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A Guide to Hiking at Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park: Main Hiking Routes

With more than 1,1000 miles (1,770 kilometers) of trails at the ready, the hardest part about Yellowstone hiking is choosing where to go [source: Yellowstone Net].

Mystic Falls is a good place for novices to get their feet wet. The 3-mile (4.8 kilometer) loop runs through mixed conifer forest, rising gently 550 feet (167 meters) to the top of the falls, formed in a narrow slice of the Little Firehole River canyon. Traveling clockwise from Biscuit Basin not only makes the elevation change more gradual, but also ensures that hikers come upon the falls overlook suddenly, adding to the view's dramatic allure [source: Crossley].

Just north of Yellowstone Lake is Mount Washburn, one of the area's most prominent peaks. The hike to the 10,000-foot (3,048-meter) summit -- two trails wind up the mountain, each is 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) or less -- offers glimpses at a wide variety of mountain wildlife, including bighorn sheep along with exotic-named wildflowers such as pink monkey, yellow violets, blue lupines and yellow balsamroots. The view from the top ain't bad either: a panoramic vista displays the lake, Yellowstone's Grand Canyon and Old Faithful. Come for the sunset, but be prepared to leave in the dark [source: Yellowstone Media].

The Beaver Ponds Loop trail, on the other hand, is for more experienced hikers, beginning with a 350-foot (107-meter) climb above Clematis Gulch. The trail then meanders past the smattering of beaver ponds for which it's named. In addition to beavers, elk, mule deer, moose and even bears have been spotted in this neck of the Yellowstone woods. The loop runs about 5 miles (8 kilometers) [source: National Park Service].

Ten miles (16 kilometers) north of Old Faithful, the Sentinel Meadows and Queen's Laundry trail crosses the Ojo Caliente geyser and Firehole River (via bridge) before veering toward the meadows, a moist grassland featuring scattered geysers and hot pools. The area is popular among local bison; visitors are advised to give them lots of room. It's also where early visitors once bathed and washed their clothes: Queen's Laundry is a log bathing and laundry house whose construction began in 1881, but was never completed. The remaining structure has been preserved with the help of minerals from the surrounding hot springs [source: Schneider, Virtual Montana].

For those with time, the 3.8 mile (6.1 kilometer) hike can be stretched into an overnighter. That's right: You don't even have to leave the place at night. Yellowstone is a camper's paradise. Read on for tips on how to enjoy a few nights at the park under the stars [source: Schneider].