Elephant Back Mountain has been a classic Yellowstone National Park hike for generations of visitors. While oddly named (apparently the mountain had a certain shape as seen from afar to early pioneers), this hike is very popular for a variety of reasons including great views, a moderate but not-to-difficult climb, and its proximity to the Fishing Bridge and Lake areas. The trail is 4 miles total and forms a lollipop loop. The first portion of the trail is an out and back, or stick, and the second portion is a small loop returning hikers back to the stick and thus completing the lollipop shape. Elephant Back is popular so expect to see plenty of other hikers along the way.
What Makes It Great
Unlike other trails in Yellowstone National Park that travel either partially or completely through areas severely burned in the historic 1988 wildfires, the Elephant Back Mountain Trail traverses only through mature, old-growth forest.
The trail itself, possibly due to its popularity, receives priority maintenance from park staff and is always in suburb condition. Gaining over 800 feet from the trailhead to the top of the loop on a forested ridge, the trail’s well-designed switchbacks and layout make short work of the climb. A mile up through the trees brings hikers to the loop portion. Turning right is the more gradual ascent.
From a handful of openings between the trees along the loop portion of the trail, hikers can catch views of Yellowstone Lake and Pelican Valley. Both Yellowstone Lake and Pelican Valley lie within the Yellowstone Caldera. A caldera is a large depression, much like a volcano crater, left from the collapse of an underground magma chamber.
Who is Going to Love It
Those looking for their fist moderate hike will love the Elephant Back Mountain Trail. Getting anxious with all the time spent on overlooks, geyser boardwalks, and roadsides? Give Elephant Back Mountain a try. Leave early to pace yourself for the steady climb to the ridgeline. Once there, with the trees above your head and Yellowstone Lake stretched out below, you may find the hike wasn’t so bad after all.
And you may just want to hike a bit further the next day too. For those venturing into the backcountry for their first time, stop by a Visitor Center for more information on preparedness. Most of Yellowstone’s backcountry dangers can be mitigated with good planning and the right equipment including proper clothing, food, and water.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From Fishing Bridge: Drive 0.7 miles south and park in the small parking area on either side of the road. Parking is free with an Entrance Pass.