Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Trail leads to great Yellowstone Lake vista

View from atop Yellowstone Lake Overlook Trail.
Photo courtesy of Allan Harris/Flickr.
Day hikers can enjoy a beautiful vista of Yellowstone Lake and the mountain range beyond via the Yellowstone Lake Overlook Trail.

The 1.8-miles round-trip lollipop trail at Yellowstone National Park is fairly level though the loop consists of a moderately strenuous 400-foot elevation gain to the overlook.

More than a mile above sea level, the trail is accessible only from about May until October.

To reach the trail from Grand Loop Road, at the U.S. Hwys. 89/191 and U.S. Hwy. 20 intersection, head north on Hwy. 20, taking the first right into the West Thumb parking lot.

The path begins at a trailhead marker on the West Thumb Geyser Basin parking area’s southeast corner. Head southwest onto the trail, which is fairly wide for the first quarter mile.

This section of the trail crosses a burned woodlands, though new growth forest is taking root there. Between small groves of spruce and pine forest is a mountain meadow that boasts beautiful wildflowers from spring through summer. Among them are purple harebells and yellow Rocky Mountain helianthella. Sometimes, you’ll be able to spot elk or hear their bugling in this area.

After crossing the South Entrance Road (Hwys. 89/191) and about 0.3 miles from the trailhead, the trail’s loop begins. Go left/southwest onto it and begin your steady climb up.

A few minor hot pools and vents can be found as you near the summit. For your safety, stay on the designated trail to avoid burns from the hydrothermal features.

The overlook sits atop a treeless hill. Because of the trail’s direction, you’ll first see the Red Mountains to the southeast, but the real treat is to the east – Yellowstone Lake and the majestic Absaroka Mountains beyond.

The national park's largest lake, Yellowstone Lake covers 136 square miles with 110 miles of shoreline. It's deep, too, averaging 139 feet. The lake sits atop the caldera formed when a magma chamber beneath the region collapsed about 640,000 years ago.

Often snow-capped, the Absaroka Mountains rising over the lake is a sub-range of the Rocky Mountains. The range stretches about 150 miles into Montana, and are 75 miles at their widest, sitting on the park’s eastern boundary. An incredible 47 peaks in the range top 12,000 feet in elevation.

To the northeast in front of Yellowstone Lake is the West Thumb Geyser Basin hydrothermal area. You’ll notice steam billowing and even hear some gurgling from it. The West Thumb Geyser Basin Trail, which can be picked up from the parking lot, rambles through the hydrothermal area, allowing you to get up close to them.

The loop is about 1.1 miles long. From the overlook, head downhill back to the stem trail. Once there, go left/southeast onto it and retrace your steps back to the parking lot.

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