Yellowstone National Park is the oldest, one of the largest, and probably the best-known national park in the United States. The park was established in 1872, which made it not only the first national park, but also the first in the World!
A park filled with beautiful landscapes and abundant wildlife; but what truly makes it special is that it includes the greatest concentration of hydrothermal features in the world! Yellowstone is situated in a region that has been volcanically and seismically active for tens of millions of years. Tectonic movement of the North American Plate has thinned Earth’s crust in this area, forming a hot spot, a place where a dome of magma, or molten rock, comes close to the Earth’s surface. This has created the many geysers, which are the parks main attractions. But you must not dismiss its beautiful scenery; Yellowstone’s landscapes are the result of tectonic activity (volcanism and earthquakes) combined with the erosional actions of ice and water.
So here are my Yellowstone top ten attractions:
1. The Main Attraction Old Faithfull Geyser Basin: You are greeted with the pungent odor of boiled eggs (Sulphur) but don’t be discouraged it just means that Old Faithfull is gearing up to put on a show! Yellowstone possesses most of the world’s active geysers and the Upper Basin is home to most in the park. Personally, I suggest hiking the entire 3-mile trail, as there is a lot to see along the way. We were extremely lucky and were fortunate to see eruptions from 3 of the major 5 in the area. Old Faithful was right on cue, as it tends to go off every 90 minutes and sends thousands of gallons of steaming water into the sky.
Further along the boarded path (you can’t walk on the ground as it is too unstable) we got about 500 feet past Grand Geyser, which is the tallest predictable geyser in the world, and heard applause. We ran back just in time see the spontaneous blast as this geyser only erupts every 6 to 15 hours and sends water and steam up to 200 feet in the air! The third of the five major geysers we saw was Castle Geyser, which is unique in its shape and spewed water into the air for what seemed to be 10 mins straight. The Geysers are exceptional, but what I found most appealing were the beautiful thermal pools, and more specifically Morning Glory! The thermal pools are vents from the geysers often referred to as hot springs that get their plethora of colors from bacteria living within.
2. Nearby Old Faithful is Fountain Paint Pot: A mud pot is a pool of bubbling pastel colored mud where acid and microorganisms decompose surrounding rock and clay into mud seen at Fountain Paint Pot. These hot springs are produced by the emergence of geothermal heated groundwater that rises to the Earth’s Crust. These can exceed temperatures of 200 degrees Fahrenheit! Other thermal pools exist here specifically Silex Pool, its striking blue color is just as inviting as the Caribbean Sea, but no matter how tempting it is-don’t jump in!
3. Mammoth Hot Springs: Few of Yellowstone’s hydrothermal features have the sheer grace and beauty of Mammoth. Mineral-laden hot water deep beneath the Earth’s crust finds its way to the surface and builds tier upon tier of cascading, terraced stone. Begun thousands of years ago, the sculpting of these terraces continues as thousand of gallons of water well up and deposit large amounts of travertine daily.
4. Tower Falls: Only a short stop of the main road, but well deep in Roosevelt Country is the 132-foot Tower Fall. A magnificent spectacle as the river splits the trees and the water cascades over its edge and through the surrounding volcanic pinnacles. Simply put, picture perfect.
5. Lamar Valley: The single best place to watch for wildlife in Yellowstone is Lamar Valley and the best time to spot such animals is at dawn and again at dusk. We got extremely lucky late in the afternoon on our first day. With not a lot of time to set up binoculars and watch, we saw a group huddled on the side of the road. We stopped to ask what they were looking at when they were kind enough to allow us to use their “national geographic” binoculars to spot a Grizzly! There are many hikes you can do inside Yellowstone, but Trout Lake is a short trail off the main road and a serene lakeside location to sit and take in the parks sheer natural beauty all on your own.
6. Norris Geyser Basin: Located along the Firehole River, Norris Geyser Basin has another large display of geysers. The most iconic being Steamboat Geyser, this is the world’s tallest active geyser and has very infrequent, unpredictable eruptions (ranging between 6 and 50 years apart) and reaching 300-400 feet high. The eruptions have both a short water phase and a longer steam phase that occur and can last up to 12 hours.
7. Grand Canyon: Promising one of the park’s most breathtaking sights is the Grand Canyon and waterfalls of Yellowstone! The river’s Yellowstone Falls descend in two majestic cascades: the Upper Falls, with a drop of 114 feet, and the Lower Falls, with a drop of 308 feet. The falls create the western end of the spectacular Grand Canyon. There the river has eroded a gorge 19 miles long, where the walls of the canyon are sculpted from decomposed volcanic rock which make them brilliantly colored in hues of red, pink, yellow, beige, lavender, and white. The hike down to the lower falls is winding but gives you such perspective and a clear view of the canyon. We drove all around to Artist Viewpoint, which captures the absolute splendor of the falls; some of our best photos of Yellowstone were taken here.
8. Hayden Valley: This broad, rolling valley is a remnant lakebed formed when glaciers created a dam that backed up water, flooding the valley. The Yellowstone River meanders through the valley and it is known for abundant wildlife spotting. Elk, deer and bison graze in the meadows, while bears and wolves patrol the area in search of prey. Between both valleys, we were able to spot elk, antelopes, bison, black bears, eagles, pronghorn antelope, and my favorite – the moose!
9. Yellowstone Lake: The Park’s largest body of water is Yellowstone Lake which has a surface area of 132 square miles. In fact, it is the largest high elevation lake at 7,730 feet in North America. It is so large that it can even create its own weather! The best views of the lake are a short drive towards the East entrance and Cody, WY. Cross over the iconic Fishing bridge and up Lake Butte Peak, from here you have a stunning view of the vast lake and can even see the top of the Tetons!
10. West Thumb Geyser Basin: Located on the Lake’s shore, this small thermal area holds lakeshore geysers, hot springs, and bubbling paint pots. Of these Fishing Cone is the most notable, it got its name from visitors who used to catch trout from the lake and immediately drop them into this hot spring where its boiling waters cooked the fish up ready to eat!