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Hiking Preparedness and
Precautions in Yellowstone

Resources Hiking in Yellowstone.jpg

When hiking it is important to go prepared with the right equipment and clothing. It is extremely important to have a working knowledge of the unique challenges (weather changes, elevation changes, wildlife encounters, physiological effects on the body) that could be faced when venturing into Yellowstone’s wilderness, and how to effectively avoid or deal with each of them. The following tips and precautions, especially given for longer backcountry or high elevation hikes, can help you be better prepared for your hiking experience.

General Recommendations

  1. Study up on the trail or trails you plan to hike. Increase your awareness of the hike, its terrain, and what you can expect to encounter along the way. Match trail difficulty with your and your partner’s capabilities. Wisdom dictates that you never hike alone for longer backcountry or high elevation hikes.

  2. Visit the Ranger Station or Visitor Center closest to where you plan to hike for the latest update on the trail condition, weather forecast, and to learn of any closures. Inform park rangers or other family/friends of your plans – location, destination, route and estimated return time.

  3. Having a topographic map of the backcountry areas you will be hiking can be very helpful, as is a compass, especially when navigating through unfamiliar terrain where landmarks may be minimal or obscured due to weather.

  4. Always stay on designated trails for safety and land erosion protection purposes. If you become injured, others on the trail can provide assistance.

  5. Pay attention when hiking. Look for, and make note of, landmarks and consistently look back at the terrain to see from where you have come.

  6. If hiking in bear country, know the best practices for hiking in bear country. (See the Bear Awareness Resource Page for best practices when hiking or camping in bear country)

Terrain Considerations

  1. Many of Yellowstone’s trails are above 7,000 feet above sea level. Snow will stay in some areas until the end of May or early June, and higher elevation trails can have snow patches through July.

  2. Early and late spring run offs can require fording of rivers, the depth and width of which can provide some unique crossing challenges.

  3. When traversing geothermal areas, be careful to stay on the trail to avoid the potential of breaking through thin crust into boiling water.

  4. Areas where trees have been burned pose a risk of falling, especially when winds kick up. Always be alert and attentive for such conditions when traveling through burned forest.

  5. Some trails pass through areas of broken and fragmented rocks. This can make hiking more difficult, and if rain descends can make for some very slippery terrain.

Weather Considerations

  1. Understand that in Yellowstone weather can change rapidly and intensely. Afternoon thunderstorms are common and can make a high elevation hike very dangerous, especially if accompanied by a lot of rain. So, start your hike early when hiking to high elevation places.

  2. When making dramatic elevation changes during your hike, be aware that temperatures can drop rapidly, and winds tend to kick up during the afternoon hours.

  3. If a lightning storm interrupts your hike, stay away from exposed areas like mountain ridges and open fields, and avoid isolated trees when taking cover.

Clothing Considerations

  1. Dress in layers (avoiding cotton clothing) and prepare with the correct type of clothing based on the season of the year, and always bring rain gear such as a raincoat and warm water-resistant hat, and gloves.

  2. Wear good hiking boots that have been broken in, provide good traction soles and provide support to the ankle.

  3. Wear good socks and consider pants that are specifically made for hiking in rough or wet climates.

Your Backpack Essentials

  1. Water Bottle or Bladder: Keeping hydrated is important when engaging in any physical activity. If additional water is needed during your hike or camping, avoid the risk of Giardiasis by boiling, filtering, or chemically treating all water found in the backcountry.

  2. Extra Food: You’ll need fuel for your hike and extra food should unforeseen circumstances prolong your time out.

  3. Basic First Aid Kit: Injuries can occur and having the knowledge to use the components of a basic first aid kit can allow you to effectively treat basic injuries.

  4. Multipurpose Tool/Knife: For emergency repairs, coping with unexpected events, and to provide additional options.

  5. Flashlight or Headlamp: Unexpected delays can mean hiking in darkness or having to spend the night in the wilderness. Being able to see when dark is a must.

  6. Matches/Fire Starter: Should you need to spend the night in the wilderness.

  7. Sunscreen and Insect Repellant: To make life more pleasant in the great outdoors.

  8. Whistle: To produce the universal three-blast signal for help.


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