Yellowstone National Park: Agate Creek via Specimen Ridge Trail

This 13.3-mile backcountry trek in Yellowstone National Park travels to a rocky beach (and campsites) in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
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This 13.3-mile backcountry trek in Yellowstone National Park travels to a rocky beach (and campsites) in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

A good introduction to Yellowstone's backcountry, this 13.3-mile trip tours expansive grasslands and forests en route to a rocky beach in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Start at the Specimen Ridge Trail and hike southeast across sagebrush-filled grasslands--a popular hang out for grazing bison. The path climbs steadily for 1.2 miles to a T-junction. Turn left and begin a steep switchback climb—occasionally following wolf and elk tracks—to Specimen Ridge.

At the top of the ridge, enjoy the expansive views while keeping an eye out for wolves, bison, and herds of elk. Continue hiking southeast over rolling terrain to another junction at Quartz Creek, a distinct v-shaped creek bed. Take the trail to the right, heading southwest toward the canyon—occasional antler cairns mark the way.

The descent into the canyon begins at mile 4.8, dropping more than 1,200 feet in 1.8 miles on long switchbacks (coyote and bear tracks are sometimes etched into the trail). Set up camp above the Yellowstone River near a small, open clearing marked with a campsite sign, then make the final 850-foot stretch to a rocky beach along the river.

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 Jeff Chow

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 21.5

Waypoints

AGT001

Location: 44.912393, -110.386989

Cross NE Entrance Road and hike south on the Specimen Ridge Trail.

AGT002

Location: 44.899877, -110.37871

Turn left @ T-junction, heading uphill on Specimen Ridge Trail. The trail to the right leads to Yellowstone River Picnic Area. This vantage point offers views of the Yellowstone River. Ahead, you'll climb and switchback through open plains to a rolling plateau with views of the forested canyon and Prospect Peak behind it.

AGT003

Location: 44.892443, -110.361246

Bear right @ Y-junction onto Agate Creek Trail.

AGT004

Location: 44.890008, -110.358002

The trail passes glacial erratics (boulders left by retreating glaciers).

AGT005

Location: 44.875015, -110.344841

Cross Quartz Creek and turn right. Note: Do not follow the well-traveled game trail that continues straight. Ahead, the trail leaves the creek bed and winds through expansive grassland. Antler cairns (and antlers hung from trees) mark the trail.

AGT006

Location: 44.8654509, -110.3484392

The canyon wall drops down on the right-hand side of the trail.

AGT007

Location: 44.863421, -110.345338

Skirt young lodgepole pines. Ahead, the trail will start its switchback descent into the canyon through forest and burnt lodgepole.

AGT008

Location: 44.854077, -110.355089

Hike across a small shelf above the Yellowstone River.

AGT009

Location: 44.852142, -110.3583527

Continue straight @ the 4-way junction to reach the Yellowstone River. The junction is marked with a '2Y1 Campsite' sign. Backpackers: Turn left to access the well-built cooking area with fire ring and food pole. Don't leave any food unattended; bears are common in this area. Camp at the edge of the field near the trees that border the canyon. Rangers advise people to not camp near the river as hikers often cook there, which can attract bears. Filter water in the Yellowstone River or Agate Creek.

AGT010

Location: 44.8518149, -110.3587925

This broad ridge is a good spot to set up camp.

AGT011

Location: 44.8508946, -110.3605869

After a steep descent to the Yellowstone River, relax on the rocky beach next to the water (a good spot to filter water). Crane your neck to see the vast canyon walls flanking the river. Follow the same route back to the trailhead.

Rocky Beach

Location: 44.8508775, -110.3605628

Speciman Ridge Trailhead

Location: 44.911058, -110.386839

Grassy Trail

Location: 44.90974, -110.386258

Buffalo

Location: 44.903788, -110.380226

Buffalo

Location: 44.90357, -110.37972

Grazing Buffalo

Location: 44.903674, -110.378461

Trail Sign

Location: 44.900458, -110.379774

Yellowstone River

Location: 44.8998764, -110.378665

Yellowstone River

Location: 44.8998783, -110.3786114

Footprint

Location: 44.899896, -110.378373

Sunset

Location: 44.899827, -110.378333

Golden Meadows

Location: 44.901059, -110.374483

Incoming Storm

Location: 44.900215, -110.372897

Speciman Ridge Trail

Location: 44.899182, -110.371125

Black Skies

Location: 44.892867, -110.362211

Expansive Meadows

Location: 44.890485, -110.35871

Elk

Location: 44.883324, -110.354058

Grassy Hillsides

Location: 44.88257, -110.353365

Herd of Elk

Location: 44.881881, -110.352464

Antlers

Location: 44.879327, -110.351036

Buffalo

Location: 44.878863, -110.350881

Buffalo

Location: 44.878699, -110.35065

Expansive Views

Location: 44.878053, -110.349924

Antler Cairn

Location: 44.877156, -110.348833

Buffalo

Location: 44.876473, -110.347947

Distant Elk

Location: 44.876133, -110.347499

Views of the Yellowstone River

Location: 44.867317, -110.348859

Ascent above Quartz Creek

Location: 44.866908, -110.348716

Views across the Yellowstone River

Location: 44.864999, -110.348153

Sunset

Location: 44.863283, -110.345304

Meadow

Location: 44.860664, -110.346063

Views of the Yellowstone River

Location: 44.852034, -110.358438

Campsite

Location: 44.851847, -110.358707

Meadow along the Yellowstone River

Location: 44.8507938, -110.3604528