Yellowstone is a treasure chest, brimming with some of nature’s rarest and shiniest jewels wherever you look. In fact, to catch a glimpse of many of these wonders, you don’t even have to leave your car or the boardwalk.
But don’t be fooled. Yellowstone keeps many of her most prized jewels hidden in the deep folds of her mountains and valleys, and only those adventurous enough to exercise their Right to Roam will be lucky enough to find the hidden gems of Yellowstone.
If you want the glory and the glitter, you’re going to have to get after it. But we promise, Yellowstone doesn’t disappoint, and while making it to these four hidden gems might have your legs burning, it will also have your eyes sparkling with wonder when you reach your destination. The prize is well worth the endeavor.
Difficulty: Moderate Length: 7.5 miles to Rustic Geyser, Full Day Hike
Trailhead: The Heart Lake trailhead is at a clearing in the woods at the end of a short track that forks off the main road 5 miles south of Grant Village, and just north of Lewis Lake.
Rustic Geyser erupts quite regularly for about a minute, with intervals of between ten and 90 minutes, although at some times it is dormant for long periods. Nearby are a few large, hot, deep pools, one (189°F Columbia Spring) edged by very fine, delicate and undamaged sinter formations, and producing extensive run-off channels that are colored particularly bright shades of orange and yellow. Great care is needed if visiting this region, both for safety and to avoid breaking the formations. This is the best part of the basin, so it is well worth the time required to get here.
Length: 3.0 Miles, 2-4 Hours
Trailhead: striped pullout 4.5 miles (7.2 km) east of Tower Junction
on the Northeast Entrance Road. Marked by a sign reading “trailhead.”
To begin your hike, follow the abandoned service road from the pullout for about 100 yards (91 m). Veer right onto the intersecting path and start climbing toward the ridge. Stay on the most obvious trail to the top of the open ridge. Follow the ridge line to the
southwest in the direction of the cliff outcrop you saw from below. Best known are the fossil forests of Specimen Ridge, where the remains of hundreds of these 50-million-year old trees stand exposed on a steep hillside, with trunks up to eight feet in diameter and some more than 20 feet tall. Take in the magnificent view across the valley of the Lamar River. To the north, you can see the Slough Creek Valley and Absaroka Range. Descend the way you came up.
Lewis Lake Campground
Reservations: 85 (First-Come, First-Served)
Amenities: Basic (Vault Toilets, Food Storage Boxes, Fire Pit, Picnic Table)
Location: Lewis Lake Campground is about eight miles from the South
Entrance and a short walk from the southeast shore of Lewis Lake.
Be forewarned – there are no showers, restaurants or string quartets here. What is present, however, are quiet camping sites with privacy next to a beautiful alpine lake. From your campsite, you can walk to the trailhead of a hike that will take you on a loop that traces the Lewis Channel and leads to the wondrous Shoshone lake. If you brought your kayak, this the launch point for a spectacular overnight trip (although you will need to make reservations at the Grant Village backcountry office first!).
A short drive delivers you to the Heart Lake trailhead. This beautiful path takes you through post-burn forest to the head of Witch Creek, a waterway sourced almost entirely from geysers and hot springs. Beyond Witch Creek lays the trail’s eponymous lake and Mount Sheridan.
If you are staying at Lewis Lake and are an angler, you are in the middle of Yellowstone’s best uncrowded fishing area.
Warm Creek Picnic Area
Can a place with a picnic table and a restroom that sits next to the highway be a hidden gem? It can when virtually everyone drives right by the best place to eat your sandwich in Yellowstone without a second thought. Warm Creek Picnic Area is ideally located in the mountainous northeast corner of Yellowstone. Even on the warmest days in the summer, Warm Creek is an oasis of mountain views and pine tree shade. You are going to appreciate that shade because Warm Creek is magical when you have just completed the fantastic morning possible in this part of the park.
Here’s the plan. No matter where you are staying the night before, get up early enough to reach the Lamar Valley at dawn. You will be witness to one of the greatest wildlife shows on earth as bison, elk and possibly grizzlies and wolves are all visible in the valley in the early morning. As the sun rises, make your way a few miles northeast to the Warm Creek Trailhead. This trailhead is about one-half of a mile to the west of the picnic area and on the northern side of the road. Take the Warm Creek trail one uphill mile to the top of the ridge. This ridge is the edge of the Pebble Creek drainage, one of Yellowstone’s premier backcountry areas. Continue following the trail another mile downhill to Pebble Creek. Take a while to soak in the majestic vistas, and then head back to your car. Once there, drive the half mile to Warm Creek Picnic Area for a well-earned lunch. If it’s later in the summer and the river is a little lower – the picnic area has a very nice little spot for a quick dip in Soda Butte Creek. Be careful! The swimming hole is on the west end of the campground, close to the entrance road.
Then, retire to the shade of your picnic table, and plan your afternoon.
While Yellowstone is so geographically special that even its most-trafficked and trodden places still gleam majestic, why settle for the sights that are easy to see? Our National Parks give us the Right to Roam deep into these public sanctuaries of wilderness and unless we seize this opportunity for adventure, how will we ever know what hidden gems are waiting to be uncovered?