Distance: 3.0 miles round trip to Artist Point (1 mile just down into the canyon)
Elevation: 7,700 - 7,200 feet elevation (2345 - 2195 meters)
Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous
Time of Year: April - November
Like Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake, and the Norris Geyser Basin, one of the must see locations in Yellowstone National Park, is the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. This 1000 foot deep canyon of yellow volcanic deposits is what gave Yellowstone it's name. Most people stop at view points on the north rim of the canyon for the stunning views. But, if you really want to get into the heart of what this canyon is about, then the Uncle Tom's Trail down into the canyon is the trail to do.
|Sign at beginning of Uncle Tom's Trail|
While not terribly long, the trail leading from the Upper Falls on the south rim of the canyon down to Artist's Point, with a side trip some 500 feet down into the canyon, is both stunning and moderately strenuous. On the other hand, our four year old made the trip down and up without much effort, so these ratings are all relative. To access it, just drive south a couple of miles from the Canyon Village looking for signs for the South Rim and Artist Point and park at the Upper Falls overlook.
|Only 302 stairs left|
The first view you will get is at the Upper Falls, which are 109 feet high. They formed where a more resistant lava flow meets up with the weaker and altered rhyolite layers. From here, walk down the trail following the canyon a short ways until it begins descending and then you encounter a junction in the trail. Turn left and follow Uncle Tom's trail downslope.
The trail descends some 500 feet, using 328 steps to near the bottom of the canyon. It is certainly steep and because the stairs were built hanging out away from the rock face, can give vertigo to those leery of heights. But, it is 6 feet wide with railings on both sides, so it is certainly a safe descent. At the bottom of the stairs you encounter a large platform for viewing the 308 foot Lower Falls, as well as, down the canyon.
The vegetation along this route consists of hardly subalpine firs and lodgepole pines emerging from the cliff walls, as well as, numerous wildflowers. At the bottom, view is truly spectacular. Of course, you will also need to ascend 500 foot back up. So, take it easy and rest as often as needed. Just be respectful not to block the route for others making the trek up and back.
Once you reach the top, you may want to continue another mile down the canyon to Artist Point for a spectacular view down the length of the 20-mile long canyon. To head there and back adds 2 miles to the approximately 1 mile total distance you traveled on Uncle Tom's Trail.
|If a 4-year old can make it, so can you|
Other than the trek up to the summit of Mount Washburn, this is probably the most important day hike to do in Yellowstone, since most people just drive around the park and much of the park is otherwise monotonous lodgepole pine forests.