Yellowstone National Park can be a busy place: It’s reliably among the top five most-visited national parks in the U.S. But it’s also an enormous place (2.2 million acres), and a minority of its multimillion annual visitors actually hit the trails and head into the wild backcountry.
Bone-white geothermal basins tucked away in the Yellowstone Plateau’s doghair lodgepole pinewoods, storm-light over rolling Douglas-fir parkland in the Northern Range, a grizzly pawprint in the mud of a green swale, a herd of pronghorn spooked to high-speed flight by your presence, or a herd of bison decidedly unspooked by it—the pleasures of Yellowstone wilderness go deep. Here are 10 across-the-board hiking trails that, together, suggest something of the scenic diversity this Rocky Mountain wonderland offers.
1. The Sky Rim Trail
The stocky Gallatin Range makes Yellowstone’s northwest a regal alpine wilderness, and the Sky Rim Trail—tracing the park’s boundary with the Gallatin National Forest—serves up mega-scenery. Make a backpacking or big-dayhike loop of it by climbing from the Dailey Creek Trailhead to Dailey (or Daly) Pass, then hoofing along a backbone ridge to 9,889-foot Big Horn Peak, which you can summit via a spur trail. Clear-day views extend from the Madison Range and the Absarokas to the Tetons, with nearby Gallatin brutes such as Electric Peak and Mount Holmes vying for your attention. (Big Horn Peak’s namesake mountain sheep also sometimes try to steal the show.)
You can trek onward to the northeast to Sheep Mountain, one of the commanding summits of Yellowstone’s Northern Range. Otherwise, complete your loop by dropping into the Black Butte drainage and then taking the cutoff back to the Dailey Creek Trail.
The Sky Rim loop isn’t a walk in the park—well, okay, literally it’s a walk in the park, but the circuit demands more than 3,000 feet of elevation gain. Plus, the Daly Pass-Big Horn Peak section isn’t a fun place to be during one of those Gallatin thunderstorms that commonly erupt on summer afternoons: Electric Peak didn’t get its name for nothing.