Spend a month in Yellowstone National Park (YELL), and it’s still not enough time to see everything this vigorous, magnificent landscape has to offer. From the planet’s largest concentration of geysers (and Earth’s largest geysers), to concentrations of megafauna not found anywhere else, the world’s first national park remains a premiere destination for Outsiders of all kinds.
Below, we’re breaking down the Top 10 Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park, including the best times to go and where to find each must-see. Let’s get to it!
10. Mammoth Hot Springs
Known for the incredible terraces of calcium carbonate seen above, Mammoth Hot Springs is unlike anything else you’ll ever see. Enter the park’s North Entrance and travel south to find this massive deposit. Centuries of scalding water pouring out from the Earth’s crust have made Mammoth into what it is today. It’s constantly changing, and will be a different sight altogether after another 150 years of Yellowstone history.
To see this “cave turned inside out,” as the National Park Service (NPS) calls it, Yellowstone has plenty of boardwalks available that lead straight to the most impressive formations. To avoid crowds, however, we suggest taking to the park’s Upper Terraces.
9. Wildlife Watching: Hayden Valley
There’s quite a few wildlife hotspots in Yellowstone, and Hayden Valley is among the best. Still open amidst 2022’s Yellowstone Flood recovery, this gorgeous valley is a staple for our national mammal: the North American bison. Here, the largest herds of free-roaming bison make their home. Elk, birds of prey, and coyotes also frequent the lush pastures.
Hayden Valley is also a great spot to see grizzly bears during the summer. For wildlife watching, take to the Grand Loop Road and hit up Yellowstone’s designated lookout points.
Trails are also available in Hayden Valley, including the Hayden Valley Trail that runs alongside the Yellowstone River.
Incredible wildlife aside, Hayden Valley also offers some of Wyoming’s most beautiful scenery:
How’s that for a full package? Hayden Valley Trail is no short jaunt, however, so be sure to plan a full day to hike it if you want to tackle the full 13+ miles.
8. Yellowstone Lake
Most lists leave out Yellowstone Lake, and many visitors tend to overlook it for the park’s more outlandish wonders. But we can’t recommend soaking this vast body of water in enough. And no journey is complete, the park says, “without a stop at West Thumb Geyser Basin!”
According to YELL, “This basin contains beautiful thermal features at the shore of Yellowstone Lake (and underwater, too!) with a view of the Absaroka Mountains. A crown jewel of West Thumb is Fishing Cone, a hot spring/geyser that emerges from the lake water’s edge. Fishing Cone was named for 19th century visitors who would “cook-on-the-hook” by swinging freshly caught trout into the cone to boil.”
Such a dangerous activity is no longer permitted, of course, as it was severely damaging to the geyser cone. But Fishing Cone still sports her geyser, which could start erupting again at any moment.
For fellow wildlife enthusiasts, Yellowstone Lake is also a great place to spot birds of prey like bald eagle and osprey as they hunt fish.
7. Grand Prismatic Spring: Crown Jewel of Yellowstone
The Grand Prismatic Spring is one of the park’s most photographed sights, and it’s not hard to see why. The largest hot spring in the United States and third largest in the world, GPS sports some of the most vibrant naturally-occurring colors on the planet. Central deep blues form as a result of the extreme heat that makes that water sterile. On the outer rim, vivid greens, yellows, oranges, and reds result from microbial mats and organisms that thrive on the mineral-rich water.
As gorgeous as she is, be sure to expect crowds when you visit the Grand Prismatic Spring. To dodge heavy foot traffic, the earlier you arrive the better. Or, avoid the crowds altogether by taking to Fairy Falls Overlook to see the basin from above:
Located in the Midway Geyser Basin, Grand Prismatic Spring measures 370 feet across. And at 121 feet deep, she’s not likely to dry up anytime soon.
6. Old Faithful & Upper Geyser Basin
Ah, Old Faithful. Few natural wonders of Yellowstone are as photographed, printed, or written about. This magnificent geyser is one of the largest geothermal features in the world.
Named in 1870 for its regularity, the massive geyser once erupted 20 times a day. In the last few decades, however, Old Faithful’s average time between eruptions has lengthened, causing around 17 eruptions a day. There’s no exact hourly-intervals for the eruptions. But still, Old Faithful erupts more frequently than any of Earth’s other large geysers. Get a better idea of when to expect these boiling explosions at the nearby visitor’s center.
