Packed with a variety of fascinating geothermal features, Yellowstone National Park is a wonderfully unique place to explore in the USA. It boasts colorful hot springs, geysers, mudpots, fumaroles, and bountiful wildlife. In this post, we cover the 12 best attractions in Yellowstone that you really shouldn’t miss.
The park lies on top of a supervolcano, also known as the Yellowstone Caldera, which triggers all the volcanic activities here. Its last major eruption occurred over 640,000 years ago.
Yellowstone officially became a national park on March 1, 1872. It is the oldest national park in the United States. In terms of area, Yellowstone is the country’s 8th largest national park.
It occupies 3,472 square miles across the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. The majority of the park is in Wyoming, with a small portion (approximately 4%) stretching into Montana and Idaho.
Each year, the park receives over 4 million visitors. In 2021, nearly 4.9 million people visited Yellowstone. Needless to say, it is one of the most visited national parks in the United States.
Are you contemplating a visit to Yellowstone? Here’s our guide to help you find your favorite Yellowstone attractions and plan your trip.
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A Quick glance Through
- List of Attractions
- Where To Stay
- How To Get There
Best Attractions in Yellowstone National Park
1. Old Faithful
Old Faithful is located in the Upper Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park. It is a world-famous geyser, best known for its predictable eruptions.
It erupts typically every ninety minutes with about a ten-minute variation. However, in some cases, the next eruption can take as long as 2 hours.
Old Faithful is the first Yellowstone geyser to get a name. It was first discovered by the members of the Washburn Expedition in 1870.
Because of the regularity of its eruptions, Old Faithful is one of the most popular attractions in Yellowstone. In fact, the eruption schedule is also available on the NPS website which makes it so much easier to plan a visit here.
To see Old Faithful in action, there are rows of benches surrounding the geyser. This spot is packed with visitors all throughout the day.
If you want to escape crowds, head to the Observation Point which offers a bird’s-eye-view of the eruption. It is accessible via a 1.6-mile out and back trail from the Old Faithful Visitor Center.
2. Upper Geyser Basin And Morning Glory Pool
Besides the iconic Old Faithful Geyser, there are several geothermal wonders in the Upper Geyser Basin. This beautiful area boasts the world’s highest concentration of geysers. Approximately 150 geothermal features are found within a 1-square-mile area.
Walk the Upper Geyser Basin boardwalk trail leading up to the Morning Glory Pool. Castle Geyser and Daisy Geyser are a few of the noteworthy geysers along this trail. You can find the daily eruption schedule of both geysers at the Old Faithful Visitor Center.
Castle Geyser: This geyser is famed for its massive cone structure. It erupts for about 20 minutes and has an average eruption interval of 10-12 hours.
Daisy Geyser: Its eruption interval ranges between 120 to 210 minutes. The eruption can last up to 5 minutes.
Morning Glory Pool: This gorgeous hot spring is surely one of the must-visit attractions in Yellowstone. It is around 1.5 miles from the Old Faithful Visitor Center. The pool gets its distinct colors from microorganisms (bacteria) that inhabit the pool.
3. Biscuit Basin
Biscuit Basin is located about 3 miles north of Old Faithful in the Upper Geyser Basin. It derives its name from biscuit-shaped mineral formations that were once abundantly found in this area.
Although the formations got destroyed by an earthquake in 1959, the area retained its name.
To explore the hydrothermal features of this area, walk the 0.5-mile loop boardwalk trail. Jewel Geyser, Mustard Spring, Avoca Spring, and Sapphire Pool are the main highlights of Biscuit Basin.
The bright blue Sapphire Pool is absolutely stunning and is a sight to behold. If you have some extra time, hike the Mystic Falls trail (2.4-mile round trip) that starts from Biscuit Basin.
4. Grand Prismatic Spring
The Grand Prismatic Spring is the most colorful hot spring in Yellowstone National Park. In terms of size, it is the world’s third largest hot spring and the largest in the United States. It is 370 feet in diameter and is over 120 feet deep.
