Distance: 2 miles (one way)
Best time of year: Spring, Summer, Fall
Last hiked: 2015 September
The Specimen Ridge Trail is a lengthy 18.8 miles long trail that starts by the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River and travels nearly the entire length of the Lamar Valley high above. Along the way you pass the canyon, as mentioned, as well as Amethyst Mountain, amethyst and opal deposits, a petrified forest, and a plethora of wildlife. This post covers the first 2 miles, but I hope to have the full trail documented in the next season or two.
The trail begins at the Yellowstone River Picnic Area, which can make parking tricky depending on the time of day you arrive. The trailhead is easily found at the south end of the parking area and begins a gradual ascent up the canyon’s rim. Along the way, excellent views of Junction Butte on the other side of the road come into view. Those with keen eyes could possibly spot wolves or grizzlies on the butte, among other wildlife (especially if there are a lot of cars below also looking).
The trail crests the ridge, and from this point on, it’s all pretty easy going with some incredible scenery of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. An unmaintained trail heads back in the direction you came from via the ridge. You can take this on your way back if you’d like to see a bit more of the canyon and follow a steep (probably older) wildlife trail will bring you back down to the picnic area. The main trail begins to head southward, up the canyon.
Different views looking straight down into the canyon at times make this one of the slower two mile hikes, despite the trail being easy-going. Most people will be distracted by the many different vantage points and jaw-dropping vistas looking up and down the canyon. It doesn’t take much hiking before the Calcite Springs stop along the highway on the other side of the canyon comes into view with people high up on the edge of a protected cliff. Farther up the trail a view of the Tower Falls area comes into view as well.
Small ups and downs are found along the trail as it gradually climbs higher, ultimately reaching the base of Specimen Ridge where it joins with another trail and begins its ascent upward. For the purposes of this short hike, this makes for a good turnaround point with a great view up into a relatively open area of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
From the Tower/Roosevelt Junction, head toward the Lamar Valley for 1.25 miles, crossing over the Yellowstone River and turning right into the Yellowstone River Picnic Area. The trailhead is located at the south end of the picnic area.