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blue Summit Lake Trail


16.5 mile 26.5 kilometer point to point
97% Runnable


Ascent: 1,411' 430 m
Descent: -660' -201 m
High: 8,624' 2,628 m
Low: 7,293' 2,223 m


Avg Grade: 2% (1°)
Max Grade: 33% (18°)


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Trail shared by Tom Carter

The seldom used Summit Lake Trail is an enjoyable route to the lake and to Smoke Jumper Hot Springs.

Tom Carter

Features Lake · Views


The Summit Lake Trail begins on the west side of Biscuit Basin. From the Biscuit Basin parking area, cross the Firehole River on the footbridge and continue along the boardwalk to the far side of the basin. About 0.2 miles from the parking area, near Avoca Spring, turn left and follow the Mystic Falls Trail as it leaves the boardwalk and heads into the forest. Continue another 0.1 miles past the Fairy Creek Trail on the right to reach the trailhead to Summit Lake, which splits to the left.

The seldom used Summit Lake Trail is an enjoyable route to the lake and to Smoke Jumper Hot Springs just beyond. However, for the distance and elevation gained, there are many far better trails in Yellowstone.

The Summit Lake Trail begins with a ford of the Little Firehole River (usually doable by late June) followed by a good, 600-foot, climb up the Madison Plateau in the first 1.1 miles. Near the top, intermittent views through the trees to the east of the Upper Geyser Basin may be had. The trail continues to climb for miles, though less steeply, through lodgepole pine forests with pockets of spruce and fir trees and an occasional meadow. Look for through-hikers on the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDT) which uses this trail as part of its 3100-mile trek along the Rocky Mountains between Mexico and Canada.

At the 7.5 mile mark, Summit Lake is reached. The lake, which has no fish, is just over 28 acres in size with a maximum depth of 21 feet. Its elevation is 8552 feet and it lies less than a 1/2-mile from the Continental Divide, hence the name Summit Lake.

The Summit Lake Trail continues west to the Continental Divide (8625'), which is reached at the 8-mile mark. Just past the divide, runners enter the area known as Smoke Jumper Hot Springs. These partially-dry springs were named in the 1950s because Yellowstone fire fighters who jump into forest fires to battle the blaze use backcountry thermal areas like this as guiding land marks in making their jumps.

The Summit Lake Trail continues another 8 miles through fairly uninteresting terrain before terminating at Yellowstones western boundary. Unless you are traveling along the CDT, its recommended that you turn around here and retrace your steps 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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