The first 8 miles of this trail lies in the Gneiss Creek Bear Management Area, which is closed March 10 through June 30. From July 1 through November 10, travel is allowed only on designated trails (off-trail travel is prohibited). The entire trail is good grizzly country - use precautions.
Bring your fording shoes for this hike; before you're done you'll ford Campanula, Gneiss, Maple, and Cougar creeks, and a number of unnamed streams. None of the fords are too difficult.
The 14.5-mile trail begins north of West Yellowstone on US 191 and ends near at Seven-Mile Bridge on the Madison River in YNP, 7 miles east of the West Yellowstone. You'll either need to leave a car at the Seven-Mile Bridge trailhead or arrange to be picked up at the end of this shuttle hike.
The trail starts through a patchwork of meadows and trees, fairly level for the first mile. At that point, it breaks out into big open meadows and provides a glimpse of what's ahead. Below to the right is willow-lined Duck Creek, a fisherman favorite. Its deep holes hold a healthy population of large brown and rainbow trout. The trail drops almost 200 feet over the next mile to a crossing of Campanula Creek. The creek was named for the harebell flower, scientific name "Campanula." Look around - in July and August you'll see examples of the tiny blue-purple, bell-shaped flowers hanging down from a single stem.
The trail continues to the southeast and enters the main meadows. To the west, the impressive Henrys Lake Mountains begin to come into view. At 4.5 miles, the Gneiss Creek campsite is passed and at 5.1 miles, the trail crosses Gneiss Creek. Gneiss (pronounced "nice") is a granite-like metamorphic rock that typically has a banded appearance. Early geologists found outcropping of this 2.5 billion year old rock near the headwaters of this stream. The trail climbs 150 feet in the next 1.5 miles, then drops to a crossing of Maple Creek at the 7.1-mile mark.
South of Maple Creek, the trail travels through forest that continue to show significant effects from the 1988 fires. It breaks out of the trees briefly at 9.8 miles, crosses a nice meadow and fords Cougar Creek at the 10.1-mile mark. The trail climbs gradually through forests and meadows past a junction with the Cougar Cabin Trail
(on the left) at 13 miles, continues climbing, then drops to the Madison River at 13.7 miles. Nearby, notice the buffalo super-highway coming up from the river. The last .8 miles closely follow the Madison River to 7-Mile Bridge.
Thanks to guidebook author, Tom Carter, for sharing this trail description. To learn more about visiting Yellowstone, check out his book, Day Hiking Yellowstone
Good chance to see moose among the willows that line many of the creeks along this trail. Also chances to see elk and grizzly bear. The southern end of the trail has lots of buffalo. Bald eagles are often seen along the Madison River.