To view Old Faithful directly, you can fight the crowds on perimeter boardwalks. Or better yet, take to the Observation Point hike to see the geyser from above with less foot traffic.
5. West Yellowstone’s Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center
This non-profit conservation center is an absolute gem. Located just outside the park’s West Entrance in West Yellowstone, Montana, the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center offers visitors a chance to see these incredible predators up close. Otters, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and birds of prey are also housed here; each animal holding sanctuary in the center as they couldn’t survive in the wild.
Like zoos, the wildlife within are ambassadors that teach us about these amazing animals in a safe environment. Never attempt to approach wildlife in Yellowstone National Park. If up-and-close is your thing, then the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center is for you.
*Tip: Visit in Yellowstone’s off season for a less-crowded Discovery Center visit.
4. Wildlife Watching: Lamar Valley
Entering through Yellowstone’s Northeast Entrance and head for the Tower-Roosevelt Area. There, you’ll find one of the best wildlife watching spots in North America: Lamar Valley. This haven of a valley, or “America’s Serengeti” as some call it, is positively teeming with bison. Bald eagles, wolves, and grizzly bears also call Lamar home, as this lush habitat fed by the Yellowstone River offers plenty of food for both predators and prey.
Use Beartooth Highway to access Lamar Valley, where a plethora of designated lookouts are available. Lamar Valley Trail is an excellent scenic walk, too, with 7 miles of sights to take in.
*Note: Please be aware that Yellowstone’s 2022 Flood Event caused significant damage in Lamar Valley. Some roadways were completely washed away. As the park continues rehabilitation throughout 2022, the valley is inaccessible to the public. But when it reopens, there’s sure to be a completely rejuvenated ecosystem waiting – and some spectacular wildlife watching!
And remember, Yellowstone National Park wildlife regulations require visitors to stay 25 yards away from megafauna like bison and elk at all times. 100 yards is the requirement for predators like grizzlies, black bears, and wolves.
3. Tackle Yellowstone National Park’s Best Trails
Yellowstone often highlights Avalanche Peak (above), one of the most incredible – and strenuous – hikes alongside Mount Washburn. They may be taxing, but each journey result in some of the best views in the country. Washburn’s trailhead is 16 miles northeast of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, so it makes for a good companion journey.
For a far less strenuous hike, however, Mystic Falls Trail is the way to go. Totaling 2.4 miles, the trail is chock-full of gorgeous scenery, including the cascading Mystic Falls and ancient conifer forests.
Take to Trout Lake for another fantastic set of views. Douglas fir trees and rocky cliffs are the name of the game for this trail, which shows off spectacular views of Yellowstone Lake.
But there’s no trail in Yellowstone National Park quite like Uncle Tom’s Trail…
2. Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone & Uncle Tom’s Trail
Whether you decide to climb the hundreds of steps up the cliffsides or not, The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is the one site you can’t miss in the world’s first national park.
Hundreds of thousands of years of erosion by the Yellowstone River carved out this magnificent yellow canyon. Located in the Canyon Village area, this is one of the most popular hiking destinations on Earth. It’s worth any crowds you may encounter, though. And that’s a promise.
While you’re inside the 1,000-feet deep canyon, the world seems a lot bigger. Stretching 4,000-feet across, Yellowstone’s own Grand Canyon highlights one central feature; one which takes the #1 spot on our list.
1. Lower Falls Is Peak Yellowstone National Park
The largest waterfall in Yellowstone (and one of the biggest in North America), Yellowstone’s Lower Falls is a sight like nothing else. Clocking in at a staggering 309-feet, millions of gallons of water churn down the Yellowstone River to create this magnificent spectacle; one often laced with a rainbow.
, in fact, the biggest waterfall in Yellowstone, and most certainly the most famous in the national park. Coupled with the Yellowstone River’s Upper Falls (a beautiful 109-foot wonder), the parks Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone makes for some of the best waterfall viewing on Earth.
Artist’s Point offers one of the best and most direct views of Lower Falls. To get there, head east of Canyon Village. From there, a one-way loop drive leads to the brink of the Grand Canyon. Four official viewpoints are available, the last of which leads to the top of the Falls – something the most adventurous souls won’t want to miss.
For more on Yellowstone National Park, head on over to our Top 10 Things to Know About Yellowstone National Park next.