When people think of Yellowstone National Park, the first thing that comes to mind is the famous geyser, Old Faithful. But while the geysers, hot springs and other hydrothermal features are amazing and a must see there is so much more that Yellowstone has to offer.
Yellowstone was established in 1872 as the first national park. The park covers over 2.2 million acres located mostly in Wyoming but also stretching into Montana and Idaho as well. There are five entrances into the park that lead you to 466 miles of roadway to explore this massive park. I spent three days in the park and feel like while I saw the major sites, that I didn’t even scratch the surface of things to see here.
So what is there to see other than the over 10,000 hydrothermal features.
Wildlife: The other thing that may come to mind other than Old Faithful when you think of Yellowstone is wildlife. Other than Alaska, Yellowstone has the most wildlife of anywhere in the US. There are 67 different types of mammals that live in the park including grizzly bears, wolves, bison, elk, pronghorn, coyote, linx and moose.
It’s not unusual to be driving the roads of Yellowstone and see wildlife alongside the road, crossing the road or just roaming in the road. When you see a bunch of cars parked on the side of the road that’s a sign there was a wildlife sighting. While exciting, remember to pull over slowly and find a safe place to park your car. It’s also important to remember that when in Yellowstone, we are visitors in the animals home and to respect that. For safety, it’s important to stay 100 yards away from bears and wolves and 25 yards from all other wildlife.
While you may spend your trip to Yellowstone searching for a grizzly bear or a wolf and leave without seeing one, the one animal you will definitely see alot of throughout the park is bison. There are over 4000 bison in Yellowstone and they have no fear being around people or cars. They seem to love just walking right down the middle of the road causing the infamous “Bison Jams” that can cause you to be stuck in traffic for hours. I speak from experience as the first day I was there I was in a 2 hour bison jam and the last day I was there it was an hour bison jam that caused me to miss a kayaking trip. Important Tip: Give yourself a couple of extra hours if you need to be somewhere in the park by a specific time.
But even though the bison causes lots of traffice and aggravation, they are still amazing to see. Nothing like them walking right next to your car down the road! Spring is a great time to see wildlife in the park. The animals are coming out of hibernation and this is also when the babies are born. Baby bison are called “Red Dogs” due to them being an orange-red color and they are just adorable. My dream of seeing a bear leading some adorable cubs across the street didn’t come true, but I know that must be quite a great sight!
The best place for wildlife viewing is the Lamar Valley. Often referred to as America’s Serengeti, this is where the largest population of wildlife is in the park. In this area of the park, you are sure to see lots of wildlife.
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone: This is definitely a can’t miss spot in Yellowstone. I could have spent an entire day exploring this area. The canyon is 1,000 feet deep, 20 feet long and reaches 1,500 to 4,000 feet wide in different areas of the canyon. It’s thought the canyon formed by the Yellowstone River eroding the rock that had been weakened by hydrothermal activity.
The canyon is quite the sight to see. There are two drives that you can take, the North Rim Drive and the South Rim Drive.
The North Rim Drive will take you to multiple lookout points to view both the Upper and Lower Falls of the Canyon. There are also hikes at the different lookout points. I hiked the trail to the Brink of Lower Falls. The trail is only 3/8th of a mile but it’s a steep 600 foot walk down. This is a very popular hike and I saw people of all ages and wearing all types of footwear, including flip flops (even as a huge flip flop fan, I must say it, do NOT hike in flip flops, you are just asking for an injury if you do!) The view once you reached the bottom of the falls was just beautiful.
Check out the video below to see just how close you get to the falls and the beautiful rainbow.
Considering the steep drop down to the falls in such a short distance, the hike up was a little challenging especially on a hot afternoon. Luckily there were spots to stop to the side and take a little break without being in other hiker’s way. I’ll admit I had to stop a couple of times. You also get a really great view of just how impressive the canyon is when you look at it from the lower falls. It was absolutely beautiful!
Along the South Rim Drive are other lookouts and hikes. One of the most popular stops along the South Rim Drive is Artist Point. Artist Point is definitely a must see view in Yellowstone. The view definitely lives up to the hype, it’s absolutely stunning, in fact it’s so beautiful that it almost doesn’t even look real! There is a large parking lot and the view is just a short 5 minute walk from the parking lot.
Waterfalls: The Upper and Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone aren’t the only waterfalls in Yellowstone National Park. As I was driving thru the park, I stopped a couple of other waterfalls. What’s a visit to a National Park, without a random stop at a waterfall?
Located between Madison Junction and Norris Geyser Basin is Gibbon Falls. The falls drop 84 feet into the Gibbon River. There is a trail along the river to see the falls from different viewpoints.
Heading south from Yellowstone Lake towards the South Entrance, you will pass the 30 foot tall Lewis Falls.
Yellowstone Lake: Yellowstone Lake is the largest high elevation lake in North America. It’s 7,733 feet above sea level and is 20 miles long and 14 miles wide. At the bottom of the lake are geysers, hot springs and deep canyons. A popular area on the lake to see is West Thumb where some of these underwater hydrothermal features are located.
A great way to enjoy the lake and get up close to West Thumb is to take a kayaking tour. During my visit, I was signed up for a 6 hour kayaking tour but as I mentioned earlier, one of those infamous “Bison Jams” caused me to miss it.
Fishing is another great way to enjoy the lake. Yellowstone Lake has the largest population of cutthroat trout in all of North America.
You might me thinking, swimming in the lake sounds like a great idea, but think again. Due to the high elevation of the lake, the water stays very cold even during hot days in the summer. The average water temperature is 41 degrees fahrenheit, so swimming is not recommended.
The views of the lake are absolutely stunning and there are plenty of lookout points to stop and take in the view. There is something about a lake with the snow capped mountains in the distance that just seems so beautiful. The lake reminded me a bit of one of my favorite places in the world, Lake Tahoe.
Yellowstone is definitely the most diverse park you will ever visit. There is definitely something for everyone and it’s a place that should be visited by all at least once.