Location: A few miles from Roosevelt Junction 

Distance: 4.8 to 6 miles round trip

Elevation Gain: ~700 feet

Gear Typically Needed In the Winter: Snowshoes and or traction devices, warm clothes, trekking poles, food and water

Gear Typically Needed In the Summer: Bear Spray, sunscreen, food, and water

Experience the timeless beauty of the Yellowstone River Overlook Trail, a captivating year-round hike nestled in Yellowstone’s Northern Range. Just a few miles past Tower-Roosevelt Junction on the way to Slough Creek and Lamar Valley, this trail offers a perfect blend of wildlife encounters and breathtaking scenery. While not the easiest hike in the park, it certainly doesn’t rank among the most challenging.

Embark on your journey from the Specimen Ridge Trailhead, where the trail gently ascends through the prairie, unveiling ever-expanding views of the mountains to the northeast. Covering 1.1 miles, this stretch often attracts bison throughout the year and becomes a hotspot for bears in the spring, summer, and fall. Although the elevation gain is approximately 500 feet, the incline may feel steeper due to the terrain.

Upon reaching the hill’s summit, you’ll encounter a crucial junction. Resist the temptation to veer left towards the Specimen Ridge Trail leading to Lamar Valley (a long 17.7 miles away) and opt for the right turn, following the Yellowstone River Overlook Trail. Spanning around two miles, this segment runs along the canyon rim, offering majestic views directly above the Yellowstone River. Bear in mind that this portion involves a descent of about 350 feet, which you’ll need to ascend on your return journey.

The initial 0.3 miles present enticing views of the Yellowstone River to the south, providing ample opportunities to pause and absorb the mesmerizing sounds of the river below. This area is a favorite habitat for bison, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep. While wildlife sightings may continue further down the trail, this section boasts a more secluded and expansive environment.

Beyond the 0.3-mile mark, relish one of the most beloved stretches of trail in the park. Traverse the canyon rim, marveling at the region’s geological wonders and enjoying stunning river views en route to a bend near Bumpus Butte. While Bumpus Butte may not captivate every visitor, the real allure lies at its base along the riverbank. Witness rising steam and bubbling hot springs amidst giant boulders scattered down the hillside.

As the trail progresses toward the former Yellowstone River Picnic area site, many find the river bend at Bumpus Butte to be a satisfying turnaround point. Stay vigilant for wildlife on your way back to the junction, ensuring you take a left and resist ascending the Specimen Ridge Trail unless you’re prepared for a challenging day even climbing up the first hill. Instead, embrace the harmony of nature and finish up your adventure along the Yellowstone River Overlook Trail.

Important Trailhead Access Alert

Please note that the Yellowstone River Overlook Trail is currently accessible only from the western end of the Specimen Ridge Trail. The regular trailhead at the Yellowstone River Picnic Area is closed due to the construction of the new bridge over the Yellowstone River, and it will remain closed until at least 2026. Please refrain from parking in the pullouts near the old picnic area and walking through the construction zone, regardless of the season.

What I Consider To Be The Highlights 

I could probably write a book about why I love this trail so much. I have had amazing experiences in every season here and wish the same (or better) experiences for you. I want you to hike here and see wildlife as I have, witness the amazing geology of the canyon rim, and be enamored with the panoramic vistas surrounding you. 

In the winter months, I have watched bighorn sheep and bison roam, spotted wolf tracks in the snow, and watched as eagles soared above the snow-covered trees and ice-lined river banks. I gaze happily at the steam rising from the base of Bumpus Butte as the sun sets and illuminates the clouds in the early evening. 

In the spring, I have spotted marmots emerging from their dens after sleeping all winter, sunning themselves on logs and rocks. I’ve watched a baby bighorn sheep bound on the cliffside below as returned osprey swoop down toward fish in the river, swollen from the runoff. Bluebirds and other migratory birds can also be spotted during this time. 

By the time summer rolls around, bears roam the area, often with cubs. They leave prints in the mud and memorable sightings from a distance but do not forget your bear spray. Pronghorn lazily lay about, and feed on the grass they are sharing with the bison. The red dogs (baby bison) often get what some call “zoomies” and bounce around the grasslands while everything else seems to rejoice in the warmth of summer too. 

When fall rolls around, the scenery might not change much, but the trail has some surprises up its sleeve. Watch out for Mormon crickets ((Anabrus simplex), these giant insects are native to the region, making their late summer and fall appearances. And don’t miss the first snow dusting the mountain peaks. The colder air helps the steam at Bumpus Butte become more visible too. The park gets quiet and serene after the hustle and bustle of summer, perfect for soaking in the peaceful vibes.

What Some Consider To Be The Lowlights

Because the Yellowstone River Overlook Trail is no longer accessible from the Yellowstone River Picnic Area, some will argue that the best views now require a much longer walk. This is true, but the walk is in Yellowstone National Park. Through a field with wildlife. Up a hill to a majestic view of the Yellowstone River and then along a super scenic canyon. 

Another complaint about this trek is the seasonality of it. While this adventure is doable in the winter, not a lot of people walk it and sometimes the snow can be deep. I wish I had a better response, but all I have is “Welcome to winter trails in Yellowstone.”

Others will also say you can get a similar view along the road to Tower Fall and from the Calcite Springs Overlook. This is also true. The boardwalk at Calcite is one of my favorite spots in the northern range and I am glad those viewpoints are available to those unable to hike. Everyone deserves the beauty of the region and the boardwalk at Calcite Springs is a cool spot in the northern range, perfect for those who can’t do a full hike.

But if you can do so, and are craving an experience that goes beyond the boardwalks, don’t settle for the short version. Standing on the trail above the Yellowstone River, surrounded by the wild, is a next-level connection with nature. No need to thank me – just soak in the beauty of the region.

Want More Information On This And More Hikes Around Yellowstone?

Embark on a journey beyond the boardwalks of Yellowstone! Dive into the wonders of the Yellowstone region with my guidebook, showcasing my top-rated hikes. Whether you prefer the convenience of an ebook or the tangible experience of a paperback, this guidebook is your key to unlocking unforgettable adventures. For an even more immersive experience, join me on a guided hiking tour throughout the year. 

Embrace the opportunity to see Yellowstone like never before – your next trail adventure awaits!