Yellowstone National Park: Hellroaring Creek to Black Canyon of the Yellowstone

See bears, elk, and the remote terrain of the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone on this 44-mile trip.
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See bears, elk, and the remote terrain of the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone on this 44-mile trip.

This six-day trek begins with a gentle mile-long descent from Hellroaring Creek trailhead to the Yellowstone River. Cross the suspension bridge and join the Buffalo Plateau Trail at mile 1.5; head northeast to begin climbing up the wind-scoured plateau. Keep an eye out at mile two—the Buffalo Plateau Trail becomes faint and bears right at the fork with the Coyote Creek Trail. Cross into Montana on a 2,300-foot climb over 5.4 miles to a three-way intersection. Turn left and switchback another mile uphill to a natural spring and your first campsite (labeled 2B1).

In the morning, hike 2.1 off-trail miles, heading northwest through open meadows. Sweep east around an unnamed 8,716-foot peak to hit the Poacher’s Trail, just outside the park boundary. The trail doglegs west, plummeting a quick 900 feet to Coyote Creek. The next 2.7 miles follow the drainage north, round Bull Mountain (8,272 feet), and descend to Hellroaring Creek. Cross the bridge and go .7 mile to the Hellroaring Patrol Cabin. Camp here, in a vast creekside meadow where the author saw a black bear and cub.

On the third day, the route is flat and fast, hugging the river as it re-enters the park (do lunch at an unnamed creek .4 mile south of the posted boundary line). Finish this seven-mile day at the campsite marked 2H7 next to Hellroaring Creek. This is grizzly territory, so be extra cautious and pack all smelly items in a bear canister.

Day four’s route crosses high meadows--with a good chance to see elk--then joins the Yellowstone River. The next 4.6 miles flank the river, where there are plenty of shady waterfront rest stops to cool down.

Spend nights four and five downriver at Crevice Lake (1Y1) (11) and use the layover to dayhike the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone. Lunch and swim at a 100-yard-long, black-sand beach located 3.2 miles from Crevice Lake.

On the final day, double back upriver to the Blacktail Deer Creek Trail and hike the final 4.6-mile leg, climbing 1,000 feet from the Yellowstone River to the trailhead on Grand Loop Road.

WHEN TO GO: Relatively low elevations make this hike best from late April through late June (great for wildflowers) and early fall. Avoid the summer's heat.

PERMITS: Reserve in advance ($20 per trip) by mail beginning April 1. Some permits are also assigned on a first come basis, 48 hours prior to departure.

MORE INFO: Yellowstone National Park, (307) 344-2160; nps.gov/yell

--mapped by Michael Behar

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 71.1

Waypoints

WPT001

Location: 44.948966, -110.450838

Hellroaring Creek trailhead

WPT002

Location: 44.951705, -110.446838

First view of Yellowstone River

WPT003

Location: 44.956266, -110.445629

Junction with Garnet Hill Trail; continue straight

WPT004

Location: 44.959653, -110.446843

Suspension Bridge across Yellowstone River

WPT005

Location: 44.9654, -110.449819

Turn right to join Buffalo Plateau Trail

WPT006

Location: 44.970243, -110.44304

Buffalo Plateau and Coyote Creek Trails intersect; stay on Buffalo Plateau Trail

WPT007

Location: 44.978023, -110.421917

Panoramic viewpoint of Buffalo Plateau

WPT008

Location: 44.985194, -110.40449

Water stop

WPT009

Location: 45.008436, -110.375489

Turn left to Camp 2B1

WPT010

Location: 45.016306, -110.377768

Camp one - 2B1

WPT011

Location: 45.017594, -110.380441

Natural spring

WPT012

Location: 45.022568, -110.385031

Off-trail section continues north

WPT013

Location: 45.033642, -110.380023

Lunch on highpoint overlook

WPT014

Location: 45.034979, -110.371111

Rejoin Poachers Trail; head north

WPT015

Location: 45.0440279, -110.3713123

Confusing area: Poachers Trail turns west; ignore trail going north

WPT016

Location: 45.039317, -110.400222

Poachers Trail joins Forest Trail 97

WPT017

Location: 45.049084, -110.404426

Junction with Forest Trail 97 and 288

WPT018

Location: 45.0662778, -110.4029644

Bog

WPT019

Location: 45.074049, -110.407017

Junction with Hellroaring River and Forest Trail 36; turn southwest toward patrol cabin

WPT020

Location: 45.072102, -110.413028

Bridge over Hellroaring Creek

WPT021

Location: 45.068006, -110.423488

Camp Two near patrol station at Hellroaring Creek

WPT022

Location: 45.029851, -110.440322

Yellowstone Park boundary

WPT023

Location: 45.024406, -110.439789

Lunch spot on Hellroaring Creek

WPT024

Location: 44.983036, -110.432884

Camp three (labeled 2H7)

WPT025

Location: 44.97278, -110.455924

Intersect Yellowstone River Trail; swing northwest

WPT026

Location: 44.991145, -110.488347

First view of Yellowstone River after re-entering park

WPT027

Location: 44.995699, -110.523829

Lunch spot on Yellowstone River

WPT028

Location: 45.004855, -110.580819

Campsite 1Y4 north of Crevice Lake

WPT029

Location: 45.010869, -110.586049

First view of 15-foot Knowles Falls

WPT030

Location: 45.012638, -110.620138

Viewpoint into Black Canyon of Yellowstone

WPT031

Location: 45.013865, -110.626806

Black sand beach

WPT032

Location: 44.997205, -110.578687

Suspension bridge over Yellowstone River

WPT033

Location: 44.955779, -110.593923

Endpoint at Blacktail Creek trailhead