Sentinel Meadows Trail
ElevationAscent: 96' 29 m
Descent: -59' -18 m
High: 7,238' 2,206 m
Low: 7,175' 2,187 m
GradeAvg Grade: 2% (1°)
Max Grade: 6% (3°)
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“Beautiful secluded valley and meadow, punctuated by hot springs and the oldest structure in the park”— Tom Carter
Backcountry thermal areas are not equipped with boardwalks. Scalding-hot water or steam can lie beneath a thin crust. Use extreme caution. Stay on well-worn paths and away from areas devoid of vegetation. Remember, careless activity is not only dangerous, but destructive to these rare and fragile features.
The mostly level trail begins along the Firehole River, one of the nations top blue ribbon fisheries. It sports healthy populations of rainbow and brown trout and whitefish. The trail quickly makes a bridged crossing of tiny Fairy Creek and continues through areas heavily burned by the 1988 fires. Soon the trail begins paralleling Sentinel Creek. About .9 miles from Fountain Flat Drive, the trail tops a small rise and affords nice views of Sentinel Meadows and valley. Notice the three white mounds equally spaced across the valley. The meadows was named for these features – Steep Cone, Flat Cone, & Mound Springs – which to an 1872 geologist appeared “as if they were guarding the upper valley.” Hence, the name “Sentinel” Meadows.
At 1.3 miles, the trail makes another small rise and provides closer views of the springs. It then bears left and continues to skirt the marshy meadow. Soon you'll see a small log structure near a hot spring area to the right of the trail. This is the Queens Laundry! In 1880 workers building a road over the Madison Plateau (across the valley to the northwest) spied the beautiful spring and on their Sunday off came down to explore. They found it great for bathing and washing their clothes. A year later, Park Superintendent Norris began construction of a bath house for visitors to use to change clothes to bath in the spring. Although never finished, it has the distinction of being the first government building for public use in any national park. Important safety tip – the spring is much hotter today than it was in 1880 making bathing and washing impossible (as well as illegal).
The trail continues along the edge of the meadow and ends at its junction with the Imperial Meadows Trail. If you plan to visit Queens Laundry, there is just about no way to reach it without getting your feet wet in the marshy muck. The best route seems to be starting along the treeline northwest from the end of the 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.
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Land Manager: National Park Service - Yellowstone National Park