Trail Run Project Logo

Specimen Creek Trail



8.3 mile 13.4 kilometer point to point
91% Runnable


Ascent: 2,417' 737 m
Descent: -17' -5 m
High: 9,314' 2,839 m
Low: 6,914' 2,107 m


Avg Grade: 6% (3°)
Max Grade: 43% (23°)


No Dogs
Driving directions Take a virtual tour
Zoom in to see details
Map Key

Trail shared by Tom Carter

Follows the North Fork of Specimen Creek up 2400 feet, past Shelf Lake, to the spectacular Sky Rim.

Tom Carter

Features River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife


The Specimen Creek Trail begins in the northwest corner of Yellowstone at a trailhead 25 miles north of West Yellowstone on US Highway 191. The trail heads northeast along Specimen Creek through heavily burned forests for 2.1 miles before reaching a junction with the Sportsman Lake Trail. Turn left and continue up the North Fork of Specimen Creek which passes between Meldrum Mountain and Bighorn Peak. About 1/2 mile past the junction, in the open dirt bluffs above the trail to the left, are excellent examples of petrified trees for which Specimen Creek is named. A sharp eye should be able to spot them. Remember, specimen collecting is illegal.

At the 6.1-mile mark the trail again branches to the left. In the next 2 miles the trail climbs 1400 feet to the banks of beautiful Shelf Lake. The well-named, 7 acre, 40 foot deep, lake sits in a narrow shelf on the side of the mountain. At 9200 feet, Shelf Lake is one of the highest lakes in the park. There are two excellent campsites on the lake; they both have some of the best campsite views in Yellowstone. From the lake, the Specimen Creek Trail continues to the left, gaining another 140 feet in the last .2 miles and ends at its junction with the Sky Rim Trail at the 10.7-mile mark.

Visitors can turn left and follow the Sky Rim Trail as it spectacularly traces the park’s extreme northwestern boundary for almost 10 miles. A right turn follows the Sky Rim Trail up another 780 feet in less than a mile to the top of Sheep Mountain (10095') the highest mountain in this area and which is conspicuously topped by a huge metal screen called a “microflector.” The views from Sheep are out of this world!

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 moose, elk, and big horn sheep. Grizzly bears also frequent the area.

Run this trail?

We need help with the following missing trail information:

Need to Know, Runner Notes

Is something wrong? Let us know. Have photos to share? Help fellow runners know what's here.


Rate This Trail

Rate Quality

   Clear Rating

Rate Difficulty

Share This Trail

Check In



Trail Ratings

  4.3 from 3 votes


  4.3 from 3 votes
5 Star
4 Star
3 Star
2 Star
1 Star
Trail Rankings


in Wyoming


20 Views Last Month
1,758 Since Sep 10, 2015



Shelf Lake
Nov 29, 2018 near Gardiner, MT
Shelf Lake in the late afternoon hue.
Sep 19, 2017 near Gardiner, MT
One of the many twists and turns of Specimen Creek.
Sep 19, 2017 near Gardiner, MT
Shelf Lake
Nov 29, 2018 near Gardiner, MT
On the Specimen Creek Trail near the confluence of the North Fork and the East Fork of Specimen Creek.
May 8, 2016 near Gardiner, MT
Shelf Lake, at 9,160', one of the highest lakes in Yellowstone.
May 8, 2016 near Gardiner, MT


Trail Run Project is part of the REI Co-op family,
where a life outdoors is a life well lived.

Shop REI Running