When I first asked Aldo if he was willing to go on vacation with me and my mom, he had absolutely no issue about the potentially awkward 3-person dynamic. His biggest concern was how much hiking he might have to do. My mom is an avid hiker and loves going on long 15 mile hikes. I enjoy hiking, but my limit is usually 6 miles, because anything longer than that just takes too much time. Aldo on the other hand, has only gone hiking a few times in his life, all of those times because I dragged him out. He also seems to get sick after hiking, and while I am sure it is just a coincidence, he is convinced that you can get the flu from hiking.
I promised him there wouldn’t be too much hiking.
One of the most awesome things about National Parks in the US is that you can pretty much see most of the natural wonders no matter what fitness level you’re at. Yellowstone has wheelchair accessible boardwalks in most of the areas, and a lot of viewpoints that you can see without even getting out of the car.
But of course, it is always better to get off the main road and explore a little more. One of the best ways to do that is to go hiking. We did several hikes while we were there, and here are 3 of my favorite ones, from the most strenuous to the easiest. All of these had awesome viewpoints that are well worth the effort you put in to get there.
As you are planning your hikes, make sure you ask the rangers about any seasonal or bear activity closure that you might not know about – it would suck to drive to a specific hike only to see that it is closed off.
Before you head out on any hikes in Yellowstone, make sure you follow all the safety precautions: Bring bearspay, hike in groups of 3 or more, make lots of noise, etc.
1. Mount Washburn. (Strenuous. 5 miles round trip. 2-3 hours.) The trailhead for this hike starts at Chittenden Road, which is a steep gravel road on the east side of the Canyon-to-Tower road. At the end of the road there is a parking lot and a bathroom. From there, the hiking trail is a steady climb uphill for 2.5 miles on a gravel road. I would only recommend doing this hike during a partly cloudy or overcast day, because there is no shade on the trail and the sun would be brutal.
But the end result of the trail is worth it. The summit of Mt. Washburn has gorgeous views with snow capped mountains in the distance. Near the top, we saw a herd of longhorn sheep and their calves, right on the trail! It was a little scary having to pass a herd of horned animals and their babies and being less 5 feet away from them. Luckily the sheep seemed to be used to visitors and selfie-takers.
At the top of the mountain there is a fire lookout tower that is still active today. Hikers are allowed into the first floor to rest up, sign the guestbook, or in our case – hide from the sudden hail storm that happened! But on the second floor of the tower is an apartment where a seasonal worker actually lives. The worker is not allowed to leave the post, and food and supplies are brought to them every two weeks. Can you imagine living totally isolated and alone on top of a mountain? If there is Wi-Fi, I can 🙂
2. Lake Lookout. (Moderate. 2 miles. 1 hour) The trail for this hike starts from the parking lot of the West Thumb Geyser Basin. The trail is short and sweet, with only one difficult part – a steep 5-10 minute climb to the top. But the climb is very worth it. There is a much-needed bench at the top of the hike from where you can see the lake in front of you, and snow capped mountains to the right. We sat on the bench and rested for a while until the next group of hikers came – we gave up the bench so they can rest too and continued down the trail to complete the loop.
3. Stormy Point. (Easy. 1 miles. 1 hour) This might have been my favorite hike from the trip because the reward far outweighs the effort to get there. The hike begins at beautiful Indian Pond in the Yellowstone Lake region. When we were by the pond we saw a group of a dozen male elk hanging out by the water.
This hike was recommended to us by a ranger who is from New England – she says the windy area of the Yellowstone Lake reminds her of the ocean at home. The hike itself was beautiful and very flat. The trail meandered through thick forest, meadows, and an open field by the lake so there was a lot of variety. When we got to the lake, we saw dozens of marmots going about their marmot business. They were very cute. When you reach the storm point, you can either go back the way you came, or continue walking the loop to get back to Indian Pond.
Yellowstone National Park is so massive and there is so much to see that if you are only visiting for a week, you won’t have too much time to spend on hiking. These three hikes were all beautiful in their own way and will give you a taste of the different scenery at Yellowstone.