Are you looking for the absolute best things to do in Yellowstone National Park? It can be overwhelming choosing what to see on your first time at Yellowstone National Park. It’s vast, it’s beautiful and it’s filled with beautiful landmarks. We are going to show you the best Yellowstone attractions that are not to be missed.
When planning your trip to Yellowstone, you’ll also want some recommendations on where to stay and a handy map for your reference of where things are located. So where do you start? I know that when Dave and I looked at the map before planning, we felt intimidated. How could we ever cover so much ground to see everything we wanted?
Best Things to do in Yellowstone National Park
We drove to Yellowstone from Cody, Wyoming. Cody is 52 miles from the east entrance of Yellowstone and is a great place to visit before or after your time in Yellowstone. See our complete guide here: Things to do in Cody Wyoming – Wild West Gateway to Yellowstone
Yellowstone was made for tourists. It’s no wonder Yellowstone was the first national park in the world. With the greatest concentration of geysers on earth, mud pools, waterfalls, and an abundance of wildlife, you’ll fall in love with Yellowstone.
Most of the attractions are located directly off Grand Loop Road. Many are accessible and easy to walk to. Once you see how easy it is to see its many amazing landmarks, you’ll understand why it attracts nearly 5 million visitors each year. So are you ready to see the most beautiful places in Yellowstone? Let’s get started.
Map of Yellowstone Attractions
This list of things to do in Yellowstone is in order of what we loved the most but you can follow the map to visit them in order. We are listing them from the most beautiful (in our opinion) and interesting to make sure you don’t miss them. You may also like: Where to Stay in Yellowstone, NP
It costs $35 to enter Yellowstone, but if you plan on visiting any other National Parks in the United States this year, a National Park Pass costs $80. It’s a great saving. Before visiting Yellowstone download the Travel Stories App. It is an excellent guide highlighting top attractions as you drive through the park.
Grand Loop Road
The Grand Loop Road is shaped like a figure 8 and connects all of the best things to do in Yellowstone National Park. We suggest tackling one loop at a time depending on how many days you have. We’ll be sharing a Yellowstone itinerary soon that you can follow, however, we also give time-of-day suggestions for each attraction in this article as well.
The Grand Loop is genius! It was created in 1915 to connect most of the best attractions in Yellowstone National Park. The road is 140 miles long (230 km) and you’ll be spending a lot of time driving this route from West Yellowstone to East and North Yellowstone to South.
1. Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs was our favorite place to visit in Yellowstone and is rated as one of the best things to see at Yellowstone. We were expecting a quick look at a tiered waterfall of hot thermal pools, but it ended up being so much more. It is completely different from other landmarks in Yellowstone National Park with a vast area of limestone rock created by gases escaping the earth forming mountains of white chalky terraces.
We started at the lower terrace boardwalk from the parking lot located directly on the Grand Loop. Here we walked out to the most famous formation, The Liberty Cap, and then continued along the boardwalk to see the beautiful terraces. From the Lower Terrace Boardwalk, you can continue upward along the boardwalks to see the Upper Terraces.
If you don’t want to walk too much, there are parking lots near different sections of the hot springs where you can park and walk out for closer looks. The parking lots fill up quickly though, so if you see a spot take it.
When to visit Mammoth Hot Springs
The best time to visit Mammoth Hot Springs is first thing in the morning. In September we had very few crowds to deal with. We were often the only ones on the boardwalk and had gorgeous views. In the morning, the sunrise was beautiful coming over the mountains. If you can’t make it in the morning, another good time to visit Mammoth is late afternoon.
Where is Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs is located near the North Entrance at Mammoth Hot Springs Village. Mammoth Springs Hotel is closed at the time of writing due to flooding but is due to reopen for the 2023 season. In the village, there is a gas station, and a general store where you can buy coffee, souvenirs, and snacks and there are clean public washrooms to use.
Note: The North Entrance of Yellowstone is the only entrance to the national park that is open year-round, however it is still closed at time of writing.
