Is Hiking in Yellowstone Safe (Top 6 Natural Dangers)

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Hiking is a hobby enjoyed by millions of people around the world. And Yellowstone, being one of the largest National Parks in the United States, is a very popular vacation spot while traveling out west.

Yellowstone is known for it’s herds of wildlife, hot springs, and geysers. In fact, Yellowstone contains about half of the world’s geysers along with the world’s most famous geyser, Old Faithful! Yellowstone is also home to grizzly bears, wolves, bison and elk.

So, is hiking in Yellowstone National Park safe? Hiking in Yellowstone is relatively safe, especially if you follow the park rules. Out of almost 3.8 million visitors each year, there are generally 0–5 deaths. Most of these fatalities from Yellowstone come from tourists not following park rules or not practicing self awareness.

If you plan on camping in Yellowstone, be sure to read my other article, 5 Camping Essentials First Time Campers Forget to Pack. Even if you’re not a first time camper, you’re probably forgetting one of these 5 things. Check it out!

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Where is Yellowstone Located

When you think of Yellowstone, the state of Wyoming most likely comes to mind. However, did you know that only about 96% of the land in Yellowstone is actually located within Wyoming? The rest of the land is split up between Montana and Idaho.

Even though Yellowstone is split up between three states, the federal judicial district of Wyoming covers all of Yellowstone. This also includes the Montana and Idaho portions.

Why Is Yellowstone Popular

Yellowstone was the United States first National Park. In fact, it is also widely recognized as one of the first national parks in the world. Yellowstone was established by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872.

Yellowstone is also home to one of the largest high altitude lakes in North America, called the Yellowstone Lake. Apparently, the lake is perched on Yellowstone Caldera, the largest super volcano on the continent. 

Here are a few more fun facts about Yellowstone:

  • Yellowstone occupies an area of 3,468.4 square miles.
  • The national park is the only intact ecosystem remaining in the northern temperates.
  • In the environmental circles, Yellowstone is known as a ‘mega fauna’.
  • Yellowstone has become popular for snowmobiling, hiking, camping, boating, fishing and sightseeing.
  • Yellowstone is home to more than 1,000 archaeological sites.
  • The continental divide of North America runs diagonally through Yellowstone on its southwestern corner.

When is the Best Time to go Hiking in Yellowstone

If you want to see everything that Yellowstone has to offer, the summer months are the best time to plan your vacation. However, the summer months are also the most busy months out of the year. Here’s the average monthly visitation of Yellowstone according to nps.gov.

Average # of Visits (2012-2017)

The best times to visit Yellowstone National Park are from April to May and between September and November. These seasons offer mild weather and fewer crowds.

Does Yellowstone have Good Hiking Trails

Yellowstone is an amazing place to go hiking. With more than 2.2 million acres and more than 900 miles of hiking trails, you’ll be able to find a trail that you’ll like, no matter what kind of hiker you are. Hiking the Yellowstone trails allows you to see waterfalls, geysers, wildlife, and much more!

Here’s 3 of the most popular trails in Yellowstone:

  1. Uncle Tom’s TrailTrailhead Location: Canyon Area – South Rim
  2. Lava Creek Trail8.0 Miles Round-Trip – Moderate to Difficult; Trailhead Location: Near Mammoth Campground
  3. Mount Washburn Trail6.4 Miles Round-Trip – Moderate; Trailhead Location: North of Canyon Village on Dunraven Pass

Natural Dangers of Hiking in Yellowstone

Two of the biggest dangers that are present when hiking Yellowstone is the wildlife and the geothermal areas. Remember that when you are hiking in Yellowstone you’re with wild animals. Yellowstone is home to bears, elk, wolves, moose, bison, and much more. While most of these animals will likely let you alone, it’s a good idea to keep an eye out and practice self-awareness.

The geothermal areas can be fatal and should only be viewed from a distance, unless otherwise noted by the park. Many people have been killed and burned really bad by not practicing common sense when near a geothermal. If you have any questions regarding the geothermal areas, be sure to ask the park rangers.


It is highly likely that you’re going to see some Elk when hiking in Yellowstone. Elk are both majestic and beautiful, but it’s important that you admire them from a distance. While most people don’t see Elk as dangerous animals, they have been known to attack humans, especially during certain times of the year.

