One of Yellowstone National Park’s lesser-traveled routes, this 9.4-mile backcountry trek travels through young lodgepole forests to Phantom Fumarole—a steaming vent on the Pitchstone Plateau. From the trailhead, hike northwest toward the base of the plateau. After a flat, 200-foot stretch, the trail’s steepest section of climbing begins: you’ll gain 500 feet in half a mile.
At the top of the climb, the trail winds west, passing lodgepole forests burned during the 1988 wildfires (many of the new trees are 8 to 10 feet tall) and the glassy, black volcanic rocks that give Pitchstone Plateau its name. After 2.3 miles, hike across the first of several conifer-ringed meadows that dot the route. From here, it’s another 2.3 miles to the steaming pools of Phantom Fumarole. Study the scorched soil for interesting patterns created by the intense subterranean heat, then turn around for the trip back to the trailhead.
MORE PARK INFO Yellowstone National Park, (307) 344-7381; nps.gov/yell/
-Mapped by Jason Kauffman
- Distance: 15.1
Location: 44.2432314, -110.647307
Begin a short, but steep climb away from South Entrance Road through unburned lodgepole pine.
Location: 44.2441537, -110.6482565
The climb steepens for the next 0.4 mile. (The hike gains most of its elevation here.)
Location: 44.2485191, -110.6526661
The trail finally begins to flatten out as portions of the forest opens up. Much of this region was burned during the 1988 wildfires.
Location: 44.2485499, -110.6662917
Continue following the faint trail up the washed-out gully.
Location: 44.2496028, -110.6718922
Take in lengthy views that extend down-valley to a lush green meadow. To the east, the lower slopes of the Pitchstone Plateau and Mount Sheridan can be seen in the distance; watch for elk that frequent this secluded basin.
Location: 44.246865, -110.6837023
The trail enters the first of numerous and steadily larger meadows.
Location: 44.2440538, -110.7038641
Cross what is usually a dry riverbed.
Location: 44.2444996, -110.7100332
Look around for elk and wolves in these conifer-ringed meadows.
Location: 44.2438689, -110.7175251
Enter the final meadow before the Phantom Fumarole. On wintry days, watch for steam rising into the cold air (you may also start to smell this thermal feature).
Location: 44.241504, -110.7231626
Phantom Fumarole: Look for interesting patterns in the scorched soil created by the intense subterranean heat. Caution: Keep a safe distance from the fumarole’s boiling waters.
Pitchstone Plateau and Mount Sheridan
Location: 44.2495951, -110.6717956
Location: 44.2491724, -110.6573761
Much of the trail to Phantom Fumarole passes through the remains of lodgepole pine forests burned during the great fires of 1988.
Location: 44.2481695, -110.6784797
New growth on a less than 20-year-old lodgepole pine that sprung up in the wake of the 1988 fires.
Location: 44.2419632, -110.7228756
The soils around the Phantom Fumarole betray the intensity of the subterranean processes that create this thermal wonder.
Steam from Phantom Fumarole
Location: 44.2415021, -110.723058