Sheepeater Cliff | Secret Hike in Yellowstone

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We found a little secret in Yellowstone. It is a short, unmarked hike at Sheepeater Cliff. Sheepeater Cliff in Yellowstone is a geological formation of columnar basalt that you can access from a very short drive between Norris and Mammoth. Many people pull in and park, climb the interesting cliff, spot and few marmots, and leave. Others sit at the picnic table for a short lunch break.

This is the picnic area. There are a few tables in the shade to the left of this sign.
Make sure to check for marmots. We saw a few marmots among the rocks right by the picnic area.

There is a small, unmarked trail that isn’t found in park literature leading to the right (east) along the river. When we were there in early June, the Gardner River was really rushing, so we decided to walk between the cliff and river and check it out. This 1.0 mile roundtrip trail isn’t really maintained, which meant we climbed over the occasional deadfall, but it was obvious which way we should go. After walking about a third of a mile, we even had to make a short scramble across some of the basalt rocks that had tumbled down. By then, though, we were getting excited, because we could hear the hearty roar of rushing water ahead.

The trail is a little rocky, and although it isn’t maintained, it is easy to follow.
There are some branches to climb over or under, depending on your height.
The first part of the trail walks through the pine trees.
Then you start walking along the river. It is gorgeous.
Soon you will come to another cliff like the one at the picnic area.
We had to scramble across the rocks to finish the trail. The trail follows along the river which was very high, so the trail was washed out.

As we continued along, the trail dropped into the river, which was running very high. It was okay, we just moved to our left and avoided the water. Suddenly, the river plunged downward, and the trail continued up along the cliffs. We had arrived at what we called “the chute.” It isn’t really a waterfall, but the river channel narrowed and dropped swiftly, especially with the high runoff. We continued right along the edge of the cliff, which plunged straight into the river 40 feet below. It wasn’t really dangerous, as we could stay well back from the edge, but don’t let little ones wander.

The trail went right through some reeds by the river.
The trail is flat and easy.
We even spotted marmots along the trail.
We saw the water falling over the edge, and the boys got really excited to see a waterfall.

After another hundred yards or so, we turned around and caught a full glimpse of the Chute. We can’t guarantee that it is always a spectacle, but in early Spring, it was incredible. This waterfall was about 25 feet tall, and the water is really moving because of the narrowness between the cliffs. We felt as if we’d found our own little secret. Back to our left when facing the river, a valley opened up, and the river slowed and spread out. It was a perfect spot for animal viewing. We watched for awhile, and then returned the way we’d come.

The waterfall comes through this chute.
The river continues on, and the area is beautiful.
This little hike quickly became a family favorite. We loved it!
We spotted this bear track along the trail. Make sure to be prepared on any hike in Yellowstone.
Sheepeater Cliff trail is definitely worth the walk.

Sheepeater Cliff in Yellowstone is definitely a great hike. It’s flat and easy, and the waterfall is fun to see. It’s a perfect family friendly trail! If you are looking for other kid friendly hikes in Yellowstone, check out our full list.

*Update: After doing a little research, we are finding that a few websites are calling this chute Tukuarika Falls after the Native American tribe that were called “Sheepeaters” because they drove bighorn sheep into the river.

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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Jami

    You never mention how far the hike is. From reading everything the hike looks to be about 1 mile RT?

    1. Natalie Ockey

      Yes, it is 1.0 mile RT. Sorry that we left that information out. We will update the post now. Thank you!

  2. Elizabeth

    Hi! I really enjoyed this post. I noticed you turned around before reaching Osprey Falls. Do you think it would have been possible to continue on safely all the way to Osprey Falls?

    1. Natalie Ockey

      Osprey Falls does not begin at this trailhead. The trail for Osprey falls starts further up the road closer to Mammoth and it is 9 miles long. I don’t think the trail we were on would have continued much further from where we turned around. It looked like you would have to cross the river, or come to a steep overlook that wouldn’t be wise to climb down. I wouldn’t recommend this as a way to Osprey Falls because I’m guessing it is even further than the 9 miles from the actual trailhead.

      1. Elizabeth

        Alright. Thank you for the response!