Lava Creek Canyon Trail to Undine Falls is a 8.4 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Yellowstone National Park, WY that features a waterfall and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible from May until September. Horses are also able to use this trail.
cross country skiing
Directions from Mammoth Campground: Travel north 4.4 miles to the bridge at Lava Creek picnic area on the Mammoth-Tower Road. Leave a vehicle at the Lava Creek Trailhead, a marked pullout just south of the campground at Mammoth.
Leaving from Mammoth Campground around 2:30 PM, we walked down the hillside, crossed North Entrance road (Highway 89), to make our way to the Lava Creek trailhead. We made our descent down towards the Gardner River.
The trail is not always well marked, so we built a few trail cairns from rocks as we went along in order to mark the way back. It helps to have a good map, and be fairly good at orienteering.
Parts of the trail were in rather poor condition. A heavy rain that had created mud, and then was heavily traveled, not by humans but by the wildlife in the area. We rarely saw a human footprint, so if you would like a lightly human-traveled trail, this is the one. We did not see another person on the trail.
The trail needed some maintenance to be called easy. I would place it at moderate with the conditions we traveled. We did not bring our hiking poles thinking that it would be easier than it was. My suggestion would be to bring a hiking pole for at least the comfort of having it along if needed.
The trail is heavily traveled by unseen wildlife. We saw evidence of a large kill such as elk or bison (vertebrae) by the side of the trail. (See photo.)
The trail was churned up from wildlife use after bad rain and in some places could be an ankle twister if not careful. On our return, the rain started but it was mostly a soft misty rain.
My favorite parts of the hike were the suspension bridge and seeing Undine Falls. My boyfriend's favorite parts of the hike were also the suspension bridge and the elk that we saw on the hike back to the campground. We did a lot of singing on the trail (bear deterrent) and the elk were very curious about us. They just looked though, and didn't move towards us.
NOTE: Great views of Gardiner River and Undine Falls. On the return, a good far off view of Mammoth.
We got back to camp with a bit of cushion before dark; probably around 7 PM. The churned up trail made our hike longer than the 3 hours indicated.
Finding the trail head was a little tricky. But once I got there, I discovered that there were apparently two trail heads that converge near a suspension bridge.
I began the trail near a small, wobbly suspension bridge over Gardner River. I wasn't bothered by the bridge having crossed other suspension bridges before. From there, I hiked along the river through sage brush to the convergence of Lava Creek and Gardner River, and walked along it through the canyon. Along the trail I saw mule deer, elk, bison, and a bald eagle. I saw old paw prints of black bear and coyote along the trail. There are a lot of basalt and travertine rocks strewn everywhere too. Near the waterfall is a moderately steep walk up to the shelf next to the waterfall.
The waterfall is approximately 100 feet tall in 3 tiers. I could literally walk close to the brink. From that vantage point, I could see the Undine Falls pullout vantage point too.
During warm and hot weather, I recommend head gear since part of the trail is through tall sagebrush, where ticks like to base jump to their victims.