We did two Yellowstone River hikes, and made a lot of choices based on how crowded the park was. During the day we did the Yellowstone River Picnic Area Loop Trail and then waited until sunset to head to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Yellowstone River Picnic Area Loop Trail
The Yellowstone River Picnic Area Loop Trail is a combo of two trails and a bit of road walking (although there’s a worn path on the side of the road and people are so on alert for wildlife on the side of the road that they slow down when they see you). Park at “Yellowstone Picnic Area” and head off on the Yellowstone River Overlook Trail which takes you along the top of the canyon along the Yellowstone until the river leaves the canyon and heads out into the open hills. At that overlook turn left to take Specimen Ridge down (not up) out to the road, where you turn left and head back to the parking area.
This was a great little hike with very few other people and views of the Yellowstone River. The lack of people was the real selling point on a fall weekend when there was no parking at any of the well known trails, geysers and viewpoints. Without people there were also some pronghorns and then at the end of the trail an entire herd of bison just blocking the exit.
Here you can see the trail, and the bison on either side of it. We opted to take a very very very wide path around the outside, trying to stay as far away from the napping bison as possible. In the far distance there you can see a white dot, which is a woman standing in the parking lot, watching us sneak around the bison. When we got to the other side she asked us if we had just walked through and we said we had gone around. We chatted about that option and then she said something a bit surprising about the herd of bears that we had just gone around. It took us a second but then we pointed out that it was a herd of bison, not bears and that if there were 20 bears chilling there we absolutely would have turned around instead of hiking around them. So then she said “oh so do you think we don’t need the bear bells?” So this lovely woman thought that there was a herd of bears that she was going to walk around and that the bear bells were the key piece of equipment here to make it through the twenty plus bears. Never mind that bear bells wouldn’t help in any situation. So a fun end to a hike. What a fearless woman.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
The trail along the Grand Canyon at sunset is incredible (bring a headlamp). You actually get one of the most scenic and accessible areas of the park basically to yourself, and the light on the yellow rock with the waterfalls and pinnacle formations is beautiful.