Top 10 Things to See in Yellowstone for your next trip to our country’s first national park. This list is from an avid Yellowstone visitor.
The Hardworking Husband and I visit Yellowstone National Park at least once a year and sometimes up to 5 times a year. This is a list of places we stop at on every visit.
1. Upper Geyser Basin
Upper Geyser Basin may sound unfamiliar to you, but it is the home of Old Faithful Geyser. Old Faithful is the most well known geyser in the world. It is spectacular to watch it erupt. It shoots hot (about 203° F or 95°C) water at least 140 feet in the air. It can reach heights over 180 feet. Old Faithful is one of the most popular geysers in Yellowstone because it’s eruptions are quite predictable.
While Old Faithful may take you to the Upper Geyser Basin, there is so much more to see. In fact, there are over 150 geysers between Old Faithful and the Biscuit Basin Road.
The Upper Geyser Basin loop is about 3 miles. The most notable geysers along this trail are Beehive Geyser, Grand Geyser, Castle Geyser, and Daisy Geyser. The trail is a very easy walk.
2. Grand Prismatic Spring
You have probably seen pictures of this spring. It is one of the most iconic springs in Yellowstone. With all of its vibrant colors, it is spectacular.
You can view from ground level or from above. There is a parking area with a boardwalk for you to view it from the ground level, or you can hike a portion of the Fairy Falls Trail to view it from above. Both are breathtaking views.
3. Great Fountain Geyser
The Great Fountain Geyser is my favorite geyser in the park. In all the times I’ve been there, I have only seen it erupt three times. It erupts every 11 hours +/- 3 hours. It’s one that’s hard to catch unless you sit and wait on it, which can be up to 6 hours.
Unlike Old Faithful, this geyser doesn’t shoot water as high in the air. This geyser is wide. I love the way it looks. It has a pool of water in the center with terraces of pools. It is beautiful whether it’s erupting or not.
The Great Fountain Geyser is located on the Firehole Lake Drive. Along this road is also the White Dome Geyser, Pink Cone Geyser and the Firehole Lake.
4. Norris Geyser Basin
Norris Geyser Basin is home to Steamboat Geyser, among other geysers and springs. Steamboat Geyser rarely erupts but is a sight to see when it does. The eruption has 2 phases. First the water phase shoots water out of two vents and then shoots water out over 300 feet. This will last anywhere from 3 to 40 minutes.
Once the water is gone, the steam phase begins. This phase lasts from several hours to several days. They do caution you that the minerals expelled with the water can damage glass and paint on your car. I have yet to see this geyser erupt.
Other geysers and springs you can see in Norris Geyser Basin are Echinus Geyser, Cistern Spring, Emerald Spring, Steamvalve Spring, Bathtub Spring, Basin Geyser, Little Whirligig Geyser, and so many more.
The Norris Geyser Basin trail is a 2.9 mile loop. It is mostly an easy walk.
5. Mammoth Hot Springs
Because Yellowstone is an active super volcano, the stuff below the surface is active and moving. This is very evident in the Mammoth Hot Springs area.
The larger part of Mammoth Hot Springs looks grey and dead because it has moved. The areas that you see that are bright white and orange are active and alive. It has been moving and changing as long as it has existed. At the bottom of the spring terrace, Liberty Cap stands. It was once active and formed this tower like thing.
The active springs have moved up the hill and more of it can be seen on the drive just south of the main terrace. I love this drive. It shows how much it has changed over the years and how it’s so alive.
6. Lamar & Hayden Valleys
Lamar Valley is located on the Northeast Entrance road. While this area may not seem impressive, it is home to one of the herds of bison in Yellowstone. This herd is much larger than the herd that lives in the southern part of the park. With 2300-5500 bison in this herd, it is quite impressive to see all of them.
This herd calves earlier than the lower herd. Lamar Valley is at a lower elevation and that brings warmer temperatures earlier, which in turn means calves are born earlier. Because the calves are born earlier, the bears are more active in this area earlier in the spring than in the southern part of the park, so your chances of seeing a bear in the spring and early summer are higher in this part of the park.
Hayden Valley is home to the lower herd in the summer. They spend winter on the more geothermal part of the park (Old Faithful/Madison River) area because of its warmth. Then they migrate over Mary Mountain and spend the summer in Hayden Valley, and trek back over Mary Mountain for the winter. I have seen bears in Hayden Valley as well but they aren’t as prevalent.
7. Upper & Lower Falls
Upper and Lower Falls are located on the Yellowstone River and are in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park.
South Rim Drive will take you to stunning views of both falls. The view of the Lower Falls is breathtaking and gives you a grand view of it. You can see Upper Falls much closer than you can Lower Falls.
There is a trail that will take you to the brink of Upper Falls. This trail is 0.25 miles from the parking lot to the brink of the the Upper Falls.
Uncle Tom’s Trail will take you to 3/4 of the way into the canyon near Lower Falls. The AllTrails app reports that it is closed. It has 328 steps down which is the equivalent of about 23.5 flights of stairs. The stairs are in disrepair which is why the trail is closed. If repaired, this trail can be strenuous because of the stairs. However, the AllTrails app says that it’s easy. I have dreamed of doing this trail so I hope that it will be repaired.