This incredible thermal feature is found in the Midway Geyser Basin. The center is deep blue with outer rings featuring hues of green, yellow, and orange. The vivid colors are actually communities of trillions of microorganisms, mainly bacteria.
You can view the Grand Prismatic Spring up close from the boardwalk or from the overlook. The 0.8-mile boardwalk trail runs adjacent to the spring. Along this trail, you can also see other hot springs like Opal Pool and Turquoise Pool.
To get to the Grand Prismatic Spring overlook, drive to the Fairy Falls parking lot and then hike about 0.8 miles one way. The overlook offers breathtaking vistas of this rainbow colored hot spring.
5. Grand Canyon of The Yellowstone
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is a magnificent 20-mile-long canyon on the northern side of the park. It is more than 1,000 feet deep and between 1,500 to 4,000 feet wide.
The Yellowstone River has created this incredible canyon over several thousand years. It is one of the most iconic attractions in Yellowstone that you should definitely see.
It consists of two parts – the North Rim and the South Rim, one on each side of the river. There are lots of vantage points and hiking trails on both sides of the canyon.
North Rim’s Popular Viewpoints: Brink of the Lower Falls, Lookout Point, Red Rock Point, Grand View Point, Inspiration Point, and Brink of the Upper Falls.
South Rim’s Popular Viewpoints: Artist Point, Uncle Tom’s Trail Viewpoint, Point Sublime.
Although you can get around the canyon by car, many overlooks are accessible via hiking only. Particularly, to get to Uncle Tom’s Point, there is a steep stairway with more than 300 steps.
6. Fountain Paint Pot Trail
Fountain Paint Pot Trail is a short 0.5-mile loop trail within the Lower Geyser Basin.
Along this trail, you will have the opportunity to see four different hydrothermal features: hot springs, geysers, mudpots, and fumaroles. It is undoubtedly one of the must-see attractions in Yellowstone National Park.
The notable features of this trail include Leather Pool, Silex Spring, Fountain Geyser, Clepsydra Geyser, and Red Spouter.
Clepsydra Geyser erupts almost constantly shooting water up to a height of 45 feet. It sometimes pauses during the eruption of the Fountain Geyser.
7. Norris Geyser Basin
Located on the western side of the park, the Norris Geyser Basin is a treasure trove of interesting geothermal features.
This geyser basin is home to the world’s tallest active geyser, Steamboat Geyser. It can spout water more than 300 feet into the air. However, its eruption schedule is not predictable.
There are two main areas to explore – Porcelain Basin and Back Basin. A 1-mile boardwalk trail loops you around Porcelain Basin. This area is dotted with small geysers, steam vents, and beautiful thermal pools.
The Back Basin trail is longer, about 1.75 miles. A few of the major sights here include the famous Steamboat Geyser, Porkchop Geyser, Puff ‘n Stuff Geyser, and Green Dragon spring.
8. West Thumb Geyser Basin
The West Thumb Geyser Basin sits on the western edge of Yellowstone Lake. It is traversed by an easy 0.6-mile loop trail that begins from the West Thumb Geyser Basin parking lot.
This trail leads you past several fascinating hydrothermal features, including Fishing Cone, Black Pool, and Abyss Pool.
Fishing Cone is located in Yellowstone Lake. Due to the rise in the lake’s water level, the eruptions don’t take place in this geyser. It has turned into a hot spring.
Black Pool is a gorgeous pool that once used to appear black. In 1991, the temperature of the pool became considerably high, killing the bacteria that made the water appear black. Since then, its appearance has changed from black to clear blue.
Abyss Pool is one of Yellowstone’s deepest hot springs at 53-feet depth.
9. Artists Paintpots
Tucked in the lesser-known Gibbon Geyser Basin, Artists Paintpots is a small hydrothermal area with several mudpots, geysers, and beautiful hot springs. It is approximately 4-mile south of Norris Geyser Basin.
Walk a short 1-mile loop trail to see the amazing features of the area. The trail meanders through burnt lodgepole pines and then through a boardwalk. From the boardwalk trail, you can see stunning views of the basin floor bathed in hues of various colors.
