The Lamar Valley Guide for Campers & Hikers
Hiking is a favorite pastime for millions of people. And millions of people love to hike in Yellowstone National Park.
Typically, most of those hikers spend the majority of their time exploring around Old Faithful. For that, we should be thankful because it leaves the pristine wilderness of Lamar Valley to the wildlife.
This is the ultimate Lamar Valley guide for campers and hikers. Let get started!
What is Lamar Valley (and Its History)
Lamar Valley is best known for its wildlife, but it also offers visitors picturesque views of the Absaroka Mountains and many other vistas.
Following the Lamar River, this valley has been home to thousands of wildlife for centuries.
Today, you’ll see bison, elk, bears, and wolves wandering the great lands. Up above, you’ll see a large variety of birds of prey as they scan the ground below for their next meal.
Formed millions of years ago by volcanic events, glaciation, and erosion, Lamar Valley includes petrified trees, the famous Tower Falls, calcite springs, and the gorge at The Black Canyon. In addition, this area is home to some of the oldest known rocks in Yellowstone.
In fact, some are over two billion years old. The history here combined with present-day activities make Lamar Valley a must on any outdoor enthusiast’s bucket list.
The Best Way to Get to Lamar Valley
You can access Lamar Valley from any Yellowstone Park entrance. However, the best way to get there is from the northeast entrance gate near Cooke City, Montana.
Drive west on Northeast Entrance Road. Then you’ll enter Lamar Valley after approximately 10 miles. Finally, the road ends at Tower Junction after 28.25 miles.
Is Lamar Valley Worth the Long Drive?
Regardless of where you are camped – inside or outside Yellowstone National Park – Lamar Valley is quite a long drive. The valley is located 10 miles from the nearest entrance on windy roads and even further if entering from any other entrances. So, is the drive really worth it?
Anything in Yellowstone National Park is worth the drive. Especially Lamar Valley. The views along the way are stunning, with natural canyons, vast plains, and glimpses of wildlife everywhere.
Depending on the route you take, and time of year, you may end up crossing paths with the bison and elk that call Yellowstone home.
Drive slow and stay in your car, but keep your eyes open. If you see one elk or bison, you’re almost guaranteed to see a few more. You might even be lucky enough to hear the elk bugling.
The remote location of Lamar Valley is what draws both people and wildlife here. It’s also the remote location that keeps many people away.
While many tourists seem to focus on the geysers when visiting Yellowstone National Park, there’s so much more to see than Old Faithful. The excitement of visiting Lamar Valley comes from the wildlife viewing. However, it’s also about the experience of getting there.
What Time Should I Get to Lamar Valley for Wildlife Viewing?
People love to hike. They’ll do it anytime, day or night. But the majority head out late morning because people also love to sleep in. If you’re looking for the best time to catch a glimpse of the wildlife that call Lamar Valley home, you’ll do better to get up early.
One of the prime times to view wildlife is just before sunrise before the heat of the day sets in. Because of the time it takes to drive to Lamar Valley, it’s best to rise way before the sun.
Thus giving you time to make that long trek and be on the trail right around sunrise. So, unless your campsite is already in the backcountry, you’ll want to set your alarm.
Another prime time is near sunset when the temperatures begin to cool. But if you’re planning on hiking throughout the day, the best time would be early morning so you won’t be heading back to your vehicle in the dark.
What wildlife will you see? It may be bears and bison. You may even catch that elusive glimpse of a wolf.
Popular Hikes Near Lamar Valley
There are several hiking trails in Lamar Valley. It really doesn’t matter which one you choose, but we’ve got two of the most popular hikes listed here.
Each trail offers everything Lamar Valley is known for: remote locations, rugged beauty, and the perfect quiet of Mother Nature.
Before you take to the trails, don’t make these common hiking mistakes.
Lamar River Valley Trail
Lamar River Valley Trail is labeled as strenuous and is 8.6 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of just over 780 feet.
It starts at the Lamar River Trailhead, about 15 miles east of Tower Junction. The trail is also known as the Soda Butte Trailhead.
This Lamar Valley trail offers views of the Lamar River and Cache Creek. You’ll have sweeping views of the Absaroka Mountains on your hike, along with a plethora of wildlife. People refer to this trail as the “American Serengeti,” so we’re sure your stories will be full of wildlife sightings. Don’t forget the bear spray, yes, but certainly don’t forget your camera either.
Specimen Ridge Trail
Don’t confuse this trail with the Specimen Ridge Trail Day Hike, which is only three miles. The Specimen Ridge trail is a bit more strenuous at almost 17 miles and rated as difficult. This point-to-point trail has an elevation gain of over 3,000 feet.
You can hike the entire trail or choose your distance and head back, but the further you hike, the fewer people you’ll see.
You can get there from Tower Junction by driving 1.2 miles on the northeast Entrance Road and looking for the Yellowstone River picnic pullout.
This Lamar Valley trail offers 360-degree views of Mount Amethyst and the northern section of the Yellowstone River’s Grand Canyon.
It’s almost guaranteed that you’ll cross paths with bison and pronghorn antelope. Additionally, wolves, eagles, and bears have been spotted here. So, keep those eyes and ears open and your bear spray handy.
The Best Campsites Near Lamar Valley
You won’t find a lot of amenities at the campgrounds in Lamar Valley. Still, you’ll find gorgeous scenery, hiking trail access, and possible wildlife sightings second to none in Yellowstone National Park.
Slough Creek Campground
Address: GPS Coordinates – N: 44 56.93082 W:110 18.41274
Located 5.5 miles east of Tower-Roosevelt Junction, 2 miles down a dirt road.
About the Campground: Slough Creek Campground is seasonal and open during the summer and early fall. It is best for those with tents and small RVs and is a first-come, first-serve campground.
While there are limited amenities here, the chance of viewing and hearing wildlife are all the amenities you’ll need. But the water, vault toilets, and trash collection are nice, also.
Price: Nightly fee $15.00
Pebble Creek Campground
Address: GPS Coordinates – N: 44 55.01886 W: 110 6.82848
Located on the road between the north and northeast entrances.
About the Campground: Pebble Creek Campground is seasonal and open during the summer months. It’s best for those with tents and small RV’s. And just like Slough Creek Campground, Pebble Creek is also first-come, first-serve. Y
ou’ll have access to a vault toilet, trash collection, and potable water. The area is remote, but that’s the entire reason for camping in Lamar Valley. The fewer people, the more possible wildlife sightings.
Price: Nightly fee $15.00, Hiker/Cyclist fee $5.00
Lamar Valley: An Epic Experience
Pack some snacks, a picnic lunch, and a few bottles of water. Lace-up your hiking boots and grab the bear spray. Then, hit the trail with wide-angle vision and ears on alert. You might just be following in the footsteps of a grizzly or come face to face with a bison blocking the trail. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll hear the howls of a wolf pack in the wild blue yonder of Lamar Valley. Either way, you’re certain to experience a camping trip and hikes of epic proportions.
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