“Beautiful, strenuous 3200' climb through open meadows with superb views and chances to see animals.”
— Tom Carter
Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife
Only take this trail if you have confidence in your route-finding skills. Parts of this trail in large open meadows may be difficult to follow. Watch carefully for the trail markers and backtrack if necessary to stay on the trail. Water is scarce in the upper reaches of the plateau. Carry plenty extra with you. The area is frequented by grizzly bears, especially early in the season when they feed on elk carrion that failed to survive the harsh winter.
The Buffalo Plateau Trail begins 1.5 miles from the Hellroaring Creek Trailhead on the Mammoth to Tower Road. The trail climbs 3200 feet through beautiful open meadows to the top of the plateau and ends just outside of Yellowstone, at a junction with the NFS Poachers Trail
The trail heads northeast from the trailhead and immediately begins to climb through broad, open sagebrush meadows. The Coyote Creek Trail
splits off to the left at .6 miles. Buffalo Plateau is one of eight named plateaus that together makeup the Yellowstone Plateau. The trail levels briefly at 2.7 miles, as you run along the western flank of the plateau. Views to the west of the Hellroaring Creek
drainage and Hellroaring Peak (8,363') are good. Hellroaring Peak is the largest outcropping of granite in Yellowstone. Most of the park's granite is buried beneath volcanic debris, but glaciers in this northeastern part of the park scraped the debris off in places to expose the underlying granite.
The trail continues through open meadows and stands of Douglas and subalpine fir that show the effects of the 1988 fires. At 3.7 miles the trail makes a small switchback right then left. Here the trail crosses the boundary between Wyoming and Montana (most of Yellowstone lies in WY with small portions in MT and ID). At 5.3 miles a small creek is crossed. This is one of the last reliable sources of water on the trail as you head north. Just past the switchbacks out of the creek drainage a spur trail splits to the left to the only designated campsite on the plateau.
At 7.3 miles the Buffalo Plateau Patrol Cabin is passed. The trail then makes a big bend to the right then back to the left and skirts the plateau highpoint (on your left). At the 8.7 mile-mark the trail ends at a junction with the National Forest Service's Poachers Trail
(also called the NFS Buffalo Plateau Trail, #98). The best view in the area is had by scrambling off-trail up the last 200 feet to the plateau highpoint (9478'). From there you get great views of the Absaroka Mountains to the north, the Gallatin Range to the west, the Washburn Range to the south, and the snowy Beartooth Range to the northeast.
For those who want to continue, a left turn leads 11 miles back to the Buffalo Plateau Trailhead (via the Poachers Trail
and Coyote Creek Trail
). A right turn leads 12 miles to Slough Creek
(via the Poachers Trail
and Buffalo Fork Trail
Thanks to guidebook author, Tom Carter, for sharing this trail description. To learn more about visiting Yellowstone, check out his book, Day Hiking Yellowstone
Flora & Fauna
Chance to see elk, buffalo, antelope, coyote, and grizzly.