Yellowstone National Park is the most popular national park in the US
Yellowstone National Park is one of the largest National Parks at around 2.2 million acres and spans three states: Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. It was also the US’s first national park, established in 1872, and is a place that draws about 4 million visitors every year.
There are five entrances to the park. We entered through the west Yellowstone entrance, about a five-hour drive north of Salt Lake City. If you’re coming from another direction, you can enter through one of the other four entrances.
Even though we came in through the west entrance, we left the park using the south entrance, which connects to Jackson Hole through Grand Teton National Park.
If you’re planning a trip to the park, you’re in for a treat. Here are some of the most fun things to do in Yellowstone.
- Fun Things To Do At Yellowstone National Park
- 1. Visit Terrace Springs
- 2. Head To The Gibbon Falls
- 3. Soak In The Beryl Spring
- 4. Explore The Artist’s Paintpots
- 5. Norris Geyser Basin Is A Must See
- 6. Head To The Canyon Village
- 7. Brink of the Lower Falls
- 8. Mammoth Hot Springs
- 9. Blacktail Plateau Drive (off-road trail)
- 10. Lamar Valley
- 11. Grand Prismatic Spring
- 12. Geyser Basin
- 13. Lake Yellowstone
- Tips for Enjoying Your Stay At Yellowstone National Park
- 1. Getting to Yellowstone National Park
- 2. Get A Room Charge Card
- 3. Join The Yellowstone Forever Foundation
- 4. Bring Reusable Water Bottles
- 5. Use Cruise Control When Driving Through The Park
- 6. Bring Binoculars
- 7. Download Offline Maps And Any Other Entertainment Before Entering The Park
- 8. Prepare For Temperature And Weather Variations
- 9. Pack Polarized Sunglasses
- 10. Be Prepared For Bear Sightings
- 11. Consider A Bear Bell
- 12. Make Dinner Reservations In Advance
- 13. Yellowstone is Super Accessible
- 14. Don’t disturb the wildlife.
Fun Things To Do At Yellowstone National Park
With over 2 million acres of natural beauty, it is no surprise that Yellowstone has become one of the most visited national parks in the United States. The park offers a range of outdoor activities, from hiking and camping to wildlife watching and geothermal exploration.
We spent 13 days in the park last month; here are some fun things to do at Yellowstone National Park as well as our favorite destinations in the park:
1. Visit Terrace Springs
We entered the park using the west entrance, which was busier than we expected, given that it was September. After clearing the entrance, we drove a short distance and found our first hot springs.
Terrace Springs is a series of geothermal terraces located in the Mammoth Hot Springs area of Yellowstone National Park. The terraces are formed by mineral deposits from hot springs, creating a unique landscape of colorful pools and terraces.
Terrace Springs is one of the more modest springs in the park, but it was still exciting to see, especially since it’s one of the first landmarks to check out when entering the park.
2. Head To The Gibbon Falls
Since we were staying at Canyon Village for our first two nights, we continued westward into the park. There were plenty of stops along the way. We stopped at Gibbon Falls to see the beautiful waterfalls that flow into the Gibbon river below. Parking was easy and plentiful when we visited.
Along the Gibbon River, Gibbon Falls is a stunning 84-foot waterfall easily accessible from the road. The waterfall is surrounded by beautiful scenery and is a great spot for a picnic.
3. Soak In The Beryl Spring
Beryl Spring is a small but powerful geothermal feature in the Norris Geyser Basin. The spring is known for its brilliant blue-green color and produces a steady stream of hot water.
It is not too far north of Gibbon Falls. The amount of steam generated by the spring was incredible to see, though be warned that it also means that the area has a strong sulfur odor.
4. Explore The Artist’s Paintpots
A little farther up, we reached Artists Paintpots and were glad to be able to stretch our legs with a short one-mile hike. The hike loops around a basin of bubbling springs, geysers, and mud pots.
The trail elevates above the basin, giving you a spectacular view of the artist’s paint pots and over 50 thermal features surrounding the area. Its unique geothermal area features bubbling mud pots and steaming vents that create a colorful and otherworldly landscape.
It’s a great spot for a short hike and exploring the natural wonders of Yellowstone.
5. Norris Geyser Basin Is A Must See
The Norris Geyser Basin was our last stop on the third day before heading to our hotel. This is more of a substantial stop, and I’d recommend putting aside a couple of hours to explore here.
The basin has two sides, and we started with the back-basin area. Here, we could see the Steamboat Geyser, which unfortunately didn’t erupt while we were there, but we could still see the steam billowing from its base, which was pretty cool.
As with many of the geysers in Yellowstone, the timing of eruptions can be sporadic and difficult to predict, so it’s best to check in with the park rangers at the visitor centers if there is a specific eruption you’re hoping to see.
After exploring the back basin, we walked around the main basin, our favorite sight of the day. So many spectacular colors, steaming hot springs, and more bubbling thermal pools made it a beautiful environment to explore.
6. Head To The Canyon Village
After finishing up at the Norris Geyser Basin, we went to Canyon Village to check into our hotel, the Canyon Lodge. The hotel was pretty basic, especially for the price.
