Flagg Ranch is technically neither in Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Park. It is in a small protected area in between, but we often stop because there is a small Visitor’s Center, and they can help orient you on your way into either park. On our most recent trip we wanted to do some hiking in the area, and we settled on Polecat Creek Loop.
This trail runs about 2.5 miles through a lodgepole pine forest. It is a complete loop, but we recommend a different alternative due to the fires that burned much of this area in 2016. To start this trail, drive into the parking lot behind the general store. This is the huge lot that faces the front of the hotel. The trail begins at the far end of the parking lot in at the exit. Park close to the far exit and cross the road (not the highway, but Grassy Lake Road). There is a small sign that says “Trailhead,” and just a few steps further the trail splits and you can take the loop either way. (A small metal posts assures you that this is Polecat Creek Loop.)
Though you could take the loop either way, we recommend starting off to the left. The trail leads down through the burned up trees. The advantage to heading this direction is that you will come to the meadow and stream sooner this way. The disadvantage is that you are walking through a burned up forest. Still, we found this section of the hike to be quite beautiful. We recommend following this trail as it begins in the trees, but quickly turns and follows a green grassy meadow on your left.
When we were there in the Spring, it was really wet, and there was a nice slough there with plenty of ducks and geese swimming around. After about a half mile, the trail veers around to the right and heads back into the forest, though this section of the forest is not scorched. After doing this hike once we decided this would be a great place to turn around. This would shorten the hike to around a mile.
If you choose to continue around the loop, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, a little ways after the hike leaves the wet meadow, the trail splits. We went to the right. We heard that the trail to the left goes out to a hot spring (like 170 degrees, so don’t even think about trying it!) The trail we took continues to veer right and goes through a nice tight pine forest. There weren’t any animals to see, but there was plenty of shade. Eventually, we came out on a road.
We weren’t sure what to do next as the powerlines were crossing and running in either direction, and the road seemed to follow them. We ended up crossing the road and continuing down a now track that looked like a road less travelled. This turned out to be right, as about a half mile later we came to a sign directing us again to our right. From there, the trail cuts back through the burned forest. It is about a half mile to the trailhead.
The one thing that we didn’t like about this trail was the dust. There is an outfitter that walks horses along the trail and so the dust is really fine and that made the hike a bit unpleasant. Polecat Creek Loop is a nice trail, but in our opinion, Yellowstone and the Tetons both have much more to offer. If we were to do this hike again, we would hike to the hot springs and back again. At least until the forest recovers from the fire.