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Yellowstone Lake is Yellowstone National Parks largest lake, covering 136 square miles and boasting 110 miles of shore-line. For its elevation, it is the second largest freshwater lake in the world, the first being 3,200-square-mile Lake Titicaca on the Bolivia-Peru border. The region south of Yellowstone Lake constitutes one of the largest roadless wilderness areas outside of Alaska and Canada. This region is accessible only by foot.

Thomas Moran - NPSThe primary hiking destination in the Lake area is Pelican Creek drainage. Pelican Creek played an important roll in the 1877 flight of Chief Joseph and his Nez Perce (pronounced Nay Per-say) people from the U.S. Army commanded by Maj. Gen. 0.0. Howard. The Nez Perce split into two groups just before reaching Pelican Creek, where they eluded Howard's men. Most of the group, including women and children, proceeded up Pelican Creek and out the northeast corner via the dark's Fork, while a band of braves diverted Howards men north through Hayden and Lamar valleys. The braves then made their escape through the northeast entrance as well, and regrouped, leaving Gen. Howard behind. But as Chief Joseph struck north, heading for Canada, he slowed his group near the Milk River in present day Montana, believing that he was across the Canada border. Meanwhile, Gen. Miles and his Fifth Infantry, coming from the east, intersected Chief Joseph. Gen. Howard caught up with the fleeing Indians and Gen. Miles. Outnumbered, Chief Joseph was forced to surrender in Montana on October 5, 1877-between the Bear Paw Mountains and the Milk River-after three months of pursuit.

Pelican Valley also is known for its open, tranquil valley and abundant wildlife especially grizzly bears, bison, coyotes and birds of prey. Other hikes lead to mountaintops offering unparalleled views of Yellowstone, or to natural bridges, lakeshores or backcountry lakes.

Natural Bridge
Length: 1.15 miles, one way.
Elevation change: Trailhead at 7,737 feet (103-foot gain). 
Trailhead: Located 2 miles south of Lake Hotel Junction on the Lake-West Thumb Road. The trailhead is just south of Bridge Bay bridge, near the Bridge Bay Campground.

Until the early 1990s, the Natural Bridge was accessible by car. It since has been barricaded and is approachable only by foot or bicycle for visitors, making it one of the few, but extremely short, bicycling routes in the park. Two approaches are possible. The first is from the highway just south of the Bridge Bay bridge, at the barricade. From there, it is a good bicycle trip or a foot walk down the straight lodgepole-lined, paved road to Natural Bridge. The other route is from the campground. The trail starts from campsite A50 and skirts the western edge of Bridge Bay before merging with the paved road. The Natural Bridge was discovered during the 1871 Hayden Survey and aptly named for this natural feature. The bridge has a span of about 30 feet and rises about 10 feet above the creek. The top of the arch is about 40 feet above the creek.

Early Corps of Engineers Superintendent Hiram Chittenden, responsible for the construction of the Grand Loop Road, proposed to build a highway over the arch. Because of revenue restrictions, though, this was never accomplished.

Elephant Back Mountain Trail
Length: 3-mile loop.
Elevation change: Trailhead at 7,800 feet (800-foot gain). 
Trailhead: Elephant Back Mountain Trailhead is on the west side of the Grand Loop Road, about a mile south of Fishing Bridge junction.

The trailhead for Elephant Back Mountain is about a mile south of Fishing Bridge junction or a mile north of Lake hotel. It also is easily accessed by foot from Lake Lodge. From the lodge cut northwest through the trees and across the Grand Loop Road to the trailhead.

This is a great hike for those staying in the Lake area and wanting an overview of Yellowstone Lake. The trail begins in the trees, then splits-take the trail to the right-and ascends a fairly steep climb of 800 feet, whereupon the view opens up to a spectacular vista of the Lake development, Yellowstone Lake and the Absaroka Range. The trail then continues down and merges near the trailhead to form a loop.

The Hayden Expedition named Elephant Back Mountain in 1871 for its resemblance to the creature, as formed by "the almost vertical sides of this mountain, and the rounded form of the summit."

Pelican Creek Nature Trail
Length: 0.5 miles, one way.
Elevation change: Trailhead at 7,750 feet (No substantial elevation change).
Trailhead: Located about 1.5 miles east of Lake Junction on the East Entrance Road at Pelican Creek bridge.

