Why should I hike to Heart Lake?
While Heart Lake is one of the most popular backcountry trails in the park, it is for good reason. The first half of the hike in is relatively flat followed by a steeper descent to the lake from the saddle near Factory Hill. Following Witch Creek down to the lake is like entering your own little geothermal hot spot. The trail crosses its hot water in a few areas. Once at the lake, visitors can choose to camp for one or two nights. Many spend a layover day fishing the plentiful waters of Heart Lake, while some scramble to the top of the nearby towering Mt. Sheridan.
Where is the trailhead?
South of West Thumb (roughly 7 miles), look for a parking area on the east side of the road at Heart Lake Trailhead.
What can I expect?
- Distance: 16.2 miles round-trip (for a shorter day hike, you can just go about half way to where you can see the lake from the saddle).
- Average Time of Hike: 4-7 hours one-way.
- Elevation Gain: Gain about 865 feet to the saddle and then drop 1188 feet to the lake (reverse on the way out).
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trail Type: Out and Back
Any suggestions on planning and preparing for this trail?
Due to grizzly habitat, the Heart Lake Trail doesn't open until July 1st. If you want to continue past the lake, further into the backcountry, the Trail Creek Trail does not open until July 15th.
Backcountry permits are required and because this is a popular backpacking area, it is recommended to apply for a permit early. Details can be found on the Yellowstone NPS Backcountry Trip Planner.
If you plan to fish, make sure to acquire a fishing license before heading out on the trail.