Yellowstone National Park: Garnet Hill Loop

Explore Yellowstone National Park's lower elevations on a moderate 8-mile loop that circles Garnet Hill, visits the Yellowstone River, and traverses bison-filled grasslands.
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Explore Yellowstone National Park's lower elevations on a moderate 8-mile loop that circles Garnet Hill, visits the Yellowstone River, and traverses bison-filled grasslands.

Garnet Hill Loop 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)

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

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 13.3

Waypoints

GAR001

Location: 44.919771, -110.412567

From the parking turnout, cross the highway and start hiking on a well-defined trail that leads northwest 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.

GAR002

Location: 44.925397, -110.41746

Turn right at the unsigned junction. Scan the rolling, sagebrush-covered hills for elk and bison.

GAR003

Location: 44.933777, -110.417431

The trail comes within sight of the Yellowstone River. From this vantage point, expansive views stretch to the rugged Absaroka Mountains to the north and Specimen Ridge to the southwest. Ahead, and the trail descends to the north.

GAR004

Location: 44.948703, -110.417326

A steep descent through conifer forest leads toward the Yellowstone River.

GAR005

Location: 44.951435, -110.41862

The trail enters a secluded valley perched on a grassy bench above the Yellowstone River. Continue 0.5 mile to the Yellowstone River.

GAR006

Location: 44.956446, -110.425527

Drop your pack and take a break at this scenic spot overlooking the river. Watch the skies for circling osprey. From here, the trail slowly starts to gain elevation.

GAR007

Location: 44.954017, -110.444491

Bear left @ 3-way junction and begin ascent of Elk Creek valley. Look for signs of wolf activity in this timbered, wildlife-rich drainage.

GAR008

Location: 44.951832, -110.442956

Start the steep climb up the V-shaped valley (Garnet Hill's summit rises directly to the east). Watch scree slopes for numerous chirping marmots.

GAR009

Location: 44.948872, -110.442224

Hike through an open, grassy valley. You may spot wildlife prowling around the local beaver ponds.

GAR010

Location: 44.932947, -110.435805

The trail re-enters wide-open meadows. Garnet Hill's summit rises directly to the north. Keep an eye out for small herds of grazing bison and the trail's intersection with the wide stagecoach road ahead.

GAR011

Location: 44.916782, -110.415369

The stagecoach road connects with NE Entrance Road. Turn left and walk northeast along the highway shoulder back to your car.

Staring Bison

Location: 44.924824, -110.417147

A lone bison stands its ground along the Garnet Hill Loop. ©Jason Kauffman

Specimen Ridge View

Location: 44.930841, -110.415902

Rain clouds hang over the Yellowstone River Valley and Specimen Ridge in the distance. ©Jason Kauffman

Garnet Hill Loop

Location: 44.935428, -110.418692

The trail winds along Yellowstone River. ©Jason Kauffman

Garnet Hill Bison

Location: 44.944541, -110.421438

Numerous bison graze the grassy ridges and benches along this section of the trail. ©Jason Kauffman

Yellowstone River

Location: 44.956174, -110.425429

Break spot with excellent views of the free-flowing Yellowstone River. ©Jason Kauffman

Marmot

Location: 44.951193, -110.442638

Watch for marmot chirping from the numerous scree slopes along this stretch of trail. ©Jason Kauffman