This 17.5-mile out-and-back hike took place in late August 2021 from the Warm Creek Trailhead to campsite 3P1 along the Pebble Creek Trail in the northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park. The trail includes sweeping views of Barronette Peak and Cutoff Mountain, crosses the Montana-Wyoming state line at the 45th parallel, and meanders through forests and beautiful meadows.
Located in the least-visited corner of the park, the Pebble Creek Trail is perfect for day hikers hoping to get away from the crowds. It's also perfect for backpackers looking for breathtaking views and backcountry camping. We took our time and spread this hike over 3-nights at campsites 3P4, 3P1, and 3P5 from Sunday, August 29 to Wednesday, September 1, 2021. The temperature was a perfect 65 degrees with overnight temps in the low-30s, so a warmy hat and Marmot down jacket were a blessing in the mornings before the sun warmed the valley. Clear skies graced the first day, with a haze settling in for the remaining 3 days due to wildfires in California.
Prior to this bucket-list hike, we flew into Jackson Hole Airport and drove up through Grand Teton National Park, stayed at the Canyon Campground for a night, and then meandered up to the northeast corner of Yellowstone. We made a quick stop at the Pebble Creek Campground to enjoy the luxury of a vaulted toilet before finally reaching the Warm Creek Trailhead around 1:00 pm. We left our Enterprise rental car ("Fran" the 4Runner) and hit the trail.
Day 1 - 3 Miles, Elevation Gain: 1,000 ft
Warm Creek Trailhead to 3P4
This trail immediately begins climbing as you zigzag 1,000 ft up and over the pass. The hike is a bit strenuous at altitude for flatlanders like ourselves, but the view of the mountains and valley is well worth the effort. Once in the valley, you'll hike through an open meadow along Pebble Creek with 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains.
3P4 is our favorite backcountry site in Yellowstone National Park for its 360 view of the valley and opportunities for wildlife viewing. While enjoying a pot of bacon macaroni & cheese around 7:00 pm, a cow moose and her calf appeared by the brush of the creek. It was my first time seeing a moose in the wild, and with a calf no less! There is a bear box at the site, which makes your stay more convenient as there's no need to mess with hanging food bags.
The morning was a bit chilly and I was glad I had bought a warmy hat and gloves at the Mammoth General Store before the hike. Once the sun popped over the mountains the valley warmed up quickly.
Permits are required year-round for all backcountry stays in Yellowstone National Park and reservations are encouraged.
Day 2 - 5.5 Miles
3P4 to 3P1
Not too long after leaving 3P4 the trail turns from meadow to forest. This stretch of the trail crosses the 45th parallel which is also the dividing line between the states of Montana and Wyoming. In Michigan, the 45th runs just north of Gaylord, Michigan, so I chuckled that we'd traveled so far to cross a line we could reach back home. Not far after the 45th, you'll reach the Bliss Pass Trail crossing which connects the Pebble Creek Trail to The Slough Creek Trail. As you continue on, you'll cross Pebble Creek 3 times but the crossings were not deep enough to require removing our shoes but may have required it had we been doing crossing in the spring.
About a mile beyond the Bliss Pass trail crossing we heard a chainsaw in the distance and eventually came upon two rangers who were out maintaining the trail on horseback. As with all the rangers we met while in Yellowstone, they were surprisingly kind and we enjoyed chatting with them for a bit.
After reaching 3P1 we set up camp and easily fetched water from the nearby creek. While enjoying a meal of Idahoan Garlic Mashed Potatoes, a female mule deer and her two fawns appeared. They poked around the creek and our tent for a good 20 minutes. Above you can watch them pass near the fire pit and knock into Mama mule deer.
Day 3 - 6.7 Miles, Elevation Gain: 500 ft
3P1 to 3P5
The Pebble Creek Campground is only 3.5 miles from 3P1 if you want to traverse the entire trail, but we headed back the way we'd come. After barely a mile, we met a trail runner who had started out at the Warm Creek Trailhead that morning! This made us a little cocky as we figured if a bear was in the area, it would obviously go after the lone guy running through the woods and not us...
We stopped at 3P3 for lunch and enjoyed the beautiful view looking down towards the creek, which is about a 1/4 mile away. A moose antler was at the site so the obligatory photo shoot ensued. Matt still chastises himself for posing with it upside down.
After crossing the 45th Parallel once again and hiking out of the woods, we returned to the mountain meadow that makes up most of the remaining trail. The last campsite before you climb up and over the ridge line and reach the trailhead is 3P5 and it holds a close 2nd place in our hearts to 3P4. The creek is only 30 feet from the wooded nook where we set up our tent (which we set atop moose tracks), and there's a 5-star view of the valley from the fire pit. A mama mule deer and two fawns strolled through this site as well, and had we not hiked 6 miles from the previous site, I would have thought they'd followed us.
Day 4 - 2.2 Miles, Elevation Gain: 257 ft
3P5 to Warm Creek Trailhead
Alas, all good things must come to an end. We packed up quickly and began the last 2 miles of the trip, passing two horseback riders as we climbed down the mountain. I was impressed the horses were able to climb such steep terrain while carrying riders. Nothing beats the accomplished feeling of reaching your car after a good backpacking trip and the excitement for a good beverage and meal ahead. We exited the park at the Northeast Entrance and grabbed a coffee and gas at the nearby Cooke City before heading towards West Yellowstone and the next leg of our National Park adventure.
A note about hiking in grizzly country: According to the National Park Service, the number of backcountry injuries caused by grizzly bears in Yellowstone averages one per year. While your chances of an attack are fairly low, they do happen and are more likely to happen to those who don't take some fairly simple precautions. As a ranger told us, you don't want to come around a bend to find one "sunning his belly on the trail," so be aware and make noise ("Hey Bear!" became our musical chant). It's easy to assume a bear will hear you coming, but if one has its head down preoccupied with "sniffing out an anthill," it may not. Bears have an incredibly strong sense of smell, so properly store food and toiletries in bear boxes or hang them from a food pole - don't leave it in your tent!
Be sure to read Yellowstone's advice on Camping in Bear Country, Hiking in Bear Country, and how to react if you encounter a bear. Carry bear spray at all times in the backcountry, and if renting it (you can't bring it on a plane), we recommend Teton Backcountry Rentals in Jackson Hole. In addition to the main location on Cache St, a drop-off box is conveniently located at the Jackson Hole Airport.