2. Grand Prismatic Spring
The next place we suggest visiting after Mammoth Hot Springs is Grand Prismatic Spring. This is the “wow destination” in Yellowstone that is on all the brochures and travel websites and when you visit Yellowstone, it is not to be missed. Most people have this as #1 and for us, it is a close second. This is an incredibly beautiful spring.
Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in the United States and its vivid colors will take your breath away. The colors are made up of microorganisms that band together creating a mass of color.
The best time to visit Grand Prismatic is at midday when the sun is higher. When it is bright outside the color of the spring really pops. It may be busier and crowded, but mid-day is the best time to view Grand Prismatic Spring. It doesn’t matter too much if it is crowded as you must stay on the designated boardwalks, so you have unobstructed views of the spring anyway.
Parking: It will be busy at Grand Prismatic when you arrive, so if you see a parking spot on the road before the parking lot, take it. We stayed in line to park in the lot and spent about 20 minutes stuck in our car.
3. Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook
If the sun is out when you arrive at Mid Geyser Basin, we suggest going directly to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook before taking the walk about the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring below. This is the perfect view of Grand Prismatic Spring and the surrounding colorful hot springs from above (Without needing to take a helicopter tour).
The Walk out to Grand Prismatic Overlook takes about 20 minutes and it is uphill. The path is well-marked and easy to follow. When you come to a fork, you can also veer off to see Fairy Falls.
The platform at the overlook is small and there is really only one place with unobstructed views, so make a beeline to the center to take photos of the colors of Grand Prismatic Spring below. You can capture the entire hot spring with a wide-angle camera lens, or with your iPhone.
4. Midway Geyser Basin
There is more to see than just Grand Prismatic at Midway Geyser Basin. A visit to the Grand Prismatic Spring takes you along a series of boardwalks through different hot springs. Make sure to stop at the deep cavern of Exelsier Glacier, look for the mineral deposits along Yellowstone River, and on your way out, stop at Opal Pool. It was a stunning small pool that is often overlooked.
There is often bison roaming at the hot springs and we saw some ourselves. Also, the steam shooting out of the ground near the Firehole River are impressive. We spent about an hour here taking in all of the views and could have spent longer.
The pathways at Grand Prismatic Spring are accessible making it easy for everyone to see Yellowstone National Park’s star attraction. The surface is flat and even to walk around. Many of the attractions in Yellowstone are accessible (or at least partially accessible). The park has really done an amazing job making it possible for everyone to see these natural wonders.
5. Old Faithful Geyser
Okay, it is the most famous of things to do in Yellowstone National Park and no trip to Yellowstone would be complete without seeing Old Faithful. The reason it is called Old Faithful Geyser is that it is predictable.
When you arrive at Upper Geyser Basin, pop into the Visitor Center, Old Faithful Inn, or Old Faithful Lodge for information on when the geyser is expected to erupt. Or there is a park ranger walking around that gives updates as well. Without fail, Old Faithful erupts every 60 to 110 minutes and the national park service can predict its eruption within 10 minutes on either side.
We went directly to Old Faithful after seeing Grand Prismatic Spring because, during our first day in Yellowstone National Park, we wanted to check off the top attractions.
True to form, Old Faithful erupted almost exactly as predicted. The eruption lasted for about five minutes and reaches about 120 feet into the air. I was totally impressed as for one, I can’t believe it is so predictable and two, I thought it was so cool to steam and water shooting into the air. Even if you aren’t impressed by that (like Dave) when you visit Yellowstone National Park, you must see Old Faithful erupt.
When to visit Old Faithful
Old Faithful is the most popular attraction in Yellowstone National Park so you will see crowds regardless of the time, but it really doesn’t matter. There is a seating area around the geyser to watch Old Faithful erupt so most of the crowd is sitting down. Even if you are standing, Old Faithful Geyser shoots 120 feet into the air so you will see it.
We visited Old Faithful just a little after lunch at about 2 pm and the crowds weren’t bad. We took a seat in the front row and spread our bags out in front of us so nobody would walk through or side down to obstruct our view. That way we could set up a small tripod to take a time-lapse as Old Faithful erupted.
Since no one can walk directly on the Upper Geyser Basin grounds and must stick to the boardwalks and designated hiking trails, there are complete unobstructed views of this amazing wonder.
