Top 4 hikes a la summer- #4 Specimen Ridge, Yellowstone

Welcome to Lamar Valley in Yellowstone. One of my favorite areas in this vast park.

I know I mentioned earlier that I would talk about my top 3 hikes this summer, but I just had to include my #4 pick.

At a starting elevation of 8864 feet (end 9600 feet), it’s very surprising if you happen to see anyone else on the trail (aside from a herd of pronghorn).

As the name states, it is one of the ridges of Amethyst Mountain, starting just past the Yellowstone River.  And you basically have this place to yourself. Not many people set out to hike this trail, that, as we discovered, had many paths.

And, as the name also states, you may see some fine specimen on this trail, including: pronghorn, grizzly bear, elk, bison, and rarely, moose.

Which path to take? Umm, we decided uphill was the way to go – the steeper, the better.

What my boyfriend and I found amazing about this hike, aside from the lack of people on the trail, was the glimpse we got of Yellowstone ‘behind the scenes’.

We could see, to our right, the Tower Falls area. A place where we spent countless hours watching two sets of black bears with cubs. We had no idea how enormous the area was behind the ridge. Imagine all the wildlife we would be able to spot if we could have seen into this area!! It just blew my mind.

To our left, we could see the entrance to the Lamar Valley, and again, our mouths were dropped at the areas we would never have be able to see from the road.

Difficulty? I would say moderate. It’s a high elevation hike, little shade, and steep hills. Make sure you have good hiking boots, or you might end up downhill skiing as I did on the way back.

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Hike #4 this summer

What a fine specimen this hiking trail sounds like, and a great possibility for adventure this summer in Yellowstone:

Specimen Ridge Trail

Specimen Ridge (fossil forest) 3.2 miles, one way.
Amethyst Mountain 10.0 miles, one way.
Lamar Valley Trail junction 14.7 miles, one way.
Soda Butte Trailhead 17.1 miles, one way.

Elevation change: Trailhead at 6,250 feet (350-foot gain, but overall, a 3,364-foot gain to Amethyst Mountain).
Trailhead: The trailhead is 2.2 miles north, then east, of Tower Junction on the Northeast Entrance Road, at the glacier exhibit.

The Specimen Ridge Trail is a long, hot and grueling trail during summer. But it does provide access to unusual features, terrain and valley vistas. A good portion of this trail, however, shows signs of the 1988 fires. Winds pushed the fire here and it burned the ridge extensively on most sides.

From the trailhead, the trail heads south toward the Yellowstone River, where it arrives at the four-way junction. The west trail leads to the Yellowstone River picnic area (see Yellowstone River picnic area trail for description), and the south trail leads to the old Bannock Indian Ford.

The east trail continues on the Specimen Ridge Trail and begins a steep ascent of the ridge. Atop Specimen Ridge is a spur trail to the Specimen Fossil Forest. This trail accesses the Specimen Fossil Forest Trail (see Specimen Fossil Forest Trail for description) and the petrified fossil trees on the north aspect of Specimen Ridge.

From the summit of Specimen Ridge, the trail continues east through high, rolling hills. It is not an interesting trail, but there are good views of Yellowstone-especially of the Grand Canyon-from the high points.

Amethyst Mountain (9,614 feet) is the highest point along the trail; from there is a good view of Mount Washburn to the west and the Mirror Plateau to the southeast. From Amethyst Mountain, the trail begins its 2,854-foot descent over 4.2 miles into the Lamar Valley and the junction with the Lamar Valley Trail (see Lamar Valley Trail for description). From the Lamar Valley Trail, choose from two directions to approach the Northeast Entrance Road. The longest route heads northwest down valley and ends at the Lamar picnic area near the Lamar Ranger Station, but the Lamar River must be forded just before the picnic area. The other route, the shortest and most direct one, fords the Lamar River just after the Lamar Valley Trail junction and continues northeast. The trail then crosses Soda Butte Creek via a footbridge before exiting at Soda Butte Trailhead.

I completed part of this hike last year, but I really crave MORE! It was gorgeous, peaceful and unique!

Get Outta my Way!

I really got into hiking this summer while away in the US and Canadian Rockies. The fresh air, beautiful scenery, wildlife and the challenge made me feel so alive! When I began to test out the hiking trails in Yellowstone, I found a book that listed the day hikes in order from easiest to hardest. So what did I do? I decided to start with the hardest top 5 hikes and see how quickly I could conquer them. And wow, was I proud of myself! My boyfriend and even set up challenges for each other, like seeing how many people we could pass in one hike.

