This 14.3-mile section of the Howard Eaton Trail from Fishing Bridge to Canyon is one of the few remaining pieces of the historic trail. Autos arrived in Yellowstone in 1916, and it was quickly apparent horses and cars did not mix. To accommodate saddle-horses, a 157-mile trail following the main highway was cobbled together in 1923 and named for the "Dean" of Yellowstone saddle-horse guides.
The trail begins just east of the Fishing Bridge and travels along the river, passing the remains of lodging accommodations. At one time, Fishing Bridge had cabins and a NPS campground (in addition to the current facilities). To protect archeological sites and grizzly-bear habitat and as part of an agreement to build Grant Village, the cabins and NPS campground were removed.
The trail follows the river and a service road for 0.8 miles, then veers off the road to the left and follows the Yellowstone. Watch for waterfowl for the next mile or so, including white pelican and trumpeter swan. You may also see an osprey or bald eagle circling above looking for a fat cutthroat trout. Fishermen use this trail to reach them as well.
At 2.2 miles, the trail leaves the river and climbs the first of numerous hills you'll face. At 3.9 miles, the trail breaks out for a nice overview of LeHardy’s Rapids. This lovely rapids was named for a member of the 1873 Jones Expedition whose raft was lost in the rapids. From here on, the highway is rarely out of sight or hearing distance. Many use the overlook as a turn-around point.
The trail continues up and down through the forest, breaking out at the 6-mile mark and passing Nez Perce Ford (a shallow place in the river historically used by native Americans to cross) and the Mud Volcano Area (across the river). At 6.8 miles, the trail enters Hayden Valley
, Yellowstone's largest (23,000 acres).
About 14,000 years ago, glacial ice blocked the Yellowstone's northern flow, causing water to back up and cover the valley. Fine sand, silt and clay accumulated at the bottom of the lake. The glaciers receded and the lake drained, leaving the poor soil that is the reason Hayden Valley
The trail may be hard to find in the open meadows. Just continue north along the edge of the valley near the treeline and you'll eventually be back on trail. At 11.6 miles, turn left at the junction with Sour Creek Trail
and ford Sour Creek (which is usually knee-deep by mid July). The trail continues another 2.7 miles and ends near the Chittenden 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 buffalo, elk, and waterfowl. Also chances to see grizzly, especially early in the summer.