Yellowstone National Park: Phantom Fumarole

Visit a remote, backcountry thermal vent that steams up from the Pitchstone Plateau on this 9.4-mile out-and-back in Yellowstone National Park.
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Visit a remote, backcountry thermal vent that steams up from the Pitchstone Plateau on this 9.4-mile out-and-back in Yellowstone National Park.

One of Yellowstone National Park's lesser-traveled routes, this 9.4-mile backcountry trek travels through young lodgepole forests to Phantom Fumarole—a steaming vent on the Pitchstone Plateau. From the trailhead, hike northwest toward the base of the plateau. After a flat, 200-foot stretch, the trail's steepest section of climbing begins: you'll gain 500 feet in half a mile.

At the top of the climb, the trail winds west, passing lodgepole forests burned during the 1988 wildfires (many of the new trees are 8 to 10 feet tall) and the glassy, black volcanic rocks that give Pitchstone Plateau its name. After 2.3 miles, hike across the first of several conifer-ringed meadows that dot the route. From here, it's another 2.3 miles to the steaming pools of Phantom Fumarole. Study the scorched soil for interesting patterns created by the intense subterranean heat, then turn around for the trip back to the trailhead.

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

-Mapped by Jason Kauffman

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 15.1

Waypoints

PHA001

Location: 44.2432314, -110.647307

Begin a short, but steep climb away from South Entrance Road through unburned lodgepole pine.

PHA002

Location: 44.2441537, -110.6482565

The climb steepens for the next 0.4 mile. (The hike gains most of its elevation here.)

PHA003

Location: 44.2485191, -110.6526661

The trail finally begins to flatten out as portions of the forest opens up. Much of this region was burned during the 1988 wildfires.

PHA004

Location: 44.2485499, -110.6662917

Continue following the faint trail up the washed-out gully.

PHA005

Location: 44.2496028, -110.6718922

Take in lengthy views that extend down-valley to a lush green meadow. To the east, the lower slopes of the Pitchstone Plateau and Mount Sheridan can be seen in the distance; watch for elk that frequent this secluded basin.

PHA006

Location: 44.246865, -110.6837023

The trail enters the first of numerous and steadily larger meadows.

PHA007

Location: 44.2440538, -110.7038641

Cross what is usually a dry riverbed.

PHA008

Location: 44.2444996, -110.7100332

Look around for elk and wolves in these conifer-ringed meadows.

PHA009

Location: 44.2438689, -110.7175251

Enter the final meadow before the Phantom Fumarole. On wintry days, watch for steam rising into the cold air (you may also start to smell this thermal feature).

PHA010

Location: 44.241504, -110.7231626

Phantom Fumarole: Look for interesting patterns in the scorched soil created by the intense subterranean heat. Caution: Keep a safe distance from the fumarole's boiling waters.

Pitchstone Plateau and Mount Sheridan

Location: 44.2495951, -110.6717956

Recovering Forest

Location: 44.2491724, -110.6573761

Much of the trail to Phantom Fumarole passes through the remains of lodgepole pine forests burned during the great fires of 1988.

New Growth

Location: 44.2481695, -110.6784797

New growth on a less than 20-year-old lodgepole pine that sprung up in the wake of the 1988 fires.

Scorched Earth

Location: 44.2419632, -110.7228756

The soils around the Phantom Fumarole betray the intensity of the subterranean processes that create this thermal wonder.

Steam from Phantom Fumarole

Location: 44.2415021, -110.723058