The Pelican Creek Nature Trail-outside of the Mt. Wash-burn Trail-is one of the most rewarding hikes for its length in Yellowstone. It is especially rewarding as a dawn or evening hike. The trailhead is located at a turn out just southwest of the Pelican Creek bridge. The trail actually follows Pelican Creek to the inlet of Yellowstone Lake. From the trailhead, the trail crosses a marshy area via a wooden boardwalk, then crosses a lodge pole forest and ends at the obsidian-sand beach of Yellowstone Lake. While walking along Pelican ;;l§i Creek, keep an eye out for otters If II that frequent this section of the river. Ducks, too, can be found dipping or diving along this stretch. At the inlet are several sand spits, which can either be slightly submerged or above water, depending on the level of the lake. This area is a favorite for pelicans-the namesake given to the Creek by the 1864 James Stuart prospecting party-cormorants, and common mergansers. From this point, evening light and sunsets are especially enchanting, and photographic opportunities are unmatched.

Storm Point Trail
Length: 1.6 miles, loop.
Elevation change: Trailhead at 7,760 feet (21-foot gain). 
Trailhead: The trailhead is located 2.8 miles east of Lake Junction on the East Entrance Road at the Indian Pond (formerly Squaw Lake) parking area.

Storm Point is a good, short, early or late day stroll to a vantage point overlooking Yellowstone Lake and shore. Mornings and evenings generally are calmer, as mid-afternoon winds from the southwest race across the lake unabated, producing choppy water with frothy white caps. The wind then funnels through Mary Bay, to the east, and becomes even more violent.

During the mid-1980s, the University of Michigan explored the bottom of Mary Bay using a tethered submersible camera mounted in a small vacuum-cleaner-sized submarine. What they discovered at the bottom of the bay were hot springs bubbling through the sandy bottom and aquatic creatures nearly twice their normal size for a mountain lake. Deeper in the lake, they discovered geysers that erupt just as their land counterparts do.

The flat meadow just before the lake is renowned for its wildlife. Several dusty or muddy, dish-shaped, barren patches in the meadow are used by bison, or buffalo, as wallows. Grizzly bears also frequent this meadow, especially in early spring. Elk and occasionally moose utilize the meadow in the fall.

On this site on July 28, the 1871 Hayden survey arrived at Yellowstone Lake. "The entire party were filled with enthusiasm," wrote Ferdinand Hayden, the expedition leader, in his journal. The party set up camp on the quiet waters of Mary Bay and proclaimed it "one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever beheld.... The great object of all our labors had been reached, and we were amply paid for all our toils."

Turbid Lake Trail
Length: 3.0 miles, one way.
Elevation change: Trailhead at 7,800 feet (37-foot gain). 
Trailhead: Located at the Pelican Creek Trailhead at the end of a short service road. The turn off for this road, 3.2 miles west of Lake Junction, is across from Indian Pond (formerly known as Squaw Lake).

Turbid Lake is a relatively shallow, 143-acre lake. It was named by members of the 1878 Hayden Survey for its murky, frothy, tan waters. Springs under the lake bubble constantly, producing the turbidity. The lake water also is very acidic and, for this reason, is void offish and other aquatic life. The shoreline also is barren of green vegetation.

The trailhead for this unusual lake begins across from Indian Pond. A dirt road angles off the north side of the East Entrance Road and dead-ends at a barricade after about 0.2 miles. The trail begins behind the barricade and follows the old service road due east to Turbid Lake. The trail is an easy hike, skirting the edge of a large meadow in the beginning, then entering a dense forest. The trail eventually emerges at the southwestern shore.

This area is well-known for its wildlife, as bison usually inhabit the small meadow openings. Grizzlies, too, occasionally are seen wandering through this region; in fact, one even mauled a hiker here in 1986, so be alert.

Avalanche Peak Trail
Length: 2.5 miles, one way.
Elevation change: Trailhead at 8,466 feet (2100-foot gain). 
Trailhead: The trailhead is located about 0.75 miles east of Sylvan Lake, or just west of Eleanor Lake, on the East Entrance Road. Coming from Cody, the trailhead is 0.4 miles west of Sylvan Pass. An unmarked trail climbs steeply from the road.

There is no designated parking, but the trail begins across the road from the picnic area at the west end of Eleanor Lake. The Avalanche Peak Trail is one of the best summer hikes, but because of its elevation and its heavy snow accumulation in winter, it usually is not accessible until after mid-July. By then, the snowfields have receded and subalpine flowers are in full bloom.

