The trail to Heart Lake comes in right at 7 miles, which makes it perfect for a moderate backpacking trip. Day hikers have to really push it to get in and out, not leaving any time for general lollying around and enjoying all this area has to offer. There are six campsites on the west side of the lake and a few others in the general vicinity. This would make an excellent three day adventure with two easy travel days and the extra day to summit Mt. Sheridan. Or to just play, fish and check out the thermal features.
What Makes It Great
The Heart Lake trail takes you to some unique thermal basins that are far from the crowds associated with those geyser basins along the Grand Loop Road. The lake itself is big and impressive and incredibly scenic. In fact, it’s the second largest backcountry lake in the park.
From the trailhead the route wanders through forest and meadows rolling along with the terrain for the first five miles. At this point you can see your destination ahead of you as well as the oddly named, Factory Hill. Steam rising from Factory Hill on a cool morning gave rise to its name. The trail descends rather abruptly to Witch Creek, with its associated thermal features. Watch your footing through here and stay on the trail and the bridge which crosses the creek.
You’ll reach your destination in another 2 miles with more elevation loss. The Heart Lake Patrol Cabin is located just before the lake. Take the right turn at the trail junction to reach your campsites.
The summit climb to Mt. Sheridan is steep. It’s 6.6 miles total but you’ll get some jaw-dropping views from the top. You’ll gain some altitude on this trek - nearly 3,000’ in 3 miles. Prepare to suck air.
Who is Going to Love It
With the increased number of trail runners and marathon day hikers, Heart Lake has become a popular spot for many. This is a great trail for anyone wanting a backcountry experience, but not particularly wanting to be all alone with the bears and wolves. Although you absolutely must practice good bear awareness and carry bear spray, the number of folks on this trail make it less likely to encounter a bruin.
This is also an excellent trail to see some of Yellowstone’s remote thermal features. The Heart Lake Geyser Basin features deep blue pools, fumaroles, or steam vents and Rustic Geyser. Exercise caution and respect around these fragile features and remember the ground can be very unstable.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From Cody, this is a long drive at 105 miles. Allow at least 2.5 hours to reach the trailhead. Take US HWY 14/16/20 west to Yellowstone National Park. At Fishing Bridge junction turn left towards Lake and West Thumb Geyser Basin. At West Thumb junction turn left and drive for another 7.3 miles to the trailhead on your left. There’s plenty of parking.
The entry fee into Yellowstone is $25 which will also get you into Grand Teton National Park, since you’re pretty close at this point. Pets are not permitted on trails and there probably won’t be any cell phone service. Carry bear spray.