Various sections of the Snake River through Flagg Canyon in the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway area are beautiful, but much of the rest parallels a busy road. The Polecat Creek Loop is primarily used by the horse concessionaires through a forest. With the exception of the Huckleberry Hot Spring and the brief bit of trail along Polecat Creek, you probably are better hiking elsewhere.
After spending a night in the campground at Flagg Ranch, we walked to the southeast end of the campground. A gated road led us down to a boat launch on the Snake River. We crossed the busy John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway by crossing under the bridge on a well worn path and onto the official trail.
From there, the trail paralleled the Snake River through a mix of sagebrush meadows and lodgepole pine forests. Sometimes the trail was close to the river, while other times, it wandered away. Both the river and the road were never far from the trail as we worked our way up Flagg Canyon. This section of the river is a pleasant stroll and is pretty decent birding with the variety of habitats. The river got much more interesting after passing the junction with the spur trail that headed over to Flagg Ranch.
You can make this a loop by taking that junction trail, but we continued north and if you would have done just the loop, you would have missed out on the best section of the river! As we traveled up the trail, it gained a little bit of elevation and walls rose up around the river in a really interesting canyon towering above the clear waters below. A small outcropping allowed us to perch right above the water and it was definitely the highlight.
As we continued north, the walls receded and the trail went into the trees and closer to the road. As the trail approached a picnic area and boat launch, the forest opened up to meadows and a section of braided river. This would be a nice place to park, then hike downstream to the canyon and back if you were looking for a nice, short day hike.
From here, the south entrance into Yellowstone is almost visible, then we turned around and headed back down to the junction with the spur trail to Flagg Ranch, crossed the highway and hopped onto the Polecat Creek Loop.
This loop is primarily used for by the horse concessionaires, so it is not the most pleasant of trails. Sections of it are also a dirt road instead of just a trail, so it doesn’t have a truly “wilderness experience”. We had a group of riders go by, so we stepped off the trail, then waited for the dust to settle before continuing on.
The trail went along the dirt road, then crossed under some power lines before heading back into the trees on a single track trail. We bounced between some meadows and forest before coming to a larger meadow that passes Huckleberry Hot Springs (which we didn’t stop at).
From here, the trail gets the most interesting of the loop as it approaches Polecat Creek and the surrounding marshy areas. Here, you have more open vistas that include the slow moving creek that is popular with waterfowl and the Tetons looming large to the south.
After traveling along the creek for a bit, the trail wanders along a campground and past the north end of the parking lot for Flagg Ranch. I continued on back into the forest to close the loop while Kristen brought the car around and picked me up.
Various sections of the Snake River in Flagg Canyon are nice and worth the stop if you’re staying up there. I personally wouldn’t make the trip specifically for it. The Polecat Creek Loop probably should be avoided except for the small section by the creek and up to the hot spring. Much of the area recently burned which will open it up more and bring in some more flowers, but probably won’t do much to change my opinion relative to other hikes in the Tetons area.