Bunsen Peak -- 8,564'

Yellowstone National Park - Bunsen Peak

Bunsen Peak is a remnant volcanic cone rising dramatically from the flat plain known as Gallatin Hole just south of Mammoth Hot Springs. As a sub-9,000’ peak, Bunsen doesn’t quite get above treeline but its open slopes and rocky summit provide near constant views for hikers ascending the mountain. It’s also a fairly easy summit to attain, at least compared with other mountain hikes in the area. From the main trailhead it’s only a little over two miles to the top and, while there’s 1,300-feet to ascend in that distance, the path is well-constructed and easy to follow which makes it suitable for most anyone. Along the way you’ll experience high meadows full of wildflowers, young stands of pine, clifftop vistas, and open rocky slopes. The Gallatin Mountain Range to the north is a particularly stunning sight from this nearby vantage point, while the Mammoth Hot Springs area can be seen just to the north and the Swan Lake Flats (also known as Gardiner Hole) spread out immediately south. It’s a wonderful little peak and one that certainly deserves the attention it gets.

The hike begins from the small parking area for the gated Bunsen Peak Road, located off the Grand Loop Road just south of the Golden Gate. Arrive early to assure you find a spot. A few feet from the parking area the Bunsen Peak Trail splits left, at a large sign, to head uphill into the conifers. The moderately steep climb begins in earnest. The young pines surrounding you early on here represent the generation of forest which is slowly recovering after the devastating wildfires of 1988. Before long views open up to your left through the trees as the trail bumps up against the lip of the Golden Gate Canyon. Shortly the trail returns to the pine forest, which is a bit more mature here, though the bleached stacks of trees felled after the fire litter the ground. At around the mile mark the trail breaks into a huge meadow, which it proceeds to zig-zag to the top of. The scenery here is incredible. Wildflowers are abundant (in the summer, of course) while the rugged Gallatin Range rises like a jagged wall across the wide flats below. It’s an excellent taste of the eventual view you’ll get up top. The meadow is also where the hike gets markedly steeper and more rugged. After leaving the meadow you’ll climb on a northbound trajectory for about 1/3-mile before once again reaching the steep north face of Bunsen Peak where there is an incredible view of Cathedral Rock…a massive outcrop which protrudes from the cliffs to the north. It’s a great place to take a break before resuming the climb.

Switchbacks become the norm now, which you’ll be thankful for considering how steep your surroundings have become at this point. You’ll also notice your footing begin to deteriorate as the dirt trail surface gives way to uneven, loose rock. Trees become more scattered higher up as well, with frequent views of the now-familiar Gallatins and then to the north and east as well as the trail gains the summit ridge. The final quarter-mile to the top winds through all-but barren scree slopes with new panoramas to be seen with every twist of the trail. Pushing through one last conifer grove the trail arrives at the summit alongside a sturdy wooden shelter surrounded by various antennae. Though…if you look ahead…you’ll see this really isn’t the true summit. What you’ll discover now is that the “summit” of Bunsen Peak is actually made up of three small knobs aligned north-to-south along the summit crest. The shelter sits on the northernmost knob while the true summit lies on the second, central, knob. After scrambling over to the middle knob…pat yourself on the back, pull up a rock, and enjoy the magnificent reward you now can enjoy for your efforts. To the south and west, now well over one thousand feet below you, is Swan Lake Flat. Beyond are the Gallatin Mountains, rising to over 10,000-feet in height. Scrambling over to the southernmost knob you can also get some nice southeastward views, where you’ll be peering into the wild interior of Yellowstone in the direction of the Washburn Range. Whenever you decide you’re ready to tear yourself away from this incredible place, simply head back the way you came. Good thing is…the return journey is as beautiful as the approach was.

Overall, the hike up to Bunsen Peak is an incredible one…especially if you have precious little time in Yellowstone to get onto the trail. No doubt more hardcore hikers will consider this a “cattle trail” of sorts…with so many higher and more challenging peaks to choose from within the park. Not everyone has the ability (or time) for treks like those, however, so I feel like Bunsen is a perfect compromise for those limited in either category. You’ll definitely have company on this one, and it’s definitely no cakewalk, but the reward for making the trek to the top of this spectacular Yellowstone summit makes up for any drawbacks it may have. With that said, it’s my pleasure to share our hike up beautiful Bunsen Peak of Yellowstone National Park…as always, ENJOY!!

Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  44.932251, -110.728094

Route Type:  Out-and-back         Difficulty:  CHALLENGING  (Petzoldt Rating:  7.30 )

Hike Length:  4.6 miles                  Hike Duration:  2:45

Trailhead Temp:  45'F                   Trail Traffic:  25-50 people

Min. Elevation:  7,250'                    Max. Elevation:  8,564'

Total Vertical Gain:  1,350'             Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  587' (ascent)

Trails Used (blaze color):  Bunsen Peak Trail (unblazed)


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