Apparently, 6 pm is the busiest time for bus tours, so the only suggestion we have is to avoid that time. Besides, you’ll definitely want to be somewhere else at 6 pm (more on that later)
Lunch in Yellowstone National Park
When we arrived, we saw that we had about a little over an hour until the next eruption. This was the perfect time for us to settle in for lunch while we waited.
Around Old Faithful Geyser and Upper Geyser Basin are plenty of places to eat, hotels, and a visitor center. Old Faithful Inn has a fantastic outdoor terrace overlooking Upper Geyser Basin and Old Faithful, or you can grab a drink at the Bear Pit Lounge inside. Old Faithful Lodge has a cafeteria-style restaurant looking out over Old Faithful and there is food at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge.
Just remember, if you do go for lunch, make sure to be back for the eruption at least 20 minutes before or you may not get a seat if that is important to you. Otherwise, you can watch it from the terrace of Old Faithful Inn or the Old Faithful Lodge and you can stand. There is a park ranger around the geyser that reminds people when the next eruption will occur and is there to answer any questions.
6. Upper Geyser Basin
Once we watched Old Faithful erupt, most of the crowd disappeared and went back to their car or tour bus, but they were truly missing out on one of the best things to do in Yellowstone National Park. Exploring Upper Geyser Basin was a highlight for us. There are hiking trails, bike paths, and boardwalks all around the Upper Geyser Basin area.
Upper Geyser Basin is huge and if you have the time, an entire afternoon is warranted here. From Old Faithful, you can follow the trails all around the Geyser.
We took one path along the boardwalk out and the cycling path back. It is not to be missed and you can spend a short time just visiting a couple of sections or you can spend an entire day exploring it all. Here are a few things not to miss.
7. Things to see in the Upper Geyser Basin
The full loop is about 6 miles and to see it all can take a full day (if you stop to take photographs and videos at every spring like us!) At least half a day is good though. There are 150 geysers in the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone. It has the largest concentration of geysers and geothermal features in the world.
We thought we’d rush through them all to see Morning Glory Pool, but we kept stopping to take them all in! The geothermal features of the Upper Geyser Basin were all impressive in their own right.
You can walk around the Geyser Hill Loop, where there is a path that leads to Observation Point for one of the best vantage points to watch Old Faithful erupt and you can even hike all the way out to Biscuit Basin.
Castle Geyser is a lovely geyser along the trails at Upper Geyser Basin. It can be reached by taking the paved walkway from the Old Faithful Inn. This pure white formation resembles a castle thus giving it its name. In the 1800s when it got its name it truly did look like a medieval castle but like all-natural structures over time, its appearance has changed. But Castle Geyser is no less impressive.
When it’s not erupting, Grand Geyser doesn’t look like much more than a hole in the ground, but this is the largest predictable geyser in the world. The park rangers can predict the geyser’s eruption within two hours. If you are lucky you may be nearby when it goes off. You can find it along the wooden boardwalk either walking directly from Geyser Hill or crossing the river from Castle Geyser.
As you continue along to Morning Glory there are some colorful pools as well. Each is unique with vivid turquoise waters, deep rust and yellow minerals, and plenty of steam and bubbling. Beauty Pool and chromatic pool are beside each other and are lovely. This walk to Morning Glory says it is about 30 minutes, but I would give about an hour if you really want to stop to take in the views.
As you continue on toward Morning Glory, you’ll find the riverside geysers of Giant Geyser is a cone-type geyser that looks like the tip of a volcano. Steam seeps from its cone, but its last eruption was in 2017. Even though it hasn’t erupted in a while, it is cool to see. Grotto Geyser is nearby and is a cool formation as well.
8. Morning Glory Pool
Without a doubt, the star attraction on this trail is the Morning Glory Pool. It is small, but the color is vivid reminding us of a mini Grand Prismatic. Sadly, Morning Glory has been vandalized over the years with people throwing coins and garbage into the pool clogging the bottom. The color faded as water circulation was limited causing it to cool and killing the micro-organisms that thrive in the hot waters.
