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Yellowstone National Park: Lake Butte to Sylvan Pass via Thorofare Trail

A forgotten explorer's route leads to 42-mile off-trail adventure--with several peak bagging options--and bona fide solitude in Yellowstone National Park.

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BOOKS/MAPS: Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone, by Tom Turiano ($45, indomitusbooks .com) and Hiking: Yellowstone National Park, by Bill Schneider ($17,

USGS TOPO QUADS: Lake Butte, Frank Island, Sylvan Lake, Trail Lake, Plenty Coups, and Eagle Peak ($8 each,

SEASON: You can easily do this hike between July and early September, but the last half of July and first half of August are your best bet for windows of reliable weather and blooming flowers.

PERMITS: Required (free, $20 if reserved more than 48 hours in advance). Note: Getting approval for at-large camping in a spot this remote involves convincing skeptical rangers that you have what it takes to venture off the beaten track. Turiano recommends coming prepared with an annotated map and a trip resumé to establish your creds. He says, “If you can show the experience level to match the route—and this is not a beginner traverse—rangers will usually say, ‘OK, just follow LNT ethics and bear protocols,’ and send you on your way.”

MORE INFO: Yellowstone National Park, (307) 344-7381;

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 68.0



Location: 44.505764, -110.275354

Hike south from Lake Butte trailhead, paralleling the shores of Yellowstone Lake.


Location: 44.487719, -110.276899

Bear right at fork.


Location: 44.473726, -110.280161

Continue straight at 4-way junction. Continue south, passing Elk Point on the right in less than half a mile.


Location: 44.435557, -110.290546

Bear right toward Park Point.


Location: 44.426777, -110.286169

Turn right at cross Meadow Creek.


Location: 44.387642, -110.234284

Cross Alluvium Creek.


Location: 44.328576, -110.199695

The trail traces the edge of a marshy area that flanks the Yellowstone River.


Location: 44.298145, -110.153561

At the Cabin Creek Patrol Cabin, turn left/east and hike off-trail toward Colter Peak.


Location: 44.301708, -110.109637

Colter Peak


Location: 44.303612, -110.081012

Turn right for out-and-back to tk.


Location: 44.29108, -110.058889

Head northeast toward the Table Mountain summit.


Location: 44.296118, -110.055242

Crest 11,065 foot Table Mountain. Next, descend to the saddle southeast of the summit, then ascend an unnamed highpoint.


Location: 44.289176, -110.049469

Crest an unnamed point. From here, descend back to the saddle, then traverse west back to Waypoint 11.


Location: 44.303612, -110.080798

Turn right, heading northeast.


Location: 44.308956, -110.076292

Start climb to the ridgeline.


Location: 44.317677, -110.068181

Follow the ridgeline north.


Location: 44.33269, -110.062151

Crest Mt. Humphreys and continue north.


Location: 44.342189, -110.071399

Crest Mt. Schurz and continue north.


Location: 44.37591, -110.067751

Atkins Peak


Location: 44.390249, -110.069468

Plenty Coups Peak


Location: 44.406868, -110.108843

Mt. Langford


Location: 44.452072, -110.143025

Top Notch Peak


Location: 44.466229, -110.130515

Route ends at E. Entrance Road/US 20 at Sylvan Pass.