Top 10 Things to Know About Yellowstone National Park: PHOTOS

by Jon D. B.
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Sporting its own Grand Canyon and half the world’s geysers, Yellowstone National Park‘s 150-year legacy is one of unimaginable wonder.

Want to see America’s only prehistoric bison herd? Or bask in 290 waterfalls; some over 300-feet high? It’s all possible in Yellowstone, a place like no else that’s shaped the United States in immeasurable ways. Below, we’re breaking down the top 10 things to know about this premiere national park. It’s a near-impossible task, but one Outsider’s up to, so let’s get to it.

10. Yellowstone National Park is Larger Than the State of Rhode Island

A view of the Lower Falls at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone National Park. (Photo: MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP via Getty Images)

In the first season of Paramount’s Yellowstone, we’re told John Dutton’s ranch is “larger than the state of Rhode Island.” This is, no doubt, a reference to the size of the show’s namesake. Yellowstone National Park is a whopping 2,221,766 acres, which is indeed far larger than the states of Rhode Island.

In fact, the park is larger than both the states of Rhode Island (775,900 acres) and Delaware (1,265,920 acres) combined. Visitors have access to around 1,000 miles of hiking trails in Yellowstone as a result. Hundreds of waterfalls, geysers, mountains, canyons, and forests surround them; all of which feature in the incredible highlights below.

9. Humans Have Inhabited Yellowstone For 11,000 Years

U.S. President Chester A. Arthur and Party Crossing Lewis Fork, Snake River, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA, Photograph by Frank J. Haynes, 1883. (Photo by: Glasshouse Vintage/Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

America’s fascination with the area isn’t new, either. Centuries of archeological digs tell us that human history in the Yellowstone region dates back more than 11,000 years. There’s a whole lot of science to support this history, too, with over 1,800-known archeological sites extant in the national park alone.

According to the Department of the Interior (DOI), the earliest intact archeological findings in the park were discovered on Yellowstone Lake’s shores. A veteran of the Lewis & Clark expeditions, John Colter, was the first American to explore these sites. Colter was so taken with Yellowstone that he began to sing its praises with anyone who would listen. But it’s a place others must see to believe. Non-believers coined the name “Colter’s Hell” as an early moniker for Yellowstone in a time before many other Western folk could put eyes on this outlandish-sounding ecosystem; one boiling over “hellish” geysers and otherworldly sites.

8. Half of Earth’s Hydrothermal Features are Found in Yellowstone

View of the ‘Sunset Lake’ hot spring with it’s unique colors caused by brown, orange and yellow algae-like bacteria called Thermophiles, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images)

Colter wasn’t incorrect in his assessment of the area, either. Incredibly, half of our planet’s total hydrothermal features are within Yellowstone. In total, the national park preserves over 10,000 of these features. This includes world-famous hot springs, mudpots, fumaroles, travertine terraces, and more than 500 active geysers (which account for over half of Earth’s geysers, as well).

Morning Glory hot spring in the Upper Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. (Photo: MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images)

And we have thermophiles to thank for those vibrant colors seen above. These tiny microorganisms live inside the boiling water of hydrothermal features. Thermophiles (their name meaning “heat loving”) concentrate in such large numbers that they create the brilliant hues we humans associate with Yellowstone’s boiling waters.

7. Beneath the Surface of Yellowstone National Park is a Supervolcano

All that boiling water isn’t an accident, either. In fact, one of the world’s largest active volcanoes heats Yellowstone from below. It’s responsible for many-a-doomsday theory, too, as an eruption would eradicate the northwestern United States and alter all of North America.

When the first major eruption of the Yellowstone volcano occurred roughly 2.1 million years ago, it covered almost 6,000-square-miles of the continent in ash. As one of the largest known volcanic eruptions in Earth’s history, it marks Yellowstone as a supervolcano.

Thankfully, around 70,000 years have passed since lava last breached the surface. But the U.S. Geological Survey, University of Utah, and the National Park Service (NPS) all hold the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory together in order to monitor Yellowstone’s volcanic and seismic activity… Just in case.

