Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Incredible view of falls awaits at Artist Point

View from Artist Point. Courtesy of
My camera and me / Wikipedia Commons.
Topo map, Artist Point Trail.

Paved trail runs mere 0.2 miles
at Yellowstone National Park

Day hikers can explore one of Yellowstone National Park’s most photographed features on the Artist Point Trail.

The 0.2-mile round trip trail located on the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, offers a fantastic view of Lower Yellowstone River Falls. A family portrait on the point with the falls in the background is in the photo album of just about every Yellowstone visitor.

To reach the trailhead, from Canyon Junction – where Norris Canyon and Grand Loop roads intersect – head south for 2.2 miles. Turn left/east onto South Rim Drive. The parking area for the Artist Point Trailhead is in 1.6 miles. From the lot’s northeast corner, take the trail toward the canyon.

A paved path through pines, the walkway leads to a promontory on the canyon’s south wall at about 7600 feet elevation. At the point are two levels: the lower level offers a view of the waterfalls; the upper level delivers an incredible panorama of the North Rim’s bleached cliff wall between Inspiration and Grand View points.

The lower level is what most people come to see – an excellent view of the canyon's 308-foot Lower Falls, nearly twice as high as Niagara Falls. At its peak, about 63,500 gallons of water rush over Lower Falls every second. The falls is about a mile away; beyond it and out of view is 109-foot Upper Falls, where the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone begins.

A rapids-strewn Yellowstone River, about 700 feet below, cuts through the canyon, a deep V-shape of orange, beige and pink rhyolite. The 20-mile canyon formed when the river washed away the softer rock between the harder, volcanic rhyolite.

Artist Point often is mistaken as the spot where Thomas Moran painted his famous panorama of the canyon and falls in 1872. Thanks to a photographer’s error, an 1890 guidebook and postcards from that time period claimed it was, and the misprint continues to linger. The painting actually was done on the North Rim at a location listed on official park maps as Lookout Point.

The upper level is reached by a staircase. The North Rim is about 1000 feet away. Bring binoculars, as you may see bald eagles, ospreys and ravens riding the thermals here; all three birds nest on the canyon wall.

Your hike need not stop at the vista. You can continue walking east on the South Rim Trail along the canyon's sheer cliffs to Point Sublime (2.6 miles round trip) or can go west from the parking lot toward the waterfalls on the Uncle Tom's Trail (about 3.5-miles round trip).

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.