DISTANCE: 14.8 miles
Trail Type: Out and Back
Start Location: 2K7 (Yellowstone River Picnic Trail); alternatively, start at 2K4 (Specimen Ridge) for a 13.2 mile trip
Total Hiking Time: 8 hours total over 2 days
Weather: Sunny, Cloudy
Crowd: Multiple groups on Picnic Trail, after climbing to Specimen Ridge, we only saw one pair of hikers (Agate Creek trail ends at the backcountry site – the pair was hiking out from the previous night)
Animal Sightings: chipmunks, red squirrel, yellow-bellied marmots, pronghorn, mule deer, bison, big horn sheep, mountain bluebirds, bald eagles, Yellowstone cutthroat, bats
Fishing Report: Yellowstone cutthroat were still spawning up the first quarter-mile of creek – large river fish in full color with fins and tails jutting out of the shallow creek. There are no seasonal closures this late into the spawn, but I fished quickly out of respect for their hard work. Every pocket held large, eager cutthroat in full color. I fished up to a large cascade that was surely a natural fish barrier, and caught a large cutthroat showing some wear from his journey. This pocket-water stretch is best suited for a small-creek tenkara rod, but one with backbone during the spawn – the larger cutthroat on this morning were 14″-16″, football-shaped, and lively. The meadow section of Agate Creek to the north of the campsite looked very pleasant to fish with western-gear, and the Yellowstone is wonderful anytime after run-off; whatever you choose, tight lines.
As you walk along the canyon, look for sheep and marmots to your left, Calcite Springs and eagles to your right (there was an active nest near The Needle).
As you ascend to the Specimen Ridge trail, look for blaze markers. The official trail climbs up and to the right. For the next few miles, it can be difficult to follow the official trail because of a multitude of game trails. The pair of hikers we saw coming back up from Agate Creek had inadvertently taken the wrong trail the day before and had to hike up a draw. A few propped up trees and elk shed cairns are along the trail to help guide you.
Hiking on the open sagebrush offers panoramic views of the Tower area, Yellowstone River canyon, and Mt. Washburn. Wildlife was ever present along the rolling trail, easily making this hike our most wildlife-packed to date. When the trail starts to near new forest growth, you’re close to your descent. The descent (and the next morning, ascent) to where Agate Creek meets the Yellowstone is no joke: steep grades, loose footing in sections, and numerous switchbacks. However, the comfy Agate Creek campsite is well worth it. (Consider staying an extra day!)
Individuals looking for an easy dayhike can try the Yellowstone River Picnic Trail from the picnic area.
An incredible overnighter with jaw-dropping views of the Tower area, excellent creek and river fishing, and ample opportunity to see Yellowstone’s famous wildlife.