There's something to be said for claiming the title as the world's first national park, and it's no wonder why Yellowstone holds that honor. With its enormous diversity of plants and animals, a caldera of roiling caldron-like mud-pots and hot springs of luminous greens, blues, yellows and oranges, Yellowstone is nothing short of spectacular. Boasting nearly 60% of the world's geysers, it's also a bit scary given the potential hazards to human life silently bubbling away below the state of Wyoming in the form of a supervolcano that could change the face of the country. But don't worry, [it's extremely well monitored] (https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/10/yellowstone-supervolcano-erupt-faster-thought-science/). So despite cause for future alarm, don't pass up a visit to one of America's most beloved, and geologically active, national parks!
Because Yellowstone National Park is so massive, there are various points of entrance with five roads leading into the park. Eight developed areas all center around the most impressive of the natural features, of which there are many. Each one is unique and worth a visit! Just make sure to plan your visit well, so you don't miss all it has to offer. Check out the current conditions page before you go for all the latest information.
Mammoth Hot Springs
From the North Entrance, you'll arrive at the Mammoth Hot Springs area and visitor center first. This is also home to Park Headquarters. Mammoth Hot Springs can't be missed, as it's so unique to the area, with dissolved limestone flowing through terraces and creating the chalky white mineral deposits that form the pools. Explore the Upper and Lower Terrace Boardwalks for great views. Just note that the road's closed from November to April, depending on winter conditions.
The Tower-Roosevelt area just to the east of Mammoth Hot Springs is known for Tower Falls, where Tower Creek plunges 132 feet before making its way to the Yellowstone River. Columnar basalt rocks in the shape of hexagonal pillars jut above the roadway nearby, evidence of lava flows over a million years old. Make sure to keep your eyes peeled for bears and big horn sheep, as well as a stop at Petrified Tree.
Canyon Village is home to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, measuring 20 miles long from Upper Falls to the Tower Falls area, and was formed by erosion via the Yellowstone River. Take a hike along Brink of the Lower Falls Trail, while taking in views of Lower Falls via Lookout Point, Red Rock Point, Artist Point or along the South Rim Trail.
If you're heading south, don't miss watching for wildlife in Hayden Valley. Spot grizzly bears in the spring and early summer, and newborn bison and elk calves. In the fall, look for herds of bison during their fall rut. Look out for coyotes and many different bird species as well. Just remember not to approach wild animals, and keep 100 yards between you and bears or wolves!
When snow levels permit, hike up the 10,243 foot Mount Washburn trail. Take a rest at the top while checking out the interpretive exhibits inside the fire lookout while enjoying the view. If you're visiting in July, you'll get the added bonus of wildflowers.
Before you leave, visit the Canyon Visitor Education Center in the Canyon Village and learn more about the supervolcano and surrounding area.
The Norris area is well known for the Norris Geyser Basin. It's unique because it's the most dynamic of the thermal areas in Yellowstone, as well as the hottest and oldest, with temperatures measuring a whopping 459 degrees Fahrenheit just 1,087 feet below the surface. Geologic evidence shows that this area has had thermal features for at least 115,000 years.
While here, make sure to explore both the Porcelain Basin area as well as the Back Basin area, and spend time on this great walk to Steamboat Geyser and Yellow Mud Pot among many others. Visit the Norris Geyser Basin Museum along the trail, and the Museum of the National Park Ranger near the Norris campground just to the north. For further exploration, here's a complete list of places to visit.
Madison is near the West Entrance of the park. On your way to or from Norris, stop at Artists Paintpots and the Terrace Springs boardwalk just northeast of the Madison junction. Just south of the junction, take a driving tour of Firehole Canyon, through 800-foot thick lava flows. On a hot day, take a dip near the 40-foot Firehole Falls waterfall.
Heading south from Madison towards Old Faithful, don't miss Grand Prismatic Spring, and take a longer hike up and around for great views of Yellowstone's most photographed thermal feature.
Fishing Bridge, Lake Village and Bridge Bay
The three villages on the northwest corner of Yellowstone Lake offer campgrounds, lodging, stores, a visitor center, medical clinic, boating access and more. If you're coming from Canyon Village and Hayden Valley, stop by Sulphur Caldron on your way south, Yellowstone's most acidic hot spring, as well as Mud Volcano. The backcountry in Pelican Valley is another great place to see wildlife, and offers longer forays into the wild. If time permits, visit the natural rock bridge just south of Bridge Bay Campground.
Yellowstone Lake itself sits at about 7,000 feet in elevation, making it the largest high elevation lake in North America, and has the largest population of cutthroat trout, as well as incredible thermal activity and importance. The ground below the surface of the lake is much like the surrounding area, with rock spires, underwater geysers, hot springs and fumaroles. The northern part of the lake was shaped by lava flows and other geologic activity, while the southern part (which lies outside of the caldera), was shaped by glacial and other processes.
We're hoping that someday that national park service will come up with submarine tours to explore this incredible murky underworld, but we won't hold our breath.
Check out this map of the park, points of interest, campgrounds and amenities.
Due to Yellowstone's massive popularity, here's a great list of available campgrounds and amenities within the park. Make sure to reserve your spot well in advance, or try your luck with one of the first-come, first-served sites.
When to Go
Though summer is a beautiful time to visit Yellowstone, it can also be extremely packed. Plan your visit for before 9am or after 3pm during the summer months to avoid crowds. Interested in fall colors, raptors, bears, bison and more? Check out Yellowstone's seasonal highlights and find something for everyone, all year long. Visiting in the winter? Check out the park's winter safety recommendations.
Daily, weekly and annual passes are sold on-site or online, and are required to enter Yellowstone National Park. On a budget? Visit the park during one of the fee-free days.
With more than 300 backcountry campsites, a trip further afield is well worth the effort. Just make sure to pick up your backcountry hiking permit. Fishing or boating permits can be found here.
Like most national parks, dogs are permitted on a leash no longer than six feet, and only in developed areas. That includes areas within 100 feet of roads, parking areas and campgrounds. Note that pets are not permitted in any of the thermal areas. Get more details on bringing your dog to Yellowstone, here.