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.
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.
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 Today these have been replaced by an incline stairway containing more than 300 stairs.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