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Things to do in Yellowstone National Park

Things to do in  Yellowstone National Park

Welcome to Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone was the world’s first national park, and nowhere else on the planet will you find fields of erupting geysers, waterfalls cascading into canyons, and gentle valleys hiding bears and wolves—all inside the caldera of a supervolcano. In the warmer months, catch the spray off Yellowstone Falls, hike the boardwalks around geyser basins, or watch for bison munching across Lamar Valley. In winter, the crowds depart but there are still plenty of things to do in Yellowstone National Park: snowshoe or ski the trails, witness Old Faithful’s legendary show, and spot wildlife enjoying the quieter, snow-capped season.

Top 14 attractions in Yellowstone National Park

Old Faithful Geyser

Named for its frequent and predictable eruptions, Old Faithful Geyser is the gold standard of geysers and the star attraction of Yellowstone National Park. The steaming, multicolored pool puts on a show every 60 to 120 minutes, when it shoots boiling water up to 180 feet (55 meters) into the air.More

Hayden Valley

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.More

Grand Prismatic Spring

Grand Prismatic Spring is not only the largest hot spring in Yellowstone National Park, but one of the largest in all of North America. More than its size though, the spring is famous for its colors that radiate from a deep-blue center out to green, yellow, and red. It’s a spectacular sight unlike anything else in the park.More

Fountain Paint Pot

Fountain Paint Pot is one of several mud pots found within Yellowstone National Park that bursts and pops as the mud thickens throughout summer. The surrounding Fountain Paint Pot area is known for its pools of thermophiles (heat-loving bacteria) that gather to form multihued puddles in the earth, as well as mini-geysers and fumaroles.More

Lamar Valley

Yellowstone is home to one of the largest concentrations of mammals in the lower 48 states, and the spectacular Lamar Valley ranks among the best locations in the park to spot wildlife—black and grizzly bears, elk, bison, wolves, bighorn sheep, mule deer, and several types of birds. It’s easy to see why it’s nicknamed America’s Serengeti.More

Yellowstone Upper Falls

Of all Yellowstone National Park’s waterfalls, the Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River are possibly the most underrated. At a thundering height of 109 feet (33 meters), the Upper Falls are an impressive sight that’s certainly worthy of a stop—and would more than likely be the highlight of virtually any other park.More

Mammoth Hot Springs

At Mammoth Hot Springs, geothermal waters heated in Yellowstone’s caldera valley emerge through cracks and fissures, depositing minerals to create terraced travertine formations. Visitors traverse boardwalks above the steaming hydrothermal features, taking in one of Yellowstone National Park’s most impressive natural wonders.More

Grand Loop Road

A drive along Yellowstone National Park’s 142-mile long (228 kilometer) Grand Loop Road takes you past most of the park’s major attractions. Cruise along the figure-eight-shaped road for a ready-made Yellowstone tour featuring Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, and more, easily completed in one day or spread out over your own timeline.More

Yellowstone Petrified Tree

While it’s hard to believe from looking at Yellowstone’s eruptive landscape today, there was once a time when this corner of Wyoming was covered in towering trees. Much like the Redwoods of California, these trees were prolific and crawled across hillsides and thrust their way towards the sky, with many species of tropical plants like cinnamon growing nearby. That all changed about 55 million years ago, when explosive eruptions of Yellowstone’s volcanoes forever altered the landscape. Trees were uprooted and caught in debris fields, slipping and sliding in the mud, before finally settling in upright positions like toothpicks standing on end. While many of those trees would eventually die, a few that were fossilized and petrified like stone are still in the park today—the most famous being the Yellowstone Petrified Tree just west of Tower Junction. Located within a protective fence (to keep souvenir looters at bay), the Petrified Tree is a window back to Yellowstone’s tropical past, when the peaks of the mountains we see today were once at the valley floor.More

Mud Volcano Area

The landscape comes alive with the sound of bubbling mud pits and steaming fumaroles at this geothermal hotspot inside Yellowstone National Park. Natural features with names like Dragon’s Mouth Spring lend the formerly active volcano an otherworldly feel and make it one of Yellowstone’s most intriguing places to visit.More

Norris Geyser Basin

Here in Yellowstone’s Norris Geyser Basin, there’s a notable stench of fresh sulphur that wafts on the crisp mountain air. That’s because the geysers here are some of the hottest within Yellowstone National Park, as well as the oldest, tallest, most acidic, and prone to frequent change. This section of the park is believed to have hot springs that are 115,000 years old, and is also home to Steamboat Geyser—which is the tallest geyser in the world. Unlike the famous Old Faithful, however, Steamboat Geyser has an eruption schedule that’s variable and tough to predict, though when it explodes it can send water upwards of 380 feet in the air. The Echinus Geyser in the Norris Geyser Basin is the largest acidic geyser in the world, and the core temperature of the earth surrounding it is some of the hottest in the park. Given the elevated levels of heat, this geyser basin is also one of the park’s most likely to change, where hot springs can suddenly turn into fumaroles and geysers can spout without warning. For the best way to experience the basin, enjoy the two miles of boardwalk trails that weave past the geysers and hot springs, stopping to take photos, marvel at the view, and sniff the sulphur on the air.More

Firehole River

Like many other places in Yellowstone, the Firehole River is a scenic spot that lives up to its dramatic name. As it meanders north for 21 miles (34 kilometers) to join with the Madison River, the Firehole acts as a drainage basin for many of the park’s geothermal features and is the ideal spot for a summertime dip.More

Black Sand Basin

Black Sand Basin is a section of the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park. Though small, it is packed with exceptional thermal features like geysers, colorful pools, and hot springs, and is often less crowded than its big-name neighbors. Visit as a quick stop during your Yellowstone National Park tour—it’s worth every second.More

Castle Geyser

In 1870, when members of the Washburn Expedition happened upon this Yellowstone geyser, they noted that the shape and structure of the crater resembled a castle’s tower. Since then, much of that stoic tower has gradually dissolved and eroded, although a 90‐foot-high (27-meter-high) column of boiling water still erupts with regular frequency.More
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All about Yellowstone National Park

When to visit

In 2021, Yellowstone had nearly five million visitors, with 20 percent visiting in July. By contrast in December, there were fewer than 40,000 visitors. Summer means reliably great weather and open roads, but it also means traffic jams and searching for accommodations—Yellowstone’s 2,000-plus hotel rooms and campsites are usually booked solid in summer. Aim for a shoulder season visit (March–May, September–October) or a winter one to see more of Yellowstone.

Getting around

Unless you’re on a guided bus tour, Yellowstone is best seen by car—on the 142-mile Grand Loop Road, which connects all the park’s main sites. The road takes four to seven hours to navigate, and that’s not allowing time for sightseeing. To spend less time in traffic, head out early in the mornings or around sunset. Bonus: That’s when wildlife will be active, too.

Traveler tips

If you don’t book your trip at least six months in advance, you’ll probably struggle to find in-park lodging. Look to spots in West Yellowstone, like the 1872 Inn or Silver Gate Lodging in Cooke City, just minutes from Lamar Valley and a mile from the Northeast Entrance. If you’re dead set on staying in the park and willing to make last-minute decisions, call your desired hotel regularly and ask about last-minute cancellations.

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Yellowstone National Park information

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