The Agate Creek Trail showcases some of the best Yellowstone National Park has to offer: wildlife, thermal features, open views, and the silence of solitude.
The first few miles of the Agate Creek Trail also follow the Yellowstone River Picnic Trail. Big horn sheep and yellow-bellied marmots frequent this stretch, so keep a watchful eye out for them. Down in the canyon, look (and smell) for two thermal features, Nymph Springs and Tower’s famous Calcite Springs.
Leave the picnic visitors behind as you climb the steep slope to the Specimen Ridge Trail. Start looking for blaze markers. The official trail on the slope initially climbs up to the left before swinging a sharp right. Numerous game trails obscure the official trail over the next few miles. A few propped up trees and elk shed cairns help keep you on track. At 3.1 miles in, leave the Specimen Ridge Trail and head south on the Agate Creek Trail.
It’s not hard to see why there are so many game trails. Bison, pronghorn antelope, and deer love this area with its open landscape and grassy, rolling hills. Hiking on the open sagebrush also offers panoramic views of the Tower area, Yellowstone River canyon, and Mount Washburn. The view to north leads up the grassy slopes and to Specimen Ridge.
When the trail starts to near new forest growth, you’re near the big 1,300-foot descent into Yellowstone Canyon. The descent is riddled with switchbacks, loose footing areas, and steep grades. A backcountry stay at Agate Creek's only site (2Y1) offers a welcome respite, equally welcome views of the large canyon, and excellent fly fishing. The site is comfortable, with its well-kept food area and Elysian-esque meadow. Agate Creek is one of the Yellowstone River’s many tributaries and serves as your source of drinking water for the night. If you’re on the creek at dusk, keep an eye out for the fast flurry of bats. Unbeknownst to many, Yellowstone is actually home to 13 species of bats!
Alternatively, this hike can begin from the Specimen Ridge Trailhead (2K7). You’ll shave off 0.8 miles each way but miss the chance to see some wildlife and the Calcite Springs.