Yellowstone Travel Guide

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Courtesy of Philippe Sainte-Laudy Photography/Getty Images

Yellowstone Area Map

Neighborhoods

Yellowstone National Park's roughly 3,500 square miles seep slightly across state borders into Montana and Idaho, but its major attractions are contained in the northwest corner of Wyoming. The park is divided into eight areas: Canyon Village; Fishing Bridge, Lake Village and Bridge Bay; Madison and West Yellowstone; Mammoth Hot Springs; Norris; Old Faithful; Tower-Roosevelt; and West Thumb and Grant Village. Montana's North and Northeast entrances lead directly into the Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower-Roosevelt areas. From Wyoming, the West Thumb and Grant Village and Fishing Bridge, Lake Village and Bridge Bay areas are easily accessible from the East and South Entrances, while those traveling through Idaho can head straight through the West Entrance into the Madison and West Yellowstone area. The Old Faithful, Norris and Canyon Village areas can be found farther in along the park's Grand Loop Road.

Just northwest of the Fishing Bridge, Lake Village and Bridge Bay area, the Canyon Village area includes both the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Hayden Valley, which were shaped and defined by the Yellowstone River. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is known for golden cliffs and two major waterfalls, while Hayden Valley, a former lake bed, offers a marshy habitat that's perfect for waterfowl, as well as numerous bears, bison, elk, moose and wolves. Canyon Village cannot be accessed directly from one of the park's entrances; instead, visitors will have to travel along the Grand Loop Road to reach this area. Travelers will also find numerous campsites and the Canyon Visitor Education Center in this part of the park.

These three regions can be found on Yellowstone Lake's northeast and northwest shores about halfway between Yellowstone's East and West entrances. The lake and its adjacent dense forests make this region ideal for spotting bald eagles, bears, bison and moose, among other wildlife. In the Lake Village area, travelers can access facilities like a post office and a ranger station, while Bridge Bay features a marina, campsite and campground. Fishing Bridge, meanwhile, has an RV park and a gas station, as well as the Fishing Bridge Museum and Visitor Center.

As its name suggests, this area is accessible via the park's West Entrance, which sits near Yellowstone Airport and the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center. Travel through West Yellowstone along the West Entrance Road and you'll reach Madison, where a campground, a picnic area and the Madison Information Station reside. Sites located in Madison and West Yellowstone include Gibbon Falls and the Madison River, a prime spot for fly-fishing.

This area near the park's North Entrance is best known for containing the majestic Mammoth Hot Springs but is also distinguished for its abundant elk population and hiking trails. Additionally, the Mammoth Hot Springs area woos history buffs to its Albright Visitor Center (housed within the historic Fort Yellowstone) and Heritage and Research Center (where exhibits display Native American materials, early documents about Yellowstone and more). A ranger station, general store, gas station, restaurant and hotel are available by the hot springs as well.

The Norris area is made up of the Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone's hottest and oldest geothermal region. Geysers worth checking out in this part of the park include Steamboat Geyser (the world's tallest active geyser) and Echinus Geyser (a rare acid geyser). But you'll find more than just geysers here. Two museums – the Museum of the National Park Ranger and the Norris Geyser Basin Museum – offer displays about park rangers and geothermal geology, while the Gibbon River is a great option for fly-fishing. During the winter, you can cross-country ski on a 3-mile stretch of road by the towering Virginia Cascades.

Situated more than 20 miles southeast of Yellowstone's West Entrance, the Old Faithful area is home to Old Faithful and the Grand Prismatic Spring, two of Yellowstone's most famous attractions. Multiple hiking trails (including Mystic Falls and Fairy Falls) are also available in the region, and at Old Faithful, visitors will find facilities like a ranger station, a post office and several restaurants. For more information about Old Faithful, travelers can check out the area's Old Faithful Visitor Center.

The Tower-Roosevelt area – occupying the region near the Northeast Entrance – captures the spirit of the Old West better than any other part of Yellowstone. In this part of the park, you can walk among the fossilized remains of ancient plants and standing petrified trees in the Specimen Ridge or view Tower Fall's 132-foot drop. You should also consider swinging by the Roosevelt Lodge, a historic property that features scenic trails, before or after driving through Lamar Valley, where bison, grizzly bears and more roam.

Surrounding West Thumb (an offshoot of Yellowstone Lake that formed after a volcano collapsed roughly 150,000 years ago), the West Thumb and Grant Village area is home to the West Thumb Geyser Basin, which offers a unique combination of lakeshore geysers, hot springs and mud pots. Noteworthy locales within the West Thumb Geyser Basin include Abyss Pool (a hot spring named for its depth) and Fishing Cone (where fishermen once used the hot spring's water to cook their lake catches). Other than an information station, no facilities can be found at the basin, but just southeast in Grant Village, travelers have access to a visitors center, a post office, two eateries, an amphitheater, a campground and a lodge.

Safety hazards in Yellowstone range from trifling headaches to severe hazards, such as animal attacks. But the more prominent threat is altitude sickness. Symptoms include headache, fatigue, nausea and muscle pain. Remember to drink lots of water, eat light meals and stay away from caffeine and alcohol.

When sightseeing in the park, keep in mind that many of the geothermal attractions, such as the geysers and mud pots, can be dangerous. It's best to keep your distance. Likewise, stay a safe distance from animals at all times. The National Park Service suggests putting at least 100 yards between you and wolves and bears, and about 25 yards or more between you and all other wildlife. Most of the park's established campsites generally are not at risk for animal attacks, but campers should keep all food and garbage out of reach from bears and other critters; suspending any food from a tree branch high above the ground is strongly advised.

If you can help it, avoid wandering off on your own. But if you are by yourself, make plenty of noise (talking, shuffling branches, etc.) when hiking to warn animals of your presence. Also, avoid exploring areas where visibility is low, since bears have limited eyesight. Carrying a can of bear spray (a repellent used to ward off charging bears) is highly recommended. If you do encounter a bear on the trails, you should not run. Instead, avoid eye contact and back away slowly while making noise, and most of the time, the bear will move along. Do not fight back if you are attacked. To find out more about how to protect yourself from bears, visit NPS' Bear Safety page.

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