It is the microorganisms that create the vivid colors of all the hot springs in Yellowstone. It’s hard to imagine that the deep yellows and oranges are billions of tiny microorganisms huddled together thriving in the heat. And it’s amazing to think that Morning Glory had at one time been even more vivid because even today it is bold and rich with color.
I am so glad that we took the walk out to Morning Glory Pool, seriously, no trip to Yellowstone would be complete without seeing this beautiful geyser.
When you are finished walking around Upper Geyser Basin, you can go into the Visitor Center to learn more about Yellowstone National Park and all of its geothermal features and Hot Springs. Or you can pop into one of the hotels for a bite to eat.
Make sure to take water with you and wear sunscreen or a hat. I did not follow that rule and had a red face for the rest of my Yellowstone trip!
9. Old Faithful Inn
If you are looking for a more upscale place to stay in Yellowstone, Old Faithful Inn is a national historic landmark and one of the most popular places to stay. It was built in 1904 and is considered the largest log structure in the world.
Even though it is old and historic, the rooms have been updated with a contemporary feel but it is apparently still rustic. (As a park ranger told us while visiting the Shoshone National Forest. And note, there is no air conditioning or Internet at Yellowstone Inn. You are paying for convenience, location, and staying in a slice of history when booking here. Plus, you’ll want to make reservations far in advance (up to a year). This place fills up quickly.
How to Explore Upper Geyser Basin
It’s an easy walk around the Upper Geyser Basin and most of it is accessible for wheelchairs and scooters. Another great way to cover ground quickly is to rent a bicycle. You can rent bikes at Old Faithful Snowlodge for $10 for an hour, $30 for four hours, or $40 for 8-hours.
10. Hayden Valley
Hayden Valley is located in central Yellowstone and was just a short drive from our Canyon Village accommodation. The best time to visit Hayden Valley is early in the morning or late afternoon.
Hayden Valley is one of the best places in Yellowstone to see herds of bison. You may also spot a grizzly bear as well. Sadly we didn’t see a grizzly bear on this trip but we saw plenty of bison and loved driving through Hayden Valley regardless of the wildlife viewing.
Hayden Valley itself is beautiful, especially in the low afternoon sun where the shadows are deep. The Yellowstone River snakes through the valley where you can pull over to see wildlife drinking, bison basking in the sun, or ducks floating in the water.
At this time you’ll see many Yellowstone National Park Tours stopped along the side of the road with their scopes looking for wolves and bears. It’s easy to spot wildlife, just look for the cluster of cars stopped at the pull-offs.
We simply rolled down our windows to ask what people were looking at to see if we should stop or not. We drove up and down Hayden Valley until the sun went down taking in views of elk and herds of bison taking advantage of the many pull-offs. You’ll also spot bald eagles, golden eagles, and swans. There are moose in the park but we didn’t see them either.
We suggest packing binoculars to view the wildlife. A lot of it was even too far for our long cameras to see. If you want to invest in scope it is a great idea. Or you can take a wildlife tour.
11. Wake up to Wildlife Tour
One of the most popular Yellowstone National Park Tours is the Wake up to Wildlife Tour. (They also do a wildlife sunset tour) This is an excellent tour that takes you on a guided tour through the most popular wildlife viewing areas in Yellowstone. Professional guides have years of experience finding wildlife and they can spot grizzly bears and gray wolves far better than us amateurs.
They bring their scopes for up-close views with them and when wildlife is spotted, passengers can get out of the bus to take a closer look. In the summer, the top pops up and people can stand to see from the bus when it stops.
12. Lamar Valley
Lamar Valley is the premier place to view wild animals in Yellowstone National Park. Located in Northern Yellowstone, we set off to the Lamar Valley before sunrise on our second day in Yellowstone. By leaving before the sun came up, we were treated to an amazing scene of the sun peaking up to ignite the herds of bison. The Lamar Valley is often touted as the Serengeti of America due to its wide open spaces and big game, and it lives up to the name.
Early mornings are when wildlife is the most active and it is the time when you will encounter fewer vehicles. The Lamar River snakes through the Lamar Valley making it a good stop for wildlife watching.
