Sep 25

Try a Yellowstone Waterfall Adventure

by Chelsea DeWeese


For summer visitors to Yellowstone National Park, perhaps nothing is more refreshing than spending an afternoon at one of the area’s idyllic waterfalls. With about 290 waterfalls (more than 45 named waterfalls that are more than 15 feet high throughout the park), the opportunities to enjoy falling water are virtually endless.

“Kids love waterfalls and so do most parents!” says Carolyn Harwood Bulin, supporter engagement manager for Yellowstone Forever, who leads hikes in Yellowstone. “With so many waterfalls to choose from, there’s something for every family.”


Youngster Friendly: Wraith Falls

Rated  EASY

Trailhead  Wraith Falls pullout approximately 5 miles east of Mammoth Hot Springs on the Grand Loop Road heading towards Tower Junction

Description  This mostly flat, approximately 1-mile out-and-back hike follows a well-established trail through sagebrush and forest to a 100-foot cascade on Lupine Creek. The trail crosses a footbridge and ascends a short distance to a waterfall overlook. This destination is for those interested in a straightforward Yellowstone excursion. “Wraith Falls is a short, kid-friendly hike,” Harwood says. “Even little legs can handle this one. It’s just long enough to stretch your legs and immerse yourself in Yellowstone’s rich environment.”

Family Challenge: Osprey Falls


Trailhead  Glen Creek pullout approximately 5 miles south of Mammoth Hot Springs on the Grand Loop Road

Description  This approximately 8-mile out-and-back hike takes an afternoon, so pack plenty of water and snacks. The trail travels 3 miles along a dirt road before veering onto a 1-mile, 800-foot descent into Sheepeater Canyon. At the bottom, enjoy the 150-foot Osprey Falls before retracing your route to the trailhead. “For those who seek a longer hike, the magnificent and powerful Osprey Falls is well worth the effort,” Harwood says. Avoid this hike in mid-day heat.

Different Twist: Mystic Falls

Rated  MODERATE TO MORE DIFFICULT,  not recommended for young children

Trailhead  Old Faithful Geyser Basin

Description  This approximately 8-mile loop starts at Old Faithful Geyser and combines the best of front country hydrothermal features and a backcountry waterfall. After watching an eruption of Old Faithful, walk northwest along the Firehole River and past numerous geysers on a paved trail until reaching Morning Glory Pool. Here, admire Morning Glory before walking a dirt trail past Artemesia Geyser to Biscuit Basin. At Biscuit Basin, walk a short distance—enjoying Sapphire Pool and other hydrothermal features along the way—to Avoca Spring, located at the back. Here, join a dirt path toward Mystic Falls on the Little Firehole River. Stay left and continue approximately 0.7 miles along the river until you see the Mystic Falls tumbling 70 feet off the Madison Plateau. Stay to the right avoiding social trails to the water, which can destroy local plantlife, before steeply ascending 500 feet in half a mile and bearing right toward a well-defined overlook offering sweeping views of the surrounding area.

After enjoying the view, descend a dirt path back to Biscuit Basin. Turn right onto a dirt trail to return to Old Faithful via the Daisy Geyser bike trail. Please note: This is a hot hike during summer, so bring plenty of water and sun protection, and consider wetting your shirt before leaving the Little Firehole on your ascent to the overlook. Remember to bring binoculars to view eruptions! Plan an entire day for this hike.


For more information on finding a hike that leads to a waterfall:

For more information on obtaining a backcountry hiking permit visit:

For information on hiking in bear country visit:

This article was originally published in the Summer 2018 issue of Yellowstone Quarterly.

Photos Top to Bottom: Wraith Falls, Jim Peaco/NPS; Osprey Falls, Jacob Frank/NPS; Mystic Falls, Matt Ludin/YF