Yellowstone National Park: Heart Lake and Mount Sheridan

Spend a few nights in Yellowstone National Park on this 23.1-mile out-and-back complete with lakeside campsites and spectacular summit views.
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Spend a few nights in Yellowstone National Park on this 23.1-mile out-and-back complete with lakeside campsites and spectacular summit views.

Let the crowds wait for Old Faithful: Experience the rugged side of Yellowstone National Park by trekking past steaming creeks and old-growth lodgepole en route to the sprawling Heart Lake and the regal Mount Sheridan on this 23.1-mile out-and-back.

From the trailhead, hike northeast along Heart Lake Trail. The path weaves through lodgepole forests (singed in the 1988 Yellowstone fires), passing the occasional fumarole and hot spring along the way. After 7.3 miles on the flat, well-maintained path, you'll hit the Heart Lake Ranger Station before reaching the shores of the colossal lake just minutes later. At the Y-junction, follow Heart Lake Trail around the western edge of the lake and spend the night at one of the lakeside campsites (reservations required).

Day two: Tackle the hardest section of the trip—a 3.5-mile scramble up Mount Sheridan. The route starts with a switchback climb through a fallen lodgepole field and ends with a traverse through Engelmann spruce along the mountain's ridge. At the summit, take in sweeping panoramas of Heart Lake, as well as glimpses of Yellowstone, Lewis, and Shoshone lakes; the Absaroka and Teton ranges are perched majestically in the background. When you've had your fill, turn around to begin the trek back to your campsite and the trailhead.

-Mapped by Jeff Chow

MAPS USGS Mount Sheridan ($8, store.usgs.gov); Trails Illustrated Maps: Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake ($10, natgeomaps.com)

GUIDEBOOK Hiking Yellowstone National Park, by Bill Schneider ($17, falcon.com)

PERMITS Backcountry permits are required for all overnight stays. Obtain in person no more than 48 hours in advance of your trip (307-344-2160; nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/backcountryhiking.htm). Reserve campsites in advance by mail or in person ($20 fee; nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/backcountrytripplanner.htm).

SEASON Most entrances (except the North and Northeast entrances) close in November and late March/early April to prepare roads for winter and summer seasons. Interior park roads are only open to over-snow vehicles during the winter season. Check for road closures at nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/hours.htm

WEATHER Get the forecast for Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks at crh.noaa.gov/riw/?n=ynp_gtnp

GAS:
CORNER CONOCO SHOPPE
136 N. Canyon St.
West Yellowstone, MT
(406) 646-7632

YELLOWSTONE PARK SERVICE STATION
Grant Village
Yellowstone National Park, WY
(307) 242-7364
(Open late-May to mid-September)

GROCERIES:
FOOD ROUNDUP
133 Iris St.
West Yellowstone, MT
(406) 646-7517

GRUB:
RUNNING BEAR PANCAKE HOUSE
538 Madison Ave.
West Yellowstone, MT
(406) 646-7703

GRUB/GAS:
MOOSE TRADING POST
10 Dornans Rd.
Moose, WY 83012
(505) 733-2415

GRUB/GROCERIES:
CREEKSIDE MARKET
545 N. Cache Dr
Jackson, WY
(307) 733-7926

GEAR/GRUB:

GENERAL STORE
Grant Village
Yellowstone National Park, WY
(307) 242-7266
(Open late-May to late-September)

WEEKEND GEAR LIST
Backpack
Three-season tent
Down bag (15° to 40°F) and sleeping pad
Compass, map, GPS unit
Gas stove and fuel bottles
Lighter and matches
Cookset, bowl, insulated mug, eating utensils
32 oz. water bottle (2)
Water treatment
Multitool/knife
Bear-bagging rope
Headlamp with extra batteries
Waterproof/breathable jacket and pants
Fleece and down jackets
Synthetic pants and shorts
Midweight baselayers
Synthetic T-shirt (2)
Hat and gloves
Hiking boots
Camp footwear
Wool/synthetic socks (3)
Trekking poles
Bug repellent and sunscreen (SPF 15+)
Stuff sacks
Zip-top bags
Toilet paper and trowel
First-aid kit

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 37.2

Waypoints

HLS001

Location: 44.317565, -110.597914

From the trailhead, head east on the well-maintained Heart Lake Trail. The trail remains fairly flat for the first 3.6 miles, staying near 7,800 feet of elevation.

