Distance: 5.75 miles (loop)
Best time of year: Spring, Summer, Fall
Last hiked: 2015 September
The Beaver Ponds Loop is an excellent hike to get you away from the crowds at Mammoth Hot Springs, as well as provide you with fantastic views over the surrounding landscape. With plenty of open space, it’s also a great opportunity to potentially spot wildlife.
Tip: If you’re hiking in the evening, start the loop near Mammoth Hot Springs. If you’re hiking in the morning, start the loop from the back-side of the Mammoth Hotel. Heading in one direction or the other will be more conducive for the lighting at that particular time of day.
The main trailhead is located between the main restroom facilities and the Mammoth Hot Springs boardwalks. Begin your hike there as it follows Clematis Creek upward into a canyon. After .7 miles, the trail meets a junction which can take you farther into the backcountry toward Sepulcher Mountain, or along the Beaver Ponds Trail, the latter being our destination this time.
Take the fork to the right and follow the trail through rolling grassland hills spotted with evergreen trees. For a few brief moments, this part of the trail actually reminded me of many of the spots I saw on the stretch of the Arizona Trail that I was able to hike last spring.
Soon the trail opens up onto a large open hillside covered in high desert grasses. The views out toward Mount Everts and the Absaroka Mountains to the north are spectacular through this section. After enjoying the views, the trail winds back into an old forest and crosses a small creek.
Note: Along the way in this area I saw multiple pieces of litter. Under no circumstances are you ever to leave any pieces of trash behind. If you’re not prepared to carry everything out with you, then please do everyone else a favor and stay off the trail. This includes food trash, fruit peels, tissue paper, toilet paper, etc. Burying it also does not get rid of it. It’s only a matter of time before a predator comes to dig it up, endangering other hikers and subsequently leaving the trash sitting on the side of the trail. Leave no trace!
The trail continues to meander in and out of old forests and meadows until you finally come to the first beaver pond along the Beaver Ponds Loop. Interestingly enough, you’ve also just crossed from Wyoming into Montana. The trail passes the pond, bringing you by another smaller one, and then to a couple of larger beaver ponds for which the trail is named. Given their size and significance, you can certainly see why such a great hike was created for them.
As the trail winds around the ponds to the east, great views of the mountains to the west come into view. Also on the eastern side is where the actual beaver dams are. The trail crosses the creek just downstream from one of the dams over an old log bridge, then climbs up a small ridge where nice views open up on top.
The trail continues through the forest, and then for the last mile, brings you out onto a large plateau known as Elk Plaza. It’s a massive grasslands area that you skirted the top of earlier in the hike. Now lower down and closer to the edge of the plateau, amazing views open up out in the distance and below (though it’s nothing anyone with a fear of heights should be concerned with). The trail heads just above the old Gardiner-Mammoth Road as you near the end, and both begin working their way down the hill to the back of the Mammoth Hotel. From here, it’s a short .3 mile walk back to the other trailhead.
From the Mammoth Hotel, either walk to Mammoth Hot Springs and look for the trail just before the boardwalk, or, walk behind the hotel to the north and access the other end of the loop where the Old Gardiner Road heads up the hill. If you’re parking your car, look for a spot near the Liberty Cap, or in the parking lot across the street from it. If that’s full, another option is near the Visitor Center a bit farther north.