There’s good reason why Heart Lake is one of Yellowstone National Park’s most popular backcountry destinations: it’s got it all. Nature lovers can observe the wide variety of wildlife that live around the lake—elk, trumpeter swans, grizzly bears, and gray wolves (look for paw prints in the dusty trail). Avid anglers can fine-tune their casting technique while fishing for cutthroat trout, and backpackers can sleep under starry skies in campsites that dot the remote shoreline.
The 16.2-mile out-and-back starts at the Heart Lake Trailhead and winds to the east for a gradual 4-mile climb to the route’s highpoint. At 8,140 feet, this point offers intermittent views of the lake and Factory Hill directly to the south. Half a mile later the trail’s major descent begins, losing 500 feet in 1 mile as it enters Heart Lake Geyser Basin, an isolated basin peppered with fumaroles and hot springs. The route touches the gravelly banks of Heart Lake at mile 7.6 and veers west for the final half-mile traverse to a group of backcountry campsites (reservations required). Set up camp and stay for a day or two, or turn around and follow the same route back to the trailhead.
Note: The large bear management area surrounding Heart Lake is closed to hikers from April 1 through June 30.
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/.
-Mapped by Jason Kauffman