This time of year, Gardiner and northern Yellowstone visitors and residents are faced with a “choose your own adventure” dilemma...to ski or to hike? (Talk about a good problem to have!) And while we’re all about embracing spring ski conditions, this time we’re bringing you five lower elevation, generally drier hikes that are ideal for the entire family—and some for your pup too.
1. Lava Creek Trail
Where: Across the road from the Lava Creek Picnic Area on the Grand Loop Road in Yellowstone National Park.
Distance: Four miles one-way (consider a shuttle) or eight miles out and back. It’s ok to turn around whenever you please, though, as the views and opportunities for exploration make this well worth the trip regardless of distance.
Restrooms: Pit toilets at Lava Creek Picnic Area.
Bear Spray: Yes
Highlights: Abundant wildlife including elk, bison, pronghorn, and mule deer, as well as pleasant views of Lava Creek and Mount Everts. Early spring wildflowers also decorate the trail this time of year (look but don’t pick!) and a short detour will give you a beautiful view of Undine Falls.
Other Considerations: The Yellowstone National Park entrance fee applies when traveling to this trailhead from outside the park.
2. The OTO Ranch via Cedar Creek Trailhead
Where: Highway 89 approximately 10 miles north of Gardiner, Montana. From Gardiner, drive north for 10 miles and turn right on (follow signs for Cedar Creek Trailhead) and follow the narrow dirt road to the end to reach the trailhead.
Distance: 2.6 miles round-trip.
Restrooms: No. The closest facilities can be found in Gardiner, Montana, or along the various fishing accesses lining Highway 89 (pit toilets only).
Bear Spray: Yes.
Highlights: This gem of a hike heads into Custer Gallatin National Forest land to the first and oldest dude ranch in Montana. Thanks to the efforts of primarily volunteers, you can explore the restored buildings of the ranch, or picnic in the adjacent meadows (or right on the porch of the old lodge—our favorite spot). Return the way you came for gorgeous views of Electric Peak and the Gallatin Mountains.
3. Wraith Falls
Where: Eight miles east of Mammoth Hot Springs and 0.5 miles east of Lava Creek Picnic Area on Yellowstone National Park’s Grand Loop Road. Park at the trailhead on the right.
Distance: One mile round trip.
Restrooms: The closest facilities are pit toilets located at the Lava Creek Picnic Area just west of the trailhead.
Bear Spray: Yes
Highlights: This is an easy-going Yellowstone National Park hike with a big payoff—local toddlers have been known to tackle this one. Early spring wildflowers, abundant wildlife, and beautiful views of Wraith Falls make this a fun and rewarding Northern Range pick.
Other Considerations: The Yellowstone National Park entrance fee applies when traveling to this trailhead from outside the park
4. Beaver Ponds Loop
Where: Mammoth Hot Springs behind the Mammoth cabins. Inquire at the Albright Visitor Center for precise directions.
Distance: Four miles round-trip (or shorter or longer depending on your turnaround point).
Bear spray: Yes
Restrooms: Mammoth Hot Springs
Highlights: This loop trail winds through sagebrush meadows and mature trees, and offers a birds-eye-view of Mammoth Hot Springs. Several pleasant beaver ponds mark the halfway point of the loop. Keep an eye out for water birds, elk, bears, mule deer, pronghorn and moose.
5. Pine Creek Falls
Where: The trailhead begins at Pine Creek Campground, 17 miles south of Livingston, Montana.
Distance: 2.5 miles roundtrip
Restrooms: Pit toilets
Bear spray: Yes
Highlights: Located in the foothills of the Abasaroka Mountains in Paradise Valley, this well-maintained trail might be described as a remote and incredibly scenic dog park (but don’t worry, most of the hikers are extremely courteous when it comes to their pets!) Think mature forest, a babbling brook perfect for streamside exploration, and of course Pine Creek Falls as your reward when you reach the end.
Other Considerations: When summer rolls around, more adventurous hikers can continue on the same trail past the falls for four more miles. Though steep and fairly strenuous, the views of Pine Creek Lake at end of the trail are worth the effort.
What did we miss? Do you have a favorite spring hike around Gardiner this time of year? Be sure to tag your favorites and other spring adventures with #VisitGardinerMT!