The Cascade Lake trail begins near Canyon Village in the central region of the park. To reach the trailhead drive west from Canyon Village Junction for ±0.25 miles. The trailhead parking area is a large pullout along the north side of the road.
An alternative trail to Cascade Lake begins from a trailhead at the Cascade Lake Picnic area, located ±1.3 miles north of Canyon Village Junction, along the Canyon-Tower Falls road. The trails from both of these trailheads converge prior to reaching Cascade Lake.
If Observation Peak is being climbed as part of an overnight backpacking trip, there are 3 backcountry campsites well-situated near Cascade Lake:
- This is by far the best of the three sites at Cascade Lake, located in a grove of pine trees overlooking the lake. Don't expect to get this site on a walk-in permit.
- Located near the south shore of Cascade Lake. A nice site but not as good as 4E3.
- This is the least desirable of the three sites. Located near a marshy area north-east of the lake, and with no direct view of the lake.
A fourth backcountry campsite, 4P1
, is located just several hundred feet from the summit of Observation Peak. While this is by far the closest option for camping near the peak, there is no water source anywhere nearby. This site also requires a considerably longer hike before setting up 'basecamp'.
Refer to the main page "Red Tape" section for additional details and information on backcountry camping in Yellowstone.
StatsFrom Canyon-Norris Road
One-Way Hiking Distance: 5.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,512 feet
Trailhead Elevation: 7,885 ft.
Summit Elevation: 9,397 ft.
Average Gain per Mile: 296 ft.
From Cascade Lake Picnic Area
One-Way Hiking Distance: 4.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,342 feet
Trailhead Elevation: 8,055 ft.
Summit Elevation: 9,397 ft.
Average Gain per Mile: 298 ft.
The trail to Cascade Lake is well maintained and easy to follow. The first two miles are relatively flat and travel through forested areas adjacent to several small meadows, crossing several small foot bridges along the way. At approximately 1.7 miles the alternate trail from the Cascade Lake Picnic Area merges from the right.
Here the trail turns west and soon after enters a large meadow to the north of Cascade Lake. Look for a signed junction just before reaching the lake, and take the right fork in the trail. Backcountry campsite 4E3
is located in the trees on the right a short distance up the trail.
From this point the trail begins climbing at a moderate but steady grade for the next 3 miles to the summit of Observation Peak. In early summer the hillsides along the way will be covered with wildflowers. There are also great views looking back at Cascade Lake.
The trail levels out somewhat before reaching the summit. On the summit is an old fire lookout structure, which is apparently no longer in use.
The Cascade Lake area is notorious for its mosquito population. Carry insect repellent for any summer hike before mid-August.
The trail passes through a meadow prior to reaching Cascade Lake, which may be marshy during early summer - wear shoes that you don't mind getting wet and muddy.