Grebe Lake, Headwaters of Lava Creek and Observation Peak, Yellowstone National Park - September 13, 2019


Dec 23, 2013
I completed a four day backpacking trip with a couple friends to Grebe Lake in Yellowstone National Park in mid-September, where we set up a base camp at campsite 4G4. From camp, we did day hikes to the headwaters of Lava Creek on the 14th and another hike to Observation Peak on the 15th.

The hike into Grebe Lake is an easy one at 4.1 miles. The trail is relatively flat, with a very gradual descent down to the lake. Our campsite, 4G4, was located on the northern shore of the lake, so we had to walk around the eastern shore of Grebe, where there is still a fair bit of marshiness to contend with.

Site 4G4 is a nice campsite, tucked in off the trail by the lake. It certainly had a lot more appeal than site 4G3 which we passed on our way in.

Since we drove up from Salt Lake and hiked in on the same day, we arrived at camp a little after four in the afternoon. After setting up camp and eating dinner, I made my way down to the lake to watch a pair of swans that call Grebe Lake home.


The hike in overview map


Trailhead shot


Seems a bit dated


Typical of the trail to Grebe Lake


A quick break just past the halfway point to the lake


Arriving at Grebe Lake


Making our way around the lake


Signpost for our campsite


Tent sites at 4G4


Swans on the lake

Day 2 - Off-trail day hike to the headwaters of Lava Creek

Now the night before, I had used my collapsible bucket to put out our campfire, and had left the bucket half full, next to a sitting log by the fire pit. When I got up in the morning, much to my chagrin, the bucket was gone. Something had come in to our campsite in the night and hauled away my bucket. :( We searched a wide perimeter around camp, but could never find it.

Well, after breakfast, two of us headed put to reach the headwaters of Lava Creek. This hike is 3.5 miles one way, and we would essentially be drainage hopping until we reached the meadows of Lava Creek. The first three quarters of mile were the toughest of our route due to old burn, downfall and seeps along the hillside of the stream that flows into the northwest corner of Grebe Lake. The rest of the drainage hiking was pleasant, with lots of sign of elk along our way to Lava Creek.


Headwaters of Lava Creek overview map


Grebe Lake in the morning


Ready for an adventure


Marshy due to seeps


Definitely wet feet for the first 3/4 of a mile


Hiking up the first drainage


The stream has gone dry at this point


Hiking up the second drainage


Water has appeared again in the stream bed of the second drainage


A small meadow near the head of the second drainage. At this point, we will head into the trees on the
left side of the image, up and over a saddle and drop into the drainage that will lead us to Lava Creek.


Dropping down into the third drainage


Stepping out of the trees into the meadows at the headwaters of Lava Creek - looking south


Headwaters of Lava Creek - looking north


Tiny Lava Creek


A yummy taste of Lava Creek Water. :)


Some interesting square rock slabs in the stream on our way back to


My legs are beat up after the bushwhack

Day 3 - Day Hike to Observation Peak

On our third day we set out to hike to the summit of Observation Peak and take in Cascade Lake which was along our way.


Observation Peak day hike overview map


The observation lookout on Observation Peak as seen from our campsite on Grebe Lake


Trail junction sign


Looking back west at Grebe Lake


Typical scenery between Grebe and Cascade Lakes


Made it to Cascade Lake


Cascade Lake with the Washburn Range in the distance.


Time to turn off to the peak


Fall colors taking hold of the Fireweed.


A look down on the headwaters of Tower Creek


Hayden Valley below to the south


Grebe Lake below


The lookout on top of Observation Peak


Mount Holmes to the west. There are a lot of dead Whitebark Pines on Observation Peak


Electric Peak to the northwest. @Artemus


Time for lunch


Heading back down the trail


A look to the east and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone


The Washburn Range


Cascade Lake form above


More Fireweed

Day 4 - Back to the trailhead

A non-eventful hike back to the Grebe Lake Trailhead, though we did run into some wolf track along the east side of the lake.


Wolf track on the trail


Weebles wobble but they don't fall down. :)


Beautiful day


Almost back at the trailhead.

I had a wonderful time on this trip - other than losing my bucket. The weather was perfect: low to mid-sixties every day, with low to mid-thirties at night. We had elk bugling around our tents every night, and pretty much all night long. We also had an owl hooting two of the three nights. Beside the swans on Grebe Lake, we saw hawks, ravens, geese, ducks, one elk on our hike to Lava Creek, one weasel and too many squirrels to count. One of those squirrels fancied dropping pinecones on my tent early in the morning. :mad: At one point, we got to witness the swans chasing Canadian Geese off the lake - something that I have never seen before.


Sep 18, 2017
Cool trip! I used to visit Grebe Lake often as a youth. I caught my first Arctic Grayling there. Thanks for bringing back good memories. I need to get back there and that side trip to Observation looks sweet!


Dec 23, 2013
Cool trip! I used to visit Grebe Lake often as a youth. I caught my first Arctic Grayling there. Thanks for bringing back good memories. I need to get back there and that side trip to Observation looks sweet!

My pleasure @wabenho. It's a great, short backpacking trip. The grayling were jumping all over the lake in the evening hours.

Tim Valentine

May 24, 2015
Yes thanks for showing what is beyond Grebe Lake. I too went only as far as the lake and caught my only Arctic Grayling there.


Sep 22, 2016
It's interesting to see the wilderness side of Yellowstone- meaning that on our too quick evening-very full day-morning visit there, we were only interested in seeing as many thermal features as possible.
And thanks for being discrete in that campfire pic!
Jan 18, 2014
I’m really enjoyin’ your reports...ya have me diggin’ out my maps and follow in’ along on th journey vicariousl..thanks!
Keep on postin’.
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