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One of my favorite trips from this year was to Yellowstone National Park. I knew it would be impressive, it is the oldest national park in the world after all, but I was even more taken aback by its beauty once I saw it in person.
There is a lot of variety in the park, from geothermal attractions, to vast amounts of wildlife, deep canyons, waterfalls, and everything in between. I also didn’t realize just how big of a park it would be, sometimes taking me over 2 hours to get to the other side of Yellowstone. The park itself is mainly in Wyoming but also covers parts of Idaho and Montana, to give you an idea of its size.
This was especially the case when people would constantly stop in their cars and block the road for 15 minutes to take pictures of wildlife or the scenery. I’ve never been to a park where this happened as much as it did in Yellowstone, you just have to wait it out and be patient.
Because Yellowstone is such a large and popular national park, I put together a little list of the stops I recommend hitting, especially if it’s your first time. I managed to see all of these attractions in two days, but I unfortunately felt rushed during my stay. To truly appreciate what Yellowstone has to offer, give yourself a minimum 3 days of exploration.
The most famous attraction in the park, Old Faithful is a geyser that is known around the world. It’s the perfect attraction to start with, not only for its voracity but also because of how much of an icon it has become to the park and the many wonders to find here.
The name “Old Faithful” comes from the fact that the geyser is so reliable with its eruptions, erupting every 45 to 90 minutes at over 100 feet. The temperature of the water is close to 200 degrees fahrenheit. It is by far one of the more impressive and energetic geysers in the park.
There are walkways near the viewing of Old Faithful that will take you along the many other geysers and hot springs that are in the area. This part of the park alone, called the Upper Geyser Basin, has the highest concentration of geysers in the world – almost 1/4 of the geysers in the world are found here.
Midway Geyser Basin
Just north of Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin you’ll find the Midway Geyser Basin, full of the most colorful hot springs in the park. I actually enjoyed walking around this basin more since it was slightly less crowded and the vibrant colors mixed in with the steam were mesmerizing.
My favorite of the hot springs here was the Grand Prismatic Spring. I could barely tear myself away it was beautiful simply sitting there trying to pick out the reflective colors in the mist.
This stop is not a long one. It’s simply a boardwalk that you can stroll along and walk around the few hot springs and geysers. Just make sure to hold on to your hat, I saw many that had flown off and were sadly laying in the middle of the springs.
Mammoth Hot Springs
If you want to get even more of a taste of the history at Yellowstone, the Mammoth Hot Springs area in the Northwest corner of the park is a required stop. The north of the park in general seems slightly less populated, and there were groups of elk just hanging out next to the visitor center as I drove past. This is one of the oldest areas of the park, with some of the first buildings that were ever constructed at Yellowstone, so for history buffs alone it’s well worth a visit.
These northern geothermal wonders of the park have a different feel to them than the southern ones do. They somehow seem older, more layered, and can change their look drastically even in the course of a day. Terrace Mountain in the Mammoth Hot Springs area is the largest known carbonate-depositing spring in the world. You may have seen the popular Minerva Terrace in National Geographic before, for its colorful and ornate travertine formations that are ever changing.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Perhaps my favorite area of the park, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was one of those sights that my brain couldn’t quite process. It was so grand and magnificent. For some reason I didn’t realize that there were even waterfalls at Yellowstone until I arrived and saw something called the Grand Canyon, with an epic image of a huge waterfall cascading down a steep cliff edge. I knew I had to go immediately.
This was by far the most picturesque area of the park and there were plenty of short hikes to get different views and angles of the canyon. The canyon itself goes up to 4,000 feet wide and 1,200 feet deep. It’s 20 miles long and the Lower Falls cascade down a steep 308 foot drop. It’s truly a sight to behold and to spend a decent amount of time taking it in for yourself. And if the canyon and waterfall weren’t stunning enough, the canyon walls are stained in pastel pink, yellow, and orange hues from the natural minerals as well.
Lastly, a stop in Yellowstone wouldn’t be complete without venturing to the little visited Northeast corner of the park. This is the spot where the least amount of tourists will be found and therefore where you may see the most wildlife. There are hoards of bison that roam the fields in the northeast, and it’s also the best chance you’ll have at seeing the scarce gray wolves that call Lamar Valley home. Make sure to explore the valley at dawn if you want to see the wolves, that’s when they’re said to most likely be seen.
You’ll most likely see some sort of wildlife during your visit to Yellowstone, there’s no doubt about that, but if you want to experience it away from people and to see the rarer species in the park, this is the place to do it. It’s also the perfect spot to go on more off-the-beaten-path hikes. It’s that little slice of peace and quiet in one of the busiest parks in America.
Have you been to Yellowstone National Park before? What are your favorite national parks in America? Which area of Yellowstone sounds the most enticing to you?
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