This lower-elevation hike is perfect for early or late season in Yellowstone. From the parking turnout on NE Entrance Road, cross the highway and start hiking on a well-defined trail that winds through Pleasant Valley, a rolling grassland speckled with sage and seasonal wildflowers. Give a wide berth to the herds of bison that graze the area, and scan the sagebrush-covered hills for elk and bison.
After a mile, the Yellowstone River appears for the first time—take in expansive views of the rugged Absaroka Mountains to the north and Specimen Ridge to the southwest. From here, the trail descends 2 miles to the Yellowstone River, passing a secluded valley perched on a grassy bench.
Drop your packs and take a quick break before starting the ascent up Elk Creek valley, a timbered, wildlife-rich drainage (you may spot signs of wolf activity). The loop finishes with a 1.8-mile stretch through Pleasant Valley and a 0.3-mile road walk back to the parking turnout.
GUIDEBOOK AND MAP: Yellowstone Treasures, by Janet Chapple ($24, yellowstonetreasures.com). Plan other trips in the park using BACKPACKER’s Yellowstone National Park page.
CONDITIONS: For current conditions and updates, go to nps.gov/yell/conditions.htm.
PERMIT: Overnight camping in Yellowstone National Park requires a backcountry permit. Check out the latest fees and more details at nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/backcountryhiking.htm.
MORE PARK INFO: Yellowstone National Park, (307) 344-7381; nps.gov/yell/
FREE TRIP PLANNERS Get news on vacation deals and lodging at myyellowstonepark.com
-Mapped by Jason Kauffman