You don't have to travel far to find some of the best views of Yellowstone Lake. Set aside a couple of hours for this 3.9-mile loop that leads to a primo overlook above the park's largest body of water. From the Elephant Back Trailhead, follow the wide trail that climbs steadily through lodgepole pine forest. As you switchback up the mountain, look for pieces of obsidian (volcanic glass) in the rock, signs of past volcanic activity in the area.
The trail crests a plateau after a mile and a half, and then heads southwest to the overlook. Grab a seat on the bench and soak up the five-star views of Yellowstone Lake and the Absaroka Mountain Range. When you're ready, continue following the trail along the top of the plateau before tackling the steep descent back to the trailhead.
GUIDEBOOK AND MAP: Yellowstone Treasures, by Janet Chapple ($24, yellowstonetreasures.com). Plan other trips in the park using BACKPACKER’s Yellowstone National Park page.
CONDITIONS: For current conditions and updates, go to nps.gov/yell/conditions.htm.
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/
GPS DATA: Download tracks and waypoints, print or order custom topos, from the menu on the left.
-Mapped by Jeff Chow
- Distance: 6.3
Location: 44.5567706, -110.4018795
Follow Elephant Back Trail to the west. The path parallels the road for 100 yards before turning right into the woods.
Location: 44.5567821, -110.4040414
The path bends to the right and travels to the northwest. On the return trip, stay left at the sign pointing to Lake Lodge Cabins.
Location: 44.5573822, -110.4049802
Walk beneath the transmission lines that run parallel to the Yellowstone River. The climb continues for another 800 feet before leveling off on a wide footpath flanked by lodgepole pine, Engelmann spruce, and subalpine fir. Oregon grape and whortleberry (a deciduous shrub with edible black berries) blanket the ground.
Location: 44.5646825, -110.409143
Keep left at the trail fork (the start of the loop), heading west. The gradual ascent steepens in 0.3 mile as the trail switchbacks up the mountain. You'll also catch views of Yellowstone Lake that peek through the trees to the southeast.
Location: 44.5679693, -110.4102373
After the second switchback, the trail passes a crumbly rock outcrop. Ahead, the path turns a grainier and darker color due to the increased concentration of basalt (volcanic glass) fragments.
Location: 44.568548, -110.410482
Keep climbing. The terrain flattens slightly in 800 feet as the trail rounds to the southwest.
Location: 44.5665705, -110.4138744
This vantage point (with benches) offers postcard-worthy views of Yellowstone Lake and Lake Village. The jagged peaks of the Absaroka Range rise behind this picturesque scene. Next, follow the trail as it loops back to the northeast, then descends to the south on switchbacks and steps.
Location: 44.565594, -110.408995
Hike through a tunnel of towering lodgepoles before closing the loop back at Waypoint 4. Turn left and follow the same route back to the trailhead.