Yellowstone National Park: Lake Butte to Sylvan Pass via Thorofare Trail

A forgotten explorer's route leads to 42-mile off-trail adventure--with several peak bagging options--and bona fide solitude in Yellowstone National Park.
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A forgotten explorer's route leads to 42-mile off-trail adventure--with several peak bagging options--and bona fide solitude in Yellowstone National Park.

BOOKS/MAPS: Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone, by Tom Turiano ($45, indomitusbooks .com) and Hiking: Yellowstone National Park, by Bill Schneider ($17, falcon.com).

USGS TOPO QUADS: Lake Butte, Frank Island, Sylvan Lake, Trail Lake, Plenty Coups, and Eagle Peak ($8 each, store.usgs.gov)

SEASON: You can easily do this hike between July and early September, but the last half of July and first half of August are your best bet for windows of reliable weather and blooming flowers.

PERMITS: Required (free, $20 if reserved more than 48 hours in advance). Note: Getting approval for at-large camping in a spot this remote involves convincing skeptical rangers that you have what it takes to venture off the beaten track. Turiano recommends coming prepared with an annotated map and a trip resumé to establish your creds. He says, “If you can show the experience level to match the route—and this is not a beginner traverse—rangers will usually say, ‘OK, just follow LNT ethics and bear protocols,’ and send you on your way.”

MORE INFO: Yellowstone National Park, (307) 344-7381; nps.gov/yell/.

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 68.0

Waypoints

YEL001

Location: 44.505764, -110.275354

Hike south from Lake Butte trailhead, paralleling the shores of Yellowstone Lake.

YEL002

Location: 44.487719, -110.276899

Bear right at fork.

YEL003

Location: 44.473726, -110.280161

Continue straight at 4-way junction. Continue south, passing Elk Point on the right in less than half a mile.

YEL004

Location: 44.435557, -110.290546

Bear right toward Park Point.

YEL005

Location: 44.426777, -110.286169

Turn right at cross Meadow Creek.

YEL006

Location: 44.387642, -110.234284

Cross Alluvium Creek.

YEL007

Location: 44.328576, -110.199695

The trail traces the edge of a marshy area that flanks the Yellowstone River.

YEL008

Location: 44.298145, -110.153561

At the Cabin Creek Patrol Cabin, turn left/east and hike off-trail toward Colter Peak.

YEL009

Location: 44.301708, -110.109637

Colter Peak

YEL010

Location: 44.303612, -110.081012

Turn right for out-and-back to tk.

YEL011

Location: 44.29108, -110.058889

Head northeast toward the Table Mountain summit.

YEL012

Location: 44.296118, -110.055242

Crest 11,065 foot Table Mountain. Next, descend to the saddle southeast of the summit, then ascend an unnamed highpoint.

YEL013

Location: 44.289176, -110.049469

Crest an unnamed point. From here, descend back to the saddle, then traverse west back to Waypoint 11.

YEL014

Location: 44.303612, -110.080798

Turn right, heading northeast.

YEL015

Location: 44.308956, -110.076292

Start climb to the ridgeline.

YEL016

Location: 44.317677, -110.068181

Follow the ridgeline north.

YEL017

Location: 44.33269, -110.062151

Crest Mt. Humphreys and continue north.

YEL018

Location: 44.342189, -110.071399

Crest Mt. Schurz and continue north.

YEL019

Location: 44.37591, -110.067751

Atkins Peak

YEL020

Location: 44.390249, -110.069468

Plenty Coups Peak

YEL021

Location: 44.406868, -110.108843

Mt. Langford

YEL022

Location: 44.452072, -110.143025

Top Notch Peak

YEL023

Location: 44.466229, -110.130515

Route ends at E. Entrance Road/US 20 at Sylvan Pass.