Yellowstone National Park is a cornerstone of the United States National Park System, and one of the most impressive natural wonders in the world. The sheer expanse of biodiversity makes Yellowstone a nature lover’s paradise, and one that’s on many travel bucket lists.
There’s a reason for that! Make that nine reasons why Yellowstone National Park is a “must-see” destination. With over 500 geysers, incredible wildlife spotting opportunities, and eye-catching vistas sure to impress and amaze around every bend, Yellowstone is a most majestic vacation indeed.
1. The Northeast Entrance Via Beartooth Pass
The drive through Beartooth Pass alone is worth arriving through Yellowstone National Park’s northeastern entrance. Accessed via the Montana side of Yellowstone, Beartooth Pass is filled with amazing scenery, a precursor of what’s yet to come.
Stop the car and stretch your legs at Rock Creek Vista. Walk around the perimeter, soaking in the grand and glorious vistas displayed in front of you. Though not yet in Yellowstone National Park, the scenery is equally as stunning, and worthy of the break.
Continue up through West Summit. At an elevation of over 10,000 feet, who knows what you’ll encounter here. Maybe even a snowstorm in June! Don’t forget to have warm jackets handy, just in case there’s an impromptu snowball fight.
2. Early Mornings at Norris Geyser Basin
Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest geothermal area in Yellowstone and one that should be on every park visitor’s “must-see” list. With so much seismic activity, there’s always something new to see at Norris. Begin at Porcelain Terrace Overlook for a grand view of steamy geysers, backdropped by towering pine trees.
Early morning at Norris Geyser Basin means mist shrouded walkways nearly vacant of tourists jostling for views. The chilly morning air, combined with hot geothermal geyser activity, creates an almost spooky, ethereal appearance. Certainly worth that early morning arrival!
Head on over to the Back Basin in search of Steamboat Geyser, the world’s tallest active geyser. Time it right and you might see a most impressive geyser eruption. Steamboat Geyser eruptions have been known to shoot water more than 300 feet in the air!
3. Old Faithful Eruptions & Upper Geyser Basin
No Yellowstone National Park visit is complete without witnessing an Old Faithful eruption. With eruptions averaging every 63 minutes, Old Faithful is one of the world’s most predictable geysers. Guess that’s why it’s called Old Faithful, huh! 🙂
Check the Visitor’s Center for projected geyser eruption times. Then settle in nearby for a spectacular show of boiling water shooting high into the sky. Sometimes more than 100 feet high! Sit tight until the end. A single eruption can last as long as five minutes.
When the show is over, hit the trails above Old Faithful for more Upper Geyser Basin exploration. Catch an Old Faithful eruption from high-up for a different perspective of this phenomenon of Mother Nature. The views are spectacular, the geysers amazing, and the crowds much thinner.
4. Wildlife Spotting In Lamar Valley
Yellowstone National Park is synonymous with incredible wildlife spotting opportunties, and Lamar Valley is the place to catch all the wild action. Who knows what you might see on a drive through Lamar Valley, or while hiking along a nearby trail.
Bison, grizzly bears, bighorn sheep, pronghorn elk, wolves, coyotes and more consider this pristine valley their home. Arrive early, or stay late for the best chances of wildlife spotting.
Be adventurous. Leave the car behind for a more up close perspective. Get in touch with the wilder side of Yellowstone. Maybe you’ll see a moose munching a mid-morning snack, a wolf on the hunt, or a pronghorn elk prancing past in an open field.
5. The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Leave the car behind for this adventure! Experience The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone on foot, where you’ll find stunning panoramas, steep canyons, and cascading waterfalls. Opt for an early evening hike along the Canyon’s North Rim trails for spectacular Upper Falls vistas. Continue along Red Rock Trail to watch the fading sun’s rays play across canyon walls.
Hike the Canyon’s South Rim trails, lingering at Artist Point for breathtaking views of Lower Falls cascading 300 feet over the canyon’s cliffs. This area can get crowded! Consider timing your arrival for early morning or late afternoon to avoid jockeying for the ideal vantage point.
6. Sulfuric Mud Volcanos And Mud Pots
No Yellowstone visit is complete without experiencing the Mud Volcano Area. Walk along the boardwalks past boiling pots of brown goo, complete with random rumbling eruptions. Take in the sulferic smells that permeate the air.
Hike past Black Dragon’s Cauldron. Continue on to Sizzling Basin, keeping a eye open for bison hoof prints along the way. They may be nearby, warming up alongside these steamy cauldrons. Stop and listen outside Dragon’s Mouth Spring for the rumbling sounds created by steam exploding through water.
7. Elephant Back Trail Above Lake Yellowstone
At more than 7,000 feet about sea level, Lake Yellowstone is Yellowstone National Park’s largest body of water. And what better way to capture the sheer size of this beautiful lake than from points high above along the Elephant Back Trail.
An early morning hike up Elephant Back Trail is sure to find uncrowded vistas of Lake Yellowstone. Perhaps even a little snow to cool down the hike. One thing is for sure. The eye-catching beauty of Lake Yellowstone awaiting the intrepid hiker is most impressive, and worth the effort!
8. Cascading Waters of Tower Falls
Many consider Tower Falls to be Yellowstone’s most scenic waterfalls, and no wonder! At over 130 feet high, there’s nothing like Tower Falls on a bright sunny day, where the sun’s rays create a colorful rainbow effect off chilly water falling over the cliff walls.
Though a bright sunny day is the best time to be amazed by the visual splendor of Tower Falls, it still sparkles and shines on a cloudy day! Photos alone don’t do justice to this towering wonder of Mother Nature.
9. The Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center
The Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center is dedicated to preserving the lives of grizzly bears and grey wolves that consider the Yellowstone area their home. The Center’s programs and activities are sure to thill and excite kids of all ages. Don’t miss the Birds of Prey show!
Technically, the Center isn’t in Yellowstone National Park. It is in nearby West Yellowstone, and certainly worth an afternoon break from geyser watching. Read more about the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center at Wild Times Ahead to the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center.
Plan A Yellowstone National Park Adventure
It’s incredible beauty makes Yellowstone National Park one of the United State’s most visited national parks. It’s sheer size makes it a challenge to take it all in with less than a week’s time! If you are pressed for time, set priorities of “must see items” before you head out. This is one destination that a bit of strategic planning will go a long way to ensure you maximize your Yellowstone adventures. Here are links to kick that plan into high gear.
- Yellowstone National Park Trip Planner 2015
- National Park Service Yellowstone
- Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center
- Yellowstone National Park Maps
- Yellowstone National Park Lodges
If your time is limited, consider concentrating your travels in fewer areas of the park. Trust me, it will take longer than you think to drive to the farther-out regions. Also consider staying at one of the park lodges to reduce travel time between places. If you prefer to stay at a park lodge, book reservations early! Lodges often fill up months in advance for peak travel times.
Have You Been To Yellowstone National Park?
We spent five days exploring this gem, and it was not nearly enough! Though our plans included adventures across all major areas of the park, we quickly realized it was too much ground to cover in five days. Mammoth Hot Springs fell off our “must-see” list to ensure plenty of time for exploration in other park areas. All more more reason to return!
Have you been to Yellowstone National Park? Did you also run out of time, as we did? Do share your favorite reasons to explore this wonderfully fantastic world treasure.
All images by C.Biederman.