Yellowstone National Park Hikes: Best Views and Trails, from Mystic Falls to Avalanche Peak

by Amy Myers
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Any hike that you choose in Yellowstone National Park is full of opportunities for adventure and views that will knock the breath right out of your lungs. With 900 miles of hiking trails, there’s no wrong answer when picking which path to take. But for those that are looking for the best vistas in the world’s oldest national park, there are some hikes that should definitely be highlighted on your map.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be an expert hiker to access some of the park’s greatest sights. In fact, some of the park’s hidden gems are nestled in hikes that are friendly for beginners. Of course, that’s not to say that the more difficult paths aren’t worth the effort. And what better reward for a heart-pumping hike than a mountaintop vista?

You also can’t talk about Yellowstone National Park without mentioning Old Faithful. Located in the park’s Upper Geyser Basin, this literal hotspot attracts visitors from all over the country to see its epic eruption. Old Faithful’s eruptions can vary from 100 to 180 feet, lasting up to five minutes. If you’ve never seen a geyser before, this can be an extraordinary experience. But with the famed name comes huge crowds, making it hard to get a good seat to the show during the park’s busy season.

That’s why we’ve decided to focus on some of Yellowstone’s lesser-known but just as gorgeous attractions throughout the park. While Old Faithful is definitely a bucket-list item, you won’t want to miss out on these views, either. Keep in mind that some trails may be closed during certain parts of the year because of bear activity, animal mating seasons or winter weather.

Take a look at some of Outsider’s favorite Yellowstone National Park trails… and remember to bring lots of water and a good camera.

Outsider’s Choice of Scenic Trails, from Easiest to Hardest

  • Mystic Falls (easy)
  • Lone Star Geyser (easy)
  • Storm Point Nature Trail (easy)
  • Clear Lake Artist’s Loop (moderate)
  • Beaver Ponds Loop (moderate)
  • Bunsen Peak Trail (strenuous)
  • Avalanche Peak (strenuous)

Yellowstone National Park Hikes with a Waterfront View

Mystic Falls

Located in the Old Faithful Area of Yellowstone National Park, the Mystic Falls trail takes visitors through newly-grown forestry and up to the falls, where the river drops 70 feet downward, rushing into a narrow slot at the bottom. This trail is ideal for any hikers looking for a quick hike with great rewards. Alternatively, for those that want to extend their day trip in the park, you can take this trail to the Fairy Creek junction and onward to the Biscuit Basin for more gorgeous views. This will extend your trip to 3.5 miles and increase the difficulty to a moderate level.

Lone Star Geyser

Not far from Mystic falls is the Lone Star Geyser trail. While the Lone Star Geyser trail is more than twice the length of Mystic Falls, the difficulty is still the same. So, if you have any little ones in tow, they’ll be able to complete this Yellowstone National Park hike as well. The crown jewel of this trail is, not surprisingly, the geyser that erupts 30-45 feet about every three hours. There are even a couple of benches where you can park your group as you wait for the next show. Though the trail is open year-round, the best time to visit is between May and October.

Clear Lake Artist’s Point Loop

  • Length: 3.9-mile loop
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation: 423 feet
  • Duration: 1.5 hours

Once you reach the Clear Lake Artist’s Point Loop, you’ll never want to leave. Beginning near Upper Fall, the trail takes you past waterfalls, valleys, peaks and above the Yellowstone River. But first, you’ll hit Artist’s Point, where the scenery truly looks like it was created with a paintbrush. Between the rocky slopes, you can see a roaring waterfall. As it meets with the river, the spray creates a rainbow. Not even pictures can do this trail justice – you just have to see it for yourself. When you get to Clear Lake, you’ll find an aquamarine oasis awaiting you. But as tempting as the water looks, park officials discourage visitors from dipping a toe as there could be geothermal activity below the surface.

This trail is also in close proximity to some other popular attractions, including Wapiti Lake and Inspiration Point. The loop is also conveniently located near Canyon Campground.

Yellowstone National Park Hikes With Best Chance for Spotting Wildlife

Storm Point Nature Trail

  • Length: 2.5-mile loop
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Elevation: 98 feet
  • Duration: 1 hour

The Storm Point loop is a must-visit during your trip to Yellowstone National Park. Short of geysers, this hike gives patrons a bit of everything that you can expect from the national park’s environments. From forest to beach to lake, the Storm Point Nature Trail has just about every ecosystem, giving hikers optimal opportunities to spot a variety of wildlife. Hikers frequently find bison grazing in the meadows and yellow-bellied marmots on the rocky area of the trail.