Here are the hikes I did when the camera was not in action shooting bears and wolves and otters:

Yellowstone National Park

1. Beaver Ponds Loop
Roundtrip distance – 5 miles (8 km) – Difficulty – easy to moderate.
The trail begins between Liberty Cap and the stone house in Mammoth Hot Springs. It follows Clematis Creek, climbing 350 feet (107 m) through spruce and fir trees. The beaver ponds are reached after hiking 2.5 miles (4.0 km) through open meadows of sage and stands of Douglas fir and aspen. Beavers are generally active only in the early morning or evening. You are more likely to see evidence of their presence – a lodge, gnawed trees – rather than the critters themselves.

My boyfriend and I completed this hike in the evening and were racing against the light – a time when the bears come out, adding extra caution to our steps. We were on the hunt for river otters,  but had no luck on this hike. The wild flowers were the most beautiful ones I have ever seen, but it was difficult to capture them since we were also on the run from the swarm of mosquitos clipping at our clothes. Loved this hike, and we popped out of the trail into a herd of elk with babies against the backdrop of Mammoth Hot Springs. Gorgeous in the evening light!

2. Bunsen Peak
Round trip distance – 4.0 miles (6.4 km) or more, depending on route – Difficulty – somewhat strenuous.
The trail begins at the entrance of the Old Bunsen Peak Road Trail, 5.0 miles (8.0 km) south of Mammoth toward Norris. The 1,300 foot (394 m) climb to the summit features panoramic views of the Blacktail Plateau, Swan Lake Flats the Gallatin Range and the Yellowstone River Valley. Return by the same route or take the trail down the back side of Osprey Falls trailhead (about 2 miles (3.2 km) and return via the Old Bunsen Peak Road Trail. The road itself is closed to automobile traffic but open for hiking and biking.

I was not feeling 100% this day, and found it to be the most difficult. Straight up! Loose rocks! But once I made it to the top, I was in awe of the view it gave me. Totally worth it! And it wasn’t a very long hike either. I would like to try this one again when I feel better.

3. Lost Lake Loop
Round trip distance – 4.0 miles (6.4 km) – Difficulty – easy/moderate.
The trail starts behind Roosevelt Lodge and climbs through forested hillsides to a trail junction. Veering right (west), the trail reaches Lost Lake in 0.2 miles (0.3 km). From there, follow the trail around a hill to the Petrified Tree and the parking area. At the northeast end of the parking lot, the trail continues through open sage hilltops and descends to the Tower Ranger Station. Roosevelt Lodge is a 0.2 (0.3 km) walk from the station.

Beautiful! We had heard there was an animal carcass near the path, so we ensured we had our bear spray very handy in case we encountered anything bigger than us. Ohhh and we did! But it wasn’t a bear; it was a bison. For some reason those guys scare me way more than a bear. He was right in the middle of the path, so we did a big loop around his lounging figure and quickened our pace until we could no longer see him. Phew!

4. Yellowstone River Picnic Area
Round trip distance – 4.0 miles (6.4 km) – Difficulty – easy.
Trail begins at the Yellowstone Picnic area, 1.5 miles (2.4 km) east of the Roosevelt/Tower Junction on the Northeast Entrance road. A spectacular view of the northernmost portion of the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone River is found on this easy trail which parallels the canyon for most of its length.

Straight up, then totally flat. Easy-peasy. Gorgeous views though. I loved looking at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone in this area.

5. Trout Lake
Roundtrip distance – 1.2 miles (1.9 km) – Difficulty – easy.
The trail starts from a small pullout about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) south of Pebble Creek Campground on the Northeast Entrance road and climbs about 150 feet (45.5 m) through Douglas-fir forest to the lake.

This was my boyfriend’s favorite hike. Not long at all, but straight up for about 10 minutes and that got me huffing and puffing. It was so quiet and peaceful at the lake and we were able to photograph 3 river otters for about 4 hours. Such co-operative little guys they were!

