South Rim Trail
ElevationAscent: 205' 62 m
Descent: -197' -60 m
High: 7,796' 2,376 m
Low: 7,684' 2,342 m
GradeAvg Grade: 4% (2°)
Max Grade: 17% (10°)
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“A must-do trail with iconic views of the Upper and Lower Falls and the Yellowstone Grand Canyon!”— Tom Carter
Running is pleasant along the first stretch of trail through lodgepole pine and, occasional, five-needled limber pine. There are intermittent views of the river as it churns away toward its violent destiny. Soon the trail opens up and provides good views of Upper Falls. About 0.6 miles from Chittenden Bridge, the Upper Falls Viewpoint is reached. Although you are likely to experience crowds here, it is still the best place to view the Upper Falls. The falls spills 109 feet over a dense rhyolite lava flow that is resistant to erosion. Immediately downstream, a much softer rhyolite, containing larger amounts of volcanic glass, was more easily eroded by the river.
As you continue along the South Rim Trail, look carefully through the trees to the opposite side of the canyon. Cascading through the lodgepoles, down the far wall, is the lovely 129-foot Crystal Falls.
About 0.9 miles from Chittenden Bridge, you reach the turnoff for Uncle Tom's Trail to the bottom of the canyon. This trail uses a series of steel stairways to descend more than 300 feet in 0.3 miles.
Although heavily traveled, the next section of the South Rim Trail, between Uncle Tom's Trail and Artist Point, is truly spectacular! Picturesque views of the canyon and Lower Falls await you each time you break out of the trees. As you continue to Artist Point, take a moment to contemplate how this magnificent canyon and falls were created. Hundreds of thousands of years before the canyon was formed, an ancient thermal basin existed. The hot waters altered and weakened the hard rhyolite lava in the area, allowing the river to cut this deep canyon. Today, Lower Falls tumbles 308 feet over a hard, thermally-unaltered rhyolite flow.
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