Yellowstone National Park is mainly located in Wyoming, but it also extends into Idaho and Montana. To put it modestly, it’s a big park. It covers almost 3,500 square feet, some of which is only accessible via backcountry hiking. With all that space to explore, there’s no shortage of things to do in Yellowstone National Park.
When someone says Yellowstone, most people will instantly imagine the geothermal features it’s famous for, like geysers and hot springs. Two-thirds of the world’s geysers are located within the park, so visiting geothermal attractions can easily take up all your time in the park. There are so many other things to do in Yellowstone National Park, though, so take the time to explore other parts of the park.
It’s easy to spend a few days in Yellowstone and still feel like you missed something. There are waterfalls, geysers, mountains, lakes, forests, and great wildlife spotting opportunities. Instead of trying to see everything, plan your time wisely and focus on what’s most important to you.
To help you plan your trip, here are 15 of the best things to do in Yellowstone National Park.
Top Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park
Old Faithful Geyser
Old Faithful geyser is one of the top things to do in Yellowstone National Park. You really can’t visit the park without taking the time to watch Old Faithful blow. It has a very specific schedule, so you can easily plan for it ahead of time. Just check the visitor’s center for times.
Explore the Upper Geyser Basin
There are over 150 hydro-thermal features in this one square mile space. The Upper Geyser Basin is where Old Faithful is located, and there is so much to see here. While you’re waiting for Old Faithful, take a walk along the boardwalks around the basin. The other major geysers include Daisy, Grand, and Castle. Head to the Visitor’s center for information about eruption times.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was formed by the Yellowstone River, and stretches about 20 miles. This is a great area to explore, as there’s so much to do. Drive along the North or South rim of the canyon (or both) to get views of the upper and lower falls. If you’re up for something strenuous, walk down the staircase on Uncle Tom’s Trail for a close-up of Lower Falls.
Mammoth Hot Springs
The terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs are a whole different world. A series of boardwalks wind up and around the terraces and past a range of formations. It looks cool enough on the lower terraces, but the upper terrace is the craziest and most beautiful part. Up there, it truly looks like Mars.
Yellowstone Lake is the largest lake in the park, and the largest freshwater, high-elevation lake in the U.S. It’s in the southwestern part of the park, and there are a lot of places to see and access the lake. Driving around Mary Bay is a good place to stop for photos and to see steam vents and other geothermal features within the lake. The Lake Hotel & Lodge is the best place to stay right on the lake.
Firehole Lake Drive
As you drive around the Grand Loop (Yellowstone’s main thoroughfare), take a turn onto Firehole Lake Drive. It’s a 3-mile, one-way loop. Along the road you’ll see lots of geysers and geothermal features. It’s definitely worth the detour.
Grand Prismatic Spring
This is one of the most recognizable features in all of Yellowstone. The Grand Prismatic Spring is a rainbow-colored hot springs pool, and it’s absolutely striking. It’s the largest hot spring in the U.S., and the third largest hot spring in the world. You can’t miss this on your trip to Yellowstone.
West Thumb Geyser Basin
The West Thumb Geyser Basin was the most surprising part of Yellowstone for me, simply because I had no idea it existed. There are a lot of places within the park that amazed me, but this geyser basin, while smaller than the others, is so varied. It sits right on Yellowstone Lake, and there are hot pools, colorful springs, and some other really cool features.
The Tower-Roosevelt area is another part of the park that can’t be missed. Specifically, you’ll want to go see Tower Falls. The falls drop 132 feet from Tower Creek. Stop near Canyon Village to get a good view of the falls. There are also a lot of cool viewing points along the main road.
The Lamar and Hayden Valleys are a great place to see the wildlife of Yellowstone. Just driving through, you’re likely to see bison along the road and out in the fields, plus plenty of pronghorn. It’s also a good place to spot wolves and bears if you’re lucky.
Hike Mount Washburn
Mount Washburn is one of the highest points in Yellowstone National Park at 10,243 feet. There is a fire lookout tower at the top with an observation deck. There are two trails to hike up Mount Washburn. It’s a 6.2 mile hike (roundtrip) from the Dunraven Pass trailhead, and about 5 miles from the Chittenden Road parking lot. The hike is pretty strenuous but worth it for the views.
In the early days of Yellowstone National Park, the park was run and protected by the U.S. Army. Fort Yellowstone, located in the Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District, was their headquarters. A lot of the original buildings still stand and are used as offices and housing for park employees. It’s a cool place to explore, and elk tend to hang around the area. Just a note: they’re cool to look at, but don’t approach the elk.
Fishing Bridge & Lake Village
The current Fishing Bridge was built in 1937, and was named so because it was a popular place to fish. While fishing is no longer allowed, it’s fun to take a walk across it and view the river and lake. Nearby is Lake Village, right on the shores of Yellowstone Lake. There’s lodging and dining here, so it’s a good spot to settle in overnight.
Camp inside the Park
The best way to experience Yellowstone National Park is to spend a night camping in the park. It gives you a chance to be closer to all of the attractions during your stay, plus it’s nice to spend some more time outdoors. There are 12 main campgrounds in the park, as well as plenty of backcountry campsites for the more adventurous. Most of the campgrounds are first-come, first-served, so be vigilant if you want a spot and check site openings at the entrance.
Visit the Backcountry Waterfalls
There are over 290 waterfalls within Yellowstone’s boundaries. Some are major attractions, easily visited from the main roads. However, some of those waterfalls are a little harder to get to. If you’re prepared to go a little off the beaten path in Yellowstone, you can access some other waterfalls by going on a backcountry hike. I also managed to stumble across a back road in Idaho that led me to a beautiful, isolated waterfall in the backcountry of Yellowstone. Go explore, and see what you find.
While this is by no means an extensive list of things to do in Yellowstone National Park, it is all of the things I recommend seeing during your trip.
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