The trail to Avalanche Peak historically has been a very popular trail, providing a magnificent view of the western landscape of the park. But the trail has never been an official Park Service trail and today remains an unmarked-but well-worn-path that winds its way to the summit. Through the years, the Sierra Club, has maintained the trail, and it is perhaps one of the cleanest trails in the park.

From the highway, the trail begins a steep 2100-foot ascent through a dense spruce and fir forest, and a series of switchbacks to the 10,566-foot summit. Near the summit, the trail becomes faint in the scree slope, and route-finding becomes necessary. Avalanche Peak straddles the western boundary of the Park and the terrain to the east is in the Shoshone National Forest.

Thorofare Trail
Length from Thorofare Trailhead to:
Clear Creek - 2.6 miles, one way.
Elk Point - 3.1 miles, one way.
Park Point - 6 miles, one way.
Signal Point - 7.1 miles, one way.
Columbine Creek - 9.8 miles, one way.
Terrace Point - 14.5 miles, one way.
Cabin Creek/Trail Creek junction - 19.6 miles, one way.
Mountain Creek - 24.5 miles, one way.
Thorofare Ranger Station - 31.0 miles, one way.
South park boundary - 32.0 miles, one way.
Bridger Lake - 33.0 miles, one way.

Elevation change: Trailhead at 8,085 feet (227-foot loss). 
Trailhead: Located ten miles east of Lake Junction on the East Entrance Road and a half mile east of the entrance to Lake Butte Road. The small trailhead is nothing more than a turnout just south of Lake Butte.

The Thorofare Trail probably is the most extensive trail in Yellowstone and reaches into the remote center of the largest wilderness in the lower 48 states. But because of the distance and remoteness, few venture into this pristine region. Those who do access it primarily from the south, through the Teton Wilderness and Two Ocean Plateau, and usually by horseback. Extensive planning is needed to arrange for trailhead transportation, food (or food caches) and appropriate gear for extended trips.

Nonetheless, the Thorofare Trail is not a strenuous trail. It mainly follows the east shoreline of Yellowstone Lake and the slow, meandering inlet of the Yellowstone River. With a few minor ups and downs, the trail is relatively flat. In spring and early summer, the greatest hazards are the streams and creeks near their inlets to the lake. They generally are swollen with snowmelt and usually have breached their banks. Only a few makeshift fallen-log bridges cross these streams, and crossing or fording these streams otherwise is extremely dangerous.

The eastern shore of Yellowstone Lake also is known for some of the best fishing in Yellowstone. Several of the points- Elk, Park, Signal or Terrace-are legendary for being some of the best. The Thorofare Trail is an old and well-established trail, probably originating as a game trail, later used by Native Americans, trappers and even later by early expeditions, including the historic 1871 Hayden Survey. Artist Thomas Moran and photographer William H. Jackson accompanied that expedition, capturing some of the first images of this region of the park. Many of the peaks and monuments to the east echo the names of many of those early expedition leaders, including Mt. Doane (10,656 feet), Mt. Stevenson (10,352 feet), and Langford Cairn (8,842 feet).

The upper Yellowstone River is a remote wilderness in itself. The meandering river, with its broad, willow, sedge- and rush-filled, marshy valley provides ideal habitat for moose, waterfowl and grizzly bears.

In the upper Yellowstone basin are several access trails. One is the Trail Creek Trail, which originates at Heart Lake Trail (see Heart lake Trail for description) and follows the bottom of the south and southeast arms of Yellowstone Lake before emerging with the Thorofare Trail at the Cabin Creek patrol cabin. Another trail from the west is the South Boundary Trail (see South Boundary Trail for description). This trail joins the system at the Thorofare Ranger Station.

From the Thorofare Ranger Station, near the south boundary in the southeast corner of the park, are a number of trails leading in other directions. This is considered the crossroads of the Two Ocean Plateau and Thorofare regions, and trails merge and diverge south, west and east from here, leading to Bridger-Teton National Forest and Grand Teton National Park.

Bridger Lake lies just south of the boundary and is a legendary landmark for early fur trappers. Another interesting feature south of Bridger Lake on the Continental Divide is Two Ocean Creek. It is one of two streams in North America-the other is in Canada-where a bizarre phenomena occurs: The stream flows downward and splits in half, one half flowing east to the Atlantic Ocean and the other half flowing to the Pacific Ocean.



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