HLS002

Location: 44.31955, -110.59089

Following and old stream bed, the trail weaves through areas burned by the Yellowstone fires of 1988. Small plants and new lodgepole pines spurt up from the moist, fertile soil around burnt lodgepoles.

HLS003

Location: 44.31958, -110.573208

Cross a small bridge over a seasonal stream. The path continues to roll through burnt and unburnt sections of the forest. Ahead: Hike through more dry streambeds as you grab your first views of the ridge ahead.

HLS004

Location: 44.31826, -110.56042

Enter an old-growth forest crammed with 40-foot lodgepole pines; continue pushing eastward.

HLS005

Location: 44.310491, -110.532932

Pass bubbling hot springs before catching tranquil panoramas of the immense Heart Lake. Next, the trail starts its descent to the lakeshore.

HLS006

Location: 44.308911, -110.525781

Expect things to get steamy as you pass another fumarole venting thick vapors about 1 foot off the trail.

HLS007

Location: 44.298226, -110.516444

Cross over a steaming creek as you continue on the Heart Lake Trail.

HLS008

Location: 44.286165, -110.497956

Approach the Heart Lake Ranger Station, a quaint log cabin overlooking the vast lake and the stately Mount Sheridan. Then, continue on to the lake's black sandy shores; look for animal bones tucked in the trees.

HLS009

Location: 44.285344, -110.497835

Hang a right at the Y-junction to hit the shores of the lake and continue on Heart Lake Trail. Spanning 2,160 acres, this high-country lake is a popular spot among anglers and other hikers alike; don't expect solitude here. In about 0.2 mile, cross a 20-foot log bridge over an inlet to the lake.

HLS010

Location: 44.281096, -110.502441

Approach 6 picturesque, lakeside campgrounds (closed until July; hikers only). More Info: Camping is limited to two nights per party, and fires are only allowed at sites 8H2 and 8H3. Sites 8H4, 8H5 and 8H6 offer little privacy, while 8H2 and 8H3 are the most secluded. 8H1 is located in a tight ravine, offering no view and mediocre tent sites.

HLS011

Location: 44.280312, -110.503224

Pass the trail to the 8H5 campsite. Situated on the lakeshore, this site offers serene panoramas of the quiet lake, as well as spectacular sunrises for those willing to wake up early.

HLS012

Location: 44.279419, -110.503889

Turn right at Y-junction to hit the Mount Sheridan Trail. Make sure to fill up before starting the summit climb (no water sources on this trail).

HLS013

Location: 44.276617, -110.515965

Hit your first uphill challenge as you switchback through open plains toward a ridge running up the mountain.

HLS014

Location: 44.277836, -110.526066

The switchbacks end here as you gain the ridgeline. Leaving behind fallen lodgepoles, you'll weave between sweet-scented Douglas fir and towering Engelmann spruce as you grab your first aerial views of Heart Lake and the expansive flatlands to the east.

HLS015

Location: 44.273414, -110.530829

Enter an open bowl with a boulder field blocking a view of the summit to the west.

HLS016

Location: 44.266953, -110.530631

Continue feasting on increasingly awe-inspiring views while you tread carefully between trees and a harrowing hillside on the shoulder-width (and completely exposed) ridge.

HLS017

Location: 44.266381, -110.529888

Before crossing this ankle-turning rock field, take in northern views of the spiny ridge you just traversed. The summit lies just 0.1 mile ahead.