North Rim Drive takes you to the brink of Lower Falls and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The Grand Canyon of The Yellowstone will show you why the park is called Yellowstone. It is spectacular.
8. Yellowstone Lake
Yellowstone Lake is very large and the Yellowstone River flows out of it. It is the largest freshwater lake above 7,000 ft in North America.
Because the lake is so large, it is hard to take it all in at once, but there is a view point that allows to you see almost the whole lake. If you go across the Fishing Bridge and drive around the lake about 10 miles, on the left is a road to Lake Butte Overlook. You can get amazing views of the lake from this overlook.
On the southwest side of the lake, around the West Thumb, there is geothermal activity. It is called the West Thumb Geyser Basin. There is a trail for you to see the natural phenomenon.
9. Mud Volcano and Artist Paint Pots
Mud Volcano and Artist Paint Pots are both areas that include many muddy bubbling hot springs. Both are fascinating to see. They are like mud boiling.
Mud Volcano is located north of Yellowstone Lake. You will smell it before you get to it.
The Mud Volcano trail is a 0.8 mile trail that wanders through the Mud Caldron, the Mud Geyser, the Churning Cauldron, the Black Dragon Cauldron, the Grizzly Fumarole, the Mud Volcano, and Dragon’s Mouth Spring.
Artist Paint Pots is named for the various hues of the mud and springs. It has over 50 springs, geysers, vents and bubbling mud springs. It has a boardwalk trail for most of it that is about a mile long. The boardwalk portion is handicap accessible and a pretty easy walk.
And last but not least, there are many animals to be seen in Yellowstone. Animals can be found all over the park. You’ll want to take your binoculars so you don’t miss some of them.
Please note: all the animals in the park are wild animals. Yellowstone National Park is not a zoo. The animals are dangerous and you should never approach them, regardless of what other people are doing. Please follow the guidelines the park gives you regarding animals.
Also be aware that I have a good zoom lens on my camera. I was not as close to these animals as it looks.
Probably the first animal you’ll see once you enter the park is bison, especially if you are coming in through the Northeast entrance or the West entrance. Many people call them buffalo, even though they aren’t technically buffalo.
There are two main herds living in Yellowstone. One is in the Lamar Valley, and the other migrates from the Hayden Valley to the meadows in the Fountain Flats and the Madison River.
There are many of bison in the park. MANY! You will see more later if you don’t get pictures of the first ones you see. I don’t recommend stopping in the road to get pictures of them. Actually I don’t recommend stopping in the road at all except for Yellowstone traffic jam (bison crossing the road).
Another animal that has a high population in Yellowstone National Park is elk. You often can spot elk in the Mammoth Hot Springs area, the North entrance road (Gardiner), Madison River area (West entrance road), the road from Mammoth to Tower Junction, and a few on the Northeast entrance road and near Yellowstone Lake.
We used to see more elk along the South entrance road into Grand Teton National Park. However, in the last few years, they just haven’t been there.
There are two types of bears in YNP. Grizzly bears and black bears. Both can be in the same areas.
There aren’t as many bears in Yellowstone as there are elk, but if you go at the right time of year you’ll most likely see one. We see them more in the spring and early summer, however, I’ve seen them in the middle of summer too.
Identifying the types can be tricky sometimes. Some black bears are cinnamon colored and often mistaken for grizzly bears. Grizzly bears are usually bigger and have a hump on their back between their shoulders.
We have seen both kinds of bears on the Northeast entrance road, Dunraven Pass, along the road between Madison Junction and Mammoth Hot Springs, close to Mud Volcano, near Yellowstone Lake along the East entrance road, and so many other places.
Bears can be spotted just about anywhere in the park. So take binoculars so you can keep a look out for them.
Wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone in 1995. There are now 8 packs with about 95 wolves in the park.
We have seen wolves just about every time we’ve been to Yellowstone. We tend to see them along the Northeast entrance road. However, they are in other areas of the park as well.
If you see a large group of people with spotting scopes, there are probably wolves nearby. The people watching them are usually very friendly and are willing to help you see the wolves.
Coyotes are often mistaken for wolves. However, most coyotes are smaller than wolves and are sand colored or grey. They are closer to a medium dog size.
While there aren’t a ton of coyotes they can be seen all over the park. They are often crossing the road, strolling through parking lots, or just hanging around here and there.
There aren’t very many moose in Yellowstone. You’re more likely to to see Moose in Grand Teton National Park.
They are very impressive to see and I am excited every time I see one. The few that I have seen have been along creeks or rivers, specifically Soda Butte Creek and the North Fork Shoshone River. They like the cooler areas.
Other animals you may see are pronghorn (also called antelope even though they aren’t technically), bighorn sheep, bald eagles, fox, mountain goats, yellow bellied marmot (aka rock chucks), swan, mule deer, sandhill cranes, and so many more.
Have you been to Yellowstone National Park? What would you add to this list of 10 Things to See in Yellowstone?
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