Location: East of Soda Butte Cone and West of Pebble Creek

Distance: 1.25 miles round trip

Elevation Gain: Roughly 300 feet

Gear Typically Needed In the Winter– traction devices, warm clothes, trekking poles, water

Gear Typically Needed In the Summer– water, bear spray

Trout Lake is a stunning small lake in the northern range of Yellowstone National Park that dazzles those who make the uphill trek. Shimmering in the summer and frozen in the winter, this small lake has become a spot of serenity and natural beauty no matter the month or weather. With opportunities for wildlife watching, ranging from bison, elk, coyotes, foxes, and even a potential for wolves or otters, this short trail is worth the detour from the pavement.

Trout Lake is one of the many day hikes in Yellowstone National Park that is largely overlooked for many reasons. One is because the distance is so short that many hikers will not consider it for a day hike. Another is because it is located far from the other frequently visited areas of the park. It is also because the trailhead isn’t well signed as cars zip between the Northeast Entrance and Lamar Valley. More often than not, it is overlooked because few people go beyond the boardwalks when in Yellowstone.

When you hike this trail, make sure you do not just hike to the first viewpoint and then turn around. Like any lake, the best experience one can have is to circumnavigate it. I tend to circle the lake clockwise, as that direction offers the best views. However, there is no wrong way, just personal preferences. Once you climb the hill and see the lake, follow the path down to the lake shore and begin your walk around. If you do head left, you’ll cross a small bridge, then trace the lakeshore. If you feel inclined, follow a boot path on your left at the end of the trees to a ridge, where you can gaze back down toward Soda Butte Creek and Lamar Valley. This vantage point also increases the potential to spot more wildlife, often hidden in the rises and dips of the region.

Want more hikes in and around Yellowstone? I offer private hiking tours and have written a guidebook with 50 of my favorite hikes in the region. 

Yellowstone National Park’s Trout Lake in the early winter

What I Consider to Be the Highlights

The mountain views found around the lake are spectacular, the lake is a shimmering jewel hidden from the road, and the silence and solitude found here around sunrise and sunset are nearly impossible to rival. As if those reasons aren’t enough, this trail is accessible year-round, helping to give you a short, yet scenic outdoor adventure anytime you are in the region. At the very least, take this trek to get a cool view of Abiathar Peak to the south of the lake. Storm clouds will gather over the mountains in any month, bringing a dramatic flair to the landscape.

Wildlife watching, including hawks and other raptors, is quite good here. In the winter, you’ll more than likely encounter a bison or two roaming near the lake, with an occasional ermine or rabbit hopping around. I have also had quite good luck in the winter with spotting coyotes wandering and hunting. On rare occasions, I have been at the lake and have heard wolves howling in the distance, making this pristine natural setting seem more remote than it is.

In June, usually a week before or after Father’s Day, cutthroat trout begin their spawning ritual, gathering at the northern end of the lake and trying to swim up the steep, short creek flowing from nearby Shrimp Lake. This gathering also brings in otters, which feast on the fish.

I have many more reasons, so if you want to know them, just ask me!

Yellowstone National Park’s Trout Lake in June

What Some Consider to Be the Lowlights

Many will dislike the trek to the lake because it is steep. This is a fair complaint, as the trail starts at 6,782 feet above sea level and gains roughly 300 feet in 0.3 miles. However, the ascent is also only 0.3 miles and takes you to this scenic spot.

Another valid complaint is that while overlooked by nearly all of the over 4 million visitors to the park, the trail can be quite busy on a summer day, with many not observing the quiet reverence some desire when in nature. If this is the case, consider following the boot path beyond the lake to Shrimp Lake or Buck Lake. Or, time your visit for earlier in the morning or later in the evening, when everyone else has yet to enter or leave the park.

Want More Hikes in and Around the Park?

If you desire longer days to even more stunning scenery in and around Yellowstone National Park, you have come to the right place. I have written a guidebook that gives you over 50 hiking destinations in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, all of which are sure to leave you craving even more outdoor adventures when in the region. You can get both an ebook copy and a paperback copy of the guidebook.

I also offer private hiking tours in Yellowstone National Park, taking you beyond the boardwalks and into the serenity and beauty of Yellowstone’s backcountry. If you have always wanted to head out on a trail and see what is found in the wilds of the park, I will help you experience the perfect trail. See my trail tour offerings here, or send me an email.