Yellowstone in a Nutshell

Backpacker's interactive maps make planning your Yellowstone expedition easy
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Backpacker's interactive maps make planning your Yellowstone expedition easy

So although Yellowstone can be overwhelming, consider that Lewis and Clark charted most of the American West without any of the handy (and free) features — interactive maps, detailed trail descriptions, elevation profiles, Google Earth flyovers, geo-tagged photos and videos, meticulous waypoints and USGS Topo Map quads — that (thanks to contributors like Jeff) Backpacker.com offers on its Destinations channel.

With winter just hitting its home stretch, you're probably still months away from discovering Yellowstone's splendor firsthand. But for now, you can at least get a taste of the park's astonishing versatility by chewing on these three Yellowstone archetypes.

For the classic Rocky Mountain backcountry experience, Yellowstone's Heart Lake and Mount Sheridan overnight has it all: Gorgeous lakeside campsites, stunning alpine scenes, and unparalleled panoramas of the park's mind-blowing topography from the top of Mount Sheridan. Preseason tip: campsites at Heart Lake fill up fast, so reserve early.

Looking to get inside the park's spectacular features rather than on top of them? If so, immerse yourself in magnificent Sheepeater Canyon on this 8-mile out-and-back to thundering Osprey Falls. Dwarfed by only Yellowstone's Grand Canyon, this 800-foot-deep behemoth is just one of the many earth-scarring gorges bisecting Yellowstone's rugged terrain.

Needless to say, no visit to Yellowstone is complete without a tour of the park's otherworldly geothermal features. Travel to outer space and back while touring Yellowstone's hot springs, fumaroles, geysers and mudpots on this mind-bending, 0.6-mile boardwalk loop around the Fountain Paint Pot.

Of course, these three trips represent just a smattering of Yellowstone's wild and varied terrain. But don't take my word for it: see for yourself by exploring Backpacker.com's National Park Vacation Planner or browsing our homepage for all things Yellowstone. Those with extraordinary patience can even mark their calendars for the release of our September issue, which features a comprehensive report on the park.


So put down the guidebooks, give Google a rest, and save your energy for the actual hiking: chances are you're going to need it.

—Brian Beer