7 Amazing Things To See In Yellowstone
There are so many amazing things to see in Yellowstone National Park. We could’ve easily made a list of 100 things to see at Yellowstone, but we wanted to narrow down the list to our absolute favorite sights/stops. Here is a great list to ensure that you won’t miss some of the coolest sights. Plus, your kids will love it too!
Yellowstone covers 3,468 square miles – it’s huge! You could spend a week in Yellowstone and not see it all. However, with a little advance planning, you can see all the things that Yellowstone offers. As you don’t want to show up to Yellowstone without having a basic sense of familiarity, we’ve included a map of some of the most important sites.
We came in through the Northern Entrance near Gardiner,Montana and this entry could not have been more perfect. Seeing the Roosevelt Arch and the headquarters/visitor’s center for Yellowstone are great introductions to this unbelieveable park. Also, TONS of elk hang out on the lawn by the visitor’s center which will give you a glimpse into the abundant wildlife that live within Yellowstone.
Tip: Make sure to download the free NPS Yellowstone app. When given the option to download the app for off-line use, do it as cell phone service within the park is spotty to non-existent. With off-line access, you will always see exactly where you are within the park, upcoming stops and even geyser eruption times.
Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth is a large complex of terraced hot springs over travertine. Algae living in the warm spots create beautiful colors. The limestone from rock formations creates the calcium carbonate that makes it even more interesting.
Mammoth is located incredibly close to the Park headquarters which is not far from the Northern entrance to Yellowstone. From the Northern entrance, Mammoth is a great introduction to the wonders of Yellowstone National Park.
Grand Prismatic Spring
Grand Prismatic was a real highlight!. I have been looking forward to seeing it in person forever! It’s the largest hot spring in the United States and the third largest in the world. The incredible colors are from the microbial mats around the hot spring.
Tip 1: The parking lot for Grand Prismatic is very small! Try and get there before 10 am, if possible. If you can’t, just be patient and keep circling until you find a spot.
Tip 2: To get a better view of Grand Prismatic, you can hike to a viewing area. To access the Grand Prismatic Overlook trail, drive to the Fairy Falls Trailhead parking lot. The hike is on a natural trail and will take an hour or two from start to finish. Be aware that wildlife frequent this trail!
Tip 3: If you plan to use a stroller on this trip, it’s not a bad walk up to Grand Prismatic. However, we saw several parents huffing a bit as they made their way up. Be prepared!
Tip 4: On your way to the Grand Prismatic, you’ll first encounter the Boiling River, as well as, the Excelsior Geyser. Keep a close eye out as the super heated water from Excelsior feeds into the river and thus the name Boiling River.
Old Faithful is the most famous geyser in Yellowstone and the first geyser to receive a name. It’s erupted every 44 to 125 minutes since 2000 and a trip to Yellowstone wouldn’t be complete without seeing it.
Tip 1: The large parking lot close to Old Faithful Lodge is the closest to the viewing area.
Tip 2: Check the geyser predictions on your NPS Yellowstone app. If you can see Old Faithful in the evening or early morning, the sky is stunning and there are far fewer crowds. We watched the eruption in the evening and there were only 25 or so poeple there. It made watching Old Faithful erupt feel even more special.
Tip 3: Make sure to check out Old Faithful Inn after watching the eruption. It’s a short walk from the viewing area to the Inn. It’s the largest log hotel in the world and the huge fireplace is something to see.
Grand Canyon Of Yellowstone ( Upper and Lower Falls)
After the Yellowstone Caldera eruption of about 600,000 years ago, the area was covered by a series of lava flows. According to geologists, the present canyon was probably the result of uplift and related faulting which allowed erosion to proceed at an accelerated rate. While heat played a role in the development of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, so did glaciers which once covered the entire area.
We cannot stress enough that this is a MUST STOP and you’ll see a few different lookout points. Stop at them all, but make sure you go to Artist Point! This will give you an incredible view of the Falls and your mouth will drop!
Tip: This is another small parking area so be patient. Also, be aware that this parking area is for one direction of traffic only.
West Thumb Geyser Basin/Yellowstone Lake
West Thumb Geyser Basin is one of the smallest geyser basins in Yellowstone, but its location near Yellowstone Lake makes this area so beautiful. West Thumb has pools, mud pots, fumaroles, hot springs and geyers. You really get your “bang for your buck” at this stop.
Yellowstone Lake is the largest freshwater lake above 7,000 feet in North America. It’s a gorgeous lake that is the most beautiful shade of blue. Stop at the West Thumb parking area so that you can walk along the boardwalk and get an amazing view of the lake, as well as, see the hot springs and paint pots on your way down.
Fountain Paint Pots ( Lower Geyser Basin)
The Fountain Paint Pots are located in the Lower Geyser Basin in Yellowstone.
The Fountain Paint Pots is named for the reds, yellows and browns of the mud in this area. The heat in the caldera forces pressurized water up through the ground, which is expelled here and the rising gasses cause the bubbling action.
There are several geysers in this area including Fountain Geyser, which usually has several eruptions a day. There is a boardwalk trail that takes you to each of the mud pots and geysers.
Tip: Keep an eye on younger children here. Given that there is no railing around most of the boardwalk, it wouldn’t be difficult to stray into an unsafe area.
Hayden Valley is a large, sub-alpine valley in Yellowstone National Park between the Yellowstone River and Yellowstone Lake. The valley is well known as one of the best locations to view wildlife in all of Yellowstone.
The Hayden Valley is frequented by bison, grizzly bears, wolves, elk, coyotes and other smaller mammals. We were lucky enough to see a coyote and a lot of bison.
Tip: To increase your chance of seeing wildlife, try and go early in the morning or in the evening. During the heat of the day, most of the wildlife won’t be out.
What To Bring To Yellowstone
There are a few things that will make your visit to Yellowstone easier and more enjoyable.
A refillable, insulated water bottle will be your best friend at Yellowstone. We bought and used these and couldn’t be happier. There are several water bottle refilling stations throughout the park. These bottles kept the water nice and cool and they don’t sweat, which makes them even better. They come in several sizes and we liked the price.
Definitely bring a spotting scope or binoculars to Yellowstone. A friend recommended a spotting scope, but found them to be a little pricey. We bought these and are so glad we did. During our trip, we saw two black bears and a Mama grizzly with her two cubs. With the binoculars, we were all able to really see them from a safe distance. If you or someone in your group likes birds, these would defintely come in handy.
I bought this Travelon messenger bag several years ago and have taken it on every vacation since. I truly cannot imagine traveling without it. Once you read the reviews, you’ll see that I’m not alone in having a love for this purse.
Having a cross-body bag is great, particularly while on vacation. Additionally, it has locking compartments, RFID protection and a place to hold a water bottle.
If you plan to do a lot of hiking, you might consider a backpack.
Yellowstone National Park is so incredible! To think that there is a place this beautiful and wild that we can see in person is a gift. There is a lot to see, but take the time to really enjoy it and make memories with your family and/or friends.
We’ve been lucky enough to have visited a lot of places, but Yellowstone is going to hold a special place in our hearts forever.