South Rim Trail

The South Rim Trail faithfully follows closely along the south rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone in Yellowstone National Park. This trail gives you incredible views of the Upper Falls and Lower Falls as well as the unique geology that creates colors and formations.

While some popular sections are busy, many stretches have few visitors giving the hiker chances to enjoy the canyon without the crowds. This trail can be paired with the Clear Lake Trail to make a wonderful loop.

Right where the Yellowstone River transitions from the lazy meandering from the Hayden Valley to rapids that will pour over a rim creating the Upper Falls, lies the Chittenden Bridge. On the south side of the bridge, the South Rim Trail. It was from there that I started out on the trail. Warm sunshine lit up the cascades of the river. Much of the trail is paved at this point and you meet people along this section. The trail stays close to the river’s edge giving you excellent vantages of some of the more playful, and powerful whitewater.

Not long into the hike, you see the old bridge that used to be open to automobile traffic across the way, backdropping the river with large boulders standing in the river. Small trees grow on these islands. As I walked further along, the trail came up to a particularly powerful section of the river and the top of Lower Falls became visible. A little bit of climbing on the trail brought me to views of the full waterfall. A viewing area was perfect for pictures and just appreciating the waterfall.

The trail continued on through the trees to the parking lot for Uncle Tom’s Trail. This area was very busy and had a couple of vantages of the Lower Falls. (This is the parking lot where you take off to pair the South Rim Trail with the Clear Lake Trail to do a fine loop called the Clear Lake – Ribbon Lake Loop.)

From here I continued on the trail and took the side trail down the many flights of stairs to Uncle Tom’s where you get an up close and personal view of Lower Falls. This is the only spot on the South Rim Trail that brings you deep inside the canyon. I visited this spot earlier in the year with Kristen and it was great to see the difference in flow rates.

Returning to the South Rim Trail, I walked through a combination of forest and open views. The formations in the canyon that you can see along the trail are fantastic, including spires, hoodoos, and a natural bridge. Vibrant colors from yellow to orange to red seem out of this world. There are occasional views of the Lower Falls and all the way down to the river itself.

Eventually, the trail ducks into the trees and comes out by the parking lot for Artist Point. Afternoon thunderstorms had rolled in and the rain had decreased the visitors of this incredibly busy place. I walked out to the point and took some photos and video, then headed back onto a dirt path and into the trees at the sign for Ribbon Lake.

The trail, once again, followed along the canyon rim and kept showing off. Some larger cascades became visible below showcasing the power that had made the canyon long ago. I passed the cutoff trail to Ribbon Lake and continued, once again, going through pockets of trees, but spending a majority of the time looking into the canyon. Eventually, I came to the end of the trail at Point Sublime.

Ironically, this point had some of the poorer views of the trail. Most of the views along the trail vastly superseded it. Surrounded by trees and enclosed in a fence, it made for a modest, but definitive turnaround site.

On the way back, I retraced my steps. I ran into a Mule Deer doe with twin fawns, passed the pockets of people, all the way back to Chittenden Bridge and my car.

Overall, a fantastic hike. This area is one of the quintessential places to explore in Yellowstone National Park. The South Rim Trail gives you magical views of the canyon. While most visitors will just stop at the various pullouts, hiking it is far more rewarding…. and peaceful. This canyon shows off the yellow stone that gives the park its name.

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