Yellowstone National Park: Riddle Lake

This easy-going hike winds past lodgepole forest and grassy stream beds to the black sand beaches of a backcountry lake in Yellowstone National Park.

Trace the shoreline of a small mountain lake dotted with pond lilies on this 4.9-mile out-and-back. From the Riddle Lake Trailhead, hike east into thick lodgepole pine forest. The gentle trail rolls and winds across mellow terrain, offering glimpses of grassy meadows (prime bear habitat).

After a mile, cross two small streams before turning right for the half mile stretch to Riddle Lake. At the northwest edge of the lake, continue along the shoreline for another half mile to the larger beach area—views of the Red Mountains and 10,305-foot Mount Sheridan rise up behind the lake. Relax in the warmth of the black sand or on the log bench near the trees. Follow the same route back to your car.

Note: This trail is closed from April 30 through July 14.

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

-Mapped by Jeff Chow

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 7.9



Location: 44.358408, -110.5818129

From the Riddle Lake Trailhead, hike east on flat trail that travels through a mixed forest of lodgepole and spruce.


Location: 44.364821, -110.562019

Cross a stream and a meadow, then hike through a fire burned area (the new trees are now 8 feet tall).


Location: 44.3662318, -110.5581558

The trail veers to the right (south), skirting the edge of a grassy stream bed. Look for bear tracks and moose.


Location: 44.362036, -110.55123

Trace the shoreline of this small mountain lake dotted with pond lilies. In 1872, Riddle Lake was thought to sit directly on the Continental Divide and was named by the Hayden Survey in honor of Lake Riddle, the "mythical lake among the mountains" where water flowed to both oceans. (Riddle Lake's outlet stream actually flows to the Atlantic.) Next, continue 0.4 mile to a scenic, waterfront lunch spot.


Location: 44.3601723, -110.5430603

This large black sand beach is the perfect spot to enjoy the views of 10,305-foot Mount Sheridan directly to the south. Scan Riddle Lake's waters for white pelicans, Canadian geese, and Barrow's goldeneyes (a medium-sized diving duck). Look for the log bench near the trees. Return to the trailhead following the same route.

Riddle Lake

Location: 44.3618445, -110.5499268

©Jeff Chow

Trail Sign

Location: 44.358408, -110.5814266

©Jeff Chow

Bear Tracks

Location: 44.365158, -110.557909

©Jeff Chow

Bear Tracks

Location: 44.3646672, -110.5572224

©Jeff Chow

Riddle Lake

Location: 44.3600342, -110.5427599

©Jeff Chow