Yellowstone National Park: Specimen Ridge

Wildlife sightings and striking views highlight this strenuous, 17.7-mile shuttle hike that spans the length of Specimen Ridge in Yellowstone National Park.
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Wildlife sightings and striking views highlight this strenuous, 17.7-mile shuttle hike that spans the length of Specimen Ridge in Yellowstone National Park.

This 17.7-mile shuttle hike along Specimen Ridge overlooks the wildlife-filled grasslands of the Lamar Valley, making it a great choice for wildlife-lovers visiting Yellowstone National Park. Start early or stay late to spot the crowds of elk, bison, antelope, moose, wolves, and bears that roam Lamar's grassy expanse.
From the trailhead, hike southeast across the vast, rolling hills that border the eastern edge of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. After 1.4 miles, the trail veers to the right below the crest of Specimen Ridge and continues to climb to the southeast. Roughly 2 miles later, take a break at scenic vantage point overlooking Yellowstone's wildlife-rich northern range.
The route tops out on 9,614-foot Amethyst Mountain after 10 miles, giving way to some of the best panoramic views Yellowstone has to offer. From here, the trail drops down Amethyst’s southeast ridge, then swings to the northeast into the Lamar Valley; extensive views accompany hikers into the valley. At mile 15.6, ford the Lamar River, then continue a 2-mile descent to the route's end point at the Lamar River Trailhead.
Note: Before you hike this trail, check with park rangers to determine the levels of the Lamar River.

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 Jason Kauffman

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 28.5

Waypoints

SPE001

Location: 44.9122739, -110.3874063

Leaving the highway and trailhead behind, the trail heads southeast over rolling hills covered in grass and sagebrush.

SPE002

Location: 44.8998642, -110.3786701

Continue straight along the main path as it continues climbing toward Specimen Ridge.

SPE003

Location: 44.8924389, -110.3612391

Keep left @ Y-junction along the ridge crest. The trail to the right drops steeply to a campsite where the Agate Creek pours into the Yellowstone River.

SPE004

Location: 44.8868485, -110.3427579

Take a breather at this vantage point along Specimen Ridge. You'll find superb views of Yellowstone's wildlife-rich northern range.

SPE005

Location: 44.8862007, -110.3370204

Continue uphill as the trail fades in and out for short lengths.

SPE006

Location: 44.8759932, -110.3226751

The trail enters a small, hidden valley. Watch for herds of mule deer, elk, and bison that can often be seen grazing in this basin.

SPE007

Location: 44.8592461, -110.2994224

Leaving the open grasslands, the trail enters a dense grove of conifer trees. Watch for occasional blazes on trees that differentiate the main path from numerous game trails.

SPE008

Location: 44.854196, -110.2989515

Watch for the many weathered antler sheds dropped by bull elk that winter along these windblown south-facing slopes.

SPE009

Location: 44.8436172, -110.2870245

Enjoy the first good views of wide-open Lamar Valley--known as Yellowstone's Serengeti--thousands of feet below.

SPE010

Location: 44.8291369, -110.2645612

Take a short detour to the southeast to look out from the second highest point along Specimen Ridge. Enjoy views of unburned lodgepole pine forests stretching southwest to the colorful Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

SPE011

Location: 44.8283303, -110.2543795

Stand on the trail's high point: Amethyst Mountain. This 9,614-foot summit provides some of the best 360-degree views in Yellowstone.

SPE012

Location: 44.8246702, -110.2463973

With views down the valley to the Lamar River, this spot offers a great place to eat some lunch and look out for wildlife. For the next half-mile, the trail parallels the Specimen Ridge crest.

SPE013

Location: 44.8172781, -110.232344

The trail begins to drop off Specimen Ridge into a mostly timbered side drainage to Lamar Valley.

SPE014

Location: 44.835939, -110.2018404

The main trail circles northwest around the ridge providing distant views down into a portion of Lamar Valley. This section of the valley is known for its herds of bison and elk, as well as wandering grizzlies and gray wolves. In the distance, the rugged Absaroka Mountains rise up towards the mighty Beartooth Plateau.

SPE015

Location: 44.8471142, -110.1853073

Ford the Lamar River. Caution: This crossing can be very dangerous and nearly impossible during the early summer melt. Before setting out on this hike, check out the river conditions with park rangers.

SPE016

Location: 44.869168, -110.1663886

The Hike finishes at the Lamar River Trailhead. A footbridge provides easy passage over Soda Butte Creek just before the large parking lot.

Views of the Absaroka Mountains

Location: 44.8378562, -110.2030849

Expansive views encompass the merging of Soda Butte Creek and the Lamar River. Far in the distance the rugged Absaroka Mountains rise up towards the mighty Beartooth Plateau.

Lower Specimen Ridge

Location: 44.8960118, -110.3665924

The lower slopes of Specimen Ridge are a haven for herds of elk.

Golden Grasslands

Location: 44.8838502, -110.3269386

Grazing Bison

Location: 44.864508, -110.3075409

Grazing bison in a basin off Specimen Ridge.

Bull Elk Skull

Location: 44.8510011, -110.2955246

A bleached bull elk skull with Mount Washburn in the distance.

Amethyst Mountain Summit

Location: 44.8282695, -110.2542293

Bighorn Sheep

Location: 44.8236734, -110.2453136

Bighorn sheep near the top of Specimen Ridge.

Lamar Valley

Location: 44.8209338, -110.2423096

Specimen Ridge drops thousands of feet to the Lamar Valley.

Descent of Specimen Ridge

Location: 44.8230646, -110.2249718

Specimen Ridge is steep in places as it drops into the Lamar Valley.

Lamar River

Location: 44.8495407, -110.1831293

Wolf Sighting

Location: 44.8524614, -110.1777649

A wolf lopes across grassy Lamar Valley as the last light disappears from the distant Absaroka Mountains.