Yellowstone’s Top Trails

Yellowstone National Park sign

Note: This post was originally published July 2018, and has been updated with the latest route and permit info as of January 2023.

Yellowstone National Park encompasses nearly 1,000 miles of trails, 466 miles of road, and 15+ miles of boardwalks. All of these paths sit atop a super volcano with 290 waterfalls, 67 species of mammal, and over 500 active geysers dotted across the landscape. That’s a ton of numbers! Overwhelmed thinking about how to see as much as possible on your hard-earned hiking vacation?

We’ve got you covered.

You’re always welcome to hit the trail with one of our certified, professional hiking guides and leave all of the details to us. However, if you’re a plan-it-yourself kind of adventurer, here are a few of our favorite trails to get you started.

Bechler River Trail

Bechler River Trail Yellowstone

Mileage: 30+ miles out-and-back  | Length: 4–7 days | Elevation Gain/Loss: ~3000 ft


Variety is what keeps the Bechler River Trail a timeless favorite. The route winds through classic open meadows, old-growth forests, and past backcountry thermal features including soak-worthy hot springs. To add to the diversity, as you follow the trail along the Bechler River through the aspen-covered Bechler Canyon, your eyes feast on waterfall after waterfall. These features are so prominent that the region is known as “cascade corner.”


Bechler River Trail is unique in a number of ways that makes it some of the best hiking in Yellowstone National Park. The variety and ever-changing scenery of this trail makes it a great one if you’re looking to see all that Yellowstone has to offer. In addition, this trail explores the southern section of Yellowstone where many other backpacking trails are up north. This allows hikers to see the park in an entirely new light. 

Another reason for Bechler’s ranking at the top of the list is its versatility. While the Bechler River Trail is a backpacking trail which takes hikers 5 to 7 days to complete, the Bechler River Cutoff Trail– the way to access the river trail from the ranger station– is a day hike that allows those with less time to still get a taste of this pristine wilderness. 


If you decide that the Bechler River Trail is for you but aren’t sure where to start, fear not. We’ve compiled a list of details and logistics to keep in mind when you are planning your trip. If you want to skip the logistical hassle altogether, you can join one of our all inclusive trips so you don’t have to worry about anything but enjoying your hike! If you’d like to hike on your own, but want to see a sample itinerary, our trip descriptions have detailed, day-by-day itineraries to look through. 

  • Hike Type: Backpacking or llama trek
  • Trail Type: Out and back 
  • Trail Length: ~30 mi 
  • Time Required: 4 days hiking every day 
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: ~3,000 ft
  • Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous 
  • Starting Point: Bechler Ranger Station or Lone Star Geyser
  • Ending Point: Bechler Ranger Station or  Lone Star Geyser
  • Season: Summer
  • Permits Required: Yes

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Bunsen Peak Trail

Mileage: 4.5-9 miles out-and-back  | Length: 3–7 hours | Elevation Gain/Loss: 1200-1900 ft

The Hike

The hike up Bunsen Peak is an unforgettable one. From the open flat of the trailhead, you’ll start hiking up through intermittent forest and meadow. The path provides excellent opportunities to view wildlife, birds, and seasonal wildflowers. As the trail continues uphill, views of the Gallatin Range and the surrounding valleys grow more and more spectacular. The final section of the 1,300-foot vertical gain brings you through scree and talus slopes, a reminder of Bunsen’s origin as a volcanic remnant. Few would contest that Bunsen Peak is one of the best hikes in Yellowstone. You won’t either once you’ve experienced it. 


Bunsen peak makes it way onto this list because of its spectacular views and its versatility. This trek is moderate and requires a fair amount of effort to reach the peak. But once you’re there, you won’t regret it. A 365° view of the northern range of Yellowstone awaits you. The Gallatin mountain range, Swan Lake Flats, Mammoth Hot Springs, Fort Yellowstone, Everts Bluff, and even the Yellowstone River Valley are visible, providing some perspective to how vast the park truly is.

Another great feature of this trail is that it can be tailored to your specific wants. There are three variations of the hike including an out-and-back option, a loop option, and a loop + waterfall option. The out-and-back trail is the shortest and most popular coming in at 4.5 miles. The loop is 7 miles and takes you down from the peak by an alternative route, while the Bunsen Peak plus Osprey Falls 9 mile choice brings you into a deep canyon and to a secluded waterfall. This variety allows you to pick and choose what parts of the trail you’d like to see and gauge how well your group is doing. Few other Yellowstone hikes give you options to bail early or continue on depending on how you’re feeling.


Because Bunsen Peak can be done as a day hike, there aren’t as many logistics compared to longer backpacking trips. However, you will still need to make sure you are well prepared before starting this trek. The hike to the peak is moderate with serious elevation and the descent into the canyon holding Osprey Falls – should you choose to hike that portion – is very steep and narrow. We’ve compiled a short list of details and logistics here, but you can read our post specifically about this trail for more information.

