Avalanche Peak Trail
Avalanche Peak Trail- Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park’s has quite a few mountain peaks over 10,000 ft (3,000m)in height, but only few of them are reachable by foot trails. When you read various online publications and printed guides, usually only Mt. Washburn, the park’s most iconic summit hike, gets featured. For all those who are eager to do more vertical scrambling, there’s a fantastic summit hike in Yellowstone’s eastern boundaries, called Avalanche Peak trail. This 10,568 ft (3,221m) high mountain peak is a part of the Absaroka Range and the most prominent landmark in this part of the park.
Avalanche Peak can be reached by a 2.5 mile (4km) out-and-back maintained trail. Despite its relatively short distance, it takes good 4 hours round trip to summit the mountain, as it is a strenuous, almost all-time uphill trek with over 1100 ft (335m) of elevation change. Unlike other summit hikes in the region, Avalanche Peak is much steeper to ascend, with only few switchbacks and a treeless, rocky second part of the trail. It is open from June to October, but may be closed as soon as September if there is high grizzly bear activity on the mountain. Bears frequent the upper slopes to feed on pine cones just before their winter hibernation.
Here's a map showing the exact location of the trailhead and adjacent parking lot
Avalanche Peak Trailhead
As I mentioned before, the area around Avalanche Peak is frequently visited by grizzly bears, therefore come in groups, carry bear spray and stay alert, especially in the second part of the ascent. In addition, make sure to check weather before the hike as lightning storms are not uncommon in the area (especially during warm summer months). The hike, albeit relatively short in distance, is quite strenuous, so make sure to take plenty of water and food.
We arrived in the tiny parking lot opposite to the trailhead around 7am, only to find we were the first hikers that day. The weather was perfect- slightly overcast skies and cool, morning mist blanketed the valley. We set up our gear and headed out to what ought to be one of the most difficult yet enjoyable hikes during our stay in Yellowstone.
First mile or so is a constant steep ascend in thick forest setting. No Grizzlies, but we’ve seen a couple of Elk cows and various songbirds announcing their presence at the treetops. This section is a sweat, as there are very few switchbacks and the grade is quite steep.
At two thirds of the distance to the summit, thick forest setting gives away to less dense one, dominated by tall grasses and Whitebark Pine trees (the grizzly orchard:)).
It truly is a sight to remember, as there are very few spots in Yellowstone where you can experience that kind of foliage. This is were you would mostly likely encounter Grizzly bears, as they come here to snack on pine cones, but we were (un)fortunate not to encounter any on the trail.
Eventually, Whitebark Pine trees cleared out and we entered the treeless summit area. As you get near the top, the name Avalanche Peak starts to fit the scene- a series of eponymous slides cover the summit, loose, sharp edged rocks everywhere around.
The last half-mile was the toughest as there is no shade, it’s windy and chilly compared to the parking lot just two miles down the trail. The changing scenery will take your breath away. You’ll be walking on a scree (small, gravel-like stones that cover mountain slopes) all the way to Avalanche Peak summit, where a small stone shelter (or rather what’s left of it) and a make- up picnic area is located.
A narrow path to the right if the summit leads to an adjacent Hoyt Peak just few hundred feet from the shelter. It’s worth the extra 5 minutes of hiking as the views are quite dramatic from the sister peak.
On a clear day, the views from Avalanche Peak summit area are nothing short of amazing. To the west, rugged mountain ranges in and outside of Yellowstone National Park’s boundaries, to the east, Yellowstone lake and Teton Range in the far south. The difficult ascend to reach the summit pays off with a 360 degrees of magnificent views!
Coming back to the parking lot takes significantly less time but the steepness of the trail can be felt on the knees. That being said, it’s well worth the effort to summit one of the very few accessible mountain peaks in Yellowstone and experience the gorgeous views that await at the top.