Yellowstone National Park: Specimen Creek Loop

Trace Specimen Creek to two backcountry lakes and tour remote mountain landscapes on this solitary, 22.5-mile trek in Yellowstone National Park.
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Trace Specimen Creek to two backcountry lakes and tour remote mountain landscapes on this solitary, 22.5-mile trek in Yellowstone National Park.

This remote, 22.5-mile lasso loop in Yellowstone National Park's northwest reaches traces Specimen Creek en route to two backcountry lakes. From the Specimen Creek Trailhead, follow the trail northeast 2 miles to a Y-junction. Bear left to start the clockwise loop. As the path winds north up the creek valley, it crosses several streams and passes a couple campsites. After 6 miles, turn right at a 3-way junction and start the climb to Crescent Lake, a small tarn tucked below a majestic cirque. Spend the night here, then continue hiking northeast to a cliff (mile 10.4) that marks the boundary of Yellowstone; views of Gallatin National Forest extend to the north.
From here, bear right along the edge of the cliffs and head southeast to High Lake, a popular wildlife hang-out. After skirting the shores of the lake, follow the East Fork Specimen Creek to the southwest—passing through more forest and meadows. Near mile 16, turn right at the T-junction onto Sportman Lake Trail. Hike west 4.6 more miles to complete the loop. Turn left for the 2-mile stretch back 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: 36.2

Waypoints

SPC001

Location: 45.0124654, -111.0808808

Specimen Creek Trailhead: Hike northeast on smooth, flat trail. Ahead, the path climbs gently through the Specimen Creek valley, which is sparsely-covered with spruce and fir forest.

SPC002

Location: 45.020268, -111.066165

Cross small stream in an open meadow.

SPC003

Location: 45.0216877, -111.0637844

Cross a bridge, then continue northwest through lodgepole forest.

SPC004

Location: 45.025778, -111.053163

Pass a recent burn area on the left.

SPC005

Location: 45.0280803, -111.0477555

Veer left @ Y-junction onto North Fork Specimen Creek Trail and start the clockwise loop.

SPC006

Location: 45.028622, -111.045831

Pass Campsite WE1 at a picturesque horseshoe bend in Specimen Creek. Old growth lodgepole pine and Douglas firs flank the trail.

SPC007

Location: 45.040661, -111.031876

Cross a small stream.

SPC008

Location: 45.051427, -111.026736

Hop across the twisting stream before entering a denser fir forest.

SPC009

Location: 45.063751, -111.022276

Campsite WE4 is located on the left along the stream.

SPC010

Location: 45.070888, -111.01507

Catch a glimpse of the pass through the trees.

SPC011

Location: 45.071297, -111.011089

Turn right @ Y-junction and leave the Specimen Creek Trail. Next, the climb to Crescent Lake begins with a series of steep switchbacks.

SPC012

Location: 45.0615861, -110.9957957

Crescent Lake: Tucked at the foot of a cirque, this tarn is fed by snowmelt from the mountains above it. Spend the night here and in the morning tackle a steep ascent northeast. Eventually, the terrain becomes more gradual with some minor descents.

SPC013

Location: 45.072885, -110.973956

Cross an open gully with a small pond on the left.

SPC014

Location: 45.071713, -110.966852

Climb up to a gentle ridge with views of the Gallatin Range. Electric Peak towers to the left.

SPC015

Location: 45.0724447, -110.9592104

After the descent, turn left at an unmarked junction for a gentle climb.

SPC016

Location: 45.0733994, -110.9498763

Reach the edge of a cliff, which marks the boundary of Yellowstone National Park. Gallatin National Forest extends into the distance. Descend southeast to another bowl along the edge of the park.

SPC017

Location: 45.0647461, -110.9366155

Bear right, heading south to High Lake.

SPC018

Location: 45.0577627, -110.937624

High Lake: A hot spot for wildlife viewing. Fox, mountain lions, and a myriad of other wildlife visit this remote lake to quench their thirst. Turn right to reach Campsite WD5. Continue south to reach Campsite WD4.

SPC019

Location: 45.0579711, -110.9404993

Campsite WD5: Hang your food on the pole located here. Find nice tent spots up and over the hill; views of the lake and potential wildlife viewing opportunities.

SPC020

Location: 45.0553299, -110.9373021

The trail passes Campsite WD4.

SPC021

Location: 45.0549206, -110.9365189

The trail briefly leaves the park boundaries before curving back in.

SPC022

Location: 45.0429898, -110.9510136

Briefly climb out of the valley.

SPC023

Location: 45.042894, -110.95225

Cross 3 small streams on this twisty roller-coaster ride in the trees.

SPC024

Location: 45.041481, -110.95631

Cross a medium-sized stream.

SPC025

Location: 45.030211, -110.963321

Cross small Specimen Creek Fork.

SPC026

Location: 45.028389, -110.962692

In this open meadow, cross the zigzagging streams at the skinny spots.

SPC027

Location: 45.025672, -110.965225

At this T-junction, turn right onto Sportman Lake Trail.

SPC028

Location: 45.025581, -110.96615

Pass the trail to Campsite WD6 on the right.

SPC029

Location: 45.026399, -110.978898

Cross South Fork Specimen Creek on a large log bridge. You'll spot Campsite WD1 before continuing down the valley.

SPC030

Location: 45.024506, -110.99454

Leave the trees for open meadows.

SPC031

Location: 45.029375, -111.008275

Cross this small stream and enter a burn area with grand views.

SPC032

Location: 45.028572, -111.011489

Cross South Fork Specimen Creek.

SPC033

Location: 45.027576, -111.0465163

Cross a bridge over Specimen Creek. Ahead, turn left at the Y-junction with Specimen Creek Trail (Waypoint 5) for the short trek back to the trailhead.

High Lake

Location: 45.0580204, -110.9383965

High Lake

Location: 45.0580545, -110.9385842

Entering Yellowstone National Park

Location: 45.0556709, -110.93705

Frozen Creek

Location: 45.0420005, -110.9539318

East Fork Specimen Creek

Location: 45.025355, -110.977016

Creek Crossing

Location: 45.025467, -110.978127

Burn Area

Location: 45.0245846, -110.9932423

Burned Tree

Location: 45.026439, -111.019525