The Lewis River Channel – Dogshead Loop combines two trails to create an 11.3 hike, passing two of Yellowstone National Park’s largest three lakes along the way. Shoshone Lake is not only the third-largest lake in the park, it’s the largest backcountry lake in the lower 48!
Lewis River Channel-Dogshead Loop Trail Description
The loop can either be done as a clockwise or counterclockwise loop, however for the purposes of this write-up, it was done going clockwise.
Look for the trail to begin along the west side of the parking lot. The Lewis River Channel Trail is a little more discrete than the Dogshead Trail. You’ll snake through the old woods mixed with 1988 fire burn recovery, where roughly one-third of the entire park was burned. Along the way you’ll pass through a small meadow.
Shortly after you’ll cross Dogshead Creek, which may or may not be flowing depending on when in the season you’re hiking. Soon Mount Sheridan comes into view in the distance. You’ll meander along the wetlands where Dogshead Creek flows into Lewis Lake. At this point, Lewis Lake and the Teton Mountains far in the distance begin to come into view. Lewis Lake is Yellowstone National Park’s second-largest lake, behind only Yellowstone Lake.
As you near the lake, you’ll notice a bit more road noise coming from the South Entrance Road on the lake’s east shore. The trail continues just inside of treeline, where you’ll wander along Lewis Lake’s north shore, heading westward. On occasion, you’ll pop out from the forest along a small beach. Interestingly, you’ll notice the beach is primarily made up on volcanic rocks.
At just about 1.9 miles in, you’ll cut away from the shoreline and head back into the forest. Continuing through the forest, you’ll notice the road noise beginning to fade. The quiet sounds of nature will start to become the dominant noise, ultimately becoming the only sounds you’ll hear. Soon you emerge from the forest to reach a remote corner of the lake. This is where the Lewis River Channel feeds into Lewis Lake.
Lewis River Channel
This gorgeous setting is where the Lewis River is too shallow to have a significant flow. As a result, it appears as a long arm of the lake. If needed, this makes for a great spot to stop and relax. Otherwise, continue up the trail where you’ll head back into the forest.
After crossing a small drainage, you’ll follow that by climbing a small hill. Through here you’ll begin to notice the terrain getting a bit hillier. Brief views of the Lewis River Channel allow for serene scenes to be enjoyed along the way. You’ll make another small drainage crossing where you’ll then make a quick climb, the trail paralleling the channel from dozens of feet above.
You’ll begin to see that soon the channel starts to narrow. Shortly after the calm waters begin to flow, as the Lewis River becomes more evident. After a few calming and beautiful views of the river, the trail will veer away and head back into the forest. You’ll cross a small stream before passing wetlands, where you’ll then reach a junction at 6.4 miles in. The main route will head right, but the best views of Shoshone Lake are just a quick detour to the left.
Since you’ve come all this way, you might as well get a little taste of Shoshone Lake. There are several places to enjoy heading left from the junction. Covering a bit of the South Shore of Shoshone Lake Trail, you’ll only have about 0.1 to 0.2 miles to enjoy. Beyond that and the trail fords the lake and then heads up into the woods. As such, it’s best to stop anywhere along the shore that looks comfortable to you and enjoy the view with a snack. The views along the lake won’t get better along this loop. You can also enjoy the fact that you’ve just reached the largest backcountry lake in the lower 48.
When you’re ready, head back up the trail to the junction, and continue straight, avoiding the Lewis River Channel Trail. The trail will wind through a forest for 0.2 miles. Shoshone Lake will be visible through the trees, but not close enough to enjoy as well as the previous detour. After the 0.2 miles, you’ll reach the next junction at 6.6 miles in. Head right to begin back toward the trailhead along the Dogshead Trail.
Beginning down the Dogshead Trail, the forested trek begins to climb a small hill. Through the serene forest, the trail maintains an upward trend. At roughly 7.75 miles in, you’ll reach a small summit where Mount Sheridan rises far in the distance to the southeast. To the southwest, the small gorge of the Lewis River Channel can be made out through gaps in the trees.
You’ll head down from the small summit and back into the forest. As you continue down the Dogshead Trail, you’ll pass a series of ponds that break up the dense, young forest. These make for welcome sights to avoid too much monotony along the trail.
Beyond the ponds you’ll pass over Dogshead Creek, a bit farther upstream from the prior crossing early in the hike. Passing through more of the forest, you’ll round a bend where the trail begins a more southward direction. Here the trail widens, and begins to appear as an old road. Indeed, this was most likely an older route of the South Entrance Road prior to its current positioning. Regardless, through this section the trail is flat and easy. It continues for 0.4 miles, ending back at the trailhead.
From Grant Village, head south along the South Entrance Road for 5.2 miles. Turn right into the trailhead parking, found just before reaching Lewis Lake.
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