“Beautiful lakes and high mountain scenery abound on this trail deep into the park’s northwest corner”
— Tom Carter
Fall Colors · Lake · River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife
The Crescent Lake-High Lake Trail begins on the Specimen Creek Trail
, 6.1 miles north of U.S. Highway 191, It starts with a steep 1000-foot climb through spruce-fir and lodgepole forests. At the 1.4-mile mark, after gaining 800 feet, the trail breaks out of the trees at Crescent Lake. This 15-acre jewel sits in an impressive geologic cirque. There’s a nice campsite here too, but no fish.
From Crescent Lake the trail climbs another 200 feet, then drops slightly and passes a small pond. At the 2.2-mile mark the trail begins another 700 foot climb over 2.3 miles to the park boundary. At the 3.6-mile mark the trail climbs up and over a ridge and the views both east and west are outstanding. As you continue, notice the mix of trees has shifted. In addition to spruce and fir trees, there now are distinctive five-needled whitebark pine. Unfortunately, most of the whitebarks are dead or dying. Drought conditions in the Northern Rockies made mature whitebarks susceptible to attack by mountain pine bark beetles. The death of this mature forest is a blow to Yellowstone’s grizzly population, that depend heavily on nutrient-rich whitebark pine nuts for food in the fall.
At 4.5 miles the boundary is reached and the views are spectacular. Impressive Lion Creek Canyon lies out of the park to the north, and the Gallatin Range stretches out to the southeast. The next 1.5 miles the trail travels on or near the park boundary and drops 600 feet to the banks of High Lake. This is the highlight of the trip! At one time, this ridge lay outside the park. In the early 1920s plans were made to dramatically expand the park. These high hopes never completely materialized, but out of them came Grand Teton National Park and several Yellowstone boundary changes. In 1927 this northwest corner of the park was expanded to include the Gallatin Petrified Forest and winter grazing grounds for a large elk heard.
At 6 miles, the lovely 7-acre High Lake is reached. At 8774 feet, I'd say it's well named. Though only 18 feet deep, it sports a healthy population of cutthroat trout. And there are two nice campsites. From the lake the trail continues south, briefly leaving the park, then turns right and follows the East Fork of Specimen Creek the final 4 miles as it drops another 700 feet to its junction with the Sportsman Lake Trail
. From here it's another 6.7 miles to the Specimen creek Trailhead on U.S. 191.
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
Great chance to see elk. Grizzly bears also frequent the area.