Location: Lava Creek Picnic Area 

Distance: 1 mile to 5.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 50ft to 750ft

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

Undine Falls from the Lava Creek Trail in Yellowstone National Park

If you have ever driven from Mammoth to Tower-Roosevelt, there is a good chance you have stopped at the Undine Falls overlook. This roadside stop is a quick classic, showing off a scenic 60-foot-tall waterfall and a glimpse into the region’s geology. While many will hop out of their car at the pullout, take a glimpse, and then head elsewhere, those hoping for an even better experience should drive down to the Lava Creek Picnic Area. Here, you’ll not only find a few picnic tables and a pit toilet but also have an opportunity to take a gorgeous, overlooked trail. 

The trailhead to walk along Lava Creek and to stand atop Undine Falls on the north side of the creek is located on the other side of the bridge and road from the picnic area. A small trail leads up a short hill, just east of the bridge, leading you to the trailhead sign and the trail itself. This will all make perfect sense once you are there. 

Once on the trail, you have a few options. The most simple and easiest trek is a one-mile round trip hike, leading to Undine Falls, the canyon rim, and back. This short and easy hike is mostly flat and despite being such a short distance, is rarely seen. I can’t recommend this short hiking trail enough. 

Those looking for a longer adventure can follow the trail along the canyon rim and descend the hill along the creek to the confluence of Lava Creek and the Gardner River. Here, you’ll have a good chance to see wildlife, as well as take in the stunning view of the waterways, Bunsen Peak, and the towering bridge spanning the Gardner River. Very few people tend to do this trek, so you’ll also have a good bit of solitude in the scenic spot. 

As always, no matter the distance you are going, always have bear spray with you and have it somewhere where you can grab it and use it in less than one second. Black bears and grizzly bears are often seen in this area. 

My only real point of concern here is that the more people who hike here, the more likely some will start taking risks at the top of Undine Falls. Because of this, I ask you to be extremely smart and safe when standing near the waterfall. A fall here will kill you and while the picture of the view from the rock net to the edge of the waterfall may be awesome, too many incidents here will impact access. I also ask that you be conscientious of others, including those across the canyon at the Undine Falls Overlook. Do your best to limit your visibility for them so they can take pictures and enjoy the scene. If there is enough disruptive behavior and the park considers keeping this trail open as a risk, they may close the trail. 

Don’t think this will happen? The park has already closed an overlook trail leading to a similar spot on the roadside of the falls.

Important Trailhead Alert

This trail was once a point-to-point hike with trailheads near the Mammoth Campground and the Lava Creek Picnic Area. The floods of 2022 wiped out the bridge near the Mammoth Campground Trailhead, forcing the park to close the lower section of the trail. Because of this, the only access point for the hike is found at the Lava Creek Picnic Area and the hike must be done as an out and back.

A late winter view of Undine Falls from the Lava Creek Trail in Yellowstone National Park

What I Consider To Be The Highlights

This trail, especially the half-mile trek to the top of Undine Falls, is one that I do quite often. After every tour, I park at the picnic area and take the short jaunt to the top of the falls as a way to relax and unwind after leading a hiking tour. This view is stunning every month and is one that once you see it, you’ll absolutely love it. In the winter, the waterfall is partially or fully frozen, showing off incredible ice designs. In the spring, the creek is roaring with so much force from the melting snow it seemingly shakes the ground you stand on. In the summer and fall, the waterfall is much lazier and calmer, with the consistent flow of water creating a soothing and meditative scene. 

The view toward Mammoth from the top of the canyon rim is also quite spectacular one one I enjoy, as is the view hiking down the hill toward the confluence of Lava Creek and the Gardner River. The view from the bottom of the trail is always scenic, giving off unrivaled views of Bunsen Peak and the bridge spanning the Gardner River. It is truly a special and serene spot, so if you can hike down to the confluence and back, please do. 

I also have had a great amount of luck seeing wildlife prints in the snow and mud along this entire trail. I’ve seen bear tracks, wolf tracks, coyote prints, as well as bison and elk signs while hiking here. Wildlife uses this trail to move between the Mammoth Area and the Blacktail Ponds area, so keep an eye out for their tracks, their scat, and the animals themselves.

Mammoth and Sepulcher Peak from the Lava Creek Trail in Yellowstone National Park

What Some Consider To Be The Lowlights

The main complaint I have heard about this hike is that if you go down to where Lava Creek meets the Gardner River, the hike back to the trailhead can be a bit steep. That is absolutely true, and with minimal shade, the incline can be quite hard for many who hike down and back up. However, it is a hike and one that takes you to a few stunning spots. The hike may not be what you want, but that doesn’t mean others won’t enjoy every second of the trail. 

Some have a sense of ownership of this trail and feel like it is a hidden secret. These folks will more than likely be upset that I have shared this trail with you all. For them, I would like to point out that this is a well-established and maintained trail in Yellowstone National Park, with a sign at the trailhead. Yellowstone National Park also has a page for this hike.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot along the Lave Creek Trail

Want More Information On This And More Hikes Around Yellowstone?

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