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Black Canyon of the Yellowstone

Black Canyon of the Yellowstone

Black Canyon of the Yellowstone

Page Type: Canyon

Location: Montana, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 44.99321°N / 110.54649°W

Object Title: Black Canyon of the Yellowstone

Activities: Hiking

Season: Spring, Summer, Fall


Page By: Arthur Digbee

Created/Edited: Jul 12, 2008 / Dec 22, 2009

Object ID: 420700

Hits: 8683 

Page Score: 83.1%  - 16 Votes 

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The Black Canyon of the Yellowstone covers an extensive stretch of the Yellowstone River near the northern border of Yellowstone National Park. This is a hiking and backpacking canyon, not a canyoneering destination. It’s characterized by spectacular scenery along the Yellowstone River, with interesting geology at the upstream sections.
Running Pronghorn Buck
Running Buck

Like most of Yellowstone NP, the Black Canyon is good wildlife territory. In the fall I saw a lot of pronghorn on the Rescue Creek Trail, and some bighorns on the lower slopes of Mount Everts. We also saw deer near Blacktail Deer Creek, appropriately enough, and I’ve seen evidence of wolves on the south side of the Yellowstone River in various places. Elk and bison use various stretches of the canyon as a travel corridor in spring and fall. This means there will be winter kill in the spring that attracts bears, so be bear-aware. In addition, this is the only part of the park low enough for rattlesnakes, and I’ve also seen gopher snakes and many garter snakes.
Monument Plant
Monument Plant

In my June trips, I’ve found that its approach trails from the south all have good wildflowers, as does the narrowest part of the Canyon. The hike out to Gardiner is too exposed for most species, but you’ll see cacti that may or may not be in bloom. Many stretches have lots of grass that ticks love in June.

Because it’s in the part of the park with the lowest elevations, the Black Canyon is free of snow longer than anywhere else in the park. This makes it one of the first places to melt out in the spring and summer, so it's good for early season trips. The Canyon also has treeless stretches that are exposed to the hot summer sun, such as the descent to Hellroaring bridge, Rattlesnake Butte to Rescue Creek trailhead, and the south-facing, burnt-brown last few miles above Gardiner. I’d avoid all those in the heat of the day.
Northern Mule s Ears
Northern Mule's Ears

The Black Canyon is best hiked downhill as a shuttle hike, over one to three days depending on your interest and inclination. Though you’ll be traveling downstream, you regularly have to ascend 100-300 feet to go around rapids or falls. There are lots of backcountry sites along the river, but reserve them early.

Getting There

Gardiner from Rattlesnake Butte
Gardiner from Rattlesnake Butte

Any road to Yellowstone can get you to the Black Canyon, but the most natural approach is through Gardiner. From I-90 in Montana (access to Bozeman and other airports), take Hwy 89 south from Livingston, climbing gently through Paradise Valley to Gardiner.

Once in Gardiner, see trailheads below.

Trailheads, from west to east

Rattlesnake Butte
Rattlesnake Butte

Rescue Creek. This trailhead does not provide access to the canyon itself but does provide access to Rattlesnake Butte and Turkey Pen Peak, which overlook the canyon.

Bridge over Yellowstone River
Bridge at Blacktail Creek

Yellowstone River. This trailhead is located in the town of Gardiner, next to the LDS Church. From just north of the river on Hwy 89, turn east and go up the hill. The road is marked, but the sign is not easy to see from all directions. This makes a nice exit spot, despite the annoying 150-foot ascent from the river at the very end.

Blacktail Creek. On the Grand Loop Road between Mammoth and Roosevelt, five miles east of Mammoth. Taking the Blacktail Deer Creek Trail provides excellent access to the middle reaches of the Canyon, and the start of a 12-13 mile shuttle hike to Gardiner. A shorter shuttle goes out the Rescue Creek Trailhead with access to Rattlesnake Butte and Turkey Pen Peak but avoids the Canyon.

Bridge on Hellroaring Trail
Bridge on Hellroaring Trail

Crevice Creek. This is in the Gallatin National Forest, north of the park. I haven’t used this one and can’t provide further information.

View of Yellowstone River
View of River

Hellroaring. This is about three miles west of Tower on the road to Roosevelt. I’ve seen the most cars parked here, and it’s close to a gaggle of backcountry sites along Hellroaring Creek (sites 2H1-2H9). You have to ford Hellroaring Creek or hike a mile up to a stock bridge to get to the Yellowstone River trail.

Tower. From the trailhead near the visitor center, there are two trails that take you across Pleasant Valley and around Garnet Hill to where you connect with the Hellroaring Trail. The geology clearly visible on the north side of the river is interesting through this stretch.

Red Tape

Turkey Pen Peak from East
Turkey Pen Peak from the River
View from Elk Plaza
View from Elk Plaza

You have to pay the Yellowstone NP entrance fee unless you have the annual interagency pass.

Backcountry camping requires a permit, and I’d strongly recommend making reservations in advance using the park reservation system. Consult the park website for more information.


Mule Deer Doe
Mule Deer

There are nearly 20 backcountry campsites in or near the Black Canyon. Bill Schneider's Hiking Yellowstone National Park ranks all of them with one to five stars. He considers privacy, views, access to water, and other factors affecting your happiness. His book is a valuable resource for trip planning.

Gopher Snake Romance
Gopher Snake Romance

Outside the Canyon, the nearest park campsites are at Mammoth Hot Springs and Slough Creek.

External Links

Showy Larkspur off Blacktail Creek Trail
Showy Larkspur

Yellowstone National Park official site.
Alpine Aster
Alpine Aster

Nice pictures of the canyon that differ from mine can be found here.

Additions and Corrections

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b.Nice Work!


Hasn't voted

One thing I would mention: This trail opens early in the season, and is therefore one of the first places you can backpack in Yellowstone each year. There are usually lots of winter kill carcasses along the lower stretch, and therefore, lots of bears.
Posted Jul 24, 2008 2:15 pm
Arthur DigbeeRe: Nice Work!

Arthur Digbee

Hasn't voted

Good points both, I'll include them. Thanks for the compliment and the suggestions!
Posted Jul 24, 2008 2:45 pm

Viewing: 1-2 of 2    


Gopher Snake RomanceMule Deer DoeRattlesnake ButteAlpine AsterMonument PlantNorthern Mule\'s EarsShowy Larkspur off Blacktail Creek Trail
Yellowstone River TrailView of Yellowstone RiverTurkey Pen Peak from EastView from Elk PlazaBridge over Yellowstone RiverGardiner from Rattlesnake ButteBridge on Hellroaring Trail
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