You’re paying a premium to stay in the park, but it’s worth the cost of being close to many of Yellowstone’s landmarks. Given the vast size of the park, you could waste a lot of time driving in and out each day, so if you can plan, it’s well worth securing your accommodations inside the park.
It’s also worth noting that campsites are available for more reasonable lodging options. Canyon Village offered many amenities, including a gas station, restaurants, a general store, a visitors center, and comfortable lodging at the Canyon Lodge hotel. We did have to book in advance.
7. Brink of the Lower Falls
We then headed to North Rim Drive and parked up at the Brink of the Lower Falls trailhead. We hiked the short but steep path to the top of the falls. We took the scenic drive to Inspiration Point for a different perspective on the canyons.
The Brink of the Lower Falls is probably one of the most iconic views in Yellowstone, but it can also be one of the most crowded. The Lower Falls are about 308 feet tall, and the best time to visit this area is early morning or late evening when it’s less crowded.
8. Mammoth Hot Springs
From here, we took Norris Canyon road through the park and turned north at Grand Loop Road toward Mammoth Hot Springs. This was a scenic drive and offered a couple of stopping points along the way, including the “roaring mountain,” which bellowed steam from cracks in the ridge.
We reached Mammoth Hot Springs, which is another popular area of the park to stay. There is a nice hotel with many amenities there, and the main attraction of the area is the hot springs.
Mammoth Hot Springs is one of the most popular destinations in Yellowstone National Park. It features a series of terraced hot springs that create a stunning landscape of vibrant colors.
We stretched our legs with a loop around the hot springs and stopped for coffee in one of the many cafés in the area.
9. Blacktail Plateau Drive (off-road trail)
We continued along Grand Loop Road toward Tower Junction from Mammoth Hot Springs. A few miles before reaching the junction, we took “Blacktail Plateau Drive,” a scenic unpaved road suitable for most vehicles.
The Blacktail Plateau Drive is a scenic drive that offers stunning views of the park’s diverse wildlife, including bison, elk, and bears. It is also a great place to catch a sunrise or sunset.
This ended up being a hidden gem of the day because we spotted a herd of charging bison along the side of the road.
10. Lamar Valley
We took the northeast entrance road at Tower Junction to explore the Lamar Valley. This was where we saw the most wildlife in the park, and it helped that we visited late afternoon/early evening.
The Lamar Valley is one of the best places in the park to view wildlife. It is home to various animals, including bison, wolves, and bears.
We saw hundreds of bison in the fields and elk, and there were even some spectators with binoculars on the lookout for Yellowstone’s famous wolves. This was the day’s highlight, and it was such an experience to get close to the wildlife.
After visiting the Lamar Valley, we drove through Dunraven Pass back to Canyon Village and spotted a black bear from the side of the road. For dinner, we could grab a quick bite at Canyon Village. We noticed most places closed early, so make sure you plan accordingly when visiting the park.
11. Grand Prismatic Spring
One of Yellowstone’s most popular and iconic landmarks is the Grand Prismatic Spring. This must-see attraction is the largest hot spring in the United States and is famous for its rainbow-colored waters.
The vibrant colors are created by microorganisms that live in the water, and the spring’s beauty is truly awe-inspiring.
Our first attempt at seeing the famous spring from ground level didn’t go well. It was misty in the area, and we couldn’t get that postcard view we’d been hoping for.
However, we returned the following day and hiked to a viewing point from the Fairy Falls trailhead. The hike was less than two miles and was fairly easy. It was worth the effort to get a better view of the Grand Prismatic Spring.
On day six, we drove to the Fairy Falls trailhead for our second attempt at viewing the Grand Prismatic Spring. As I mentioned, it was much clearer on our second try and worth the short hike to the viewpoint overlooking the spring. It is as spectacular as the postcards!
We also explored Biscuit Basin and the Sapphire Pool, where we saw geysers erupting as we walked around the basin.
12. Geyser Basin
We then returned to the Old Faithful Visitor Center to check out eruption times before exploring Geyser Basin on foot. Just a short walk from the Old Faithful Inn is a geyser basin with accessible boardwalks to explore the many geysers and springs in the area, including the colorful Morning Glory Pool.
On our last day, we checked out of the Old Faithful Inn and drove south to West Thumb to explore our last geyser basin before leaving the park. This is one of the few geyser basins next to the water, and it looks out across the huge Lake Yellowstone. We explored the area and enjoyed sightings of elk grazing near the warm geysers.
13. Lake Yellowstone
Lake Yellowstone is a beautiful and peaceful place to spend time in Yellowstone National Park. The lake is the largest body of water in the park, and it offers a wide range of recreational activities, including fishing, boating, kayaking, and hiking. The lake’s crystal-clear waters and stunning mountain backdrop make it a great spot for scenic drives, leisurely walks, or relaxing by the shore.
The lake is also home to various fish species, including lake trout, cutthroat trout, and brook trout, making it a popular destination for anglers. Boating and kayaking are also great ways to explore the lake and its many secluded coves and bays.
