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While not the tallest point in Yellowstone (that designation lies with Eagle Peak, a remote and almost inaccessible point in the Absarokas), Avalanche Peak is still a worthy summit, reaching 10,568 feet in elevation. The Avalanche Peak Trail is 4.7 miles roundtrip and is rated as difficult. It’s a short but steep climb, gaining 2,100 feet. From the top, you’ll catch incredible views of the surrounding mountains, get a sense for the sheer scale of Yellowstone Lake and, on a clear day, see all the way to the Tetons to the south. It’s one of the best hikes in Yellowstone.
Start from the Avalanche Peak Trailhead, eight miles from the park’s East Entrance. Park across the road, at the pullout just east of Eleanor Lake. The trail starts to climb right away through a coniferous forest, including whitebark pine which is a favorite food source of grizzlies. The park often closes this trail for bear activity, and park officials suggest you stay away from it in September and October when the grizzlies are fattening up on whitebark pine nuts ahead of winter.
As you approach tree line, you’ll see the remains of many whitebark pines that died, thanks to a pine beetle outbreak.
After hiking for 1.2 miles, you’ll come out of the trees at a large bowl at the base of Avalanche Peak. It’s a great place to sit, eat a snack and take a break before the final ascent. The trail flattens out for a bit, before starting to climb again up the southern part of the mountain. You’ll reach a large meadow at 1.7-miles where you can see the trail leading to the summit. There are a few spots where there’s some exposure toward the final ascent, so walk carefully and don’t crowd the trail in this area. Steel yourself for the false summit at 2.2 miles. While the views are incredible, the real summit still lies more than a tenth-of-a-mile away.
If you reach the highest point of the climb and the weather is nice, spend some time on the summit soaking in the views and enjoying a snack or lunch before heading back down the same way you came.
Don’t forget to always practice Leave No Trace to keep Yellowstone beautiful for generations to come. This includes packing out any food or trash you brought with you and staying on the trail to avoid making user-created trails that can lead to erosion.
(Photo: NPS/Jacob W. Frank)
Planning Your Avalanche Peak Hike
Before heading for the trailhead, check with park officials to make sure the trail isn’t closed for bear activity. If it is, respect the closures for your safety and the safety of Yellowstone’s grizzly bear population.
The summit of Avalanche Peak lies above tree line. Afternoon thunderstorms occur in Yellowstone on most summer afternoons, causing the section of trail above tree line to be a high lightning risk. Start your hike early and aim to be below tree line by midday.
Snow and ice often linger on the peak until July thanks to its high elevation, so it’s always a good idea to check trail conditions with a ranger when hiking in the early season.
What to Bring on an Avalanche Peak Day Hike
This hike will likely take you several hours, and you’ll experience different weather conditions the higher you climb up the mountain. It’s important to be prepared with adequate clothing, plenty of water, snacks and bear spray.
Wear sturdy, closed-toed shoes, ideally with ankle support, to help you navigate the loose and rocky terrain near the summit. Wear breathable clothing that will wick moisture. Synthetics are a great choice, while cotton isn’t going to be your friend because it stays wet when you sweat. While it might be warm at the trailhead, it will likely get colder as you climb. Bring a day pack to stash a layer in for the summit. This peak is notoriously windy, so a wind-resistant layer is ideal.
Drinking plenty of water on your hike is extremely important. Proper hydration helps you ward off heat and altitude sickness. Bring at least two liters of water per person and drink frequently. You may feel the effects of the high altitude as you ascend, especially if you’re coming from sea level. If you start to get a headache or feel dizzy or nauseous, drink plenty of water and take a few moments to rest. If your symptoms get worse, head back to the trailhead and seek medical attention if they become severe. Letting your body acclimatize to Yellowstone’s elevation for a day or two before attempting a long hike can also help with altitude sickness.
The Avalanche Peak Trail is frequented by grizzly bears, especially in the autumn months. Make sure everyone in your party is carrying a can of bear spray and that it’s easily accessible and they know how to use it. Avoid hiking alone and make noise as you hike, especially when you’re coming around corners. Talking, singing or wearing a bear bell will alert any bears in the area to your presence so you don’t surprise them. This is a great opportunity to resurrect all those old campfire songs.