6. Mount Washburn


Roundtrip distance – 6 miles (9.7 km) – Difficulty – somewhat strenuous.
Two trails lead to the top of Mt. Washburn (10,243 feet – 3,107 m), from which you will discover a panoramic view of about 20-50 miles (32-80 km) in all directions. On clear days, the Teton Range south of Yellowstone can be seen. During July, wildflowers carpet the slopes. The southern trail starts at the Dunraven Pass trail head and the northern trail starts at the Chittenden Road parking area. Both trails climb steadily about 1,400 feet (425 m) and are 3.0 miles (4.8 km) long one way. Caution: carry an extra layer of warm clothing and wind/rain gear; water, energy food and sun screen are also recommended. Conditions at the summit are typically colder and windier than at the trail heads, and afternoon storms are common.

Amazing view! I was able to see Grand Teton National Park from the top, the place we had just left. There was so much snow in July, but I found it quite funny that I was in a tank top and shorts, sweating my butt off and then accidentally slipping and planting that butt in a huge snow pile. What a way to refresh myself!

7. Elephant Back Mountain


Roundtrip distance – 3 miles (4.8 km) – Difficulty – moderate/difficult.
Starting at a turnout 1.0 mile (1.6 km) south of Fishing Bridge Junction, this trail climbs 1.0 mile (1.6 km) through a lodgepole pine forest before reaching a junction. At this point, either trail leads to a panoramic view of Yellowstone Lake, Pelican Valley and the Absaroka Mountains (0.5 mile – 0.8 km).

We did this one quite quickly one morning and passed several people jogging it. Great view of Lake Lodge and Yellowstone Lake. I hope some day I will be fit enough to jog it!

8. Artist Paint Pot Trail


Roundtrip distance – .5 mile (.8 km) – Difficulty – easy.
Trailhead: 4.2 miles south of Norris Junction – east side of Gibbon meadow.
Main attraction: Bubbling pools of weird colored water and mud.

Neat. A few good pictures, but would only do it once…

9. Norris Geyser Basin


Roundtrip distance – – Difficulty – easy.
Trailhead: Norris Junction.
Main attraction: Boarded walk around thermal features, very cool to see in early morning light.

Quite cool! Some amazing colours to be found in the geysers here!

10. Blacktail Plateau Road

This hike was just over 14 miles. It was not in any of the hiking books because it is supposed to be a gravel road for cars. It was closed the entire time we were in the park, so my boyfriend and I decided to hike it. Longest hike of the trip! My legs were so wobbly after, but I felt great about completing this one.

We did several more small hikes here, but my favorite would have to be Elephant Back, Mt. Washburn and Beaver Ponds. Can’t wait to beat my records next year 🙂

Waterton National Park

When in Waterton, Alberta, I completed 4 hikes and included my all time favorite one, Crypt Lake. Ohhh boy what an adventure!

1. Bear’s Hump (2.8 km)

Phew! Straight up baby! But the view was spectacular of the town of Waterton. It would be so nice to view it when the sun is rising or setting. Next time!

2. Forum Lake (8 km)

Snow, mud, waterfalls…it was a rewarding view at the end, and neat to say we hiked 2 provinces and 2 times zones that day. We combined this hike with Wall Lake and felt great after!

3. Wall Lake (11.2 km)

I thought this hike was prettier than Forum Lake, but not as challenging. So good thing we started the day with Forum, and ended with Wall. It was so nice to take off my hiking boots at the end of them and dip them in Waterton Lake…and have a nap…

4. Crypt Lake (17.2 km)

Ta daaaa! My favorite and the most strenuous/challenging hike I have ever done. Listen to the description from Waterton Shoreline Crusie Co.

The Crypt Lake hike is one of the most unique hikes you’ll ever encounter. It was rated as Canada’s “Best Hike” in 1981.

The hike features a 15 minute boat ride across Upper Waterton Lake to the trailhead at Crypt Landing. The trail passes close to 4 spectacular waterfalls: Hell Roaring Falls (1 km), Twin Falls (3.5 km), Burnt Rock Falls (5.6 km) and Crypt Falls (8 km). A high-light for many is the steel ladder and 60 foot tunnel through the mountain. After a short maneuver around a cliff (with cable for added security), hikers arrive at beautiful Crypt Lake.

Uhhhh, “a short maneuver around a cliff”??!! I saw this sheer drop off ahead of me, and basically had to rock climb while holding onto this chain to continue on. It was probably the scariest thing I have ever done in my life! But it was so exhilarating, I was so proud of myself when I reached the end. The guides recommend completing this hike in 6-8 hours. After 3 hours, my boyfriend and I were back at the trailhead!! First ones up, first ones down….by a long shot! Other hikers cheered us on as we passed them on our descent. I wish I had a medal for that hike!

All this talk about hiking….time to go walk my dog!