Yellowstone Backpacking – The Thorofare

Trip Length8 Days
Group Size10
Activity level
Starting from
$2,899 for REI Members
$3,199 for non-members
DeparturesJul 2024-Aug 2024

Yellowstone, the world’s first national park, holds a unique place in the heart of many outdoor adventurers. Within this vast northern Rocky Mountains wilderness lies some of the most remote and pristine backcountry in the Lower 48. Our 8 day/7 night backpacking adventure transports us into the heart of this magnificent region by way of the Thorofare—an iconic trail offering both physical challenge and unique access to the park’s solitude and grandeur only a small number of visitors to Yellowstone ever experience.

This trip is designed for seasoned and very fit backpackers as we hike with a 50–60 pound pack covering distances of up to 11.5 miles each day.

Our journey takes us across Yellowstone Lake away from the tourist crowds, into the headwater basin of the Yellowstone River and Thorofare country. Here, we distinguish between the notions of wildness and wilderness, enjoy the ever-present birdsong, and relish the feeling of cool water on sore muscles as we cross (and relax in) crystal clear creeks and rivers. Mid-trip, on our layover day, we ascend Eagle Pass with just our daypacks to admire distant craggy summits and sun dappled valleys. On our return journey to the trailhead, we stay alert for signs of wildlife, flora and fungi we may have missed on our way in. Truly an experience unlike any other, the Thorofare’s sublime backcountry scenery and ephemeral sunrises and sunsets will be forever etched in our memories along with a profound sense of personal accomplishment.

This spectacular and challenging trek along the Thorofare and Mountain Creek Trail offers extraordinary views and some of the most remote wilderness in the lower 48.

If you’re looking to explore different ways to enjoy all Yellowstone has to offer, view our full collection of Yellowstone itineraries.

Our layover day will take us to Eagle Pass to admire distant and spectacular summits and sun dappled valleys.

Trip Highlights

  • Explore Yellowstone’s magnificent backcountry with expert REI guides
  • Backpack through some of the most remote and unspoiled wilderness in the Lower 48
  • Scenic boat shuttle across Yellowstone Lake
  • Take a day-hike to Eagle Pass and enjoy spectacular Rocky Mountain views
  • Search for iconic Yellowstone wildlife including bison, moose, elk and bear

Activities

This trip is rated Strenuous [5]. Each participant will carry a backpack weighing 50–60 pounds for up to 11.5 miles each day, at elevations between 7,500–9,500’ above sea level. We strongly recommend training with 50–60 pounds loaded in the backpack you intend to use for the trip and ensuring your hiking boots are well broken in before departure. Over the 7 days of backpacking, we hike between 44 and 50 miles (dependent on permits). The total mileage including the optional day-hike to Eagle Pass is 54+ miles. This is not a beginner backpacking trip. All participants should be familiar with the rigors of backpacking, arrive in top physical condition and be prepared to spend 7 consecutive nights camping in a remote wilderness setting with minimal amenities. We advise all group members to review your personal health and fitness profile and preparation plan with your physician upon signing up for this adventure. The purchase of travel insurance is highly recommended.

  • Backpacking

What's Included

Professional guide leadership (2 guides on every departure); roundtrip transportation from Bozeman, Montana to Yellowstone National Park; roundtrip boat transfer on Yellowstone Lake; meals as noted in the daily itinerary; bear canisters as required by the park; tents; group cooking gear; campsite and permit fees; park entrance fees.

Accommodations

One night front-country camping, 6 nights back-country camping.

Your Adventure Itinerary

Itinerary map for Yellowstone Backpacking – The Thorofare
Day 1

Meet in Bozeman for orientation and set out for Yellowstone

Our adventure begins today in Bozeman, Montana. Meet your guides and fellow backpackers this afternoon at our host hotel for introductions and a full gear check. Our guides are prepared to answer any questions and offer some great advice on how to minimize pack weight. The guide team will also distribute our group gear, food and bear canisters to each participant. After orientation, we drive 2.5 hours to Yellowstone National Park, settle into our camp for the evening and continue to discuss the grand adventure that awaits us. Dinner included.

Day 2

Boat shuttle across Yellowstone Lake and hike into the backcountry

We start the day early with a hearty breakfast and camp breakdown. After packing up camp, we set off for Bridge Bay Marina to board our boat shuttle to one of the most remote parts of Yellowstone Lake, the southeastern arm. On our 9-mile voyage across the lake, we enjoy views of Frank, Dot and Molly Island, the most important nesting grounds in the region for American white pelicans. Yellowstone Lake is the largest lake in North America above 7,000 ft and we appreciate its vastness as we make our way to the far shore. After disembarking and bidding farewell to our boat captain, we start our hike towards Beaver Dam Creek. Hiking south, we dip into willow forest with views of Yellowstone Lake framed by distant summits of the Northern Rockies. After a wonderfully full day, we pitch our tents and enjoy dinner together—our first night in the Yellowstone wilderness. Breakfast, lunch and dinner included.