6. Old Faithful’s Name Is a Bit Misleading

Yellowstone National Park, Old Faithful Geyser erupting. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The most famous hydrothermal feature created by the supervolcano is Old Faithful. As iconic as the park’s bison and waterfall vistas, Old Faithful is one of the most photographed natural features in the world. But she’s not quite as faithful as her moniker implies.

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.

5. Yellowstone’s Roosevelt Arch Was Built in 1903 by the US Army

In the early 20th century, Yellowstone’s Gardiner entrance was the premiere gateway into the national park. This is where the iconic Roosevelt Arch was built.

In 1903, then President Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone of the structure in an impressive ceremony attended by thousands of guests. Using hundreds of tons of columnar basalt native to the park, US Army at Fort Yellowstone engineers completed the arch to rise 50-feet-high; ensuring it could be seen for miles around.

At the top, the arch reads “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People.” This is a quote from the Organic Act of 1872, the legislation responsible for the creation of Yellowstone National Park. Fascinatingly, the designer and initiating creator of the arch remains a mystery to this day.

4. Yellowstone National Park Houses America’s Only Prehistoric Bison Herd

USA, Wyoming, Yellowstone, National Park, UNESCO, World Heritage, Lamar Valley, Bison herd. (Photo by: Dukas/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Theodore Roosevelt also played a crucial hand in the park’s bison conservation. During the same time his arch was being constructed, North American bison were so near the brink of extinction that early American conservationists had to interbreed bison with domestic cattle to keep them from completely dying out. In the U.S., only in Yellowstone National Park have the same herds of bison continuously lived since prehistoric times as a result.

Their plight was so bad, in fact, that Roosevelt would change his entire outlook on life based solely on his experience hunting bison. A lifelong hunter, Roosevelt saw the destruction U.S. settlers had wrought on the land’s bison first-hand in the Dakota Territory (before the Dakotas were states) in 1883. As a result of his experience, he would return to New York to found the American Bison Society with William Hornaday in 1905 to prevent the species’ total annihilation.

Roosevelt kicked off the U.S. conservation movement as a result, with a primary focus on the iconic megafauna. Today, Yellowstone remains the premiere bison destination in America – for better or worse.

3. There Are Almost 300 Waterfalls in Yellowstone

View of the lower falls of the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, United States. (Photo by: Wolfgang Kaehler/Avalon/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Bison are far from the only natural wonders in Yellowstone. Throughout the park, you’ll find around 290 waterfalls. Some, like Undine Falls (named for the wise sprites residing near waterfalls in European mythology) drop an impressive 60 feet. Others, like the park’s immense Lower Falls, dwarf our wildest expectations with 300-foot drops.

Lower Falls is, 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.

But don’t let Lower Falls take all your attention. The gorgeous Gibbon Falls is an easy drive from the park’s West Yellowstone entrance. Tower Falls, too is a sight to behold as it plunges 132 feet into the Yellowstone River below.  

And all that water makes for mammoth planet-altering erosion for said Grand Canyon.

2. See the Grand Canyon… In Yellowstone National Park

That’s right: Yellowstone has its own Grand Canyon. The remarkable Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was created by erosion from the Yellowstone River over millions of years. It may not be the Arizona wonder, but Yellowstone’s canyon is over 1,000 feet deep and 1,500-4,000 feet wide, and easily the most impressive sight in the park.

Stretching for 20 miles, endless views are possible from the ancient landmark. The canyon has been one of the most photographed views in Yellowstone since photography was invented, and it’s not hard to see why.

1. Yellowstone is the World’s First National Park

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Visitors walking the boardwalk at the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces. (Photo credit: NPS / Jacob W. Frank)

And no Yellowstone National Park list would be complete without mentioning the park’s world-altering legacy. In 2022, Yellowstone celebrates 150 years of parkhood, continuing it’s tenure as the world’s first national park.

Founded in 1872, the Act of March 1, 1872 would establish the world’s very first national park, Yellowstone (YELL), in the Montana and Wyoming Territories. The park’s original, government-stated purpose, was as “as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people” – as the Roosevelt Arch states.

A forming United States would take notice, however, turning the tide of Yellowstone’s purpose to the conservation of American lands. The entire world would take notice, too, as Yellowstone’s founding began an international national park movement.

Today, more than 100 nations contain around 1,200 national parks. And it’s all thanks to Yellowstone.

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