Hike Avalanche Peak in Yellowstone National Park
There is a good reason that the Avalanche Peak Trail makes the short list of must do hikes on a visit to Yellowstone National Park. Situated on the eastern border of Yellowstone, the Avalanche Peak Trail is a deceptively short 5-mile roundtrip hike that'll have you forever asking first about elevation gain rather than distance.
Avalanche Peak Hike Summary
If the 2,100 ft gain over 2.5 miles isn't enough to make your legs tremble, then the climb to 10,500 ft will have you wondering when the oxygen masks will drop from the absent overhead bins. Fear not! The destination is worth EVERY air sucking step.
Avalanche Peak Trailhead
Like so many other trailheads in Yellowstone National Park, the scarce parking at the west end of Eleanor Lake can be a bit of a challenge. Our strategy was to break camp early, eat breakfast on the trail, and be back to the Avalanche Peak trailhead in time for a late lunch (our typical plan - read about Beehive Trail in Acadia National Park). Plan on 4-5 hours to complete this strenuous round-trip trek. In any event, be sure to time your descent to bring you off the trail well before dusk. A challenge in broad daylight, it would be hazardous once the sun sets and temperatures start to drop. Be aware of lightning risks above treeline since summer months bring frequent thunderstorms.
“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”
A chilly morning start, but within a few hundred yards, the steep gain will have you plenty warm. Leave extra room in your backpacks for shedded layers – you’ll need them again when you get above the Absaroka Range treeline, where the wind picks up and the air loses its ability to hold the heat from the sun. While the upper part of the hike is (thankfully) mosquito free, the lower two-thirds is replete with these annoying insects. Bring plenty of repellant.
Avalanche Peak: The Ascent
When the opportunities present themselves, keep a sharp eye out for wildlife–which includes mule deer and elk– on the edges of the lodgepole pine and spruce forested lower elevations. But don't forget to look up and enjoy taking a path less travelled. With everywhere in Yellowstone National Park, be bear aware and carry bear spray.
The middle part of the hike finds you in rolling alpine basins dotted with wildflower-filled meadows and much shorter sub-alpine forests of bristlecone and limber pine. Frequent switchbacks help with the climb through the steepest elevation changes, but there are stretches of intense straightaways which feel a little more like climbing a ladder than trekking.
On the upper third of the Avalanche Peak trail, prepare for unequaled panoramic views into Yellowstone National Park and beyond. You can even see as far as the Grand Tetons on the clearest of days. Look also for evidence of wildfires that charred parts of the area. White and yellow columbine peek out from the craggy landscape, reminding us that even at this elevation, life somehow finds a way. The elusive, well-camouflaged pikas can be seen with a sharp eye – listen for their high-pitched chirp.