One of the great pleasures of a leisurely drive through Yellowstone Park is that many opportunities exist for picnics in beautiful spots in the woods or near lakes or streams. Along the park roads you can find about four dozen picnic areas, all with tables and restrooms. Here are six of the most delightful.
My personal favorite is the Nez Perce Creek picnic area at the start of Fountain Flats Drive and at the junction of Nez Perce Creek and the Firehole River. It has everything: a wading spot for the kids, lots of shade trees, a historic gravestone, and close access to hot springs.
Another smaller but beautiful spot on the west side of the park is the Madison River picnic area near the Seven-Mile Bridge (7.6 miles from West Yellowstone). Fishermen love this spot, as do ducks and the occasional trumpeter swan.It’s hard to choose among the various picnic areas along Yellowstone Lake’s northwest shoreline (West Thumb Junction to Fishing Bridge Junction), but I will point out one lovely place that’s easy to miss. At 7.8 miles from West Thumb Junction (or 12.8 miles from Fishing Bridge Junction) is an unmarked road leading to the Park Point picnic area. The tables have a picturesque view of the lake, Flat Mountain, and Mt. Sheridan to the south.
Most popular with children who like to climb and chase marmots will be the Sheepeater Cliff picnic area on a short side road eight miles south of Mammoth Hot Springs Junction and 13 miles north of Norris Junction. A jumble of boulders has fallen off the basalt cliff in the picture below. (See how the Sheepeater Cliffs fit into the Geological Time Line at the “Up to 70,000 years ago” point.) A fisherman’s trail follows the Gardner River from the picnic area.
One of the newest picnic areas in the park is at 7.5 miles from the Northeast Entrance, near Ice Box Canyon. It’s the Soda Butte Creek picnic area, the only picnic spot in about 26 miles of road. The canyon got its name from the fact that ice that had formed during the winter never melted in the summer, because the canyon is never exposed to sunlight.
If you’re coming into the park from the East Entrance, you might want to picnic at Eleanor Lake (7.6 miles from the entrance) or at Sylvan Lake (8.7 miles). The latter has more tables and a prettier view. Both are at about 8,000 feet (2,400 meters) elevation, so you will never be too warm here, even in the middle of summer.
CREDITS: The photo of Sheepeater Cliff is by Leslie Kilduff. The other photo is by Bruno Giletti.
IN THE GUIDEBOOK: All the park’s picnic areas are indicated with a picnic table icon on the maps and in the road logs, followed by a number that tells you how many tables you might expect to find. That’s just one of many kinds of facilities you can check in Yellowstone Treasures.
ON THE WEB: For an overview map of all the picnic areas in the park, see the Picnicking page on the official park website.
Copyright Janet Chapple. All Rights Reserved. Revised September 8, 2023