HLS018

Location: 44.266106, -110.52922

Crest Mount Sheridan's 10,308-foot summit, and enjoy mind-blowing, 360-degree panoramas of Yellowstone. To the east, catch grand views of the Mickey Mouse-shaped Heart Lake with the majestic Absaroka Range in the background. To the south, savor vistas of the jagged Tetons. Gazing northward, you'll catch glimpses of the sprawling Yellowstone Lake in the background, while Lewis Lake and Shoshone Lake are visible to the west.

HLS019

Location: 44.265359, -110.528662

At the far side of the Mount Sheridan Hut, make a short descent toward a picnic table offering a perfect place to refuel after the arduous climb. Follow the same route back to the trailhead.

Mount Sheridan Summit

Location: 44.267773, -110.531507

Keep trekking: 360-degree panoramas await at Mount Sheridan's summit.

Witch Creek

Location: 44.303021, -110.519779

The Heart Lake Trail runs parallel to Witch Creek for much of the journey to the lake.

Witch Creek

Location: 44.302587, -110.519996

Likely given its eerie moniker for the ghostly vapors that it emits, Witch Creek follows the Heart Lake Trail as it weaves toward the lake.

Steaming Stream

Location: 44.298094, -110.515822

Mountain Bluebird

Location: 44.297509, -110.509423

Just one of the many birds making their home in Yellowstone, the Mountain Bluebird is usually found in the Aspen forests, grasslands and meadows below treeline. This bird's vibrant, blue-feathered coat distinguishes it as a male, whereas females sport blue on the wings and tail.

Mount Sheridan Sign

Location: 44.280328, -110.502977

Sign points toward Mount Sheridan Trail.

Rocky Lakeshore

Location: 44.279928, -110.501797

The campgrounds on Heart's western shore offer blissful vistas of the lake.

Heart Lake Rocks

Location: 44.279944, -110.501647

Moose Antlers

Location: 44.279421, -110.503643

You'll likely see traces of the plethora of fauna that call Yellowstone home, if you don't see the animals themselves.

Switchbacks

Location: 44.277955, -110.520126

Climb switchbacks through lodgepole forest.

Fallen Lodgepole Field

Location: 44.278216, -110.520497

Navigate around windblown lodgepoles as you ascend toward the ridge.

Engelmann Spruce Forest

Location: 44.27787, -110.525744

Fallen lodgepoles give way to thick Engelmann spruce as you continue upward.

Bowl Vista

Location: 44.274056, -110.530468

The trail opens to a view of a bowl as it departs from the ridge.

Eastern Plains

Location: 44.271269, -110.534824

Begin taking in stunning panoramas as you continue your ascent.

Barren Hillside

Location: 44.269053, -110.535296

Just hundreds of feet after taking in panoramas of a fertile green valley, you'll catch drastically different views, like this vista of a barren, fire-scarred hillside peppered with burn-stunted trees.

Burn Damage

Location: 44.268915, -110.535218

Though the scars of a forest fire may be unsightly, they are actually beneficial to the environment, enabling reforestation and regrowth.

Mount Sheridan Hut

Location: 44.267764, -110.532757

Perched at the summit of Mount Sheridan, this hut serves as a beacon for hikers hitting the mountain's home stretch.

High-Alpine Environment

Location: 44.267677, -110.532373

Above 10,000 feet, lodgepole and Douglas fir give way to small shrubs, brush and the occasional Engelmann spruce, commonly found in altitudes higher than 8,400 feet.

Stunning Vistas

Location: 44.267773, -110.531507

Catch more panoramas as you inch closer to Mount Sheridan's summit.

Spectacular Vantage Point

Location: 44.266112, -110.529258

Stand on the precipice of eternity as you gaze out over the hazy countryside below.

Northwest Ridge View

Location: 44.266108, -110.529361

Looking north, grab an eyeful of the barren, spiny ridge you just hiked, along with vistas of the seemingly endless flatlands below.

USGS Elevation Marker

Location: 44.266112, -110.529309

Aerial View

Location: 44.266079, -110.529201

Mount Sheridan Hut

Location: 44.265601, -110.528866

Valhalla? No, just the Mount Sheridan Hut.