Yellowstone Lake Overlook at West Thumb

Views from the Yellowstone Lake Overlook at West Thumb, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Views from the Yellowstone Lake Overlook

Yellowstone Lake Overlook at West Thumb is possibly the best viewpoint I’ve found of Yellowstone Lake.  (The other contenders are Elephant Back Mountain (too many trees), Storm Point and Gull Point (very nice but on level with the lake), an unnamed trail near a picnic area somewhere between West Thumb and Fishing Bridge, and Lake Butte Overlook (very different angle).)  The vistas from the overlook are sweeping and include so many mountains, hills, forests, and more.  Plus, the trail begins from the same parking area as the West Thumb Geyser Basin, so you can see those fantastic views, as well, before or after you hike up to the official Yellowstone Lake Overlook!

Quick Stats

Round Trip Length: 1.9 miles Trail Type: Lollipop loop Elevation Gain: 291ft. Pets: No Fees: $35/vehicle
Closeup of the mountains across Yellowstone Lake from the Yellowstone Lake Overlook, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Closeup of the mountains across Yellowstone Lake

The trailhead is well-marked, but it’s tucked away on the diagonally opposite side of the parking area from the West Thumb Geyser Basin Trail, so it’s not uncommon for it to be overlooked, even by those who are trying to find it.  (I happened to park near the trailhead sign, and I pointed more than one group in the direction they wanted to go.)  Basically, you want to have your back to the West Thumb Geyser Basin.  Walk to the sidewalk by the furthest (south-most) line of parking spaces.  Turn right almost until you run into the trees that separate the parking area from the entrance road.  The sign for “Lake Overlook Trail” will be on your left (south) along with a wide but unassuming trail heading south into the trees.  This is the trailhead.

The beginning of the Yellowstone Lake Overlook Trail, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
The beginning of the Yellowstone Lake Overlook Trail

After 0.3 miles, the trail crosses the main park road.  Use extreme care here.  There is a crosswalk, but not everyone knows about the “stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk” law in Wyoming, and it’s amazing how fast people drive through a national park.

I turned right at the loop junction on the Yellowstone Lake Overlook Trail, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
I turned right at the loop junction

Shortly after crossing the road, the trail splits just before a small meadow.  I turned right across the bridge, and I’d probably do it that way again.  I’d much rather climb up steeply than down steeply, and the right fork I felt was slightly steeper than the more gradual left option – so in other words, I hiked the loop counter-clockwise.  (In reality, the right turn climbed more constantly while the left fork (return trail in my case) lost most of its elevation in one swoop, so it felt less steep overall.)

Looking back down the trail as it rises through the meadows up to the Yellowstone Lake Overlook, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Looking back down the trail as it rises through the meadows

The path wanders uphill through the forest, then suddenly breaks out into meadows.  As you rise through the meadows, be sure to look back – there are some truly fabulous views over Yellowstone Lake to the mountains beyond.

The trail rising up to the Yellowstone Lake Overlook, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
The trail rising up to the overlook

You’ll know you’ve arrived at the overlook (nearly a mile from the trailhead) when you see a bench (on the right) and a fence (on the left).  The fence is to keep you from scrambling straight down the hill (there is a hot spring down there, and they probably don’t want anyone falling into it).

The fence at the Yellowstone Lake Overlook, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
The fence at the Yellowstone Lake Overlook

Views are expansive from here; more than 180 degrees.  I especially appreciated the mountains across the lake (can you imagine what this would look like in spring, when the mountains are still snowy?).

Mountains and clouds across Yellowstone Lake from Yellowstone Lake Overlook, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Mountains and clouds across Yellowstone Lake

When you’re done looking, continue down the other side (and it is down!).  I found a garter snake and several wildflowers before reentering the forest.

Hiking down from the Yellowstone Lake Overlook, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Hiking down from the overlook

Just before returning to the loop junction, a log with a hole in it provided a habitat for an orange mushroom.

A cute little orange mushroom in a fallen log along the Yellowstone Lake Overlook, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
A cute little orange mushroom in a fallen log

Turn right at the loop junction, cross the road, and return to the trailhead at about mile 1.9.  The elevation gain makes it harder than some hikes, but it still was an easy, beautiful stroll on an autumn afternoon.

