Best Things To Do in Yellowstone
Yellowstone is known for its red-tinged canyon walls and awe-inspiring natural wonders like Old Faithful and Mammoth Hot Springs, but you can't miss exploring some of the park's hiking trails and basins for striking views of the park's waterfalls, forests and alpine lakes. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone's trails are especially popular with adventurous travelers. Other park activities encompass everything from horseback riding in the backcountry to fishing at the lake, so plan to hit the sites that cater to your interests. Venture to Yellowstone Lake for a boating expedition or head north to Hayden Valley or northeast to Lamar Valley for excellent wildlife-watching opportunities.
Updated November 2, 2017
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The world's most renowned geyser is a must-see for every Yellowstone visitor. Although it isn't the largest geyser in the world, Old Faithful's eruptions are definitely awe-inspiring, averaging around 130 feet high. Like its name suggests, you can count on Old Faithful erupting approximately every hour and a half (the nearby visitors center can provide you with a more accurate schedule). There are several ways to see Old Faithful's power: You can join the hordes of tourists who gather around the perimeter or find a less hectic spot in the nearby Old Faithful Inn's dining room. More adventurous travelers can enjoy the mile-long hike out to Observation Point for a bird's-eye view of the Upper Geyser Basin.
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Formed over thousands of years of erosion caused by wind, water and other natural forces, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is the primary attraction in the Canyon Village area and one of the park's most popular hiking spots. The canyon stretches approximately 20 miles long and nearly a mile wide. Just as remarkable as the canyon's terra-cotta hued cliff walls is its river, which is the longest undammed river in the country, meandering for more than 600 miles through Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota.
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Sitting in the heart of Yellowstone's West Thumb area is Yellowstone Lake, the park's largest body of water and the largest freshwater lake above 7,000 feet in North America. First visited by Lewis and Clark's scout, John Colter, in the early 1800s, Yellowstone Lake has since become a popular destination among anglers and boaters. During the winter, many animals (think: bison and grizzly bears) trek to the more shallow areas of the lake's southern shores, where the water doesn't freeze due to the geothermic activity that takes place beneath the surface. But most of the lake freezes over by early December and can stay that way until early June.
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The Midway Geyser Basin's Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in the United States, approximately 370 feet in size and around 121 feet deep. But its rainbow waters are what really make it fascinating: While the center of the pool's cerulean hue is pretty characteristic, the deep reds, bright yellows and fiery oranges encircling the edges are not. These colors are caused by pigmented thermophilic bacteria that thrive on the rich minerals produced by the geothermic activity. The color of the bacteria is determined by the temperature of the water – the center is too hot to support life – which is then reflected when light hits the organisms.
- #5View all PhotosfreeHayden Valley#5 in YellowstoneHiking, Natural Wonders, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDHiking, Natural Wonders, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND...Read More »
One of the best places to catch a glimpse of Yellowstone's fascinating wildlife is Hayden Valley. This lush valley north of Yellowstone Lake is a highly visited gathering place for bison, elk, coyotes and grizzly bears. While you can get a good view of the valley from the Grand Loop Road, you need to get out your car for the best perspective. Hikers should check out the area's two trails: The Hayden Valley Trail runs parallel to the Yellowstone River from Yellowstone Lake to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, while the Mary Mountain Trail traces the valley's northern edge. While you're exploring, be sure to check out some of its geothermic features, such as Mud Geyser and Sulphur Spring.
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Sitting just southwest of the North Entrance in the aptly named Mammoth Hot Springs area, Mammoth Hot Springs is one of the park's more unique attractions. Known for its terraces – formed over centuries of hot water bubbling up from the ground, cooling and depositing calcium carbonate – Mammoth Hot Springs' travertine formations are often described as natural sculpture. As you explore, keep an eye out for elk grazing near the edge of the springs before terrace-hopping along numerous boardwalks down toward the bottom. Also, avoid direct contact with the water, which can easily cause burns.
- #8View all PhotosfreeLamar Valley#8 in YellowstoneNatural Wonders, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDNatural Wonders, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND...Read More »
Located between Yellowstone's Northeast Entrance and Mammoth Hot Springs in the Tower-Roosevelt Area, Lamar Valley is a wildlife haven. In fact, this valley is often referred to as "America's Serengeti" because it has an abundance of animals. Bison are most commonly spotted here, but you may also catch a glimpse of grizzly bears, pronghorns, bald eagles and wolves. The remnants of a former hot spring are also situated in the eastern part of the valley.
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Those who want to learn about Yellowstone wildlife in a more controlled environment should take a break from the park and head to the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center. Located just outside the park's West Entrance in West Yellowstone, Montana, this nonprofit center offers a detailed history of bears and wolves in the Yellowstone area and insight into conservation tactics. It offers a diverse selection of hands-on activities and programs, such as the Keeper Kids program, which gives children the chance to learn about grizzly bear behavior while a naturalist and animal keeper usher them into a bear habitat to observe how bears hunt for food.
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