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Backpacker Magazine – June 2010

Secret Hikes: Yellowstone National Park

What crowds? Lose yourself in the Lamar Valley on this weeklong hike.

by: Michael Lanza

Soda Butte Creek, Lamar Valley - Yellowstone (Curtis Akin)
Soda Butte Creek, Lamar Valley - Yellowstone (Curtis Akin)

This trek proves a backpacking axiom: Keep hiking, and you’ll soon be the only person around. Apply that rule to this 70-mile lollipop route, through the Lamar River Valley and the Absaroka Mountains, and you’ll be all alone in terrain that hasn’t changed a lick since Lewis and Clark expedition member John Colter walked here in 1806.

From Pahaska Teepee, follow the Shoshone River north to link to the Indian paintbrush-lined Lamar River and Miller Creek Trails. You’ll cross the Absaroka Mountain range and drop into Sunlight Basin in the Shoshone National Forest, then circle back to the Lamar Valley via the Sunlight and Frost Lake Trails. This pristine wilderness is thick with elk, moose, bison, grizzlies, wolves—the area was preserved before mass extirpation. The reddish-brown spires of Hoodoo Basin, beyond Miller Creek, conjure the desert Southwest, while the Absarokas, snowbound into July and almost empty of people outside the autumn hunting season, offer grand panoramas of the Yellowstone region. Camp nightly along the Lamar and side creeks, and bring a rod to fish for cutthroat and rainbow trout.

›› Magic Moment
As late-afternoon light rakes across the mountains, you reach a meadow at 9,400 feet and mile 47 (day five or six) on the Frost Lake Trail. Ahead of you, a view down the verdant and sprawling Lamar Valley opens up in full HD. Backcountry rangers call it one of the best views in the entire park.

›› Local Knowledge
The volcanic rock in Hoodoo Basin erodes after rains, making nearby creeks ultra-silty. Prefilter your water with a bandana or paper coffee filter to avoid clogs.

›› Do It 
From Tower Junction on Northeast Entrance Road, drive 13 miles east to Lamar River trailhead. Map Trails Illustrated Yellowstone #201 ($12; Contact (307) 344-7381;

[Best-Kept Secret]
Wildlife Watching

“In June, [scope] high points [from afar] in open valleys like the Lamar. Females watch their pups here and will return daily until increasing numbers of people drive them elsewhere,” says Jim Halfpenny, author of Discovering Yellowstone’s Wolves.

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Reader Rating: -


Star Star Star Star Star
AZ Hiker
Feb 27, 2014

Beautiful scenery minus the crowds means less chance of other hikers finding you if you need help but it can still be a safe and enjoyable hike. Why? Because you read Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart (Amazon) before hiking a “Secret Trail”. A MUST READ for hikers who love to hike where others don't! Learn essential day-hiking skills, including items to pack, how to navigate your way with and without a map or compass, and how to get rescued. Learn to stay found by using a compass and paying attention to your surroundings. A compass doesn't need a signal or batteries and works in all types of weather but you need to know how to use it and this book makes learning how to use a compass easy. Hike Smart and STAY ORIENTED. This book is a fast, easy read that will definitely make hiking off the beaten path safer and more enjoyable! Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart on Amazon.

Mar 22, 2012

Guns are allowed in all National Parks now - Wyoming has an open carry law so it perfectly legal. If you want to debate about it - talk to your local representatives not to me.

Feb 21, 2012

i don't think you are supposed to have guns in Yellowstone

brennan O'Connell
Nov 02, 2011

what months of the year do you recommend this trip?

Jan 03, 2011

I live in West Yellowstone and know the area quite well. I have to admit this is one of the last unihabited hikes left in the lower 48. I recomend you bring a gun and prepare for a true test of your abilities, both physically and mentaly. I can't tell you about is still secret!

Dec 24, 2010

I agree! It would be easy to mention the state. So don't be a jerk, "smack" -- just because a person blanks out on geography every now and then doesn't mean they don't deserve to visit. I may know the name of a park 2000 miles away but don't quite remember if it's in Wyoming or Idaho or wherever.

Aug 23, 2010

If you don't know which state these national parks reside in, then these trips probably aren't for you.

Jul 22, 2010

I would like to contact the author, Michael Lanza regarding this article. Where can I find out how to contact him.

Jul 08, 2010

For all of the 12 hikes, only two mention the state in which the hike area ia located. One said "west texas" and one mentioned "California wild sheep", so why not just say which state and where in each state the hike is located - easy, no?


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