Yellowstone National Park: Specimen Ridge
Wildlife sightings and striking views highlight this strenuous, 17.7-mile shuttle hike that spans the length of Specimen Ridge in Yellowstone National Park.
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
This 17.7-mile shuttle hike along Specimen Ridge overlooks the wildlife-filled grasslands of the Lamar Valley, making it a great choice for wildlife-lovers visiting Yellowstone National Park. Start early or stay late to spot the crowds of elk, bison, antelope, moose, wolves, and bears that roam Lamar’s grassy expanse.
From the trailhead, hike southeast across the vast, rolling hills that border the eastern edge of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. After 1.4 miles, the trail veers to the right below the crest of Specimen Ridge and continues to climb to the southeast. Roughly 2 miles later, take a break at scenic vantage point overlooking Yellowstone’s wildlife-rich northern range.
The route tops out on 9,614-foot Amethyst Mountain after 10 miles, giving way to some of the best panoramic views Yellowstone has to offer. From here, the trail drops down Amethyst’s southeast ridge, then swings to the northeast into the Lamar Valley; extensive views accompany hikers into the valley. At mile 15.6, ford the Lamar River, then continue a 2-mile descent to the route’s end point at the Lamar River Trailhead.
Note: Before you hike this trail, check with park rangers to determine the levels of the Lamar River.
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/.
-Mapped by Jason Kauffman
- Distance: 28.5
Location: 44.9122739, -110.3874063
Leaving the highway and trailhead behind, the trail heads southeast over rolling hills covered in grass and sagebrush.
Location: 44.8998642, -110.3786701
Continue straight along the main path as it continues climbing toward Specimen Ridge.
Location: 44.8924389, -110.3612391
Keep left @ Y-junction along the ridge crest. The trail to the right drops steeply to a campsite where the Agate Creek pours into the Yellowstone River.
Location: 44.8868485, -110.3427579
Take a breather at this vantage point along Specimen Ridge. You’ll find superb views of Yellowstone’s wildlife-rich northern range.
Location: 44.8862007, -110.3370204
Continue uphill as the trail fades in and out for short lengths.
Location: 44.8759932, -110.3226751
The trail enters a small, hidden valley. Watch for herds of mule deer, elk, and bison that can often be seen grazing in this basin.
Location: 44.8592461, -110.2994224
Leaving the open grasslands, the trail enters a dense grove of conifer trees. Watch for occasional blazes on trees that differentiate the main path from numerous game trails.
Location: 44.854196, -110.2989515
Watch for the many weathered antler sheds dropped by bull elk that winter along these windblown south-facing slopes.
Location: 44.8436172, -110.2870245
Enjoy the first good views of wide-open Lamar Valley–known as Yellowstone’s Serengeti–thousands of feet below.
Location: 44.8291369, -110.2645612
Take a short detour to the southeast to look out from the second highest point along Specimen Ridge. Enjoy views of unburned lodgepole pine forests stretching southwest to the colorful Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Location: 44.8283303, -110.2543795
Stand on the trail’s high point: Amethyst Mountain. This 9,614-foot summit provides some of the best 360-degree views in Yellowstone.
Location: 44.8246702, -110.2463973
With views down the valley to the Lamar River, this spot offers a great place to eat some lunch and look out for wildlife. For the next half-mile, the trail parallels the Specimen Ridge crest.
Location: 44.8172781, -110.232344
The trail begins to drop off Specimen Ridge into a mostly timbered side drainage to Lamar Valley.
Location: 44.835939, -110.2018404
The main trail circles northwest around the ridge providing distant views down into a portion of Lamar Valley. This section of the valley is known for its herds of bison and elk, as well as wandering grizzlies and gray wolves. In the distance, the rugged Absaroka Mountains rise up towards the mighty Beartooth Plateau.
Location: 44.8471142, -110.1853073
Ford the Lamar River. Caution: This crossing can be very dangerous and nearly impossible during the early summer melt. Before setting out on this hike, check out the river conditions with park rangers.
Location: 44.869168, -110.1663886
The Hike finishes at the Lamar River Trailhead. A footbridge provides easy passage over Soda Butte Creek just before the large parking lot.
Views of the Absaroka Mountains
Location: 44.8378562, -110.2030849
Expansive views encompass the merging of Soda Butte Creek and the Lamar River. Far in the distance the rugged Absaroka Mountains rise up towards the mighty Beartooth Plateau.
Lower Specimen Ridge
Location: 44.8960118, -110.3665924
The lower slopes of Specimen Ridge are a haven for herds of elk.
Location: 44.8838502, -110.3269386
Location: 44.864508, -110.3075409
Grazing bison in a basin off Specimen Ridge.
Bull Elk Skull
Location: 44.8510011, -110.2955246
A bleached bull elk skull with Mount Washburn in the distance.
Amethyst Mountain Summit
Location: 44.8282695, -110.2542293
Location: 44.8236734, -110.2453136
Bighorn sheep near the top of Specimen Ridge.
Location: 44.8209338, -110.2423096
Specimen Ridge drops thousands of feet to the Lamar Valley.
Descent of Specimen Ridge
Location: 44.8230646, -110.2249718
Specimen Ridge is steep in places as it drops into the Lamar Valley.
Location: 44.8495407, -110.1831293
Location: 44.8524614, -110.1777649
A wolf lopes across grassy Lamar Valley as the last light disappears from the distant Absaroka Mountains.