This is where we had our best bison encounters. It was early in the morning and we experienced that quintessential Yellowstone National Park experience with bison surrounding our car leaving us stopped on the road. I swear the bison get a kick out of making tourists stop. It’s like one big Wild West standoff.
While in the Lamar Valley, if you are lucky, you may spy on the Junction Butte and Lamar Canyon wolf packs. The Junction Butte Wolf Pack den is within view of the Slough Creek Road. This is a great road to drive along as it isn’t paved and sees fewer vehicles.
The Yellowstone Wake up to Wildlife Tour goes through Lamar Valley and you’ll see plenty of wildlife tour operators with their scopes out in search of wolves and grizzly bears.
With its close proximity to the Mammoth area, you would think that you should visit the Lamar Valley at the same time as Mammoth hot springs, but we did each on a different morning and found that it worked perfectly. You want to be out here as early as possible and to spend as long as you can. Wildlife moves quickly and if you just do one pass, you may miss it.
Closures: At the moment, the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone remains closed due to the floods, but you can still visit a portion of the Lamar Valley from the Grand Loop and you can still drive the road to Slough Creek. It looked like there were people out horseback riding in the area as there were a few horse trailers at the end of the road when we got there.
13. Grand Canyon of The Yellowstone
The Grand Canyon of The Yellowstone is one of the best places to visit in Yellowstone for hiking and taking in gorgeous lookout views of the Yellowstone waterfalls. This beautiful canyon was created 630 thousand ago during a volcanic eruption.
For the next couple of hundred thousand years, lava flowed through the canyon and about 150 thousand years ago, it was created. There are several places to experience the Grand Canyon of The Yellowstone, each with its own unique appeal.
14. North Rim Drive and South Rim Drives
There are two sections to drive to see the Grand Canyon of The Yellowstone. The North Rime Drive is a one-way road that takes you to the Brink of the Lower Falls, Inspiration Point, and the hiking trails. South Rim Drive takes you to Upper Falls Viewpoint and Artists Point.
15. Brink of the Lower Falls
Brink of the Lower Falls is a steep downhill hike from the North Rim Drive parking lot of The Grand Canyon of The Yellowstone. It’s worth the hike to see an incredible lookout point. Nobody seems to tell you that it is a straight downhill hike. While it is only half a mile long (km) it is all downhill using switchbacks. We saw many people huffing and puffing their way back up. It wasn’t bad for us, but we hike a lot, so just be prepared, as what goes down, but go back up.
When you get to the bottom, there is a viewing platform located directly beside the top of the lower falls. The falls plunge into the Yellowstone River with great power and there are deep canyon views on either side.
16. Inspiration Point
The inspiration point is an easy hike from the parking lot for beautiful views of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. You cannot see the falls from Inspiration Point, but the views were still breathtaking.
If you are up for a challenging hike, you can reach Inspiration Point from the North Rim Trail hike. It takes about 2 1/2 hours and you’ll see Yellowstone Falls, Crystal Falls, and Inspiration Point on this hike.
17. Artist Point
One of the top things to do for sunset in Yellowstone National Park is to make your way to Artist Point located on the south rim. It is the best view of the Grand Canyon of The Yellowstone and the 308-foot-high Lower Falls. There are two levels of viewing platforms. The higher one is the best with views of the Grand Canyon on either side.
The canyon is a thousand feet deep with the mighty Yellowstone River snaking through its walls. Artist Point is one of the most beautiful places to visit in the National Park, the colors of the Grand Canyon were just as wonderful facing away from the falls as it is viewing the falls. It is just a short walk to artist point from the parking lot off South Rim Drive.
18. North Rim Trail Hike
The North Rim Trail is known as the Grand Cayon of Yellowstone National Park. This hike will give you incredible views and is pretty easy to boot. This is a 7.6-mile out-and-back trail with a 250 feet elevation gain. You can start off your leisurely trek at Inspiration Point where the trail starts.
As the name suggests, you get to walk along the north rim of what they call the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River and you do that all the way to Lookout Point. From here you get to see the pounding Lower Falls. Continue on and you’ll see Upper Geyser Basin Falls, Cascade Creek, and Crystal Falls as well as Firehole River which runs through Upper Geyser Basin. This is a great hike for families and is made up of paved and unpaved sections.
