There is no shortage of waterfalls in Yellowstone National Park, but if you’re looking for a shorter hike that’s beginner-friendly, Mystic Falls is your best bet in the southwest section of the park.
The trailhead is located at Biscuit Basin, a 10-minute drive from the Old Faithful Inn. After 2.5 miles (round trip), you’ll have seen a spectacular waterfall, hike along the Little Firehole (best name ever) River, and only have had to deal with rolling hills to get there.
How do I get there?
The Mystic Falls trailhead starts at the far end of the Biscuit Basin boardwalk. It’s most convenient to Old Faithful Inn on the southwestern side of the park.
The drive from Old Faithful is short (less than 10 minutes), and the entire way is paved and easy to navigate.
Where do I go?
There is a fork in the trail shortly after you leave the Biscuit Basin boardwalk and start hiking on the unpaved trail. Go left for to go to Mystic Falls – it’s not particularly well marked, so keep an eye out.
The trail is an out-and-back, meaning you hike to the falls, turnaround, and walk back on the same trail. The average person walks about two miles per hour, so this hike should take you between one and two hours.
The entire hike is rolling hills and very beginner-friendly since the trail is wide and well-maintained. You’ll have a little bit of a steep drop-off on your left when you’re hiking out because the river is off to that side, but it’s nothing precarious. I was getting over altitude sickness and, with the help of hiking poles, was totally fine.
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 always bring it with you and know how to use it so you don’t accidentally spray yourself (or your spouse) in the face.
Sidenote: I saw a reminder in one of our guidebooks that bear spray does not work like bug spray in that you DEFINITELY don’t want to spray it all over yourself to repel bears. I thought it was a hilarious tip, but just in case you were unsure…you use bear spray to spray a bear that is too close or being aggressive, you don’t put it on yourself. That would be very painful.
I hike the trail in mid-September, and the weather was delightful. We didn’t get a very early start, so it was already in the high 40s or mid-50s by the time we started hiking. The trail is pretty sunny, so I was actually a little hot in long sleeves and pants. In the summer, I’d imagine it could get quite warm.
For more information on what you should bring hiking no matter what trail you’re on, read my previous post here.
I decided to wear hiking boots instead of sneakers because I prefer the extra ankle support. However, my husband wore trail running sneakers and was totally fine. You don’t have to cross water at any point, so you don’t need waterproof shoes. There also aren’t any super rocky sections until you’re right up against the falls at the end, and you don’t want to be clamoring around on rocks next to a huge waterfall anyway.
Is it crowded?
In the summer, everything is crowded all the time in Yellowstone. It’s what you’re signing up for. And why we went in the fall.
Biscuit Basin was pretty busy when we got there mid-morning, but we were actually totally alone once we were on the Mystic Falls trail. We saw one other couple after hanging out at the falls for a little while. That’s pretty common for Yellowstone – the vast majority of visitors don’t go past the parking lot/paved section of the trail.
Anything else I should know?
It’s highly unlikely you’ll see a bear, but it’s important to know what to do if you do. Yellowstone’s website has great resources. In general, give all wildlife (even the non-carnivorous ones) lots of room and never get too close. We saw a few raptors (we couldn’t tell if they were hawks or eagles or falcons) but otherwise didn’t see any other wildlife on the trail.
The only time it’s okay to get off the boardwalk around the geysers is when you’re getting onto another marked trail. It’s very obvious where the Mystic Falls trail starts, so there is no excuse for randomly wandering into the geysers. It’s not only dangerous (you do not want to fall into one) but also damages the delicate habitat around the geysers if you go off the boardwalk, so just don’t do it.
Overall, I loved how beginner-friendly Mystic Falls was. We had originally planned on doing a longer hike to Fairy Falls, and when I got hit with altitude sickness I was so disappointed and worried we couldn’t still do something cool. Mystic Falls was exactly what I needed, plus, there are only so many geysers you can look at before you need to mix it up.
If you’re in the northeast section of the park and looking for beginner-friendly hiking near Lamar Valley, take a look at my trail guide for Trout Lake.
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