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Lava Creek Trail

Intermediate
 3.8 (6) RECOMMENDED ROUTE

A great early-season route with nice scenery and good wildlife viewing opportunities.


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Map Key

4.7

Miles

7.6

KM

Point to Point

6,590' 2,009 m

High

5,760' 1,756 m

Low

218' 66 m

Up

844' 257 m

Down

4%

Avg Grade (2°)

23%

Max Grade (13°)

Dogs No Dogs

Features Birding · Fall Colors · River/Creek · Views · Waterfall · Wildlife

Family Friendly A lovely, downhill trail that, if shuttled, makes for a great, one-way, day hike with the kids. Lots of wildlife to spot!

One of the earliest trails in the park to become clear of snow because of its relatively low elevation, this trail often opens before others in the park.

Overview

This one-way, mostly downhill hike leads past Undine Falls, through Lava Creek Canyon, along the Gardner River, and up to the highway near Mammoth. Along the way enjoy great views and good wildlife viewing opportunities. The trail’s relatively low elevation make it a excellent early-in-the-season hike.

Need to Know

Although you can hike this trail as an out-and-back, it is best done as a shuttle if you can arrange to be picked up at the Mammoth to North Entrance Road.

Description

This one-way, mostly downhill hike begins at Lava Creek Picnic Area on the Mammoth to Tower Road and ends on the Mammoth to North Entrance road, about a 1/2 mile from Mammoth Hot Springs.

The trailhead is just across the road from Lava Creek Picnic Area. Less than .1 mile from the trailhead, the trail reaches a junction with the Blacktail Ponds Spur Trail. Turn left here and continue through sagebrush meadows for .4 miles. As the trail passes between a stand of trees and Lava Creek, listen for the sound of falling water and look for people viewing Undine Falls from the opposite side of the creek. Visitors can view it too, just off the trail to the left (but be careful there are no guardrails here).

Undine Falls is a beautiful three-step, 60-foot waterfall that once graced the cover of National Geographic magazine (in 1977). It was named by early park geologist Arnold Hague. In German mythology, water spirits (Undines) inhabited beautiful waterfalls and could capture the souls of mortal men by marrying them. Hague also named Lava Creek, for the basaltic and rhyolitic lava flows that abound in the area.

Just past the falls, the trail bends to the right and affords impressive views of Lava Creek Canyon and the Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces beyond. At the .6-mile mark, the trail enters the trees and begins an 800 foot drop (steeply at first) over the next 2 miles. The forest is a mix of spruce, fir and lodgepole pine. At the 2.7-mile mark the trail passes an open area on the left beneath the high highway bridge. Here Lava Creek joins the Gardner River, named for Johnson Gardner, who trapped beaver in the area in the 1830s.

For the next mile, the trail closely follows the Gardner River. Watch for elk and buffalo here. Also, watch the sky above you for osprey (or fish hawks) or even bald eagles patrolling up and down the river looking for a meal of brook trout. To your right is Mount Everts, made up of distinctly layered sandstones and shales – sedimentary rocks deposited when this area was covered by a shallow inland sea, 70 to 140 million years ago. At the 3.9-mile mark the trail makes a left turn and crosses the Gardner River on a steel suspension bridge (sorry, no horses allowed).

From the bridge, the trail climbs up the hill and makes a right turn (ignore the trail to the left leading to a park maintenance area), then meanders up and down along the river. At the 4.3-mile mark, the trail veers to the left, away from the river, and begins a 170-foot climb to the highway over the trail’s last .4 miles. Just past the 4.4-mile mark, where the trail makes a sharp switchback to the left, ignore the trail to the right (which leads to the Boiling River swimming area). The Lava Creek Trail ends on the Mammoth to North Entrance Road, not far from the Mammoth Hot Springs Camp Ground.

Thanks to guidebook author, Tom Carter, for sharing this trail description. To learn more about visiting Yellowstone, check out his book, Day Hiking Yellowstone.

Flora & Fauna

There's a good chance to see buffalo and elk around the Gardner River near the end of the trail. I've also seen black bear and whitetail deer in the first mile of the trail.

Contacts

Shared By:

Tom Carter

Trail Ratings

  3.8 from 6 votes

#3164

Overall
  3.8 from 6 votes
5 Star
17%
4 Star
67%
3 Star
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2 Star
17%
1 Star
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Recommended Route Rankings

#58

in Wyoming

#3,164

Overall
69 Views Last Month
6,773 Since Sep 9, 2015
Intermediate

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Photos

Lava Creek Trail near the confluence of Lava Creek and the Gardner River.
Apr 24, 2016 near Mammoth…, WY
Suspension bridge across the Gardner River.
Apr 24, 2016 near Mammoth…, WY
Elk enjoy the greenery near the Gardiner River.
Apr 25, 2016 near Mammoth…, WY

Weather


Current Trail Conditions

Update Conditions
All Clear 31 days ago See History
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Check-Ins

Sep 24, 2020
Diana C
We took lava creek trail to our campground. It was incredibly steep but we saw an elk skeleton and the campsite by the river was GORGEOUS! The fall… 1mi
Oct 3, 2019
Ken Hanson
Very nice 4.7mi — 3h 00m
Sep 25, 2019
Cam Hill
May 15, 2019
Brandon Waters
Oct 16, 2018
Kayla Champagne
Aug 20, 2018
Sydney Heller
Trail all clear 5mi
Jun 29, 2018
Teresa Garner
Jun 23, 2018
Jeff Nixon