Yellowstone National Park: Ice Lake
Pass a waterfall, open meadows, lodgepole stands and a sparkling backcountry lake on this easy, 3.8-mile stroll through the heart of Yellowstone National Park.
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A perfect introduction to Yellowstone’s spectacular backcountry, this easy cruiser is ideal for dayhikes with the kids or a low-key overnight. Begin by heading north on the Wolf Lake Trail. With much of the area’s lodgepole forest burnt in the 1988 Yellowstone Fires, you’ll witness an ecology lesson in action as you hike past young lodgepole pines and the now fertile forest floor (blanketed with low-lying vegetation).
After passing the picturesque Little Gibbons Falls and picking up the Howard Eaton Trail at mile 1.3—you’ll hit Ice Lake at mile 2.1. Right before the lake, the trail travels past campsite 4D2, the first of three perched along the lake’s scenic northern shore. Just 0.4 mile later, the next 2 campsites, ideally situated just 15 feet from the lake, offer perfect spots for casual overnights.
To complete the loop, pick up the Ice Lake Trail and head south along the lake’s western shore before reaching another parking lot (0.4 mile down the road from the trailhead). If you have two cars, park one at each lot before starting the hike and carpool back to the trailhead. If not, complete the loop by making the easy hike back to the trailhead along the Norris Road’s wide shoulder.
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/
FREE TRIP PLANNERS Get news on vacation deals and lodging at myyellowstonepark.com
-Mapped by Jeff Chow
- Distance: 6.1
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From the roadside parking area, walk east and cross Norris Canyon Road to reach the trailhead.
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From the trailhead, hike northeast on the well-traveled Wolf Lake Trail. The path ducks between open grasslands and stark lodgepole forests, parts of which were burned in the 1988 Yellowstone fires.
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Bust out your cameras as you pass by Little Gibbons Falls, a 20-foot slide cascading through an area burned in the 1988 fires.
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Cross Gibbon River on a log, then continue north.
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At the 3-way junction, turn left onto the Howard Eaton Trail, following the sign to Ice Lake.
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Navigate a tricky, log-pile stream crossing as you approach the lake.
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Pass a spur trail leading to the 4D2 campsite to gain your first views of the placid Ice Lake. For the next mile, you’ll be treated to tranquil scenes as you trace the lake’s northern and western shores.
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Continuing on the Howard Eaton Trail, pass a side trail leading to campsite 4D1. Just 15 feet from the waters edge, this picturesque site is a perfect spot for hikers looking to spend the night.
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Pass a marshy area serving up serene lake views before turning left onto Ice Lake Trail.
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Bypass the spur trail to the 4D3 campsite and complete the short hike back to the road.
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The trail ends at a parking pullout on Norris Canyon Road. If you don’t have a car waiting for you at the lot, turn left onto Norris Canyon Road for the 0.4-mile walk back to the trailhead.
Wolf Lake Trail
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The Wolf Lake Trail slices through open meadows and burned and unburned lodgepole forests.
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You’ll see many windblown lodgepoles, remnants of the 1988 Yellowstone Fires, as you circle the lake.
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More evidence of the 1988 fires, which damaged 793,000 acres (more than 36 percent) of the park.
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Follow the sign to Ice Lake.
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Junction for campsite 4D2.
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Humans aren’t the only animals to make heavy use of the Ice Lake area.
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The trail offers constant scenic vistas as it wanders around the lake’s northern shore.
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Junction for campsite 4D1, ideally located 15 feet from the water.
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This trail leads to a picturesque campsite located just a few feet from the water.
Views of Ice Lake
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Gaze across the mirror-like surface of Ice Lake from this tranquil vantage point on its western shore.