Yellowstone National Park: Ribbon Lake via Clear Lake

Link two backcountry lakes, a plummeting waterfall, and a billowing fumarole on this 6.7-mile loop near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
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Link two backcountry lakes, a plummeting waterfall, and a billowing fumarole on this 6.7-mile loop near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Perfect for an easy overnighter, this 6.7-mile loop near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone connects two small lakes, a series of thermal features, and a dramatic waterfall. From the Wapiti Lake Trailhead, hike east across an expansive plain and take a left at the first junction to start the clockwise loop.
A mile into the hike, the path skirts the southern edge of Clear Lake. Soon afterwards, the smell of rotten eggs marks your arrival at several thermal features that flank the trail. Hike through a moonscape of craggy rocks, gurgling mudpots, and steaming fumaroles and continue northeast.
At mile 2.9, the route passes Ribbon Lake—two small lakes linked by a channel—and turns right at a T-junction. To add a worthy side trip, hikers can turn left at this junction to visit Silver Cord Cascade, a striking waterfall that plummets 1,200 feet into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
After passing Ribbon Lake, the route crosses two small streams, then rounds to the southwest through thick forest. Top off the hike by cruising through open plains dotted with more thermal features. At mile 6.2, close the loop at Waypoint 2, and turn left for the half-mile stretch 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: 10.8

Waypoints

RIB001

Location: 44.7077443, -110.5003247

From the Wapiti Lake Trailhead, the trail climbs gently to the east toward the first trail junction.

RIB002

Location: 44.709228, -110.490675

Veer left at Y-junction to start the clockwise loop. Ahead: The trail continues to wind through open plains.

RIB003

Location: 44.7123421, -110.4828501

Continue straight @ 3-way junction; the trail to Upper Falls enters on the left. Ahead: The trail winds through open forest as it nears Clear Lake.

RIB004

Location: 44.713966, -110.4772711

A moonscape of craggy rocks, gurgling mudpots, and steaming fumaroles appears in the open areas near the trail.

RIB005

Location: 44.7157425, -110.4719388

Two active mud pots (15 feet in diameter) sit amid the yellow, sulfur-stained landscape.

RIB006

Location: 44.7167488, -110.4703188

Bear right at Y-junction and continue on the Clear Lake-Ribbon Lake Loop.

RIB007

Location: 44.719338, -110.458412

Hike past an old-growth lodgepole pine with peculiar mid-trunk shoots.

RIB008

Location: 44.7240406, -110.4515165

Turn right at the T-junction to continue on the loop. Optional: Turn left at T-junction to see the Silver Cord Cascade. This striking waterfall plummets 1,200 feet into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and is thought to be the tallest waterfall in Wyoming. Campers: Spend the night at the nearby campsites (4R1 and 4R2).

RIB009

Location: 44.7201585, -110.4511115

Cross a small stream.

RIB010

Location: 44.7204386, -110.4465276

Pass another winding stream before heading back into the thick woods. Wolf prints are a common sight along the trail.

RIB011

Location: 44.7190264, -110.446592

Pass a small pond on the right side of the trail.

RIB012

Location: 44.7173663, -110.4484159

At the T-junction with Wapiti Lake Trail, turn right to continue the loop.

RIB013

Location: 44.7093075, -110.4604161

Trail enters open plains (a great place to look for grazing bison).

RIB014

Location: 44.708564, -110.468772

A billowing fumarole signals the trail is re-entering a geologically active area.

RIB015

Location: 44.709209, -110.471975

Watch your footing along the edge of the green, hot spring runoff. Hike between fumaroles and then back into the forest.

RIB016

Location: 44.70859, -110.482742

Pass a spur trail on the left that leads to Sour Creek and Fishing Bridge. Enjoy this elevated vantage of the rolling plains. In 0.4 mile, the route reconnects with Waypoint 2. Turn left to return to the trailhead.

Single Bison

Location: 44.7083848, -110.4990828

First Trail Junction

Location: 44.7092312, -110.4904675

Animal Tracks

Location: 44.709516, -110.489151

Clear Lake

Location: 44.712862, -110.479663

Thermal Activity

Location: 44.714942, -110.47606

Trailside Views

Location: 44.7147666, -110.4746425

Ribbon Lake

Location: 44.7240329, -110.4514682

Bears

Location: 44.708881, -110.464819

Grazing Bison

Location: 44.70881, -110.465233

Solitary Bison

Location: 44.708355, -110.466256