8 Top Things To Do In Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone, the original national park, is a can’t miss destination for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. With nearly 3,500 square miles spanning over three states, Yellowstone has so much to offer.
This massive park has enough to keep even the most active adventurer busy. Wild animals? Oh yeah — this place has one of the largest concentrations of wildlife in the lower forty-eight states. Water features? Too many to count! Hundreds of active geysers and waterfalls that will blow your socks off. And hiking trails? Ladies, all we can say is you’re in for a treat 😉.
Whether you plan to spend a few days or a few weeks, here are the things you must do when in Yellowstone National Park.
5 Can’t Miss Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park
1. Watch Old Faithful Erupt and See Upper Geyser Basin
The iconic visual for Yellowstone National Park and quite possibly the poster child of the park, the Old Faithful geyser might be the most famous geyser in the world. As a symbol for the first designated park in the United States in 1872, Old Faithful got its name from the predictability, erupting about every 90 minutes.
Old Faithful is located in south west Yellowstone, in Upper Geyser Basin. This is one of the most accessible sections of the park, so be prepared for it to be one of the most crowded as well. With the geyser going off around 20 times a day and nearly 4 million Yellowstone visitors each year, it’s best to avoid a mid-day visit and go early or late in the day. If you want a good prediction of when the geyser erupts you can head over to the park operated webcam that will show a daily schedule and live views.
While you’re in the Upper Geyser Basin area, be sure to visit some of the other attractions such as the colorful hot springs (hello, morning glory pool) and other geysers. This area has the highest concentration of geysers in the the WORLD, so if you just see Old Faithful, you’re missing out of some serious gems like Grotto Geyser, Beehive Geyser, and Grand Geyser.
2. Visit Mammoth Hot Springs
Although there 10,000 hydrothermal features within the park, aside from Firehole River, there are few places that are safe (and legal) within the park that you can actually take a dip in. On that note, Mammoth Hot Springs is the same — no swimming, but it’s still absolutely something to go on your visit list!
Mammoth Hot Springs area is the only section of Yellowstone that is open all year round. There are two terrace boardwalks, upper and lower, so visitors can see the unique limestone springs. Be sure to check out Liberty Cap, a famed feature of the lower terrace. The upper terrace has several highlights as well, with places like Orange Spring Mound and Angel Terrace revealing mineral deposits and beautiful active formations.
3. Hike the Grand Canyon of The Yellowstone National Park
If you can’t get to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, the next best place could be any of the three waterfalls of Yellowstone’s version. OK, Grand Canyon is pretty irreplaceable, but with you still get the massive scale of rocks and canyon at Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
The canyon was created by erosion from the Yellowstone River, creating an over 1,000-foot-deep and 20-mile-long natural wonder. Lower falls has one of the most beautiful views and most photographed, at Artist Point. Uncle Tom’s Trail is a steep but rewarding hike that takes you 300 steps down the canyon closer to Lower Falls.
4. Walk the Boardwalk at Grand Prismatic Spring
The third largest hot spring in the world, the Grand Prismatic Spring is a rainbow of colors you definitely need to see. The pool centers with a bright turquoise with rings surrounding the spring that vary from greens into vibrant reds and golds. The effect is due to a variety of bacteria and microbes that live and thrive in the warm mineral waters. This spectacular spring is at the Midway Geyser Basin, which is just a bit down the road from (you guessed it) Upper Geyser Basin. To appreciate the size and depth of Grand Prismatic the best view is from as high above as you can get.
A decent aerial view is via the Fairy Falls Trail that leads to a Grand Prismatic Viewing Platform. Even if you’re unable to take the short hike to the viewpoint, coming early in the morning or late in the afternoon to beat the crowds on a sunny day will also allow for a breathtaking experience.
5. Watch Wildlife in Lamar Valley
One of the best places to spot wildlife, the Lamar Valley is home to grizzly bears, wolves, bison, moose and more. Visiting the valley is one of the best things to do in Yellowstone, since it’s such a good representation of how diverse the park landscape can be. With open grassy expanses, the Lamar Valley is not only an easy place to observe animals, but a bonus is that it’s one of the quieter parts of the park if you’re looking to escape some crowds. Be sure to bring your binoculars!
3 Off the Beaten Path Bonus Yellowstone Activities
1. Tour the Old Faithful Inn
The Old Faithful Inn is hands down one of the greatest lodges in America (not to mention it’s a historical landmark and a popular place to make reservations). The impressive interior makes this a great stop to marvel at the architecture.
Don’t forget to check out the roof lookout, “widow’s walk” — you’ll get a spectacular view overlooking the park! The inn offers free tours several times daily from May through October. If you’re there at the end of August, on the 25th since the 1930’s the Inn has been doing a Christmas in August event with the employees which is always a fun event! (It’s never too early to crack open the eggnog right?!)
2. Find Petrified Redwood
Much like Yosemite, Yellowstone was once a redwood forest. Find a piece of park history by seeking out the only petrified redwood that remains. It is mind blowing to think that this remnant of what would have been a lush forest is from nearly 50 million years ago. You can find this just off the road between Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower Junction.
3. Explore a Lake (Including Yellowstone Lake)
Along with the classic Yellowstone Lake (the largest body of water in Yellowstone National Park), there are bunch of other beautiful lakes you can explore when visiting Yellowstone. Shoshone, Grizzly and Trout Lakes are all great places to visit for a quiet hidden gem.
Trout Lake is a 1.2-mile round trip hike with minimal elevation gain. Shoshone is the largest backcountry lake in the US, with a 6 mile out and back hike. The 6 miles deters many of the tourists, so it’s a gorgeous way to get away from the crowds and try out the hiking trails. Lastly, Grizzly Lake is another out and back in the North of the park. Parts of the hike to Grizzly are through former wildfire lands, so you’ll get to see new growth in the meadows.
Visit Yellowstone National Park With the Gals!
Why not check out all of these bucket list Yellowstone park attractions with new friends? You can visit the park with a small group on a seven-day adventure through Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park (two parks in one trip?! Ummmm YES please!). This adventure will take you on an epic journey hiking, seeing all the top sights, and having fun with other badass ladies. You know — all the essentials that make for a perfect park trip. Hiking, wildlife observation, horseback riding and swimming, you’ll leave with new friends, inside jokes, and unforgettable experiences.
Meet the Writer
Abbie Synan is a freelance writer who focuses on sustainability initiatives within the tourism industry. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she has been traveling full time since 2013, hopping the globe, visiting over 95 countries while exploring ways to be a more mindful global citizen. She is the sustainable travel expert for Wanderful, an international travel community, as well as the content co-lead for Impact Travel Alliance, a global organization educating and inspiring travelers.
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Explorer Chick JenSeptember 8th, 2021
These two national parks were on my list for the longest time. To experience it was simply amazing. Saw grizzlies, bison, a black bear, wolves, a moose, an eagle, hydrothermal features, geysers, canyon and waterfalls. Did lots of hiking that tested my limits, went horse back riding for the first time (loved my little horse Jimmy—he had me cracking up with his constant farting 😂), and met some awesome brave women through Explorer Chick Adventure Co. Had such a blast just being outdoors and being surrounded by beautiful scenery!