This 4.2-mile, mostly downhill trail follows a section of the historic Howard Eaton Trail from Swan Lake Flat to Mammoth Hot Springs. Along the way you'll get great views of the Gallatin Range, the Golden Gate, the Hoodoos, and the Upper Mammoth Terraces.
You'll need to either leave a car at Mammoth or arrange to be picked up at the end of this shuttled route.
This 4.2-mile, mostly downhill route follows a section of the Howard Eaton Trail (HET) from Swan Lake Flat to Mammoth Hot Springs. It is the most enjoyable of the few remaining sections of the historic HET. Dedicated in 1923, the 157-mile HET was built to accommodate saddle-horse parties touring the park after automobiles pushed them off the highway. The NPS built the HET quickly by “joining abandoned old roads, connecting existing game trails and making a trail route through open meadows with guide posts and signs.” The trail was named in honor of Howard Eaton, the “Dean” of Yellowstone saddle-horse guides.
The route 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 work your way a few yards south along the highway across Glen Creek to reach the trailhead. The trail follows Glen Creek .2 miles to a junction with the Howard Eaton Trail. From its well-marked trailhead, the HET quickly enters the forest and climbs 150 feet in the first 1/2 mile.
Near the highpoint, views become good of Bunsen Peak
to the east (with impressive Cathedral Rock protruding to the north) and Swan Lake Flat to the south with the Gallatin Range beyond. The furthest peak you can see in the Gallatin Range is Mount Holmes (10,336'), then to the right is Antler Peak (10,023') and Quadrant Mountain (9,944').
Directly below you the highway passes through the "Golden Gate" so named because of the golden-colored lichens that cover the canyon walls. In the 1880s the first stagecoach road was built along Glen Creek, following a route similar to the current highway. The road itself was an impressive engineering accomplishment and received considerable attention. Author Rudyard Kipling, touring the park in 1889, exclaimed, "We heard the roar of the river, and the road went around a corner . . . Then my stomach departed from me . . . for we left the dirt, which was at least some guarantee of safety, and sailed out around the curve, and up to a steep incline, on a plank-road built out from the cliff . . . That was the Golden Gate."
Continuing north from the highpoint, the trail narrows and hugs the rock on the left as it begins its 1000-foot descent to Mammoth. At the 1.4 mile mark, the trail crosses through a section of The Hoodoos, a jumble of towering gray limestone blocks, also called the Silver Gate. These travertine blocks are remains of ancient hot spring terraces (similar to Mammoth Hot Springs) that over thousands of years broke away and cascaded down from the top of Terrace Mountain above you on the left. They were dubbed "Hoodoos," because of the rock's ghostly shapes.
At 2.8 miles, the HET crosses the Snow Pass Trail
, and at 3 miles it breaks out of the trees and enters the upper Mammoth Terrace area. Watch carefully for the orange markers that will lead you through this hot spring area. At the 3.4-mile mark, the trail approaches Upper Terrace Drive near impressive Orange Spring Mound. The trail continues just above the road, past the remnants of New Highland Terrace, and at the 3.5-mile mark, turns left and leaves the road.
Soon the trail passes beautiful Narrow Gage Springs & Terrace, then drops more than 200 feet in .3 miles to a junction with the Beaver Ponds Loop
Trail. From there, turn right and continue .2 miles to Mammoth.
Thanks to guidebook author, Tom Carter, for sharing this trail description. To learn more about visiting Yellowstone, check out his book, Day Hiking Yellowstone