Yellowstone River Overlook Trail (sometimes called the Yellowstone River Picnic Area Trail because it begins at the picnic area), is an easy, short trail with spectacular views.
The trailhead is found on the south side of the Yellowstone River Picnic Area, located on the Northeast Entrance Road about a mile north of Tower Junction. The trail climbs 100 feet in the first .1 miles, but after that, it's never too steep. There you reach the edge of the canyon overlooking the Yellowstone River. The trail then rambles along the rim for almost 2 miles. The views are spectacular, but dangerous. BEWARE of serious exposed cliffs - watch your kids closely - it's easy to get caught-up in the view and not look where you are putting your feet!
This is a wild section of the river that twists and turns through the canyon and splashes white over the rocks far below. One of America's few northward flowing rivers, the Yellowstone begins south of the park and travels 670 miles before emptying into the Missouri River near the Montana-North Dakota border. It is the longest undammed river in the continental United States.
The trail takes a couple of dips and at the .9-mile mark begins a gradual 200-foot climb over the next .8 miles. Soon the canyon gets deeper and narrower - in fact this section is called "The Narrows." The opposite side of the canyon seems close enough to touch. At 1.1 miles, you'll notice (and perhaps smell) some hot spring activity across the river. These are the Calcite Springs.
As the trail keeps climbing watch the rock cliffs below, you may see some of the bighorn sheep that summer in the area. Although related to domestic sheep, the bighorn has a coat of hair, not wool. Both the male (ram) and female (ewe) have horns that are never shed. Only the ram will develop the full 360-degree curl.
At the 1.5-mile mark notice the unusual rock formation just above the highway on the opposite side of the river. It looks like a row of fence posts! This geological formation is called "columnar basalt." Cooling of an ancient lava flow caused the rock to contract and crack into many-sided columns. At 1.7 miles the trail turns left and continues to a junction with the Specimen Ridge
Trail. You can follow it to the left 1.1 miles to the trailhead then hike the road back to the picnic area, but I recommend returning the way you came - the views are much better!
Thanks to guidebook author, Tom Carter, for sharing this trail description. To learn more about visiting Yellowstone, check out his book, Day Hiking Yellowstone
Excellent opportunity to see bighorn sheep in the canyon.