If you want to enjoy views of both the upper falls and you can hike the south rim trail following the Yellowstone River downstream. The South Rim Trail starts at Chittenden Bridge and continues through to the Upper Falls Viewpoint. It continued to Artist Point along the South Rim Trail, but as of now, Uncle Tom’s Trail is closed. It looks like Uncle Tom’s Trail will remain closed for some time so this will just be a short out and back. Or you can easily just park at the Upper Falls viewpoint parking lot and then continue on.
19. Tower Fall Overlook
Another popular waterfall in Yellowstone is Tower Fall. Tower Fall plays an important part in history as well. It was this view that sparked the passion and excitement of congress to create Yellowstone National Park in 1872. The waterfall is framed by tower rocks and plunges 132 feet into the valley below. It’s an easy waterfall to visit with a paved accessible trail to the Tower Fall lookout and is worth stopping as you return to West Yellowstone or Canyon village from the Lamar Valley.
20. Yellowstone Lake
Yellowstone Lake is often overlooked on many Yellowstone National Park Itineraries, but it is not to be missed. An interesting fact that we didn’t even realize during our visit is that Yellowstone Lake is the largest high-elevation lake in North America. Yellowstone National Park is actually quite surprised with its elevation. Every time we stopped at a viewpoint, we said “are we really that high?”
21. Lake Butte Overlook
We made our way to Lake Butte Overlook on Yellowstone Lake for a gorgeous sunset. The small yellow, Yellowstone Park Tour bus was leaving just as we arrived for blue hour, so we knew we made the right choice. This is a high viewpoint overlooking Yellowstone Lake.
As the sun was setting, we didn’t quite make it to Lake Butte Overlook, so we pulled over to watch it from the shores of Yellowstone Lake. It has lovely beaches to go for a walk with picnic tables. This was also lovely. When the sun dipped under the horizon, we moved on for blue hour and had the best of both worlds.
22. Roaring Mountain
Roaring Mountain was a stop on the Grand Loop trail just north of Norris Geyser Basin that we didn’t even know about, but wow, this was amazing. This mountain is not only roaring, it is filled with steam. The mountain is alive with steam vents known as Fumaroles spewing from its slopes.
Roaring Mountain hisses as the gas escapes from the mountain. In the 1800s the mountain was much louder giving it the name roaring mountain, but you can still hear it today, just not as intense.
23. Norris Geyser Basin
Another one of the great geyser basins to visit in Yellowstone National Park is the Norris Geyser Basin. Cool fact. Like many of the geyser basins in Yellowstone, there are accessible boardwalks weaving through the geothermal features.
Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest and oldest geyser basin in Yellowstone. Here you’ll see colorful hot springs and some wild animals like bison and elk. As you walk through Norrish Geyser Basin toward Back Basin, you’ll pass the world’s tallest active geyser, Steamboat Geyser. This isn’t predictable like Old Faithful, but when it does erupt, steaming water and steam can reach 300 feet into the air.
24. Mount Washburn
When driving from Canyon Village through Dunraven Pass to the Lamar Valley, you’ll pass Mount Washburn. There are great viewpoints here and it is a popular place to do a challenging hike.
If it’s your first visit to Yellowstone, you may not want to include this in your itinerary unless you have plenty of time as it is a 6-mile hike that can take up to 6 hours. During this hike, you may encounter Bighorn Sheep, Grizzly Bears, and even possibly wolves. Make sure to keep your distance from all of them including the Bighorn Sheep. When walking the trail, make plenty of noise to let the wildlife know you are there. They want to avoid you as much as you want to avoid them.
25. Mud Cauldron
We had read about the mud volcano and mud pots before visiting Yellowstone, and it wasn’t until we were on our way out of the national park that we spotted the Mud Cauldron. The sun was setting but we had to see this! You can view Mud Cauldron right from the parking lot or you can walk through the grounds on the wooden paths. Mud Geyser was a popular Yellowstone attraction in the 1800s with mud spewing 50 feet into the air. It has since settled. It is here that you will also see the Mud Volcano which is a crater filled with bubbling mud.
