At the risk of it getting too popular, we feel like we have to share our favorite hike (so far) in Yellowstone National Park. It's a really amazing gem of a ridgeline full of wildlife, views, and a wilderness feeling. Let's all work together to keep it that way. Keep distance from wildlife, pack out trash, stay on the trail, etc.
OK, are you ready?
Take the Yellowstone River Picnic Trail (leaves from the Yellowstone River Picnic off of Northeast Entrance Road). The trail ascends and continues along the ridge. At the intersection with Specimen Ridge Trail, take a right and continue up the ridge as long as you want. We did portions of this hike twice because we loved it so much and wanted to go further. Our first time up, we hiked from the picnic area to the intersection and back (3.7 miles total). The second time, we continued on the Specimen Ridge trail up (some very steep trail) to a higher ridge line (around 6 miles total).
We saw bighorn sheep and lambs, marmots, and pronghorn (and even a baby pronghorn learning to race). There was plenty of evidence of bison but we didn't happen to run across any. We had lovely views of Yellowstone river and although we could see hoards of people across the river, the rushing water and canyon was the only sound we heard. And once we passed the falls the crowds were looking at, we couldn't even see them.
The Specimen Ridge Trail is an iconic backcountry section of the park but has plenty of challenges due to its length and a technical river crossing near the end. We weren't up for coordinating a shuttle or the full 17 miles but what we did was just amazing. If we are in the area in later summer, we'll try to do the full hike.
#1 If you're planning this hike, definitely bring bear spray (bear spray is necessary wherever you are in Yellowstone) as well as hiking poles. Our return trip from the second ridge involved a lot of loose rock surface on a steep drop. We each had a few slides but one hiking pole each was enough to steady us. If you are unsure on rough terrain, carry a full set person.
#2 On your way back to the parking lot, keep an eye out for the side trail you came up. So many people have missed this one that a second larger trail continues straight along the ridge and then plummets down steep and loose trail to the lot.