Visiting Hayden Valley in Yellowstone National Park

Hayden Valley is a 50 acre lush green valley centrally located in Yellowstone National Park that was named after Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden. Ihe valley floor is a seven mile long and seven mile stretch of ancient lake bed located between Canyon Village and Lake Village to the west of Yellowstone River. It is one of the best places for wildlife watching in the park.

Hayden Valley is named for Ferdinand V. Hayden, an American physician and geologist that led the 1871 expedition which preceded the adoption of the legislation to create Yellowstone National Park. The Hayden Survey was the first federally funded, geological survey in the region, with its mission to document the geology and topography of the Yellowstone area. Hayden explored the West prior to the Civil War, and after working as a surgeon for the Union, was appointed to the US Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories in 1867. It was the precursor to the US Geological Survey.


Hayden Valley is a popular area to see bison, elk, grizzly bears, wolves, coyotes and other park animals. If you don’t have time to make it up to Lamar Valley, then this is a better option due to its central location. Be sure to bring binoculars as the animals can be quite a distance from the observation points near the Park Loop Road. The best time to see predators such as wolves and grizzly bears is at dawn or dusk. The bison rut takes place in Hayden Valley in late July and August.

Hayden Valley Hikes

Off-trail hiking is prohibited in the valley in order to preserve it. There are two established trails through the main section of the valley:

Hayden Valley Trail – A 13.6 mile one way hike that runs parallel to the Yellowstone River from Yellowstone Lake to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Mary Mountain Trail – This is a 21 mile one way shuttle hike that includes a portion of the northern section of Hayden Valley as well as Mary Mountain. The trail is closed in the winter and spring (through mid-June) due to grizzly bear activity found in the area. They are present at other times too, so you should definitely carry bear spray at all times. Camping is prohibited along the trail in the summer.

Nearby Lodging

The closest accommodations to Hayden Valley in the park are found in either Canyon Village or Lake Village. Canyon Lodge and Cabins offers more than 500 rooms and cabins north of Hayden Valley. The Yellowstone Lake Lodge and Fishing Bridge RV Park are located south of Hayden Valley.

Where is Hayden Valley in Yellowstone?

Hayden Valley is primarily located west of the Yellowstone River between Lake Village and Canyon Village. It is an approximately seven mile long and seven mile wide section of the Yellowstone Caldera. The Grand Loop Rd and the Yellowstone River work their way north from Yellowstone Lake through the eastern section of Hayden Valley.

Access to Hayden Valley east of the Yellowstone River is via the northern section of Hayden Valley which can be accessed by crossing the Chittenden Bridge upstream from Upper Yellowstone Falls. The road follows the Yellowstone River north past the falls to Artist Point, but trails are available to explore this section of Hayden Valley from Wapiti Lake.

How far is Hayden Valley from West Yellowstone?

The shortest route to drive from West Yellowstone to Hayden Valley takes you through Madison, Norris and Canyon Village. Without delays from bison/bear jams, tourist traffic and stops, it takes approximately one hour and fifteen minutes according to Google. However, you definitely need to account for those as each one can add significantly to the trip. Driving on the Grand Loop Road to the south past Old Faithful and Yellowstone Lake (rather than the north) adds at least an additional 45 minutes to the google maps time and about 25 miles to the odometer. However, the road south of Mammoth was an area where we frequently got caught in bison jams, and we wouldn’t advise this route if the Hayden Valley is your destination for the day.

How long to plan for in Hayden Valley?

The drive from Fishing Bridge to the Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River is about thirty minutes without stops or delays. But there are numerous areas to pull off the road along the drive to be able to enjoy the landscape scenery and the wildlife. Spotting scopes and traffic jams are a good sign that there is wildlife in the area to see,

There are also two popular hikes in the Hayden Valley. If you are interested in spending more time in the valley, you can extend your stay there by completing one of them.

If your primary reason for visiting Yellowstone is to see the wildlife, then you are probably going to spend more time in Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley than anywhere else. Plan to start your day early in the morning to travel to the Hayden Valley. The animals are most active at dawn and dusk, so you will want to be in the valley before sunrise. If you are going to Hayden Valley, you will probably want to stay at either Canyon Village or Lake Village for that part of your journey so you do not have to spend too much time driving in Yellowstone in the dark.

Is Hayden Valley Worth It?

Hayden Valley is the best location for wildlife viewing as part of a shorter, multi-purpose stay in Yellowstone Park. The Lamar Valley may be known as the American Serengeti, but it is located in the northeast section of the park and is not as conveniently located to other attractions. Independent of the wildlife watching, the drive from Yellowstone Lake and Fishing Bridge along the Yellowstone River to the Upper Falls and Lower Falls is something that everyone should plan to do while in Yellowstone National Park.