26. West Thumb Geyser Basin
West Thumb Geyser Basin was closed during our visit to Yellowstone due to the hazardous and corrosive nature of battery fumes from a solar energy storage leak. But, good news! It has now been opened! Located along the shores of Yellowstone Lake, it is one of the most highly recommended places to visit in Yellowstone. In West Thumb Geyser Basin you’ll find Abyss Pool which is the deepest hot spring in Yellowstone and the very cool fishing geyser where there is a hot spring jutting out from the lake.
We can’t say, but our plans are to take a road trip next year to see more of Yellowstone and other surrounding national parks in the area, when we do, we’ll give you an update on whether West Thumb Geyser Basin is worth stopping or not!
27. Lower Geyser Basin
Located in West Yellowstone, Lower Geyser Basin is another area filled with geothermal features. As with so many geothermal areas, there are accessible boardwalks to walk right through the hot springs and geysers. In the Lower Geyser Basin, you will find the Great Fountain Geyser
Bonus: Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway
We entered Yellowstone National Park from the East entrance after exploring Cody, Wyoming for a couple of days. During our drive to Yellowstone, we left at 4 in the morning so we missed it on our way in, but when we went back to Cody, we took half a day to enjoy this road that leads directly to the East Entrance.
It is worth driving in daylight! President Roosevelt called it the most beautiful scenic drive in the world and we can understand why. There are hoodoos and high canyon walls lining the highway. This road passes through Buffalo Bill Cody State Park, and the first National Forest in America, The Shoshone National Forest. Make sure to stop at the ranger’s station to see the original structure that has been in constant use for more than 100 years.
What are the most popular places to visit in Yellowstone?
The Geyser Basins of Midway Geyser Basin include Grand Prismatic Hot Springs, Upper Geyser Basin which includes Old Faithful and Morning Glory Pool, Mammoth Hot Springs, and Norris Geyser Basin.
Besides the Geyser Basins, the Grand Canyon of The Yellowstone is worth visiting to see its waterfalls, and viewpoints. And Hayden Valley and the Lamar Valley are the best for spotting wildlife such as bison, grizzly bears, elk, and grey wolves.
When is the Best Time to Visit Yellowstone?
If you are looking for the best time to visit Yellowstone to avoid the crowds, go in the off-season. We went in September and it was nice and quiet. April and October are also good times to visit Yellowstone with fewer crowds and good weather.
The peak season in Yellowstone is June, July, and August. This is when you’ll experience the most crowds.
The best time to visit Yellowstone attractions is at sunrise and sunset. You’ll see fewer crowds and this is when wildlife is most active.
Tips for Visiting Yellowstone National Park
When you enter Yellowstone, there is a 35 fee to enter. But we recommend getting a National Parks Pass if you plan on visiting any other National Parks within the year.
Driving distances are long in Yellowstone. It is a very large national park, so we suggest getting up well before sunrise to be at your first destination the moment the sun comes up. This is the best way to avoid crowds. We also stayed out until after sunset and managed to fit plenty of the top things to do in Yellowstone into each day. Just be careful driving in the dark, the animals are most active at sunrise and sunset and we saw plenty of elk and deer standing on the side of the road ready to bolt out in front of our car.
If you want to know when Geysers are going off beside Old Faithful, go into the visitor center for a schedule. Even though Old Faithful Geyser is the most predictable, there are still other geysers that they can make predictions about within two to several hours.
Follow Signs and Rules
It is very important to stick to the trails and boardwalks in Yellowstone. Do not walk on any of the geothermal areas. Falling into a hot spring can cause death in mere minutes and it is illegal. Some springs are not only scalding hot but highly acidic.
Where to Stay in Yellowstone National Park
We stayed at the Canyon Lodge & Cabins at Canyon Village and found it to be a great base to explore Yellowstone. The Canyon Lodge has a cafeteria-style restaurant and there is a coffee shop at reception. This is an excellent location that is nice and central for sightseeing.
