Specimen Ridge and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Fallen petrified log.
Specimen Ridge is the north ridge of Amethyst Mountain. But it's so massive with so many little peaks that it may well be a mountain in itself. The ridge begins across the Yellowstone River from Tower Falls and rises increasingly higher towards the southeast to Amethyst Mountain (elevation 9614') where the ridge ends.
What makes this ridge unique is its petrified forest on its northern slope. This forest is the world's only standing petrified forest with root systems intact. And unlike the other attractions at Yellowstone, this one is little known to most visitors and so crowds are non-existent especially via a non-standard route.
An additional bonus is the view from the top of the ridge. While nothing spectacular, the ridge is certainly an excellent vantage point of Lamar Valley and the Yellowstone River. Bring binoculars if available to spot wildlife from long range. Lamar Valley is well known for being full of wildlife ranging from bears to bison to elk and even moose.
Giant, half-buried log.
Specimen Ridge is located in the Tower-Roosevelt area of Yellowstone on the east side of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (and the Yellowstone River). There are countless trails which access the ridge all of which that are dayhikes begin on or near the Northeast Entrance Road.
Distances and elevation gain are one way to the petrified forest.
Specimen Ridge Trail
3.2 miles / 1700'
This "standard route" is the least steep trail to Specimen Ridge. It is also the longest. The trail is the only well-marked trail to the ridge with a large parking lot a few miles east of the junction. The trail climbs along the top of the ridge, reaches the petrified forest, then continues on to Amethyst Mountain eventually descending down into Lamar Valley to the Soda Butte Trailhead.
Whistling bird making its journey through the grass.
Specimen Fossil Forest Trail
1.4 miles / 1750'
The mileage/gain combination should be a dead giveaway to what the trail is like. The trailhead is "signed" by the National Park Service simply as "Trailhead" and the parking lot is a pullout just west of the Lamar River Bridge. The trail starts off relatively easy for about 0.2 miles on an old dirt road used by the park in the 1980's to slaughter elk whose population was booming due to the non-existence of wolves. After passing an elk antler on a rock, the trail charges straight up the side of the ridge. No switchbacks. Actually, there is one switchback cutting through a grove of trees near the top that almost seems to head down until it loops back up. The trail continues up to a small summit on top of the ridge marked by another elk antler. Continue a little further and meet up with the Specimen Ridge Trail.
Shortcut to Specimen Fossil Forest Trail?
1 mile? / 1750'?
Looking down from the Specimen Fossil Forest Trail appears to be another trail whose full length is visible from the top. The trail begins at an unsigned pullout halfway between the Specimen Ridge Trail and the Specimen Fossil Forest Trail. Whoever uses it will sure get a workout from it based on the incredible steepness of the trail as viewed from above. It links up with the Specimen Fossil Forest Trail after climbing on top of a "sub-ridge".
Park Fees & Rules
Looking down into Lamar Valley. Notice the line of birds walking through the grass.
Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks charge an entry fee of $25 per vehicle good for 7 days at both parks. An annual interagency pass for all federal lands is $80.
Standard national park rules apply. Stay at least 300 feet from wildlife. Despite their calm appearance, bison and elk are both very aggressive and will charge if disturbed.
DO NOT TAKE ANYTHING. The petrified wood is protected. The area is also a source of opal and amethyst (hence the name Amethyst Mountain). These are to be left in the park intact if found.
"Leave nothing but footprints. Take nothing but photographs."
The nearest campground is at Tower Falls about 5 miles from the Specimen Ridge Trailhead. No reservations are accepted. For a campground accepting reservations, see either Canyon Campground or Mammoth Hot Springs both about 25 miles away. Backcountry camping requires a permit that should be reserved far ahead in advance. As always, take precautions against bears.
Specimen Ridge has not one but actually 27 distinct petrified forests on top of each other all created following burial in volcanic ash and debris from when the Yellowstone volcano erupted. These petrified forests became exposed through centuries of weathering which continues today. Eventually, with the next eruption, the current living forest will become another layer fossilized in time.
LinksYellowstone Tower Area
- Hiking in the Tower-Roosevelt area of Yellowstone
The Yellowstone Petrified Forests
- Detailed geology on the area and the forests