With steep craggy cliffs as the backdrop, Crescent Lake is one of Yellowstone National Park’s most picturesque alpine lakes. Tucked away from the masses in Yellowstone’s remote northwestern corner, you’re less likely to encounter people on the trail and more likely to see wildlife. Crescent Lake is also a lovely stop on longer treks into Yellowstone’s backcountry.
The Specimen Creek Trailhead is the desired starting point for backpackers doing the Sky Rim Trail and guided horse trips headed deep into Yellowstone’s backcountry. The shortest route to Crescent Lake also begins here. Follow the dirt trail along the northern bank of Specimen Creek for 2 miles. A 2007 wildfire opened up the forest, allowing a lush meadow to thrive. Large wildlife like moose, bear, and wolves can be occasionally be seen in the area.
At 2 miles, swing left to leave the burn area behind for thick forest. There is a small ford over the North Fork of Specimen Creek when you come to a large meadow. After passing the backcountry site WE4, the trail soon begins to climb.
Take a right at the next junction and immediately cross a creek to head to Crescent Lake. A left here ventures on the steep, switchback-less climb to Shelf Lake and the Sky Rim Trail. From the creek crossing, the trail to Crescent Lake does have a light set of switchbacks in the shade, making for an easy, quick climb up the slope to the lake.
The easiest access to the lake from the trail requires venturing into the only backcountry site (hiker-only, no stock parties) on the lakeshore. If you’re not already staying at the site, please be respectful of any visitors camping there. If you are staying the night, be sure to watch the evening light descend onto the cliffs. When the lighting is just right, the cliffs help illuminate the lake into a glittery bowl of gold.
Crescent Lake is also an ideal first-night stop for backpackers wanting do a 21.6-mile lollipop loop to High Lake, a lake tucked away on a high mountaintop meadow in the Gallatin Range. Two backcountry sites are by High Lake, with one open to stock parties.