Mudpots are another highlight of this trail. The area around it is a bit smelly because of the hydrogen sulfide gas that emits through the mud.
10. Mammoth Hot Springs – One of The Coolest Attractions in Yellowstone
Renowned for its travertine terraces, Mammoth Hot Springs is a spectacular sight of nature in Yellowstone. It lies just 3-mile south of the park’s North Entrance.
These terraces are essentially huge piles of limestone (calcium carbonate), deposited by hot springs over many years.
Depending on the rate of deposition, the Mammoth Hot Springs terraces keep changing. On average, Mammoth Hot Springs deposits over 2 tons of calcium carbonate each day.
It has two parts: Lower Terraces and Upper Terraces. All the important features of the area are accessible via boardwalks and staircases, covering about 1.75 miles. If you can’t hike all the way to the Upper Terraces, then you can get to the top by car.
Top sights – Liberty Cap, Palette Spring, Minerva Terrace, Cleopatra Terrace, Canary Spring, Orange Spring Mound.
11. Hayden Valley
The Hayden Valley is a paradise for wildlife lovers. This lush green valley is located right in the middle of the park between the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Yellowstone Lake. It is one of the best places to see bison in the park.
Yellowstone has served as a vital habitat for bison since prehistoric times. The bison population in Yellowstone is estimated between 2,300 to 5,500.
It is not uncommon to see them standing in the middle of the road or crossing over to the other side. At times, bison movement can cause a traffic jam and you may have to wait until the bison jam clears.
Other mammals like elk, grizzly bears, and wolves, are also found in Hayden Valley. Furthermore, it is home to a great variety of birds including waterfowl and raptors (eagles and hawks).
12. Mount Washburn
Mount Washburn is a majestic peak in the Washburn Range in Yellowstone National Park. Hike to the Mount Washburn summit to enjoy spectacular views of the park from the top (10,243 feet). There are two trails that loop around the summit.
Dunraven Pass Trail: It is a 6.4-mile out and back trail that starts at the Dunraven Pass trailhead. This route is more strenuous but offers great views.
Chittenden Road Trail: The route via Chittenden Road is shorter, about 5 miles round trip. If you are not much concerned about the views along the trail then this is the better option.
This area is frequented by wildlife too. If you get lucky, you may even be able to spot a grizzly bear.
Where To Stay
Yellowstone National Park has several accommodation options. There are nine lodges inside the park, but they are fully booked during the high season (mid-June through early September). So, make your reservation well in advance. Check availability on Yellowstone’s official website.
Another alternative is to stay in one of the towns located just outside of the park.
West Yellowstone, MT is the closest town to the West Entrance. It makes a good base for exploring Yellowstone. From this entrance, you are about 45-minute drive away from the Grand Prismatic Spring. Book your West Yellowstone stay here.
The closest town to the North Entrance is Gardiner, MT. If you want to be close to the attractions located in the northern part of the park, Gardiner is a great option for a short stay. Mammoth Hot Springs is approximately 5 miles from the North Entrance. Book your Gardiner stay here.
How To Get There
Yellowstone National Park has five entrance stations:
- North Entrance (Gardiner, MT)
- Northeast Entrance (Cooke City, MT)
- West Entrance (West Yellowstone, MT)
- South Entrance (Grand Teton, WY)
- East Entrance (Cody, WY)
The North Entrance is the only entrance that stays open year-round. All other Yellowstone entrances open seasonally. So, you should choose an entrance depending on the season you are visiting.
Yellowstone Airport, Montana (WYS), is the closest airport, just 3 miles away from the park’s West Entrance. However, this airport operates from June to September only.
Other major airports to get to Yellowstone:
- Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, Montana (BZN) – West Entrance (91 miles), North Entrance (88 miles)
- Cody Yellowstone Regional airport, Wyoming (COD) – East Entrance (70 miles), Northeast Entrance (83 miles)
- Jackson Hole Airport, Wyoming (JAC) – South Entrance (50 miles)
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Over To You Now…
So, this is our overview of the 12 most amazing attractions in Yellowstone. Which are your favorite Yellowstone attractions? Tell us in the comments below.