Backpacking: 8–9 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +250’; Van transfer: 15–90 minutes; Boat Shuttle: 30–45 min (1–2 shuttles, based on group size)

Day 3

Travel deeper into the wilderness and hike towards the Trident massif

We begin the day with a piping hot cup of coffee in hand, watching the surrounding landscape turn golden as the sun peeks over the horizon. After breaking camp, our trail leads us past Beaver Dam Creek and into the upper valley. We pass wide-open meadows and travel through a burn area still recovering from a wildfire more than three decades ago. Our guides take this opportunity to share insights on fire ecology as we hike through the rich understory of saplings, trees and grasses in various shades of verdant greens and golden hues. Backpacking deeper into the wilderness, the Trident massif gradually comes into view. The massif itself is rugged—its peaks and summits creating a dramatic skyline that extends eastward all the way into Bridger-Teton National Forest. Its name derived from the three prominent thousand-foot ridges on its western face that terminate just above the Yellowstone River. Tonight, we settle into our second camp and enjoy our view of the prominent features of the Turret and Table Mountain. Breakfast, lunch and dinner included.

Backpacking: 7–10 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +350’

Day 4

Backpack towards the park boundary, relishing the scenery and solitude

After a good night’s rest under a blanket of stars, we continue our hike into the heart of Thorofare country. Connecting with the Mountain Creek Trail, we head towards Eagle Pass and the park boundary. The Yellowstone headwaters are protected as a designated wilderness pursuant to the Wilderness Act of 1964. The act succinctly describes a wilderness as "lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition" and "an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man". After a full day’ s appreciation for this unique ecosystem and its diverse inhabitants, we enjoy another relaxed evening with our backpacking companions before turning in for the night. Breakfast, lunch and dinner included.

Backpacking: 7.5–11 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +800’

Day 5

Hike up to Eagle Pass or relax and explore back at camp

What an amazing day it is! Today we enjoy a break from moving camp and can choose our own adventure. After a leisurely breakfast, we can set out on a day hike up to Eagle Pass or opt for some exploration and relaxation time around our campsite. Those choosing to hike to the pass are rewarded with sprawling vistas of the surrounding landscape and mountain peaks including Pinnacle Mountain and the Trident. We peer into expanses of the Washakie Wilderness across the park boundary line and savor views of Yellowstone’s tallest peak, Eagle Peak (11,358’). Those choosing to stay near camp can take a dip in a swimming hole, wander in the nearby meadows and smell the wildflowers, or just lie back and gaze out at distant Rocky Mountain summits. We spend a second night tonight in our now familiar campsite. Breakfast, lunch and dinner included.

Hiking (optional): 4–10 mile day hike, Elevation gain/loss: +1,350’/-1,350’

Day 6

Begin the trek back to Yellowstone Lake and watch for signs of park wildlife

Rested after our layover day and with our hearts filled with the spirit of the backcountry, we begin the return journey, retracing our route to the trailhead. As we hike, we look for signs of feathered or furry wildlife, hoping to catch a glimpse of some of the creatures that make Yellowstone their home. With the abundance of grassy meadows and water sources, elk migrate from far and wide to take advantage of this perfect, life-sustaining habitat. We can never guarantee wildlife sightings but keep a constant eye out for grizzly, wolf, moose, elk and smaller species that inhabit the park, focused on viewing animals from an appropriate distance. Breakfast, lunch and dinner included.

Backpacking: 6.5–11 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +430’

Day 7

Return to the shores of Yellowstone Lake

After breakfast and some hot drinks to kick us into gear, we load our packs and continue onward to the glimmering shoreline of Yellowstone Lake. Arriving at our final camp on the shores of the lake, we drop our packs and jump into the water for a celebratory swim, drying off on sun-baked rocks and appreciating the beautiful surroundings. As our time in the wilderness grows short, we share our last backcountry dinner with our fellow adventurers and reflect on all we've accomplished and learned over the last six days. Breakfast, lunch and dinner included.

Backpacking: 8–11.5 miles, Elevation gain/loss: -350’

Day 8

Bid a fond farewell to the Thorofare and return to Bozeman

It’s our final day on the Thorofare and, after an early wake up, we cherish our last backpacking miles as we hug the eastern edge of Yellowstone Lake. If time allows, we brew up some hot beverages as we wait to be picked up by our boat shuttle for the return to Bridge Bay Marina. Reaching our adventure’s end, our van awaits to take us on a scenic drive along Yellowstone Lake and through some of the park’s geothermal areas before beginning the return drive to Bozeman. We plan to arrive back in Bozeman between approximately 6–7pm this evening. Departing flights out of Bozeman should not be scheduled before 8:30pm tonight. Breakfast and lunch included.

Backpacking: 3–5 miles, Elevation gain/loss: -150’

Itinerary map for Yellowstone Backpacking – The Thorofare

Gear List

This gear list has been created to help you choose the best equipment for the trip. Try to bring only what is necessary, as this will help you and the field staff. The weather and other conditions at the time of your arrival will dictate what clothing and equipment you will be required to use each day and what (if anything) can be left behind. It may be a necessary precaution that you bring certain items on the list, even if it is uncertain whether or not they will be needed.

Already booked this trip? Sign into your online traveler profile for a more detailed list of what you'll need.

We provide

  • All Group Cooking Gear
  • Bear Canister
  • Bear Spray
  • Group First Aid Kit
  • Stoves and Fuel
  • Tent(s)
  • Trekking Poles
  • Water Filter

What to pack

Contact Us

Feel free to give us a call at 1 (800) 622-2236 should you have any questions regarding the gear list. The staff at our stores and Direct Sales ( 1 (800) 426-4840 ) will also be happy to help you with gear questions. Or check out REI Expert Advice , which has great information to help you prepare for your trip.

Trip specifics may change over time. Reviews reflect the version of the trip that was active at the time the reviewer took it. Please review the itinerary as described above and call our team for any additional details.