We stayed in a Deluxe New Lodge Room with a refrigerator, coffee maker, and two queen beds. There are no TVs and we couldn’t make the Internet work, but we had data on our phones so it didn’t matter. Remember, you are not here to watch TV or surf the Internet anyway.
You can also catch the Wake up to Wildlife and Evening Wildlife Tours from here.
Other areas to stay in Yellowstone are around Old Faithful. Old Faithful Inn is a national landmark but there is also the Old Faithful Lodge and Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins.
Mammoth Hot Springs hotel located within the park is closed due to flood damage, but you can stay outside north Yellowstone in Gardiner, Montana.
Hiking in Yellowstone National Park
There are plenty of hiking trails in Yellowstone, but if you are going make sure to keep an eye out for wildlife. You are allowed to hike to hills and better vantage points in places like the Lamar Valley, but you need to be aware of wildlife. Yellowstone National Park services suggest carrying bear spray if you go hiking. We have never understood this recommendation as the experts that we have talked to say that it can cause more harm than good. If you are going to carry bear spray, make sure to know how to use it.
We have learned from our backcountry hiking that hiking in numbers and making a lot of noise is the best best. That way you won’t surprise any animals. Keep talking and keep your eyes peeled.
We have a complete guide to the best hikes in Yellowstone National Park
How to Get to Yellowstone National Park
We flew into Cody Wyoming and feel that it is a fantastic place to start your Yellowstone road trip. Cody is located 50 miles from Yellowstone and is a place that you should spend at least two days exploring. You can rent a car and then drive into Yellowstone through the East Entrance. The East Entrance is the closest entrance to Yellowstone Lake.
But there are five entrances to Yellowstone Park and you can fly into airports near all of them.
- Cody Yellowstone Regional Airport is located in Cody which is an excellent gateway to Yellowstone National Park at one hour from Yellowstone East Entrance.
- Yellowstone Airport is the closest airport to Yellowstone located just outside the West Entrance
- Jackson Hole is 1 hour from the South Entrance.
- Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport is 1.5 hours from the North Entrance.
Yellowstone National Park Entrances
There are five entrances to Yellowstone National Park.
We entered from Cody, Wyoming which took us to the East Entrance. The East Entrance is the closest to Yellowstone Lake.
The North Entrance
The North Entrance is the only entrance to Yellowstone that is open year round but at the moment it is closed due to flooding. This is located in Montana and takes you into the Mammoth Springs area. Currently, the it is closed due to the Spring Floods.
The northeast entrance to Yellowstone Park is currently closed due to floods. But when it is open, it is the fastest way to the Lamar Valley. The northeast entrance is located in Montana.
The South Entrance is located in Wyoming and is often combined with a visit to Grand Teton National Park.
The West Entrance is located in Montana and has plenty of accommodation outside West Yellowstone. This is a good option if you don’t want to pay the extra money to stay in Yellowstone Park or if accommodations are booked up. Hotels here are only about 15 minutes from the West entrance. The West Entrance is the closest to Old Faithful making it the busiest entrance in the park. When we were leaving the upper geyser basin, we were happy to be turning right rather than joining the traffic turning left toward West Yellowstone at the end of the day.
The Grizzley and Wolf Discovery Center is located just outside the West Entrance, so if you didn’t see grizzlies or wolves, the Wolf Discovery Center is a place where you can see rescued animals living in
Can You Swim in Yellowstone?
There are only two designated swimming areas in Yellowstone National Park, Boiling River, and Firehole River Swim Areas. It can be dangerous to swim in Yellowstone Lake and its rivers due to cold temperatures. However, with boiling water and hot springs scattered throughout the park, you can also run the risk of scalding. It is forbidden to swim in geothermal areas.
Therefore stick to the two places that are designated for swimming. Boiling River is located near the Mammoth area in the Gardiner River. Firehole River is located on Firehole Canyon Drive south of Madison Junction. Read the signs and watch for warnings as they are not open all of the time.
2 thoughts on “27 Things to do in Yellowstone – Plus Tips for First-time Visitors”
This is such a great guide! Yellowstone is so high up on my bucket list for the next time I visit the US
🙂 Truly stunning photos, thank you for sharing.
Yellowstone is the most beautiful national park.