The Up River Ski Loop is shorter but more challenging than the Down River Ski Loop Trail
, especially the second half of the loop coming back through the trees. From the trailhead in West Yellowstone the full loop is 4.1 miles (including both ways on the 1.2-mile connector trail used to reach the starting point).
After cruising through the flat, straight, rather boring 1.2-mile Connector to Riverside Ski Trails
you arrive at a junction. To the right is the Up River Ski Loop (to the left is the Down River Ski Loop). Turn right and begin your adventure.
The trail quickly comes to a nice overlook of the Madison River then drops down a fun hill to reach the banks of the river. The Madison forms at the joining of the Firehole and Gibbon rivers about 12 miles up stream. The river ends near Three Forks, Montana where it joins the Jefferson and Gallatin rivers to form the Missouri River. Lewis and Clark named these rivers in 1805 to honor three individuals who were important to the expedition – President Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State James Madison (who negotiated the Louisiana Purchase), and Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin (who paid for the trip).
As the trail continues along the Madison, look for waterfowl including trumpeter swans and Canada geese. You might also spot an osprey or bald eagle circling above searching for a meal of brown, rainbow, or cutthroat trout or large whitefish that populate the river. The small structure on the banks of the river up ahead is a Stream Gaging Station operated by the USGS to measure the Madison’s water level and flow rate.
At the .7-mile mark the trail loops back to the right and enters the trees for the return trip. The second half of the loop is not hard, but it is a little more challenging, with a few small hills and a couple of tight turns. This portion is fun if you can handle it. Many like the river so much they just turn around and follow their ski tracks back. If you continue the loop it's a mile through the trees back to the junction.
Thanks to guidebook author, Tom Carter, for sharing this trail description. To learn more about visiting Yellowstone, check out his book, Day Hiking Yellowstone
Watch for trumpeter swans on the Madison River. The river never freezes because of the hot spring runoff up stream. This allows these rare birds to winter here. These graceful birds grow to thirty pounds and have a wingspan of eight feet. Watch for their long neck to pop up like a periscope. If you see one, there is a good chance you will see another. They often mate for life and are usually seen in pairs. If you see some with a brown tone, these are their cygnets.