Welcome to the weird, wonderful world of Yellowstone. America’s first and arguably finest National Park harbors some of the greatest wonders in North America, including its word-famous geothermal features, abundant wildlife, meandering rivers, vast forests, sparkling lakes, glaciated peaks, and beautiful river valleys.
A full exploration of Yellowstone and the surrounding National Parks, Monuments, and Forests requires a lifetime of hiking, boating, fishing, hunting, camping, and backpacking, but here at Modern Hiker, we’ve started to curate some of the best hikes in the Greater Yellowstone region, which includes Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park, the Custer-Gallatin National Forest, the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, the Bridger-Teton National Forest, and the Shoshone National Forest.
Here are ten of our favorites (so-far).
Fairy Falls & Midway Geyser Basin
This challenging looping hike to Fairy Falls and the Midway Geyser Basin gives you hot springs, geysers, waterfalls, forests, meadows, lakes, wildlife viewing, and even some backcountry camping options. If you want the full Yellowstone buffet wrapped into one accessible full-day adventure, this is the hike for you.
Grand Prismatic Spring
Yellowstone’s largest and most colorful hot spring sprawls across a vast plain riddled with fascinating terraces, pools, snags, and vistas. A short hike along a boardwalk takes you to the edge of the spring with quick stops at the Excelsior Geyser Crater, the Opal Pool, and the Turquoise Pool. This short loop is easy enough for everybody, and the prism of colors is a photographer’s delight.
The Yellowstone River spills over two impressive declivities before thundering through the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The lower falls are the larger of the two, and Uncle Tom’s Trail – part dirt footpath, part steel staircase – gives you the best up-close views of this violent aquatic spectacle.
Mammoth Hot Springs
A number of different springs piped in by subterranean channels from the nearby Norris Geyser Basin has constructed gleaming travertine terraces painted orange in places by hot spring-nourished algae. Stellar views accompany this short hike via boardwalk exploring one of the weirder geologic features in Yellowstone National Park.
Mystic Falls & Biscuit Geyser Basin
This satisfying little hike with the odd little name delivers a loop around a particularly volatile geyser basin en route to a picturesque set of cascades along the Little Firehole River. Few hikes in the park deliver such great variety in such a compact, accessible package. Biscuit Geyser Basin includes the impossibly blue waters of the Sapphire Pool, which is one of the most beautiful of the hot springs in the Old Faithful region.
The Dailey Creek Trail is about as far north as you can go in Yellowstone National Park before you enter the Gallatin National Forest in southwest Montana. Although you won’t find any geysers or hot springs here, and there isn’t a classic destination like a peak, lake, or waterfall, the spacious Montana big sky, vast, rolling meadows, and tranquil rumblings of Dailey Creek make this a great “journey-is-the-destination” hike.
Bighorn Peak is a prominent high point towering above Yellowstone National Park’s mountainous northwest corner. From the summit, you can scan views across a hundred-mile radius while sampling everything that makes the southwestern Montana forests so great. This route also doubles as a fine backpacking route as well as a chance to explore a scenic stretch of the spectacular Sky Rim Trail.
Although it’s tempting to spend all your time chasing waterfalls and hunting geysers within Yellowstone National Park, don’t make the error of missing out on the surrounding National Forest areas. All of the geothermal features reside within the Yellowstone Caldera, but the canyons, valleys, and glacial basins of southwest Montana’s Gallatin National Forest offer plenty to explore, starting with Lava Lake. This massive lake shimmers within an enormous glacial basin, holding a perfect mirror image of Big Sky and forested peaks.
Visitors who think only of the town of Big Sky as a ski resort on par with Mammoth, California and Aspen, Colorado may be surprised to discover how great the hiking is in and around town. The popular hike to Beehive Basin starts just north of town and quickly reaches an alpine glacial basin with a small lake basking in the sun beneath the Spanish Peaks. Summer wildflowers are stellar here, and the dog-friendly trail creates a great option for your furry friends.
Last, but not least, this short, scenic hike along a fork of the Gallatin River travels to a thundering waterfall. This family-friendly route is a great place to pique a child’s interest in hiking, as its short enough, scenic enough, and has abundant enough running water to keep any kid happy for precious minutes and even hours.