Hike Distance: 8 miles
Time to complete: 4 – 5 hours
Seasonality: June until September
Dog friendly: No
Fees and Permits: none
Turbid Lake is a quick hike in Yellowstone that you can do in a morning and still leave time for other adventuring.
If you’re looking for a family-friendly hike in Yellowstone that doesn’t take all day to get to, check out Turbid Lake. At eight miles round trip and only 1.5 hours from Cody, this is a scenic hike that gets you into Yellowstone’s famed Pelican Valley.
Who’s Going to Love It
Turbid Lake is a solid adventure for families with kids old enough to manage the eight-mile trip. The first three miles of trail are comfortably level with some lovely vistas. The path itself is wide and level, but it can be dusty if there hasn’t been rain in several days. Tennis shoes are fine on this trail.
If you’re into adventure and route finding, Turbid Lake is your spot. After leaving the main Pelican Valley Trail, the Turbid Lake Trail gradually disappears in the thick vegetation of the meadow. There are two final orange blazes about a half mile from the lake, but you can’t see the lake from those trail markers. There is a short knoll ahead of you at this point. You can head either left or right (the trail is actually to the right) – you’ll eventually get to the lake either way, but it does make for a good conundrum of route finding. A topographic map will come in handy. The lake is down in a small valley just over the rise from where the last trail markers are.
What Makes It Great
From the trailhead, you pass through an open meadow then spend some time in a shady mixed-growth forest. This is a great spot to take a look at the wildflowers and young trees coming up under the shade of the older Douglas fir and Englemann spruce and think about forest succession.
At about three miles you’ll leave the forest behind and enter Pelican Valley. Sweeping views of the Absarokas greet you and you’ll probably see some bison lounging around. Pelican Valley is home to wolves and grizzlies, so pay attention as you walk along.
The main trail heads north through Pelican Valley and ends up at Soda Butte in the Lamar Valley. This is a very popular multi-day backpacking trip – expect to see some big groups on the trail, including pack strings.
At 2.8 miles there’s a junction where the Turbid Lake Trail heads south. It’s obvious at this point that few people explore Turbid Lake as the trail is less visible and slightly overgrown with vegetation. You’ll continue on through the open meadows of southern Pelican Valley until you reach the thermal waters of Turbid Lake right at 4 miles.
This entire section of Pelican Valley was once part of the old stage coach route from the East Gate. Early visitors didn’t get a chance to enjoy the sparkling waters of Lake Yellowstone as we do today. The route came down Sylvan Pass much the way the current highway travels, but turned away from the lake, skirted Turbid Lake and went west to the Yellowstone River. In fact, you can also hike to Turbid Lake starting at the 9 Mile trailhead just down the road from the Lake Butte Overlook. From this side, the trail is about 5 miles one way, but it is even less used than the Pelican Valley trail. You’ll be route finding and climbing over a lot of downed timber if you choose to hike in from the east.
From Cody, head west on the North Fork Highway to the East Entrance and down towards Yellowstone Lake. There is a small dirt road on the right (north) side just across from Indian Pond. The sign says “Pelican Valley.” Parking is at the end of this road.
Pelican Valley is one of Yellowstone’s bear management areas. The trailhead doesn’t open until July 5 most years and is only open for travel from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm. Adjust your plans accordingly. Food and gasoline are available about five miles down the road at Fishing Bridge.
Don’t forget your park pass, bear spray, sunscreen and mosquito repellant.