Tour the zoo Hike from Buffalo Plateau to Pebble Creek via Slough Creek on the lookout for big meat-eaters.
Planning your inaugural hike in America’s oldest park can be a little daunting, like ordering dinner the first time you go to Berkeley’s Chez Panisse. We’re here to help. Order the trout-laden stream tour and walk this barely known tour of Yellowstone. Along the way, you’ll see bison, moose, and pronghorn while hugging cold, rushing creeks to fend off the summer heat.
Your trip kicks off with a three-mile lollygag on the Hellroaring Creek Trail, off the Grand Loop Road near the town of Mammoth. Bounce over the suspension bridge spanning the Yellowstone River and set up camp near the Buffalo Plateau Trail. Tomorrow you’ll tackle a grueling 10-mile, 3,000-foot trek up Buffalo Plateau, a sage-covered upland where herds of bison and antelope come to nibble knee-high grass. The climb then tilts up for another two miles, into a dense Douglas fir forest and the Absaroka Primitive Area. Avoid the steep trail to your left, staying on the well-marked Buffalo Plateau Trail, where grizzlies occasionally roam. Drop 2,000 feet to Buffalo Fork Creek for a grassy campsite in the kind of isolated valley that makes stockbrokers consider becoming rangers.
The six-mile hike on day three includes a stop at Hidden Lake, three miles up-trail from camp. Strip down and jump in. The only voyeurs here are marmots and hawks. Post-dip, head three miles to Slough Creek and bust out your fly rod for some of Yellowstone’s best cutthroat fishing (it’s catch and release). Then scope a campsite along the soft banks of the river, where clumps of pine offer shelter from rainstorms and the grass-covered riverbanks encourage toe-dipping.
On day four, you’re headed toward Cutoff Peak, the towering 10,663-foot giant at the head of Slough Creek Valley. At the confluence of Slough and Elk Tongue Creeks, turn right onto the Elk Tongue Creek Trail and power up four miles and 2,600 feet to Bliss Pass, with sublime views of the entire Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. The trail drops steeply to Pebble Creek; camp near the water in one of Yellowstone’s most beautiful backcountry sites.
Take your time strolling out the final day’s 7.5 miles to the Pebble Creek Campground, passing beneath 10,404-foot Baronette Peak and Mt. Hornaday. Hop into your shuttle car and drive back to the trailhead at Pebble Creek.
>> Plan B: Heart Lake to Mt. Sheridan From the South Entrance (a 70-mile drive through the park) hit the Heart Lake/Mt. Sheridan area for a five-day highlights tour: high alpine scenery, fitful geysers, and soakable hot springs. Most people congregate in the middle (geyser basins) and northern areas (Mammoth, Lamar Valley) of the park, alleviating pressure for the classic tours in the south end. Permits for plan B will almost always be available, and, once you navigate the choked roads to get to the trailhead, you’re on your own.