- Difficulty: Medium – Hard
- Time To Complete: 5.0 hours
- Distance: 11.0 miles
- Seasonality: Summer and Fall
- Fees/Permit: Yes
- Dog Friendly: No
- Destination Highlights: Backcountry Hike, Most of a Day
A vista overlooking a huge backcountry lake, and the headwaters of a creek generated almost entirely by the hot springs and geysers in the valley. Continue on to one of the iconic American backcountry lakes.
The hike to the viewpoint overlooking the Witch Creek drainage is a great day-long excursion into the Yellowstone backcountry. Part of the Heart Lake Trail, the Witch Creek viewpoint can be reached in 5.5 miles. It is another two miles down to Heart Lake, which is a massive, beautiful, heart-shaped lake. This hike is also popular with backpackers, as many choose to continue to Heart Lake and climb nearby Mount Sheridan. The viewpoint offers a peek into some of the wildest country Yellowstone National Park has to offer. This hike is also part of the Continental Divide Trail. A National Scenic Trail, the Continental Divide Trail spans five states and follows the continental divide from Canada to Mexico.
What Makes It Great
From the trailhead, the route climbs through mature forest for the first three miles. The trail is well-maintained and there are footbridges across all of the creeks. Around the 3.5-mile mark, the trail begins to ascend upward, but is never very steep. At the high point, right around 5.5 miles, the trail drops toward Heart Lake. The lake appears close, but from this point, is still two miles away. Intrepid hikers may want to brave the extra four miles round-trip and the climb back out of the Heart Lake Basin to explore the lakeshore. From the viewpoint, one can see not only the lake, but the Witch Creek drainage and nearby Factory Hill. Puffs of steam along Witch Creek reveal the locations of numerous steam vents and hot springs that line its course.
While this trail is popular, it may be the first taste of the true Yellowstone backcountry for some. The hulk of land rising south of Heart Lake is Big Game Ridge, which kisses the southern boundary of Yellowstone. The southern edge of the park contains a few trails but almost no roads. On any given day, there are probably more moose and grizzlies in the distance than people.
Who is Going to Love It
Intermediate or expert hikers looking for a more wild experience will love this hike. The pull of the wilderness seen from the viewpoint should not be ignored and may be a sign that it is time to leave the car behind for a day or two and join the ranks of the backpackers dropping past on their way to Heart Lake. Check at a ranger station or visit the park website for more information on backpacking in Yellowstone. As always, carry bear spray in a handy place.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From Cody, take US-14 W/US-16 W/US-20 W to West Thumb in Yellowstone National Park. From West Thumb, drive 7.3 miles south and park in the parking area on the east side of the road.