Tips for Enjoying Your Stay At Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is a wonderland of natural beauty and one of the world’s top destinations for outdoor enthusiasts. Home to breathtaking geysers, hot springs, waterfalls, and wildlife, the park offers visitors an unparalleled experience of the natural world.
If you’re planning a trip to Yellowstone National Park, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
1. Getting to Yellowstone National Park
We started our trip by flying from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City. After a five-hour drive from Salt Lake City, we stopped in West Yellowstone for a night before heading into the park first thing the next morning. We stayed at the 1872 Inn, just outside the west entrance.
There are plenty of signs for sights to see along the way. However, I recommend you stop at one of the visitor centers for a park map to help you plan your trip. We opted for the West Yellowstone visitor center, not far from the park entrance.
West Yellowstone has a variety of restaurants and stores to visit. It was a good launching point to start our adventures in the park.
2. Get A Room Charge Card
When you check into the park hotels, you often are given the option of placing charges on your room. You can charge meals and even some gift store purchases on this card.
This is particularly useful if you’re a points and miles enthusiast. The final bill will charge everything to your room, which codes as lodging, meaning that you earn extra points if you’re using a card with a travel bonus category.
3. Join The Yellowstone Forever Foundation
There is a one-off charge of $35; membership comes with a gift and 15% off purchases around the park. Not only are you contributing to a great cause, but it’s also tax-deductible.
4. Bring Reusable Water Bottles
The park does have water stations at the visitor centers. Rather than paying money for bottled water, I highly recommend refilling bottles at the stations to save money and reduce plastic waste.
5. Use Cruise Control When Driving Through The Park
It’s easy to get distracted by all the sights and wildlife, and I often lose track of the speed limit while driving through the park. I recommend using cruise control to help keep you at the right driving speed.
6. Bring Binoculars
It’s hard not to have a close encounter with wildlife while visiting Yellowstone. However, many of the most sought-after wildlife, like bears and wolves, are usually farther away. I recommend packing a pair of binoculars to get a better look at the wildlife.
7. Download Offline Maps And Any Other Entertainment Before Entering The Park
Expect limited to no connectivity while in the park. Even when connected to WiFi, we struggled to download pictures. We liked this aspect of the visit because it was nice to disconnect during our honeymoon, though I did notice a lot of grumpy teenagers who couldn’t load their Instagram feed over WiFi.
8. Prepare For Temperature And Weather Variations
The temperature can vary significantly daily, so pack with this in mind. One day, it was in the 60s, and two days later, temperatures were in the 30s! We had to buy extra hats and gloves at the visitor’s center to keep us warm.
9. Pack Polarized Sunglasses
Polarized lenses filter much of the glare, especially when looking at the water. Since you’ll visit many geysers, having polarized lenses can help you see more contrasting colors and improve visibility.
10. Be Prepared For Bear Sightings
Rent (instead of purchasing) bear spray. While we didn’t have any up-close encounters with bears, we did listen carefully to the ranger’s warnings and rented bear spray while in the park.
We rented ours from the Canyon Lodge visitors center, which worked out at $28 for three to seven days, and we could drop it off at a location near Old Faithful on our last day in the park. This was cheaper than purchasing a can, especially given you can’t take it home on a plane.
11. Consider A Bear Bell
We also purchased a bear bell for $4 and followed the guidance to stay 25 feet away from bison and 100 feet from bears.
The guidance from the rangers was to hike with no less than three people. Since it was just the two of us, we thought the bell might be handy to create more noise while walking along less busy trails and paths.
12. Make Dinner Reservations In Advance
We had to settle for an early reservation at the Lake Yellowstone hotel and a late reservation at the Old Faithful Inn Dining room because we didn’t book until the week of our stay.
I highly recommend making dinner reservations as soon as you’ve booked your trip, as the dining rooms have limited seating and fill up quickly.
Also, If you’re planning on eating around Old Faithful, you may want to time your reservation around the time of an eruption since it tends to be quieter before all the crowds come in.
13. Yellowstone is Super Accessible
One thing that impressed me about Yellowstone National Park is its accessibility. Most of the major attractions are easily accessible by all ages and levels of mobility.
Since there is so much geothermal activity in the area, many paths are restricted by a boardwalk or defined trail. This means that it’s important for parents to watch little ones who might try to walk off the path. However, it also means that folks with mobility challenges can enjoy the sights and sounds of the park.
14. Don’t disturb the wildlife.
Unfortunately, we did see some people getting dangerously close to some of the bison in the area, which is a terrible idea. Visitors are injured every year because they get too close to the animals. It’s not worth risking your life for a photo!
Rounding up, Yellowstone National Park should be on your bucket list.
Yellowstone National Park exceeded my expectations. The things you’ll see in the park are unique, and the abundance of wildlife is hard to believe. I went into this trip thinking that Yellowstone wouldn’t live up to the hype, but I was glad to be proven wrong.
Have you been to Yellowstone National Park? If so, what are your recommendations?