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8 Can’t-Miss Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park

Guest Post by Derek Edwards

Yellowstone National Park is one of the nation’s oldest and most famous national lands. And while it’s famous for a few key features (most notably Old Faithful), there’s plenty to see and do across this incredible region.

So if you’re currently in the midst of planning a road trip, here are some of our favorites things to see and do. Make sure you don’t miss out!

Old Faithful

Old Faithful

Old Faithful may be the most well-known geyser in the world. It’s certainly one of the most reliable. With around 20 eruptions every day, it’s the best chance most people will ever have to witness the power constantly surging beneath the earth.

The geyser spews hot water up to an average of 130-140 feet into the air, at intervals anywhere from 44 minutes to 2 hours apart. And while nature doesn’t keep to any human schedule, researchers have reached the point where they can predict when it will erupt, within 10 minutes, with a 90% level of confidence.

And while it can be hard to get a good seat, it isn’t hard to see the enormous plume of thousands of gallons of water.

Grand Prismatic Spring

Grand Prismatic Spring

Old Faithful may be the classic gem in Yellowstone’s crown, but the Grand Prismatic Spring is certainly no slouch. In many ways, this natural wonder may be the real showpiece of the park.

This is the largest hot spring in the United States, and the third largest on the planet. But the size alone isn’t what makes the spring impressive. Layers of different bacteria create brightly-colored rings in the water, giving off a striking rainbow effect. Seeing it up close, you may not get the same effect as an aerial photograph.

It’s far too large for you to really get a perspective on it all. But the shockingly vivid colors are worth seeing in person. They almost don’t feel natural, yet here they are, in nature!

Upper Geyser Basin

Upper Geyser Basin

While Old Faithful is certainly stunning, it’s far from the only geyser at Yellowstone. In fact, the area contains 25% of all of the geysers in the whole world! The cumulative effect of seeing all of those geysers can be stunning.

They may not erupt as frequently as Old Faithful, but it’s still something else to walk among them. And they each have their own quirks and schedules. For instance, Grotto Geyser doesn’t erupt often, but when it does it can keep going for hours at a time.

This alien, otherworldly trek is far less trafficked than the areas around Old Faithful and the Grand Prismatic Spring. And it’s also where you’ll find Morning Glory Pool, a vividly-colored pool that feels like a fun-sized version of the Grand Prismatic Spring.

The Upper Geyser Basin is always worth your while, but if there’s a long wait until the next Old Faithful eruption, then it’s an especially good trek to take. It’s a lot more fun to scope out Yellowstone’s other sights than it is to sit on a bench for two hours surrounded by tourists.

Fountain Paint Pot Trail

Fountain Paint Pot Trail

There are other kinds of hydrothermal features than just geysers and hot springs. There are also mudpots and fumaroles. At Fountain Paint Pot Trail, you can see examples of all four kinds of hydrothermal feature in one trek along the Lower Geyser Basin.

Fumaroles and mudpots don’t have as much water, but they’re still pretty dramatic. Fumaroles are holes in the Earth where steam and gases like carbon dioxide escape from underground.

A mudpot is like a spring or a fumarole, but with very limited water. Instead of seeing a pool, the acid and the bacteria melt the clay and dirt into a bubbling puddle of mud.

Both of these features can make you feel like you’re staring into a landscape on another planet, but they’re just two more examples of the ridiculous variety that our world’s geological activity provides us.

Camp in the Backcountry

Camp in the Backcountry

Of course, there’s more to do and see in Yellowstone than watch gas and water erupt from the ground. While the geothermal activity is what the park is most famous for, Yellowstone still sits on nearly 3,500 square miles of some of the most gorgeous land our country has to offer.

All sorts of trails criss-cross the diverse terrain that the park encompasses. You’ll need a backcountry camping permit.

And while you don’t need a reservation to camp in the backcountry in general, you can make one if there’s a specific campsite where you want to ensure you’ll have a place (Please note that whenever you’re camping in bear country, it’s important to take appropriate precautions.)

Swim and Soak

Swim and Soak

There aren’t a lot of places in Yellowstone where swimming is permitted. In the high, mountainous regions, the water poses a hypothermia risk. And in the natural hot springs, the temperatures can reach boiling.

For that reason (and to avoid upsetting the ecosystem) soaking in the springs isn’t allowed. But if you don’t mind an absence of lifeguards, there are a few places where you can go for a soak, with names like “Boiling River” and “Firehole Swim Area”. 

Go Fishing

Go Fishing

People have been fishing Yellowstone for over 100 years, and each year, 50,000 visitors plan a fishing trip and come to Yellowstone specifically for the fishing. You might be surprised to learn that you can fish in an area like Yellowstone, which is set up specifically to preserve nature.

But the areas anglers actually help with the wilderness preservation. When you get your fishing permit for Yellowstone, you’ll also get a Volunteer Angler Report card. By filling out a card for each visit to a lake, river, or stream, you can help support the park’s fisheries program. 

That’s not the only way that anglers can help. As nonnative species threaten to overtake the cutthroat trout and other native fish, anglers can combat this by returning any native fish that they catch, and by keeping any invasive species.

In fact, keeping native fish is prohibited, but there’s no limit on the number of nonnative fish that you can keep. 

See the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Over thousands of years, the Yellowstone River has carved a trench 1,000 feet deep in 20 miles of stone. The result is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

At the head of the canyon, dramatic puffs of steam serve as a sharp reminder of the area’s hydrothermal activity. Not that the breathtaking view needs any more drama.

The river’s path through the canyon includes two separate waterfalls, and sharp-eyed observers who can stand to peel their eyes away from the big picture may find ospreys flitting about the canyon, catching fish and tending to their nests.

About the author

Derek Edwards

Currently residing in Southern California of the United States, Derek Edwards is a budding outdoorsman and adventurist. You can follow along with his adventures over on his blog Outdoor with Derek.

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