“A tough route with awesome views, one of Yellowstone's best - hands down!
— Tom Carter
Fall Colors · River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife
Climbing Electric Peak is a Yellowstone classic! At nearly 11,000 feet, Electric is the monarch of northern Yellowstone. From the peak, hardy visitors can see nearly 100 miles in every direction on a clear day - from the Tetons to the south, to the Beartooths in the east, to the Crazys up north, and the Madison Range out west. The views cannot be beat!
The trail penetrates Gallatin Bear Management Area; no off-trail travel is permitted May 1 to November 10 and group size of 4 or more is recommended. Snow cover may prevent travel to the summit until mid-July. The final 1/2 mile requires some hand over foot scrambling on steep ridges and over loose scree. Plan extra time for this section and use extreme caution. Plan to summit before noon. Afternoon thunderstorms are common.You should not be exposed anywhere on the southeast ridge when one hits!
Need to Know
This route can be done as a very long day. It can also be done as an overnighter. There are 2 excellent campsites (1G3 & 1G4) on the Gardner River just past the turnoff to the Electric Peak-Southeast Ridge Trail
. In any event, you should summit before noon to avoid afternoon thunderstorms that are common in the mountains.
This out-and-back run begins at Glen Creek Trail
on the west side of the Mammoth to Norris Road, just south of Rustic Falls. Park in the Bunsen Peak
parking area and head a few yards south along the highway across Glen Creek to reach the trailhead.
The trail follows Glen Creek 6.2 miles to a junction with the Electric Peak-Southeast Ridge Trail
. Glen Creek Trail
is a lovely trail itself, which traverses the northern end of Swan Lake Flat, a beautiful open meadow set against the Gallatin Mountains. Along the way it passes trailheads for the Howard Eaton Trail (on the right at the .2-mile mark), the Fawn Pass Trail
(on the left at 2.2 miles) and the Snow Pass Trail
(on right at 2.4 miles). This first section of the trail was once used by wagons traveling between Mammoth and Norris via Snow Pass, before the current route through the Golden Gate was built in the 1880s.
From the Snow Pass Trail
junction the trail continues along Glen Creek as it enters a ravine and begins a 700-foot climb over the next 4 miles. At 3.1 miles the Sepulcher Mountain Trail
junction is passed on the right. Watch for moose in this area. In July and August, tall yellow goldenrod abound. Indians use these flowers to make yellow dye or to clean wounds and sores. The trail continues to follow Glen Creek upstream passing a spur trail to Cache Lake at the 5.2-mile mark (on the right) and ending at a junction with the Sportsman Lake Trail
and the Electric Peak-Southeast Ridge Trail
. Turn right and follow the Electric Peak Trail, which starts slowly, but ends with a bang.
The first 1.2 miles of the Electric Peak Trail meanders through forests and meadows gaining little elevation. Then it breaks out to a dramatic overlook of the Gardiner River. From there, the trail picks up the southeast ridge and closely follows it, ascending nearly 3,000 feet in the next 2.1 miles.
For decades, Electric was thought to be Yellowstone's highest peak. Park maps well into the 1900s showed its elevation as over 11,000 feet. More accurate observations determined the peak to be 10,992 feet above sea level. And further explorations of the rugged Absaroka Range on the park's eastern boundary identified 5 Yellowstone peaks that are higher (however, none are accessible by trail).
At the 8.2-mile mark, the trail breaks out of the trees for good and the views become grander and grander, and the trail steeper and steeper, each step of the way. At 8.9 miles, notice the change in geology. From here to the top the iron-rich sedimentary rocks take on a decidedly red color. The last .6 miles is a scramble over seemingly endless piles of this rock. Along the way, you cross over the boundary between Wyoming and Montana (most of Yellowstone lies in Wyoming with small portions in Montana and Idaho).This is also the 45th parallel of latitude, halfway between the North Pole and the Equator.
You reach the summit at the 9.5-mile mark. In 1872, members of the second Hayden Survey set out to climb Electric Peak. As they neared the summit the geological party heard a "crackling noise" and felt electricity "so strong that [they] were obliged to . . . hurry down." This is how Electric Peak got its name. It's doubtful you'll be shocked, but you'll get a strong sensation from the panoramic view that unfolds. There's a sign in box, so you can place your name among those who have reached the top. Congratulations, you're a member of an elite group!
Once you have enjoyed your stay on top of the world, 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
Flora & Fauna
Look for buffalo, elk, and bear in the open meadows of Swan Lake Flat. Further up, along Glen Creek is good moose habitat.