Parked for a Day is a user-submitted feature that lets readers share favorite activities in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Parked for a Day activities require parking the car, and can be done in a single day. Share your favorite Parked for a Day activity and we’ll feature it on Yellowstone Gate.
By Sandy Sisti
For an enjoyable early or late season hike in Yellowstone, the Slough Creek Trail offers unparalleled scenery and great fishing. The trail starts near the Slough Creek Campground and travels 11 miles to the park’s northern boundary, following Slough Creek for most of the way. This excellent trail is actually an old wagon road leading to the Silver Tip Ranch, just north of Yellowstone. The road is still used by ranch residents to gain access to the Silver Tip, so don’t be surprised if you encounter a few horse-drawn wagons on your journey. If you do, please follow proper trail etiquette and step off the trail to allow them to pass.
To find the Slough Creek trailhead, follow the gravel road leading to Slough Creek Campground (the gravel road leaves the main road about 10 miles east of Tower). The trailhead is about two miles up the gravel road, near vault toilets.
As you begin your hike, you’ll climb a small hill which offers beautiful views of Little America to the south and Cutoff Mountain to the northeast. The toughest part of the hike, a moderate climb, is the first mile or so, with relatively easy hiking after that. During late spring and early summer, the trail’s sunny hillsides are blanketed with arrowleaf balsamroot, sticky geranium, alpine forget-me-nots, and other colorful wildflowers. You’ll also encounter two small ponds on the east side of the trail, which attract songbirds by the dozens. Unfortunately, these ponds and Slough Creek attract clouds of mosquitoes, so be sure to pack the insect repellent or hike before or after mosquito season, which is usually at its worst during the month of July.
After a bit more than a mile, the trail descends into the open valley of Slough Creek, often referred to as the “First Meadow.” (There is also a Second Meadow and Third Meadow.) Slough Creek is a popular fishing destination so you’ll likely find numerous anglers along the creek, trying their luck with the resident cutthroat trout population. You may also spot moose in the boggy meadow, along with bison, elk and a healthy population of sandhill cranes.
As you approach two miles in, the trail will intersect with the Buffalo Plateau Trail, which heads north after a ford of Slough Creek (which can be a very difficult to cross through the end of July). If you continue east on the Slough Creek Trail, two ranger patrol cabins will come into view as you make your gradual ascent out of the first meadow. Due to the wide variety of edible plants, the area above the first meadow has become something of a hot spot for foraging bears, so always be on the alert for these large bruins. As with all trails in Yellowstone, be sure to always hike with your bear spray available and know how to use it.
Since Slough Creek is an out-and-back hike, you may want to start your hike early in the day to allow enough time to make it to your destination along the creek and return to the trailhead before dark. If you’re traveling at a more leisurely pace, why not set up camp at one of the numerous campsites along the trail’s route and spend the night? Because these backcountry campsites are some of the most popular in the Park, you’ll need to make your reservations early to ensure a spot is available. Over the last few years, there have been some bear problems at these campsites, so be sure to have all your food and garbage appropriately stored to minimize your risk of an encounter.
Whether you hike the entire 11 miles of the trail or just part of the way along the creek, the Slough Creek Trail is one of the most enjoyable in the park. And what better way to enjoy Yellowstone than to get away from the crowds along the loop roads and spend the day in the backcountry, surrounded by nature? For many, this is what Yellowstone is all about.
Sandy Sisti is a wildlife and nature photographer based just outside the east entrance of Yellowstone, in the heart of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Sisti is also an avid hiker who enjoys exploring Yellowstone’s backcountry.