Want to look up at Yellowstone National Park’s highest waterfall from near its base in the canyon?
This guide will walk you through what to expect before you begin your journey to the viewpoint of the magnificent Lower Yellowstone Falls that is found at the end of Uncle Tom’s trail.
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Uncle Tom’s trail is a short but rewarding trail down the south wall of the canyon to a platform that offers unparalleled views of Yellowstone National Park’s highest waterfall, the Lower Yellowstone Falls, from near its base. At 94m high, the Lower Falls are nearly twice the height of Niagara Falls, and watching the Yellowstone River plummet over the edge and into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is nothing short of spectacular.
Make an honest assessment of your overall fitness and health before heading out on this trail. The steepness of the stairs can be harsh on your knees on the walk down, and the climb back up can leave you out of breath and feeling winded. There are pullovers with benches to stop and rest as well as handrails for support along the staircase. Take it slow, enjoy the views if you need to rest, and make sure that you have enough water to keep you hydrated.
Your starting point is the South Rim Trail parking lot at Uncle Tom’s point on the canyon rim. From there you follow the signs for Uncle Tom’s Trail. You can also visit the Upper Falls viewpoint, which is an easy two-minute walk along a sign posted boardwalk. For a longer hike, follow the South Rim Trail further east to Artist Point which offers another impressive view of the Canyon and Lower Falls.
The signposts in the parking lot will direct you a few hundred metres over a flat walking section to the start of Uncle Tom’s trail. Along this short flat walking section is a breakaway path to the left that offers a view down the canyon away from the waterfall. Just below this junction is the start of the stairs.
Three hundred and twenty eight metal stairs will take you down a steep pathway along the canyon wall to the platform viewpoint of the Lower Yellowstone Falls. Pick your way carefully down here and ensure that you are wearing a good pair of shoes with a sturdy grip as the stairs can be slippery.
Once you reach the platform at the bottom you will be greeted by the impressive site of the Yellowstone River tumbling down 94m to the canyon floor. The spray from the waterfall creates an impressive mist that you will likely see before you spot the waterfall. Rainbows are a common sight, as are rivulets running down the canyon walls into the river.
When you are ready to tackle the climb back up to the top remember to take it easy and make good use of the benches to rest and catch your breath if necessary.
Though not technically difficult in any way, the steps are steep and whilst it may seem easy on the descent, the walk back up can be strenuous. There are handrails for support and benches to rest on along the route.
Uncle Tom’s Trail is found in the Canyon Village area of the Yellowstone National Park. To get there from Canyon Junction take the Grand Loop Road south and drive 3.7km to turn left onto South Rim Drive. Cross over the Yellowstone River and continue another kilometre and take the first road left to the parking lot for Uncle Tom’s Trail and South Rim Trail.
This trail is well signposted from the parking lot and maps and route guides are available from the Visitor Centres.
For an overview of Yellowstone National Park, Lonely Planet's Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks is highly recommended and provides sound advice on every aspect of the Park from accommodation, hiking, maps, when to go and where to stay.
This is a short 1 – 2 hour hike and there is plenty of shade along the way so you can tackle this at any time of the day. Beware of slippery steps if it has been raining!
Springtime, when there is runoff from the snow, is when the Lower Yellowstone Falls are at their most impressive. The trail is accessible during spring, summer and fall. During the winter months it may close for maintenance and it is advisable to avoid the trail during heavy rainfall.
Though this is not a technical hike the stairs are steep and a good overall level of fitness is recommended for this trail.