Yellowstone National Park: Garnet Hill Loop
Explore Yellowstone National Park's lower elevations on a moderate 8-mile loop that circles Garnet Hill, visits the Yellowstone River, and traverses bison-filled grasslands.
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Garnet Hill Loop is perfect for early or late season in Yellowstone. From the parking turnout on NE Entrance Road, cross the highway and start hiking on a well-defined trail that winds through Pleasant Valley, a rolling grassland speckled with sage and seasonal wildflowers. Give a wide berth to the herds of bison that graze the area, and scan the sagebrush-covered hills for elk and bison.
After a mile, the Yellowstone River appears for the first time—take in expansive views of the rugged Absaroka Mountains to the north and Specimen Ridge to the southwest. From here, the trail descends 2 miles to the Yellowstone River, passing a secluded valley perched on a grassy bench.
Drop your packs and take a quick break before starting the ascent up Elk Creek valley, a timbered, wildlife-rich drainage (you may spot signs of wolf activity). The loop finishes with a 1.8-mile stretch through Pleasant Valley and a 0.3-mile road walk back to the parking turnout.
GUIDEBOOK AND MAP Yellowstone Treasures, by Janet Chapple ($24, yellowstonetreasures.com)
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/
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-Mapped by Jason Kauffman
- Distance: 13.3
Location: 44.919771, -110.412567
From the parking turnout, cross the highway and start hiking on a well-defined trail that leads northwest through Pleasant Valley, a rolling grassland speckled with sage and seasonal wildflowers. Give a wide berth to the herds of bison that graze the area.
Location: 44.925397, -110.41746
Turn right at the unsigned junction. Scan the rolling, sagebrush-covered hills for elk and bison.
Location: 44.933777, -110.417431
The trail comes within sight of the Yellowstone River. From this vantage point, expansive views stretch to the rugged Absaroka Mountains to the north and Specimen Ridge to the southwest. Ahead, and the trail descends to the north.
Location: 44.948703, -110.417326
A steep descent through conifer forest leads toward the Yellowstone River.
Location: 44.951435, -110.41862
The trail enters a secluded valley perched on a grassy bench above the Yellowstone River. Continue 0.5 mile to the Yellowstone River.
Location: 44.956446, -110.425527
Drop your pack and take a break at this scenic spot overlooking the river. Watch the skies for circling osprey. From here, the trail slowly starts to gain elevation.
Location: 44.954017, -110.444491
Bear left @ 3-way junction and begin ascent of Elk Creek valley. Look for signs of wolf activity in this timbered, wildlife-rich drainage.
Location: 44.951832, -110.442956
Start the steep climb up the V-shaped valley (Garnet Hill’s summit rises directly to the east). Watch scree slopes for numerous chirping marmots.
Location: 44.948872, -110.442224
Hike through an open, grassy valley. You may spot wildlife prowling around the local beaver ponds.
Location: 44.932947, -110.435805
The trail re-enters wide-open meadows. Garnet Hill’s summit rises directly to the north. Keep an eye out for small herds of grazing bison and the trail’s intersection with the wide stagecoach road ahead.
Location: 44.916782, -110.415369
The stagecoach road connects with NE Entrance Road. Turn left and walk northeast along the highway shoulder back to your car.
Location: 44.924824, -110.417147
A lone bison stands its ground along the Garnet Hill Loop. ©Jason Kauffman
Specimen Ridge View
Location: 44.930841, -110.415902
Rain clouds hang over the Yellowstone River Valley and Specimen Ridge in the distance. ©Jason Kauffman
Garnet Hill Loop
Location: 44.935428, -110.418692
The trail winds along Yellowstone River. ©Jason Kauffman
Garnet Hill Bison
Location: 44.944541, -110.421438
Numerous bison graze the grassy ridges and benches along this section of the trail. ©Jason Kauffman
Location: 44.956174, -110.425429
Break spot with excellent views of the free-flowing Yellowstone River. ©Jason Kauffman
Location: 44.951193, -110.442638
Watch for marmot chirping from the numerous scree slopes along this stretch of trail. ©Jason Kauffman