  • Hike Type: Day hike
  • Trail Type: Out and back or loop 
  • Trail Length: 4.5-9 miles (depending on route taken)
  • Time Required: 3-7 hours
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 1200-1900 ft
  • Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous 
  • Starting Point: Bunsen Peak Trailhead, 5 miles south of Mammoth Hot springs
  • Ending Point: Bunsen Peak Trailhead, 5 miles south of Mammoth Hot springs
  • Season: Summer, Fall
  • Permits Required: No

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Heart Lake Trail

Mileage: 18 miles out-and-back  | Length: 3–4 days | Elevation Gain/Loss: 1400 ft

The Hike

If you’re considering backpacking Yellowstone, you have to consider the trail to Heart Lake. This trek starts in a regenerated forest scorched by the famous 1988 fires. From there, the path continues past a backcountry geyser basin as Heart Lake comes into view at the base of the towering Mount Sheridan. Abundant wildlife is one of the biggest lures of this area: it is common to hear wolves howling and see Sandhill cranes fly overhead as the sun sets over the lake.


The Heart Lake trail is considered one of Yellowstone’s best hikes due to its rich natural and geological history. One of the main draws to Yellowstone as a National Park is its wildlife including brown and black bears, bison, elk, and wolves, as well as the park’s geology with geysers, mudpots, steam vents, and hot springs. But because of the park’s great popularity, many of these featured sights can gather large crowds that impede the experience. The boardwalks at the geyser basins are swarmed with people, bear sightings create traffic jams along the roads, and people crowd around elk and bison with cameras (unwisely, we might add). 

That’s where the Heart Lake Trail comes in. This area in southern Yellowstone boasts some of the best wildlife viewing in the park and none of the accompanying crowds. The lake is a great destination for waterfowl and smaller animals like beavers, weasels, and otters, and hikers have a good chance of seeing bears and possibly wolves too. Elk and bison, staples of the park, also frequent this area. In addition to these potential sightings, the trail boasts a backcountry geyser basin. Say goodbye to boardwalks because the only way to get to this basin is to hike. Enjoy watching the geyser vent steam and erupt with an unobstructed view. Use caution though while there are no railings and walkways on backcountry geyser basins, they are just as dangerous as any others. Do not leave developed trails and watch where you step.


While you can hike some of the Heart Lake Trail in a day, you really need more time to truly explore this area. A backpacking trip is ideal and the area offers many variations to make your trip exactly what you’d like. Read the list below for general details and logistics for this trip. For a moderate backpacking trip, the itinerary isn’t too complicated. If you’d like to see a sample itinerary, you can check out our llama trek or backpacking trip offerings for this area. Please note that this trail is closed from April 1 to June 30 due to bear activity.

  • Hike Type: Backpacking trip or llama trek
  • Trail Type: Out and back
  • Trail Length: ~18 miles
  • Time Required: 3-4 days 
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 1400 ft
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Starting Point: Heart Lake Trailhead on South Entrance Road
  • Ending Point: Heart Lake Trailhead on South Entrance Road
  • Season: Summer
  • Permits Required: Yes

Explore yellowstone with award winning guides

Backpack Yellowstone on your own or with a group?

So you’ve decided to do a Yellowstone hiking vacation. Should you go on your own or with a guided group? Both trekking on your own and joining a professionally guided hiking group have their advantages and disadvantages. If you enjoy the planning phase, are comfortable hiking in bear country, and want to maintain a flexible itinerary, then going on your own might be a good option for you. But if you want to make the most of your time in the park and avoid the hassle of handling details like permits, meals, transportation, and itineraries, then a guided group is the way to go! At Wildland Trekking, we offer all inclusive trips with a professional guide, permits, meals, transportation, and much of your gear all included. This allows you to maximize your enjoyment of the outdoors without worrying about safety procedures or logistics. 

We offer a variety of trip styles in Yellowstone including day hikes, inn-based tours, backpacking trips, basecamp tours, and even llama treks. We pick out every itinerary from the best hiking in Yellowstone and give each guest a one of a kind experience in this pristine wilderness. All the hikes talked about in this post can be booked as Wildland tours, and on the multi day hikes you can take your pick from a traditional backpacking trip or a llama assisted trek, where these wonderful stock animals do the heavy lifting so you can have a lighter pack. Check out all our trip offerings and pick out the one that’s right for you!

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About Kassidy Wilkins

Author Kassidy Wilkins profile photo

Kassidy is an avid writer, backpacker, photographer, traveler, and all around adventurer. She was raised in southern California but currently lives in northern Alabama where she spends her time rock climbing, practicing wildlife photography, and writing for Wildland Trekking. Her favorite places to hike are the Sierra Nevadas, Catalina Island, and anywhere there’s a good trail and lots of wildlife. Kassidy is also an avid tide pooler and marine photographer. Get in contact with Kassidy or check out her personal blog at

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