During the fall mating season (Aug – Sept) the bulls can be extremely aggressive. Also, during the spring calving season (may – June) female elk aggressively defend their young. Never approach a female Elk an her calf, this is a sure recipe for a fatal accident.


When it comes to size, a moose is the largest deer in the deer family. Unlike elk, moose usually wander around on their own, with the exception of a mother and her calf or during mating season. In fact, Moose are recognized as one of the most solitary animals.

While moose prefer to leave humans alone, they will attack you, especially if it’s a mother with her calf. Did you know that moose are responsible for more attacks on humans that bears?


When people think of the dangers associated with hiking, they automatically think of bears. Even though there are some animals that are responsible for more animal attacks than bears are, bears should still be respected and recognized as a wild animal that could not only hurt, but even kill you.

Bears do not usually attack humans for no reason. If a bear is to attack a human, it most likely because of the following:

  • You surprised the bear.
  • The bear is feeling threatened, cornered, or agitated by your presence.
  • A mother bear thinks you are threatening her cub.

The best way to stay safe from bears are to keep your distance. If you have reason to believe that there is a bear nearby, slowly leave the area.

If a bear is to attack you, you need to act according to what kind of bear is attacking you. If a black bear is attacking you, fight back with everything you have. When fighting back, try to use a hard object to strike the bear’s face. If you have no hard object, just use your fist.

However, if you’re attacked by a brown bear, do not fight back. When being attacked by a brown bear, play dead. When you play dead, cover your neck and face with your arms and lie on your stomach with your legs apart. With your back to the bear, you’re less likely to be as injured. In the event that the brown bear continues to attack you, then fight back with everything you have!

The Difference Between a Black Bear and a Brown Bear

Once you know what to look for in a bear’s physical appearance, it will be easy to be able to tell the difference between a black bear and a brown bear. Here’s the primary differences between the two:

  • A brown bear has longer claws than a black bear.
  • A black bear has taller ears than a brown bear. A brown bear’s ears are more flat and rounded.
  • A brown bear has a dish shaped face while a black bear has a more straight face.
  • A brown bear will have a small hump in it’s back, while a black bear will have no hump.

The hump in a brown bear’s back is a huge mass of muscle. Having this huge amount of muscle allows a brown bear to apply a tremendous amount of force to when tearing open logs, digging for roots, etc. The hump in a brown bear is very visible and it should be all you need to determine if a bear is either a brown bear or a black bear.

The Prairie Rattlesnake

The rattlesnake is an extremely dangerous snake that resides in Yellowstone and is perhaps the most dangerous animal to hikers.

It’s estimated that around 7K-8K people a year are bitten by venomous snakes. Most of them being from the rattlesnake species. If you’re hiking and hear the sound of a rattlesnake, it means you’re in it’s territory and that you should calmly leave the area immediately. If you come into direct content with a rattlesnake, slowly back away.

Don’t ever think you can react faster than the rattlesnake’s strike. A rattlesnake can strike at an amazing speed of 2.95 meters per second!

The Praire Rattlesnake’s Sound

Geothermal Areas and Hot Springs

Yellowstone is extremely popular for it’s geothermal areas and hot springs. Yellowstone actually contains about half of the world’s geysers along with the world’s most famous geyser, Old Faithful.

Many people have died and been extremely burned by the hot springs. One such examine was a young man you was hot potting, meaning he was going to take dip in a hot spring beyond the safety zones, and he accidentally fell in. Authorities said his body likely dissolved in the hot water.

Yellowstone geysers and geothermal areas are nothing to mess around with. The temperatures in these geysers can go beyond 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure you only swim in dedicated areas of Yellowstone. Make sure to ask the park officials where these dedicated spots are.

High Altitude

While high altitude is not necessarily a danger, be sure to take it easy the first few days in Yellowstone. Yellowstone is approximately 8,000 feet above sea level, son if you’re not used to this altitude, you may start to get headaches or feel lightheaded. Be sure to drink a lot of water to help combat the effects of the high altitude.

How to Hike Safely in Yellowstone

When hiking in Yellowstone, be sure to practice self awareness. Knowing where you are at all times and knowing what’s around you could save your live. While the deaths in Yellowstone are relatively low, accidents do happen.

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