Named after Dr. Ferdinand Hayden—whose geological survey in 1871 helped Yellowstone become a national park—the Hayden Valley is one of Yellowstone’s most popular places to view wildlife. Here, in a vast plain that was filled with water when Yellowstone Lake was larger, herds of bison speckle the grasslands and casually cross the road, while elk, moose, grizzlies, and wolves all scavenge and search for food. The valley is located at the geographic heart of Yellowstone National Park, conveniently situated between the Fishing Bridge and Yellowstone Canyon and Falls. In August, Hayden Valley is home to North America’s largest free-roaming bison rut, and is a time when hundreds of bushy brown bison can flank both sides of the road. Aside from its wealth of wildlife, Hayden Valley also houses spectacular thermal formations, from the thick and fickle Mud Volcano to the pungent Sulphur Cauldron. Given its popularity, however, and position at the center of the park, traffic can sometimes be an issue—particularly in the middle of summer—or when a herd of bison has decided to simply park themselves on the road.
Hayden Valley is closed to vehicle traffic from the middle of October through May. It lies on the eastern edge of the Lower Loop of Yellowstone’s Grand Loop Road, and is just over an hour from Mammoth Hot Springs, West Yellowstone, and Old Faithful.