Beat the Heat: 5 Ways to Cool Off in Yellowstone National Park

Leslie Colin Tribble
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Summer is tapering off, but that doesn’t mean temperatures are going down. You want to take full advantage of these last days of warmth before the snow and cold takes hold (and it will be here before we know it!), but where can you go for adventure around Cody without roasting in the sun? 

Fortunately, the height of the tourist season is over in Yellowstone, and the park offers plenty of places to enjoy a little solitude and shade this time of year. Here, five places to cool off in Yellowstone National Park.

1. Natural Bridge Trail

The trail to the water-carved Natural Bridge offers shade.
The trail to the water-carved Natural Bridge offers shade. Aryeh Alex

This is a great family friendly hike at a little under three miles of level, paved trail. It’s also one of the few bicycling trails in the park. Tall lodgepole pines offer shade along the route and kids will appreciate the final reward of seeing the rock bridge at the end. There’s no climbing onto the bridge; you’ll have to enjoy it from a distance. Find the trailhead just south of the Bridge Bay Marina.

2. Clear Lake/Ribbon Lake Trail

One of the many residents of the Canyon area has a bite to eat.
One of the many residents of the Canyon area has a bite to eat. Leslie Colin Tribble

This trail is accessed from Uncle Tom’s parking lot on the South Rim Drive. It’s an easy, fairly level three miles to Ribbon Lake. On the return trip, turn right toward Artist’s Point. You’ll come out at the parking lot for the hugely popular overlook, and you can walk the rim trail back to your car. As the name of the trail implies, Clear and Ribbon lakes offer a refreshing way to cool off, along with nice shade along the route and superb views of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

3. Mt. Washburn Trail

Reaching the summit of Mt. Washburn is a brag-worthy hike.
Reaching the summit of Mt. Washburn is a brag-worthy hike. Kevin Galens

Although this trail is mostly open, the high elevation will keep you cool. In fact, you’ll probably be wearing a light jacket the whole time. Start at the Dunraven Pass trailhead, coming in at a lung-busting elevation of 8,900 feet. You’ll be huffing and puffing as you climb to higher than 10,000 feet. Catch your breath while taking a look around in the active fire lookout before the downhill jaunt back to the car.

4. Yellowstone Lake

A quick dip in Lake Yellowstone is a popular way to cool off in summer.
A quick dip in Lake Yellowstone is a popular way to cool off in summer. Jim Peaco

Nothing spells summer more than a dip in a lake, and venturing into Lake Yellowstone will certainly ensure cooling off. That’s because even in August, the average temperature of the water is a brisk 50 degrees. Mary Bay and Sedge Bay on the East Entrance Road are the best and easiest places to jump in. Discerning water rats know to watch the surface for the telltale ripples of upwelling hot water, which make the frigid temps more bearable.

5. Firehole River

The Firehole River has several sections perfect for a refreshing dip.
The Firehole River has several sections perfect for a refreshing dip. Wikimedia

The swimming area on the Firehole is the perfect temperature on a hot day. It’s so perfect, there will be lots of other folks cooling off. But the crowds aren’t overwhelming, especially as summer winds down, and the experience is well worth it. This cool spot is on the west side of the park, just south of Madison Junction on the one-way Firehole Loop Drive.

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