Crescent Lake Hike via Specimen Creek Trail

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone, Wyoming

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Crescent Lake Hike via Specimen Creek Trail


  • Abundant wildflowers in July off  of the Specimen Creek Trail.- Crescent Lake Hike via Specimen Creek Trail
  • Ruffed Grouse- Crescent Lake Hike via Specimen Creek Trail
  • Hoary Marmot- Crescent Lake Hike via Specimen Creek Trail
  • North American moose (Alces alces).- Crescent Lake Hike via Specimen Creek Trail
  • 2007 burn area evident two miles from the trailhead- Crescent Lake Hike via Specimen Creek Trail
  • Backcountry site on the shore of Crescent Lake- Crescent Lake Hike via Specimen Creek Trail
  • A group of goldeneye ducks call Crescent Lake their summer home.- Crescent Lake Hike via Specimen Creek Trail
  • Crescent Lake- Crescent Lake Hike via Specimen Creek Trail
  • Golden Light over Crescent Lake- Crescent Lake Hike via Specimen Creek Trail
Overview + Weather
Alpine lake. Wildlife.
Backcountry sites fill quickly.
Yellowstone, WY
Pets allowed: 
Highest point: 
8,595.00 ft (2,619.76 m)
Year round: 
Parking Pass: 
Park entrance fee
Permit required: 
Preferable Season(s):
Fall, Summer
Suitable for:
Total Distance: 
14.80 mi (23.82 km)
Total elevation gain: 
1,672.00 ft (509.63 m)
Trail type: 
Trailhead Elevation: 
6,923.00 ft (2,110.13 m)
Typically multi-day: 
Current Local Weather:
Hike Description

Hike Description

Pro Contributor

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.

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(5 within a 30 mile radius)

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(30 within a 30 mile radius)

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