Yellowstone National Park is the flagship of the National Park Service and a favorite to millions of visitors each year. The park is a major destination for all members of the family. By driving the grand loop road, visitors can view the park from the comfort of their vehicle and also take a rest at one of the many roadside picnic areas. For the active visitor, the park has thousands of miles of trails from dayhikes to backcountry explorations. The main attractions are all located on the grand loop road and here are some of the top reasons to visit the park.
Yellowstone has something for everyone. Whether you delight in the challenge of a strenuous hike or prefer to sit quietly and watch the sunset, the park offers a great diversity of activities for you to enjoy.
1. Watch Geysers Erupt and See Giant, Colorful Hot Springs
Yellowstone is the largest active geyser field in the world and is home to the most famous geyser, Old Faithful. There are also hundreds of colorful hot springs and pools such as the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring, pictured above, which is larger than a football field and the third largest spring in the world. Want to escape the crowds? Walk past Old Faithful in the Upper Geyser Basin.
2. See Wild Animals in their Natural Habitat
Yellowstone National Park is home to more wild animals than almost anywhere else in the U.S., but it is not a zoo. Visitors are likely to see a number of animals in Yellowstone freely roaming the landscape in their natural habitat. Animals you might see include grizzly bears, gray wolves, the world’s largest wild bison herd, bald and golden eagles, trumpeter swans, moose and more. While there are wild animals throughout the park, Lamar Valley is a fantastic places to stop at one of the pull-offs and get out of your car with your binoculars to see wolves, bears and more.
Outside of Yellowstone, to the south and the northeast of the park, you can also see herds of wild horses.
3. Experience the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
View the pink and yellow canyon walls that form the sides of three glorious waterfalls. The place is so inspiring that an overlook of the Lower Falls is called Artist’s Point. Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is located north of Lake Yellowstone.
4. Take a Hike in Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks
To explore Yellowstone’s wild side, get off the beaten path and onto the park’s 1,300-mile trail system. Some of the most popular hikes are Fairy Falls, Mount Washburn, Avalanche Peak and Mystic Falls. Can’t decide on a trail? Read Which Trail Should I Hike and Top 4 Trails for Hiking With Kids articles.
In neighboring Grand Teton National Park, some popular hikes include lake trails such as Jenny Lake, Phelps Lake or family-friendly Taggart Lake. Or head for the mountains on these trails to Cascade Canyon and Table Mountain.
5. Go Rafting and Paddling
Take a paddling trip near lakeside geysers, or raft down one of the nearby rivers. There are rafting trips available near all the entrances to the park. To help you choose, we’ve compiled a Top 5 rafting rivers list.
6. Go Camping
One of the best ways to experience the Yellowstone region is by spending a night or more under the stars. You can stay at one of the many campsites inside the park, at a nearby campground outside the park or camp in the backcountry. Read our tips for RVers.
7. Stay or Dine at a Historic Hotel
On the roads to Yellowstone and in the park itself, there are wonderfully unique hotels full of history, one-of-a-kind furnishings and art and breakfasts that are often home-cooked. Plus, you can actually meet other guests and share stories in the lobbies, bars and lawns of these hotels. Historic hotels inside Yellowstone include the classic Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, the rustic yet sophisticated Old Faithful Inn and the waterfront Lake Yellowstone Hotel. These hotels have elegant dining rooms serving fare from steaks to vegetarian.
8. Live the Cowboy Life
Yellowstone is smack in the middle of cowboy country so don your boots and hat and go with it. Explore Yellowstone on horseback and ride past wildlife, valleys, and rivers or eat at an Old West cookout. In nearby towns, watch a rodeo, attend an Old West gunfight, stay at a guest ranch or learn about a famous, real-life cowboy at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyo.
9. Hunt for Rocks, Fossils, and Dinosaurs
The Yellowstone area has many paleontological sites – from dinosaur and fossil museums to petroglyphs and pictographs on rock walls. Inside Yellowstone, you will find basalt columns formed by lava and a petrified forest.
10. Immerse Yourself in Native American Culture
There are several Native American reservations nearby Yellowstone. On the Wind River Reservation, you can watch dancers every Tuesday evening at Wind River Casino and Hotel in Riverton, Wyo. You can also visit Sacajawea’s gravesite, explore the church and museum at St. Stephen’s Mission or try your luck at gaming.
Don’t miss seeing wild horses and learning about their role in Native American life at the Wind River Wild Horse Sanctuary in Lander, Wyo.
While in Cody, Wyo., near the East Entrance to Yellowstone, stop to see the Plains Indian Museum, one of five museums at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. Buffalo Bill Center of the West is a Smithsoniam-affiliate, and your ticket is good for two days. With incredible museums, plus a chuck wagon dinner and trail rides, the center is one of those places you’ll be happy you spent two days at.