Yellowstone National Park: Observation Peak

Trek through rolling meadows en route to a shimmering backcountry lake and the 360-degree panorama bliss of Observation Peak on this 10.5-mile dayhike in Yellowstone National Park.
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Trek through rolling meadows en route to a shimmering backcountry lake and the 360-degree panorama bliss of Observation Peak on this 10.5-mile dayhike in Yellowstone National Park.

What better place to snag sweet vistas of Yellowstone's stunning topography than the aptly-named Observation Peak? Perfectly situated in Yellowstone's rugged northwestern reaches, this 10.5-mile out-and-back packages unbeatable views of the park in a relatively short and easy dayhike.
Starting from the Cascade Creek Trailhead, wind through the tranquil Cascade Meadows while ducking in and out of patches of lodgepole forest. Cruise along the generally flat trail tracing the Cascade Creek until reaching the pristine Cascade Lake at mile 2.5. Dotted with a dazzling array of wildflowers in the summer, the lake provides a perfect resting spot before making the roughly 2.6-mile climb (gaining around 875 feet) to Observation Peak.
Along the way, pass through more wildflower-peppered meadows, gnarled sagebrush shrubs, and wind-toppled lodgepoles scarred from the wildfires of 1988. Panoramas become more picturesque with every step until you reach the best views at the top of the peak: Yellowstone's Grand Canyon to the east, the Gallatin Range to the west, Mount Sheridan to the south, and miles of rolling foothills to the north. Return home by retracing your steps to the trailhead.

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: 16.9

Waypoints

OBS001

Location: 44.7352584, -110.5037016

From the Cascade Creek Trailhead on Norris Canyon Road, head north through Cascade Meadows toward a forested area.

OBS002

Location: 44.743796, -110.504694

Cross over a footbridge. Ahead, cut through regrowing vegetation around fire-scarred, toppled trees from 1988 wildfires. The trail parallels Cascade Creek on the right.

OBS003

Location: 44.755758, -110.506175

Duck in and out of meadows and forests, then cross a bridge over Cascade Creek. Bear left at the Y-junction, heading west toward Cascade Lake. The trail on the right leads to the Cascade Picnic Area.

OBS004

Location: 44.756127, -110.517492

Cut through a gently rolling meadow (emerald green in the summer, golden in the fall and winter) and pass campground 4E4 on the left. Next, cross another footbridge over Cascade Creek and continue along a flat and easy stretch.

OBS005

Location: 44.754203, -110.52345

Shoot through a wide open meadow as you approach the shores of the tranquil Cascade Lake. Gleaming with a dazzling display of wildflowers in the summer, this secluded lake is an ideal spot to stop before hiking Observation Peak. When you're ready to start the climb, bear right at the Y-junction.

OBS006

Location: 44.755915, -110.524692

Pass another campground (4E3) as you begin climbing toward the peak. From here, you'll gain nearly 900 feet in over 2.6 miles of moderate climbing.

OBS007

Location: 44.759813, -110.52574

The trail weaves through an open, wildflower-dotted hillside offering prime panoramas of Cascade Lake.

OBS008

Location: 44.7661455, -110.5330932

For serene eastern vistas of the valley, turn left and make a quick side trip to a ridgeline knoll (you'll catch a glimpse of the gigantic Yellowstone Lake on clear days). Return to Waypoint 8 and turn left, heading west.

OBS009

Location: 44.766008, -110.533846

Gain superb views of the Washburn Range as you traverse a saddle along a northern-facing bowl.

OBS010

Location: 44.770547, -110.544628

Arizona ain't got nothing on this canyon: Grab glorious views of Yellowstone's own Grand Canyon from this high-country vantage point.

OBS011

Location: 44.7709213, -110.5451953

Even honest hikers sometimes fall for false peaks. Keep heading north to skirt this Observation Peak impostor and reach the true apex of the mountain, now just minutes away.

OBS012

Location: 44.7719534, -110.5477542

Crest the summit of 9,397-foot Observation Peak and, in the true spirit of the mountain, observe the magnificent natural splendor surrounding you: the majestic Mount Sheridan to the south, the commanding Mount Holmes and Gallatin Range to the west, and the earthy gash that is Yellowstone's Grand Canyon to the east. When you've had your fill of stunning scenery, turn around and follow the same route back to the trailhead.

Observation Peak Hut

Location: 44.7719533, -110.5477981

Trail Sign

Location: 44.737447, -110.503252

Golden Meadow

Location: 44.753262, -110.501379

Trail Sign

Location: 44.755743, -110.506102

Trail

Location: 44.75668, -110.516304

Creek

Location: 44.755984, -110.517872

Animal Bones

Location: 44.754784, -110.521476

North of Cascade Lake

Location: 44.75476, -110.521557

Meadow near Cascade Lake

Location: 44.75458, -110.522207

Cascade Lake

Location: 44.754211, -110.52332

Observation Peak Sign

Location: 44.754211, -110.52332

Junction: Campground 4E3

Location: 44.755891, -110.524639

Campground 4E3

Location: 44.7561964, -110.5243385

Wildflowers

Location: 44.756704, -110.525576

Wildflowers

Location: 44.760675, -110.52474

Views of Cascade Lake

Location: 44.76083, -110.524741

Wildflowers

Location: 44.760979, -110.524965

Trail Views

Location: 44.76078, -110.525264

Gnarled Tree

Location: 44.761469, -110.525756

Cascade Lake

Location: 44.76787, -110.543618

Stormy Skies

Location: 44.77058, -110.544791

Summit Views

Location: 44.77194, -110.5478526

Observation Peak

Location: 44.77194, -110.5478526

More Hut Views

Location: 44.771962, -110.547753