In the summer, Yellowstone buzzes with activity because of its abundance of roadside attractions. Bison roam the streets, geysers spray water into the air, mud pots gurgle, and most of all, cars flood the roads. But even if you’re trying to escape the crowds, you should still visit the world’s oldest national park. You can find hidden gems in Yellowstone if you’re willing to hike.
The Yellowstone backcountry offers mesmerizing destinations where you can find waterfalls, hydrothermal activity, and high peaks, all with plenty of solitude. In fact, the park has over 900 miles of trails, but fewer than five percent of visitors ever leave the roads or boardwalks. We’ve compiled a list of hidden gems in Yellowstone so you can discover the wonders of this diverse national park.
This cone geyser isn’t as tall as Old Faithful, but the five-mile roundtrip hike is enough to give you some solitude. Every three hours, Lonestar blasts a spray of water 50 feet into the air, putting on a dazzling display. If you’re lucky, you might spot a rainbow streaking across the landscape. Bison frequent the area, as the geothermal activity keeps the land warm. Best of all, you can ride your bike on this partially-paved route.
Shoshone Geyser Basin
If a five-mile hike isn’t enough for you, consider getting an overnight permit and spending the night along the shore of Shoshone Lake near Shoshone Geyser Basin. While this 17-mile roundtrip hike is achievable in a day for ambitious hikers, a backpacking trip allows you to spend time exploring this backcountry geyser basin. You’ll pass Lonestar Geyser before weaving through meadows and forests. Eventually, you’ll follow Shoshone Creek until the ground starts turning an array of colors and steam begins to rise from the earth. Nearly 100 geothermal features — from fumaroles to boiling hot springs — wait to be explored. Just don’t let them tempt you into the scalding waters.
Bunsen Peak & Osprey Falls
If you want to escape the crowds that flock to Mount Washburn, discover one of Yellowstone’s hidden gems by taking the short but steep hike up Bunsen Peak. (Okay, you’ll still encounter other people, but the views are worth it!) You’ll weave in and out of lodgepole pine forests, getting a stunning perspective of the Golden Gate Canyon as you climb higher along the flanks of this ancient volcano. The summit offers 360-degree views of Northern Yellowstone, including the Mammoth Hot Springs area. If you’re in the mood for a longer hike, create a 9-mile loop by descending from the northeast side of the peak and adding the spur trail to Osprey Falls.
Sometimes, a destination is just so iconic that you can’t miss it. That’s where the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone comes in. However, you don’t need to sneak a peek of the waterfall through the mass of crowds. Instead, descend beneath the canyon’s rim all the way to the Yellowstone River on the Seven-Mile Hole Trail. If you plan to undertake this strenuous 10-mile adventure, pace yourself and carry plenty of water!
You don’t need to travel deep into the backcountry to find solitude at a geyser basin. The West Thumb region of the park is much quieter than the Upper, Midway or Norris Geyser Basins. With the blue expanse of Yellowstone Lake on one side and the dazzling colors of the hot springs on your other side, the half-mile boardwalk is hard to beat. Plus, dozens of miles of trails — like the DeLacy Creek or Riddle Lake Trails — provide ample wildlife viewing opportunities.
If you’re looking for one of the most idyllic backpacking destinations, Dunanda Falls is it. In the remote southwest corner of the Park, this 150-foot waterfall tumbles in tiers off a moss-covered cliff. At the base? A collection of soak-friendly hot spring pools. The campsites nearby can be hard to reserve, but if you can secure a permit, you’re in for a treat. This is one of Yellowstone’s hidden gems that shouldn’t be missed.
Lamar River Hike to Cache Creek
While many Yellowstone visitors head to the Lamar Valley for the chance to spot an elusive wolf, few people actually hike in this region. This relatively flat trail follows the Lamar River and crosses rolling green meadows — excellent wildlife habitat. Keep an eye out for wolf packs, as well as elk, bison, pronghorn, coyotes, and grizzlies. In the early summer, wildflowers bloom in abundance. You can hike as far as you’d like; however, Cache Creek makes a worthwhile day hiking destination.
Gallatin Skyline Trail
Any backpacking trip in Yellowstone is a delight, and the 40-mile point-to-point hike along the Gallatin Skyline is no different. In the northwest corner of the park, this trail traverses the Gallatin Range, taking you to alpine lake basins, across high plateaus, and to the summit of rocky peaks. If you plan to undertake this strenuous trek, review your skills and try to descend from summits before mid-day — afternoon thunderstorms occur regularly in the summer.
Note About Grizzly Bears/Hiking Less Populated Trails
If you plan to hike on any trail in Yellowstone, keep in mind that the region is active grizzly bear habitat. However, you can hike without worry if you follow a few simple guidelines. You should stay bear-aware, always carry bear spray (which you can rent at Canyon Village), and avoid hiking solo. Learn more about responsible travel throughout Wyoming.