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greenBlue Grand Canyon South Rim

  4.3 ( 13 ) Favorite

Trail

2.6 mile 4.2 kilometer out and back
Easy/Intermediate

Elevation

Ascent: 321' 98 m
Descent: -319' -97 m
High: 7,793' 2,375 m
Low: 7,669' 2,337 m

Grade

Avg Grade: 5% (3°)
Max Grade: 15% (9°)

Dogs

No Dogs
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Trail shared by Tom Carter

A must-do trail with iconic views of the Upper and Lower Falls and the Yellowstone Grand Canyon!

Tom Carter

Features Birding · Hot Spring · River/Creek · Views · Waterfall

Family Friendly This portion of the South Rim Trail from Upper Falls Overlook to Artist Point has some of the best views of the canyon without as many dangerous drop-offs as the North Rim Trail.

Overview

This out-and-back leads you along the edge of the spectacular Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and affords some of the best views of Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls. While others scurry from their cars to the edge for a quick look, you can take time to study the intricate beauty of the canyon walls or listen to the roar of the falls and, thus, truly experience the Canyon.

Need to Know

This is a great out-and-back route. It's enjoyable both directions, and you'll likely notice something different on the way back that you missed on the way out. It can, however, be done as a shuttle, if you leave a car at Artist Point or have someone pick you up there.

Description

The trail begins at the parking area for Uncle Tom's Trail/Upper Falls Viewpoint. Follow the walkway from the left side of the parking area to the Upper Falls Viewpoint. Although you are likely to experience crowds here, it is still the best place to view Upper Falls. The falls spills 109 feet over a dense rhyolite lava flow that is resistant to erosion. Immediately downstream, a much softer rhyolite, containing larger amounts of volcanic glass, was more easily eroded by the river.

From the viewpoint turn right and follow the South Rim Trail as it skirts the canyon’s edge. As you follow the trail, look carefully through the trees to the opposite side of the canyon. Cascading through the lodgepoles, down the far wall, is the lovely 129-foot Crystal Falls. The trail loops back to the right an at the 0.4- mile mark you reach the turnoff for Uncle Tom's Trail. This optional side trail descends more than 300 feet in 0.3 miles to the bottom of the canyon. It is the oldest and most famous trail into the canyon, and the closest trail to the face of Lower Falls. When originally constructed by Uncle Tom Richardson in the late 1800s, it included a series of rope ladders that scaled down the canyon walls. Today these have been replaced by an incline stairway containing more than 300 stairs.

Although heavily traveled, the next section of the South Rim Trail, between Uncle Tom's Trail and Artist Point, is truly spectacular! Picturesque views of the canyon and Lower Falls await you each time you break out of the trees. As you continue to Artist Point, take a moment to contemplate how this magnificent canyon and falls were created. Hundreds of thousands of years before the canyon was formed, an ancient thermal basin existed. The hot waters altered and weakened the hard rhyolite lava in the area, allowing the river to cut this deep canyon. Today, Lower Falls tumbles 308 feet over a hard, thermally-unaltered rhyolite flow.

At 1.2 miles you reach the parking area for Artist Point. To reach the point follow the hordes of people northeast through the large parking area, down a few cement steps, and veer left out to the viewpoint. There is a reason this is the most popular spot in the canyon -- it has by far the best view! Similar views from the opposite side of the canyon inspired Thomas Moran in 1871 to make sketches and take notes from which he later painted his famous oil of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Lower Falls.

To finish the route, retrace your steps to Uncle Tom's Trail parking area. Enjoy the trip, you'll be amazed how different things will appear when heading in the apposite direction.

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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Check-Ins

Jul 19, 2019
Angelo Albanese
Jul 9, 2019
Kristen Hughes
Chilly! — 2h 22m
Jul 7, 2019
Steve Smith 1
2.6mi
Jul 7, 2019
Rajeev Gangwar
2.6mi — 2h 00m
Jun 14, 2019
Becca Bankert
Jun 5, 2019
Angela Leung
just checked out the Upper Falls view, kids practiced rock scrambling around the inner platform & threw snowballs in the parking lot haha
May 30, 2019
Courtney E
Snow made it a little tricky but overall quite flat with beautiful views of Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Saw a bald eagle!
May 29, 2019
Charles Piazza

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Trail Ratings

  4.3 from 13 votes

#1646

Overall
  4.3 from 13 votes
5 Star
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