Ribbon Lake | Yellowstone

Ribbon Lake is a moderate hike in the Canyon section of Yellowstone National Park. We enjoyed the views along the canyon rim, but this was not one of our favorite Yellowstone hikes. There are several problems with this hike that make it tough for kids, though it is a nice hike for adults.

Hike Info

  • Distance: 4.0 miles RT
  • Rating: Moderate
  • Elevation Gain: 575 feet
  • Tips: Lots of mosquitoes, so bring bug spray.

The first problem that makes this kid-unfriendly is the steep drop off as you walk along the canyon. Since Ribbon Lake shares a trailhead with Artist Point, it starts out walking along the canyon rim for about the first half-mile. The trail goes up and down quite a bit in this section. Though adults are perfectly safe, kids may not stay back from the edge.

The trail to Ribbon Lake begins at Artist Point.
The trail climbs up to the rim of the canyon.
There are nice views of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
The trail walks right along the rim, so keep your kids close.

Eventually, the trail splits. The left fork takes you farther along the rim to a spot called Sublime Point. The right fork turns and heads downhill into the trees and takes you all the way out to Ribbon Lake. The trail is a bit steep on this short downhill section, but it is only a quarter-mile to the next junction, which comes up near Lily Pad Pond. Again, the trail forks and the left trail leads to Ribbon Lake. 

Right before the trail splits, there is a great look at the river and canyon.
Follow the signs. They will lead you to Ribbon Lake.
The trail went up and down a lot, so both ways there was up and down.
Lily Lake was nice. If we did this trail, we might hike to this spot and then turn around.

The second problem with the this trail is the mud. When we hiked this trail in late June there were so many mud holes that the trail was in really sloppy shape. It was difficult for our boys to stay dry. Maybe in a different year we wouldn’t have had this problem, but finding our way around the mud made the trail seem considerably longer. 

The trail is half shaded, and half in the open.
There were lots of muddy sections like this.
Some spots had nice bridges but not many.

One cool thing about this trail is that there are tiny springs all along the muddy section. Right in the middle of the trail our boys found a “geyser” that had water bubbling up to the surface. They water wasn’t even warm, so they put their fingers right in it. 

The boys loved the little hot pools along this trail.
More tricky sections for crossing. They only got worse from here.
This is another junction. Head left for Ribbon Lake.

From the second junction the trail is mostly flat until it approaches Ribbon Lake about a mile later. Then it drops fairly steeply. As it drops, the third problem arises. Though there are a few mosquitos all along the trail, they get really bad as you near the lake. Make sure you take plenty of bug spray and keep moving. 

At the bottom of the incline a large swamp appears on the right side of the trail. This is the source of the mosquitos, but it isn’t Ribbon Lake. It is just a little farther to the lake. There is a sign for a primitive campsite that says some letters and numbers, and some people use this area for an easy overnight hike. Just past this sign is the closest you get to Ribbon Lake in Yellowstone. You actually never get very near it, which is the main reason this hike disappointed our boys. You can just catch a glimpse of the lake through the trees. 

We were glad this little pond wasn’t Ribbon Lake.
The last section is a drop down into the lake, which is also the hardest part heading out.
People said there are better spots to see the lake, but we couldn’t find one. It’s way over there.

We continued up the hill to the rim of the canyon, which is another steep dropoff, but we didn’t turn down into the trees again. Another half mile on, there is supposed to be a small cascade, but we were ready to turn around. It is two miles to Ribbon Lake and two miles back. Though this hike was great for the adults in our group, it just wasn’t worth it for the kids. Ribbon Lake in Yellowstone wasn’t our favorite hike in Yellowstone with kids, so check out our list of Yellowstone Kid Friendly Hikes for better ideas.

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