5 Best Things to do in Yellowstone
If you’re looking to visit a national park, look no further than Yellowstone. Established in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant, Yellowstone is not only one of the country’s biggest national parks, but also the first national park to ever be established.
Spanning over 2.2 million acres across Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, Yellowstone boasts a breathtaking array of wildlife, hydrothermal features, and historical sites. In fact, Yellowstone was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978 for its historical importance and distinct hydrothermal activity.
Yellowstone is without a doubt one of the most stunning, action-packed national parks. From the marvelous Old Faithful geyser to its awe-inspiring herds of bison, you’ll have no shortage of activities when you visit.
From hydrothermal sites to guided boat tours, here are our favorite things to do in Yellowstone National Park.
1. Explore the Hydrothermal Wonders
One of Yellowstone’s best-known attractions is its variety of hydrothermal sites.
Yellowstone boasts more than 10,000 hydrothermal features, including the world’s largest concentration of geysers. Other natural wonders you will find on your journey include vibrant hot springs, boiling mud pots, and dramatic steam vents.
What causes these hydrothermal sites? The Yellowstone Caldera, otherwise known as the Yellowstone Supervolcano, creates a vast system of molten magma beneath Yellowstone’s surface. When this magma interacts with water and a variety of other geological substances, you get the vast hydrothermal wonders Yellowstone visitors enjoy today.
Here are our favorite hydrothermal features to visit in Yellowstone.
By far Yellowstone’s most popular attraction, Old Faithful was given its name during the 1870 Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition. Since that date, Old Faithful has remained Yellowstone’s most reliable geyser, erupting up to 8,400 gallons of boiling water every 90 minutes.
After you’ve seen one of Old Faithful’s famous eruptions, you can explore the Upper Geyser Basin. This vast geyser system hosts a variety of the most vibrant and colorful hydrothermal pools you will ever see.
Grand Prismatic Spring
The star of the Midway Geyser Basin, this colorful wonder is the biggest hot spring in the United States and third largest in the world. It reaches a span of 360 feet long and 160 feet wide, with depths rivalling the length of a 10-story building.
The Grand Prismatic Spring also holds the title of the most-photographed of Yellowstone’s landmarks. This is due to its kaleidoscope of vibrant, and seemingly unnatural, colors.
There are few other places in the world where you can witness such vibrant oranges, yellows, and greens amidst sapphire blue waters.
Mammoth Hot Springs
A bit out of the way, the Mammoth Hot Springs provide hydrothermal features far different from what you’ll find in the Upper and Midway Geyser Basins. It’s been described as looking like a cave turned inside out.
In the Lower Terrace section of the Mammoth Hot Springs, you’ll find Liberty Cap, a cone-shaped hot spring that rises 37 feet in the air. The Liberty Cap was formed due to a high and continuous flow that caused mineral deposits to build up over time.
In the Upper Terrace section, you can find Angel Terrace, widely known for its valley of pure white rock formations and colorful microorganisms. Needless to say, the entirety of Mammoth Hot Springs will transport you to another world.
2. Join the Herds of Bison
At one point in time, North America’s herds of bison reached a population in the tens of millions. However, when horses and gunpowder arrived onto the continent, overhunting began. By the late 1880s, only two dozen bison were left in the Yellowstone area.
Due to immense conservation efforts, Yellowstone’s bison population has reached over 4,000 animals. Today, Yellowstone is home to the country’s biggest herd of bison. So, no matter where you’re traveling from, you may never get to see herds of bison like this again.
One of the best places to catch a glimpse of these staggeringly large animals—growing up to six feet tall and 2,000 pounds—is Lamar Valley. This incredibly scenic drive will reward you with not only breathtaking numbers of bison, but also the possibility of elk, deer, bears, coyotes, and maybe even wolves.
Hayden Valley is a popular place to check out Yellowstone’s wildlife. Bison love to cross and hang out on the only road that cuts through the valley, so you may experience a “bison jam.” While these jams can last upwards of an hour, they’re an excellent way to get an up-close look at the bison (from the safety of your car).
3. Admire the Grand Canyon (of Yellowstone)
While the phrase “grand canyon” may conjure images of Arizona’s natural wonder, Yellowstone has its own grand canyon—and it’s a sight to behold.
At over 20 miles long, 1,000 feet deep, and up to 4,000 feet wide, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River was formed over 100,000 years. As the Yellowstone River continues to flow through it, the canyon gets deeper and wider every day.
What sets this grand canyon apart from the rest is its added geothermal activity. At several points throughout the canyon, you can see puffs of steam escaping from the canyon walls. You’ll also see the Upper and Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon. The Lower Falls in the more dramatic of the two, a cascading heavy flow of water descending over 300 feet.
You can get an up-close look at the Lower Falls via Uncle Tom’s Trail. This stairway descent into the canyon brings you to one of the best lookouts in the entire park.
4. Glide Across Yellowstone Lake
As the largest high-elevation lake in North America, Yellowstone Lake is a must-see for all park visitors. Due to its over 7,000 feet high elevation, the lake completely freezes over in the winter and is too cold to swim in even during the summer.
While swimming won’t be on your agenda, there are other options available to explore this massive beauty.
In addition to joining a guided boat tour, you can rent your own boats, kayaks, or canoes. This lake is also excellent for fishing. Even if you’re not a sportsman, you can book a private fishing tour with a professional guide to have the complete Yellowstone Lake experience.
If aquatic activities aren’t quite your speed, you can join a variety of hiking trails in the area. One of the best hikes in the entire park is the Avalanche Peak Trail. This steep ascent is a strenuous hike, but will reward you with stunning views of the lake and the park’s most remote peaks.
Another worthwhile hike is the Elephant Back Mountain Trail. This 3.5-mile hike provides a sweeping view of Yellowstone Lake and its surrounding area. Just be on the lookout for grizzly bears!
5. Rest in the Old Faithful Inn
A trip to Yellowstone brings an ample amount of outdoor adventure. However, after long days of hiking and exploring, you may want to take it easy for a while.
The Old Faithful Inn is not only the perfect spot to take a breather, but it also provides a fantastic dose of Yellowstone’s rich history.
Built in 1904 with local logs and stone, this renowned lodge is a national historic landmark and considered the largest log structure in the world. It also remains one of the only log hotels in the world. Even if you don’t stay the night, it’s definitely worth a visit to tour the Inn’s historic grounds.
In addition to being located within a stone’s throw of Old Faithful, you can also rent bikes and embark on guided photography safaris. The Inn also has a fantastic restaurant and bar, making it the perfect spot to call it a night.
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