Much of the first part of this hike passes through lovely meadows with nice views of the surrounding mountains and potential animal viewing opportunities. It goes through a less exciting forest and switchbacks to lower Coffin Lake which is both beautiful and packed with trout. Finally, an optional extension along a goat/mountaineers's trail to gorgeous and secluded upper Coffin Lake with excellent viewpoints.
This is grizzly country so bring bear spray and ideally hike in groups of 4+.
This trail starts at the Watkins Creek TrailHead, about 18.5 miles and 35 minutes from West Yellowstone. Any vehicle should be able to drive down USFS Road 167. Look for the short single lane road to the trailhead right after the second cattle guard. There should be plenty of parking for this infrequently used trail.
Start hiking south on Watkins Creek Trail #215
, which is shared with horses. The first two miles are nearly all in meadows dotted with sage bushes and tons of flowers. This section is easy going, only gradually gaining elevation. You'll enjoy excellent views of the mountains that surround Coffin Lakes ahead. At about 2.25 miles, you'll see the trail leading to the Watkins Creek Trail #215
horse forge over Watkins Creek (it seems like most horse traffic takes this route).
Merge onto Coffin Lakes Trail #209
. The trail will enter the forest and being ascending relatively new switchbacks (in 2019 the old trail was still visible). You'll cross West Fork Watkins Creek multiple times, but rocks and logs should make it easy to cross with dry feet even in early summer. You'll get some views of the meadows along Coffin Mountain but no spectacular distant views. After the switchbacks, the trail will parallel Coffin Creek and continue ascending through forests with limited views.
Finally, after 5.5 miles, you'll come to the beginning of lower Coffin Lake. The log jams are easy to access and offer beautiful views, just don't fall in. The trail follows the northern edge of the lake for about 1/10 of a mile offering more nice lake views and ending at a great campsite. This is the official end of the trail and a good spot to turn around for most hikers.
If you want to make it to upper Coffin Lake and some amazing viewpoints, you'll need to follow an informal "goat trail" (and I believe mountaineer's trail for those climbing Coffin Mountain). Find this faint trail to the right of the large fallen trees behind (north) of the campsite. The trail heads north a short ways through the meadow before steeply ascending a small ridge to the west/left. Head south to the edge of this ridge for a fantastic viewpoint of lower Coffin Lake. Then, follow the faint trail straight up the meadow towards the obvious gully on Coffin Mountain.
Keep an eye out for where the meadow widens slightly as the trail turns left/west here, ascends a small "hump," passes through a few trees and then levels out to cross the next meadow. The trail then enters a small wooded section with rocky cliffs to the north and south (with great views if you go onto them). It will open up briefly and split at another clump of trees—you can go right/north along the mountaineers route but be sure to turn left to descend where there is an arrow pointing right on a rock; or head south to an exceptional viewpoint and then descend.
The final section is less defined, but the lake will obviously be in front of you. The upper lake is smaller, but the massive cliffs along it's back are beautiful and it's well worth the extra hiking.
Retrace your steps back to the trailhead.
Grizzly Bear, Bald Eagle, Moose, Deer, Trout, various wild flowers among the sagebrush in the meadows