Features: Birding — Lake — River/Creek — Views — Wildflowers — Wildlife
Dogs: No Dogs
This one-way run across the Gallatin Range can be taken in either direction, but east-to-west is preferred because there’s a net loss of 1,000 feet, and it avoids climbing up the long, steep western approach to Electric Divide. The trailhead for Sportsman Lake Trail is 6.2 miles from the Mammoth to Norris Road, reached via the Glen Creek Trail
. The 16-mile trail ends at a junction with the Specimen Creek Trail
, about 2.1 miles from Hwy 191.
From the trailhead, the Sportsman Lake Trail quickly drops to the first of 2 Gardner River crossings (look for a good log to cross). There are several campsites in the area. Due to bear restrictions, there are no other campsites until you reach Sportsman Lake, 7 miles away. The trail climbs gently through the trees to the second crossing at 1.5 miles. The river, which is not difficult to cross by July, is named for Johnson Gardner, who trapped beaver in the area in the 1830s.
At the 3-mile mark, the trail begins to break out into beautiful open rocky meadows that lead to the pass. Stay alert, in late summer, high mountain meadows like this are excellent for viewing elk, big horn sheep, and grizzly. The trail continues its steady but never difficult climb, then makes its final push to the pass via short switchbacks. From 9785-foot Electric Divide you get your first views to the west toward Sportsman Lake.
From the divide, the trail drops more than 2000 feet (steeply in places) in the next 3 miles through open meadows then forests to Sportsman Lake. The small, 4-acre lake is in a beautiful setting nestled below rock cliffs. There are several campsites and a petrol cabin in the area. The best view of the lake is from Campsite WD3 (take the short spur trail to the right across the meadow). There’s good fishing for cutthroat trout, hence the name “Sportsman” Lake. The rock on the east side is sometimes called Yahoo Rock.
The trail then climbs 600 feet through heavily burned forests in the next 1.6 miles, then drops 400 feet to a crossing of the North Fork of Fan Creek at the 10.3-mile mark (the Fan Creek Trail
splits off to the left here). The trail regains 200 feet by the 11-mile mark but it’s all downhill from there, dropping 1000 feet in the final 5 miles. At 11.4 miles the Crescent Lake-High Lake Trail
splits to the right. From there, the trail turns left and follows the East Fork of Specimen Creek through a heavily burned ravine to its end at the Specimen Creek Trail
, just after crossing the creek.
Thanks to guidebook author, Tom Carter, for sharing this trail description. To learn more about visiting Yellowstone, check out his book, Day Hiking Yellowstone
Runners will often see herds of elk and occasionally spot mountain goats and bighorn sheep in the high mountain meadows around Electric Divide. Grizzly bears are also frequently seen on this trail.