Beaver Ponds Loop

  • Length: 6-mile loop
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation: 764 feet
  • Duration: 2.5 hours

Beaver Ponds Loop certainly requires a bit more exertion than most of Yellowstone National Park’s easier hikes, but the surrounding wildlife is more than worth the effort. The nearly three-hour hike takes its visitors through the Mammoth Hot Springs area where animals like elk, mule deer, pronghorn and moose all like to wander. Of course, at the pond, hikers can also spot beaver and waterfowl. As this hike is popular for animals, you should be on alert for both black and grizzly bears in the area.

More Advanced Yellowstone National Park Trails

Bunsen Peak Trail

Get ready to feel the burn – Bunsen Peak will test the limits of your calves and quads by taking you up a few switchbacks. Although the hike is relatively short, you’re gaining some serious elevation in a short span, so you might want to pack an extra water bottle to get you through it. But don’t give up – the view is worth every step you take. During the trek, you’ll pass a bizarre rock formation called Cathedral Rock. Then at the top, the Gallatin Mountain Range offers some of the best vistas in the park. You’ll feel like you’re on top of the world.

Avalanche Peak

Like Bunsen Peak, Avalanche Peak requires a lot of hard work with a huge reward at the end. Throughout your journey, you’ll find meadows of wildflowers, whispering streams and perhaps even a spot of snow or two. Then at the end of the 2,100-foot climb, you’ll get to experience the vast expanse of the wilder parts of the country, from Lake Yellowstone, the Tetons to the Absaroka Range. Rock shelters at the top also offer a great spot to catch your breath and take a snack break.

Yellowstone National Park’s Must-See Waterfalls

For those that still want to experience Yellowstone’s most famous attractions but aren’t able to hike, you still have plenty of options. Luckily, many of the park’s waterfalls are accessible from roadside viewpoints. So, all you have to do is park the car and walk no more than 100 yards to see (and hear) the gorgeous falls.

Upper Falls and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River

The most popular waterfalls in the park are the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River. The two-part attraction is definitely a must-see on your itinerary, but, be warned, you will run into crowds at these locations. To get the best view of these roaring waters, plan for a sunrise visit to the viewpoint.

The Upper Falls tends to be less crowded than its counterpart. Located near Canyon Village, this waterfall drops 109 feet into the Yellowstone River, often creating a misty rainbow.

Meanwhile, just a short drive north is the Lower Falls, which launches a dramatic 308 feet into the river. There’s a reason this is the most highly-trafficked waterfall in Yellowstone. All hours of the day, visitors will crowd around the lookout point just to get a glimpse of the sheer power of the water.

Tower Falls

Further north from the Upper and Lower Falls is Tower Falls which came into existence in 1870. The picturesque waterfall got its name from the rocky peaks that surround the water. The rock formations beside the falls really do resemble natural castle walls created to protect the beloved attraction. Tower Falls isn’t quite as popular as the Upper and Lower Falls, but it still is one of the more popular ones that Yellowstone has to offer. With a 132-foot drop, it still is an incredible sight, and like the former two, is accessible from a roomy parking lot.

Gibbon Falls

While Gibbon Falls isn’t quite as tall as some of the other falls in the park, it is still well worth the drive. Just a short drive from the park’s west entrance, this waterfall makes for the perfect first stop to introduce you to the park’s scenery. You’ll also avoid the crowds that you may see at other waterfalls at peak times during the day.

With an 84-foot drop, Gibbon Falls connects with a small, crystal clear pool at the bottom. Around the top, you’ll see towering pine trees and unique rock formations. Really, you’ll get to experience a little bit of everything Yellowstone has to offer here.

With so many options to choose from, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with how many hikes Yellowstone National Park has to offer. But with these trails in mind, you’ll get to see a variety of what the park has to offer without running into too many crowds. As always when visiting our beloved national parks, be sure to adhere to Leave No Trace guidelines, and keep our parks beautiful.

Oh, and if you post any photos, be sure to tag us at Outsider. Happy trails!

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