Pelican Creek Nature Trail
ElevationAscent: 20' 6 m
Descent: -20' -6 m
High: 7,764' 2,367 m
Low: 7,747' 2,361 m
GradeAvg Grade: 1% (1°)
Max Grade: 7% (4°)
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“A short family friendly trail with interesting scenery and spectacular views of Yellowstone Lake.”— Tom Carter
From the parking area follow the trail toward Yellowstone Lake. To your left is Pelican Creek and an estuary-like marsh where the creak joins the lake. This is a good area to spot a variety of waterfowl, including mallard, lesser scamp, Canada geese, Barrow's goldeneye, and common merganser. You may see a the creek’s namesake, the white pelican. Unlike the brown pelican, which dives for fish, the white pelican scoops up its prey in its oversized yellow bill, while cruising across the water's surface. In this vicinity in 1864, prospector John Davis shot and killed what he thought was a goose (actually a pelican). Upon retrieving his prey he found it too strange to eat and instead left it hanging in a tree. Most likely this incident led to the naming of Pelican Creek.
At the .3-mile mark, the lake shore is reached. Yellowstone Lake is an amazingly beautiful high altitude lake. Early trappers and explorers were amazed that a lake of such huge dimensions (135 square miles of surface area) could lie at such a high elevation above sea level (7,733 feet). Today we know that Yellowstone Lake is the largest lake for its elevation above sea level anywhere in North America.
During the afternoons, and particularly during storms, the prevailing southwest wind blows across the lake and builds large waves that roll onto the shore. The beautiful sandy beach that lies along this northern shore of Yellowstone Lake was named "Diamond Beach" for its sparkling, flashing tiny particles of sand. Marveling at the lake's power and beauty, the 1869 Cook-Folsom-Peterson party saw the lake as having "crystal waves dancing and sparkling in the sunlight as if laughing for joy for their wild freedom."
The island not far from shore is Stevenson Island. James Stevenson, a prominent member of the 1871 Hayden Survey, assembled a 12-foot sailboat that he used to reach the island later named in his honor. His craft, which he christened the "Anna" after the daughter of an influential Congressman, was the first known vessel to ply the lake's waters.
The trail continues along the lake shore a short distance before looping back to the right, entering the forest, and returning to the trailhead.
Thanks to guidebook author, Tom Carter, for sharing this trail description. To learn more about visiting Yellowstone, check out his book, Day Hiking Yellowstone.
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Land Manager: National Park Service - Yellowstone National Park