West Thumb Overlook Loop Trail
ElevationAscent: 198' 60 m
Descent: -178' -54 m
High: 7,987' 2,434 m
Low: 7,790' 2,374 m
GradeAvg Grade: 5% (3°)
Max Grade: 13% (7°)
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“A great, short route with a spectacular view of the West Thumb section of Yellowstone Lake.”— Tom Carter
Family Friendly This short loop trail has beautiful views of the West Thumb section with ample opportunities to spot wildlife.
The trail leaves the parking lot and travels 0.2 miles through the forest to a crossing of the South Entrance Road. Be careful here, the traffic may be distracted looking for animals or attempting to decide which way to turn at the West Thumb intersection.
At the trail junction turn right, cross a small creek on a log bridge, and continue into the forest. At the 1/2 mile mark the trail starts to open up as it climbs more steeply. Soon you’ll enter the first of several thermal areas of mostly dry springs and mud pots. Notice the large supply of buffalo dung in the area. The ground here is a bit warmer than the surrounding hills, resulting in less snow cover in the winter. Buffalo congregate in spots like this throughout Yellowstone, because it is easer to find forage. Keep a sharp eye out, they like it in the summer too!
The trail continues to climb and at the .8-mile mark reaches the top. Here you’ll find a nice bench on which to rest and enjoy the view. The main attraction is the deep blue waters of West Thumb. This portion of the lake gets its name because Yellowstone Lake resembles the upside-down palm of your right hand. The Southeast Arm of the lake represents the little finger and the South Arm the next. The rather deformed middle finger is made by the Flat Mountain Arm. Delusion Lake was originally believed to be another arm of the lake, forming the index finger of the hand. It was later discovered to be a separate lake. Because of the earlier mistake, it was named "Delusion" Lake. West Thumb, of course, forms the thumb of the hand.
Notice how the West Thumb portion of the lake is oval-shaped. It is a younger (150,000 years old) secondary caldera or crater within the larger Yellowstone Caldera which welled-up and blew-out some 630,000 years ago. At 280 feet deep, it holds some of the deepest parts of Yellowstone Lake.
The rugged Absaroka Mountains (pronounced "AB-sar-O-ka" or "ab-SAR-o-ka") rise above the lake to the east. To your right is Mount Sheridan and the Red Mountains. From the summit, the trail continues southwest down through a nice meadow, bends left into the trees, crosses several log bridges, and ends at the first junction.
Thanks to guidebook author, Tom Carter, for sharing this trail description. To learn more about visiting Yellowstone, check out his book, Day Hiking Yellowstone.
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Land Manager: National Park Service - Yellowstone National Park