas (especially Canyon Village) will be congested.  Use care and give yourself extra time to get to your next destination/wait for a parking place to open up.

Yellowstone National Park is huge!  And the speed limits are low to protect wildlife, tourists, and other motorists.  For a rough estimate of travel times, double the number of miles between attractions – that’s about how many minutes it will take to drive.  For example, Madison Junction to Norris Junction is 14 miles; it will probably take you 28 minutes to drive between the two.

Zoom map out to browse nearby hikes & places of interest

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This guide takes a park ranger’s perspective to the day-hikeable trails in Yellowstone.  There are trails in here you won’t run across in a lot of other guides.

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