Beginner’s Trail Guide: Trout Lake in Yellowstone National Park

The hike to Trout Lake is a great way to top off a morning of wildlife watching in the Lamar Valley (extra bonus: have roadside breakfast at Soda Butte Creek on your way). This 1.2-mile round trip hike in the northeast section of Yellowstone is initially steep but totally doable for beginner hikers. Once you get up to the lake, it’s a nice flat walk around with panoramic views of the mountains.

How do I get there?

Trout Lake is located in the northeast section of the park, and we planned our hike around a morning day trip to the Lamar Valley. The valley is renowned for its wildlife watching opportunities, and we certainly weren’t disappointed! After spending sunrise watching the bison and wolves, we continued northwest on the northeast entrance road until we saw the trailhead for Trout Lake.

The drive is easy – the trailhead is right off a flat, paved road. Your biggest obstacle is bison. They may be in the road or immediately adjacent to it, so be prepared to slow down for them and any drivers oogling them.

bison graze on the side of the northeast entrance road at yellowstone national park
My husband – who was NOT driving – took this. Don’t be the person endangering others because you JUST HAVE TO have a photo.

Where do I go?

There is only one trail at the Trout Lake trailhead, which as you may have guessed, takes you to Trout Lake. The trail is a lollipop shape, so you hike straight to the lake and then have the option to walk around it before heading back down the same trail.

The hike up to the lake is a little bit steep, but the scenery is beautiful so just take as many breaks as you need and soak it all in.

man hiking trout lake trail yellowstone beginner's guide

What should I wear and bring?

Anywhere you hike in Yellowstone, you should have bear spray with you as a precaution. You can buy it ahead of time or rent it at a number of stores in the park. You probably won’t use it, but you should bring it with you and know how to not accidentally spray your spouse in the face with it.

We hiked the trail in the morning in mid-September, so the weather was in the 40s and gradually warmed up. You’ll be plenty warm on the first part of the hike thanks to all the exertion from hiking uphill, so make sure to dress in layers. There is plenty of shade on the trail, with just one side of the lake being in the sun.

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Bundled up! I had a pair of leggings on under my hiking pants, too.

I wore hiking boots, but the trail isn’t particularly rocky so you can get by with any athletic shoes. It was wet on one side of the lake, but my husband was still fine in sneakers. A lot of the grasses surrounding the lake were pretty tall, so I was glad I had pants on instead of shorts.

For more information on what you should bring hiking no matter what trail you’re on, read my previous post here.

Is it crowded?

In the summer, everything is crowded all the time in Yellowstone. Crowded trails are just something you’re signing up for when you go there.

When we hiked Trout Lake in the fall, we only saw a few other hikers since it was also pretty early in the morning (around 8 a.m.). By the time we were coming back down the trail, we passed a lot more hikers than we did on the way up, but it was still manageable. The lack of crowds was one of the biggest reasons we scheduled our visit in the fall, and it definitely paid off.

Anything else I should know?

We happened to do this hike on a totally wind-free day, which meant the mountains’ reflections in the lake were totally stunning.

trout lake beginner hiking yellowstone3
Water so clear you can see straight through it. And so still that you can see the clouds reflected in it.

Everywhere in Yellowstone is bear country. While you shouldn’t let fear keep you from hiking (this was certainly a struggle for me!), it is important to know what the best practices are for hiking in bear country. Yellowstone’s website has great resources.

Honestly, I felt pretty paranoid about bears the entire trip and only started to calm down when there were more hikers around. The only bear we saw was right off the highway on the drive to Grand Teton, but we still had bear spray with us every time and made lots of noise while we hiked!

beginner hiking yellowstone trout lake fall beginner's guide
A few moments of anxiety-free hiking did happen. Bear spray is holstered, though! Check my right hip belt loop out.

A day trip to the Lamar Valley isn’t complete without a hike around Trout Lake. Getting up at the crack of dawn was completely worth it for wildlife watching, seeing the sunrise over the mountains while we had breakfast, and then doing this unbelievably gorgeous hike. While it starts out steep, it’s a great shorter option for beginner hikers visiting Yellowstone. Don’t miss it!

Published by Laura Cardon

Laura Cardon moved to Colorado as an adult and quickly realized how difficult it was to get started exploring the outdoors in a state full of experts. She founded Outdoor Beginner in 2014 to fill the gap in beginner-friendly content for camping, hiking, skiing, and other outdoor activities. In addition to Outdoor Beginner, she coaches beginner trail runners and works at Runners Roost in Golden, Colorado, where she lives with her spouse and toddler.

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