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Secret Hikes: Yellowstone National Park

What crowds? Lose yourself in the Lamar Valley on this weeklong hike.
june 2010 secret yellowstone 445x260Soda 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.

1 Comment

  1. wesleyschlegelgmail-com

    At the moment I’m trying to decide if I really suck at reading maps or whether backpacker just listed a group of trails that are relatively close to each other and called it good. I own two trail maps of this area of Yellowstone and I’m finding it impossible to follow the overall hike as it is described in the paragraphs of this article. Hell, I cant even decide if this lollipop trail is supposed to be hiked clockwise or counter-clockwise. In fact, the only way that makes sense with how they describe this hike would be if they decided part way through to reverse the direction of the overall hike and started describing it from the other direction.

    If anyone could help sort me out and explain to me what I’m missing or point me to some other resources, I would be very grateful.

    Profile photo of wesleyschlegelgmail-com

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