Yellowstone River Trail
ElevationAscent: 2,021' 616 m
Descent: -1,752' -534 m
High: 6,319' 1,926 m
Low: 5,333' 1,625 m
GradeAvg Grade: 5% (3°)
Max Grade: 46% (25°)
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“See Knowles Falls and hike through the heart of the awesome Black Canyon of the Yellowstone!”— Tom Carter
The end has issues too. Private land owners in Gardiner are blocking hiker access to the trail. A temporary fix routes hikers to Eagle Creek Campground in the National Forest, on the Jardine Road. Spot a car or arrange to be picked up there.
From the trailhead, the trail climbs away from both Hellroaring Creek and the Yellowstone River and tops a 500 foot ridge at 1.8 miles. Going down the other side you cross Little Cottonwood Creek and get your first glimpses of the Yellowstone. The trail continues dropping - by 3.3 miles views of the river are excellent and by 4 miles you’re at river level. The wild Yellowstone River begins south of the park and travels 670 miles before joining the Missouri River near the MT-ND border. It's the longest un-dammed river in the lower 48.
The trail continues alongside the Yellowstone, passes a junction with Blacktail Deer Creek Trail at 7.1 miles, passes Crevice Lake at 7.3, crosses Crevice Creek at 8.3, and reaches impressive Knowles Falls at 9 miles. Though only 15 feet high, the falls makes quite a roar and the scenery is excellent. In the 1870s & 80s John Knowles lived and prospected illegally in the park. When his cabin near the mouth of Crevice Creek was finally discovered, the government ran him out.
From the falls, the trail continues closely along the river. At 10.2 miles, the water turns white and the most dramatic portion of the hike is reached as the trail winds through a massive rock slide with excellent views at every turn. Members of the Washburn Expedition of 1870 described the Black Canyon as "grand, gloomy, and terrible . . . an empire of shadows and of turmoil."
At 13.6 miles the trail crosses Bear Creek on a footbridge. Thereafter, you'll notice the remains of hot spring activity in the area. Limestone deposits like these have been commercially mined north of Gardiner. At 13.8 miles a junction is reached. The former Yellowstone River Trail continued straight following the river all the way into Gardiner, MT. However, private land owners in Gardiner, just north of the park are blocking hiker access to the trail. As a temporary (hopefully) fix it is possible to turn right and follow a Gallatin National Forest trail up 750 feet over the next 2 miles to Eagle Creek Campground. The good news is the trail is in great shape and it affords nice views back into the Black Canyon and of hard-charging Bear Creek. There’s even some interesting abandoned mining equipment to investigate along the creek.
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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