Wildflowers in the meadows of the Yellowstone Lake Overlook Trail, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Wildflowers in the meadows

Round Trip Trail Length: 1.9 miles

Elevation Gain: 291ft. (7,783ft. to 8,015ft.)

Facilities: Vault toilets and a couple of picnic tables at the West Thumb Geyser Basin Trailhead

Fees: $35/vehicle, valid 7 days.  America the Beautiful National Parks & Federal Public Lands passes and Yellowstone Annual Passes are accepted.

Views south from the Yellowstone Lake Overlook, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Views south from the overlook

Trail Notes: This is a great little hike after (or before) hiking the geyser basin.  The views from the geyser basin over Yellowstone Lake are also excellent, though it’s definitely a different vantage point since you’re more on par with lake level.  The hillside is exposed, so don’t try it in a thunderstorm.  Please stay on the trail as there is geothermal activity in the area (you don’t want to step into a hot spring, no matter how small it might be!)

A garter snake slithering into the grass near the Yellowstone Lake Overlook, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
A garter snake slithering into the grass

Trail ★★★☆☆

Road ★★★★☆

Signs ★★★★☆

Scenery ★★★★★

Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this? ★★★★☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

A somewhat geothermal pool near the Yellowstone Lake Overlook, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
A somewhat geothermal pool near the Yellowstone Lake Overlook

GPS Coordinates for the Yellowstone Lake Overlook at West Thumb

TH: 44.4154160°, -110.5751750° (44°24.92496′, -110°34.51050′ / 44°24’55.4976″, -110°34’30.6300″) (7,792ft.) (0.0)

Cross road: 44.4133400°, -110.5779740° (44°24.80040′, -110°34.67844′ / 44°24’48.0240″, -110°34’40.7064″) (7,802ft.) (0.35)

Loop Junction: 44.4131500°, -110.5784510° (44°24.78900′, -110°34.70706′ / 44°24’47.3400″, -110°34’42.4236″) (7,803ft.) (0.37)

Overlook: 44.4120890°, -110.5865910° (44°24.72534′, -110°35.19546′ / 44°24’43.5204″, -110°35’11.7276″) (8,013ft.) (0.95)

End at TH: 44.4153910°, -110.5752010° (44°24.92346′, -110°34.51206′ / 44°24’55.4076″, -110°34’30.7236″) (7,792ft.) (1.90)

More wildflowers near the Yellowstone Lake Overlook, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
More wildflowers

The gpx file for the Yellowstone Lake Overlook can be downloaded – please note that this and the GPS Coordinates are for reference only and should not be used as a sole resource when hiking this trail.

Download GPX File size: 32.0 KB Downloaded 1 times

(Note: I do my best to ensure that all downloads, the webpage, etc. are virus-free and accurate; however, I cannot be held responsible for any damage that might result, including but not limited to loss of data, damages to hardware, harm to users, from use of files, information, etc. from this website.  Thanks!)

Hiking back into the forest after the Yellowstone Lake Overlook, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Hiking back into the forest

Getting to the Yellowstone Lake Overlook Trailhead

From the southern entrance station to Yellowstone National Park, continue north on the main park road for 21.2 miles to the junction near West Thumb.  Turn right toward Fishing Bridge (and Canyon).  After 0.2 miles, turn right into the access road for West Thumb Geyser Basin.

Trail map at the Yellowstone Lake Overlook Trailhead, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Trail map at the Yellowstone Lake Overlook Trailhead

The left turn into the West Thumb parking area is 20.4 miles south of Fishing Bridge.  Or from Old Faithful, drive south on the main park road for 17.6 miles; turn left toward Fishing Bridge (and Canyon) for 0.2 miles before turning right into the parking area for West Thumb Geyser Basin.

Visual trail map and elevation profile for the Yellowstone Overlook Trail at West Thumb, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Visual trail map and elevation profile for the Yellowstone Overlook Trail

More Easy Hikes in Yellowstone

Explore more of the best easy day hikes in Yellowstone National Park with this guide.  It covers 30 different trails to a variety of features, views, waterfalls, and more.  Buy your copy here!

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