Known as the world’s first national park and designated as a World Heritage Site, Yellowstone is truly one of the most unique and interesting national parks in America. Established in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant, Yellowstone has attracted visitors from all over the world to see its geothermal features, abundant wildlife and vast ecosystems.
Although, at the moment, Yellowstone is closed along with the other 400 sites run by the National Park Service, luckily my husband and I visited the park right before it closed up shop. It’s sad to think such a beautiful and massive portion of land that proudly displays the motto, “for the enjoyment and benefit of the people,” on Yellowstone’s iconic Roosevelt Arch, is currently closed. But for now the animals are in charge and are able to roam freely without pesky cars and onlookers passing by.
Regardless of the park’s operational status, there are many things to look forward to seeing once the park reopens. Fall is a great time to visit the park even though the weather can be hit or miss, because the crowds tend to be less and the animals are out and about. But no matter what time of year you plan to visit, try to spend several days in and around the park in order to explore all Yellowstone has to offer. There are truly endless things to do and see.
Since the park is so massive, there are five entrances depending on what state you are traveling from. For first timers, the most popular route is the main Grand Loop Road which travels around the central plateau of Yellowstone in the approximate caldera boundary. If you decide to head east from West Yellowstone, MT to Canyon Village, you will pass by waterfalls, geysers and travel through meadows to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Along the way, also keep an eye out for lots of wildlife hanging out throughout the park.
Gibbon Falls, Yellowstone NP
Once you reach Canyon Village, turn right and you will be at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, a magnificent yellow canyon with the Yellowstone River flowing through it at the bottom.
Lower Falls, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
You can then keep heading south around the loop past Yellowstone Lake towards West Thumb and Old Faithful or head up north towards Mammouth Hot Springs over Dunraven Pass (if it’s still open) or if not, back towards Norris and then up to Mammouth.
Mammouth Hot Springs is a little out of way if you plan to see all the famous stops such as Old Faithful and the Grand Prismatic Spring but it’s well worth a trip. Like much of the park, the landscape has a very prehistoric feeling and is surrounded by towering mountains.
There’s also a chance you might spot a bear that likes to hang out near the road, according to the park ranger, between Norris and Mammouth Hot Springs. For more grizzly bear pictures, see A Grizzly Bear’s Guide to Conquering Mondays.
Also, consider driving east past Mammouth Hot Springs into the Lamar Valley which provides sweeping vistas and a home to a lot of wildlife.
Still, undeniably, what a lot of people come to Yellowstone to see is the the multitude of geothermal highlights. Some of the best stops are at Lower Geyser Basin walking through the Fountain Paint Pot, the Midway Geyser Basin where you can see the Grand Prismatic Spring and of course, Old Faithful. The day we were at Yellowstone, the wind was howling; the cold air beating against us as the steam and water bellowed from the ground.
Lower Geiser Basin – Fountain Paint Pot
At Midway Geiser Basin, there were times when the steam completely surrounded us in a fog and swirled around us like a crazy dream.
Midway Geiser Basin – Grand Prismatic Spring
Grand Prismatic Spring
Another favorite flashback shot!
Grand Prismatic Spring
By the time we reached Old Faithful, we were drenched and wind burned. Trusty Old Faithful was not scheduled to blow for another 55 minutes, so we decided to just head home, but here’s a flashback shot of the famous geyser.
No matter which direction you travel or what stops you decide to make, it’s really impossible to leave the park disappointed. There are so many neat things to see; it’s no wonder it was crowned the first national park in the world. Just as an example of the interesting features (and weather) in real time that you might encounter in the midst of the prehistoric terrain, here’s a link to a short video of a few places we visited during one of our days in the park.
How much is it to enter Yellowstone? $25
Where are the five entrances to the park located? North entrance: Gardiner, MT; West Entrance: West Yellowstone, MT; Northeast Entrance: Silver Gate and Cooke City, MT; and an entrance to the south and east of the park. (Make sure to check whether the entrances are open depending on the time of year – many of the entrances close to wheeled vehicles from late fall to spring)
How exactly large is Yellowstone?2,219,789 acres, mostly located in Wyoming.
What are some of the larger animals you can see in Yellowstone? Bison, Moose, Elk, Pronghorn, Gray Wolf, Black Bear and Grizzly Bear.
How many total thermal features and geisers are in Yellowstone? Over 10,000 thermal features and over 300 geysers.
How many waterfalls are in Yellowstone? Over 290!
How often does Old Faithful blow? On average 90 minutes but it can range between 35 minutes and 2 hours.
Great places to eat in West Yellowstone, MT:
Breakfast: Running Bear Pancake House (538 Madison Ave, West Yellowstone, Mt 59758) Tasty traditional breakfast!
Breakfast/Lunch: Woodside Bakery (7 Madison Ave, West Yellowstone, Mt 59758)– Grab an orange or cinnamon roll for breakfast and a sandwich to go for lunch to picnic in the park!