The hike to the viewpoint overlooking the Witch Creek drainage is a great daylong excursion into the Yellowstone backcountry. Part of the Heart Lake Trail, the hike to the Witch Creek viewpoint can be reached in 5.5 miles. It is another 2 miles down to Heart Lake, which is a massive, beautiful, heart-shaped lake. This is a popular hike for backpackers as well, many of who will continue to Heart Lake and climb nearby Mount Sheridan while spending several days out. The viewpoint offers hikers a peek into some of the wildest country Yellowstone National Park has to offer. This hike is also part of the Continental Divide Trail. A National Scenic Trail, the Continental Divide Trail spans five states and follows the continental divide from Canada to Mexico.
What Makes It Great
From the trailhead, the route climbs through mature forest for the first 3 miles. The trail is in superb condition and there are footbridges across all of the creeks. Around the 3.5-mile mark the trail begins to ascend upward, but never too steep. At the high point, right around 5.5 miles, the trail drops toward Heart Lake. The lake looks close but is, in fact, still two miles away. Intrepid hikers may want to brave the extra 4 miles round-trip and the climb back out of the Heart Lake Basin to explore the lakeshore. From the viewpoint, one can see not only the lake, but the Witch Creek drainage and nearby Factory Hill. Puffs of steam along Witch Creek reveal the locations of numerous steam vents and hot springs that line its course.
While this trail is popular, it may be the first taste of the true Yellowstone backcountry for some. The hulk of land rising south of Heart Lake is Big Game Ridge, which kisses the southern boundary of Yellowstone National Park. The southern edge of the park contains a few trails but almost no roads. On any given day there are probably more moose and grizzlies in the distance than people.
Who is Going to Love It
Intermediate or expert hikers looking for a more wild experience will love this hike. The pull of the wilderness seen from the viewpoint should not be ignored and it may be a sign that it is time to leave the car behind for a day or two and join the ranks of the backpackers dropping past you on their way to Heart Lake. Check at a ranger station or visit the park website for more information on backpacking in Yellowstone National Park. As always, carry bear spray on your belt or in your hand.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From West Thumb: Drive 7.3 miles south and park in the parking area on the east side of the road. Parking is free with an Entrance Pass.
Please respect wildlife and maintain the required distances from all Yellowstone wildlife. It is illegal to approach or remain within 100 yards of bears or wolves. All other animals must be within 25 yards.
Fishing in Yellowstone National Park requires lead-free tackle and a valid Yellowstone National Park fishing permit. Please clean all waders, boots, boats, and other fishing equipment before entering the park to reduce the spread of Aquatic Nuisance Species.