Yellowstone – Top travel spots

Yellowstone is a treasure that inspires awe in travelers from around the world so we complied an Yellowstone top travel spots list for you.

So “What are the spots I must see when I visit Yellowstone?” Yellowstone National Park is vast and varied, and visitors have different interests and abilities, so there is no one easy answer.

However, we have compiled a general list of the top attractions in Yellowstone that we feel will be helpful. It is designed to serve as a starting point for planning your visit. We suggest allowing at least 3 days to visit the Park.

Yellowstone top travel spots

#1 Old Faithful Geyser/Upper Basin

#1 Old Faithful Geyser/Upper Basin

One of the first travel spot in Yellowstone is Old Faithful. The name says it all. Old Faithful is the most popular attraction in Yellowstone National Park, and everyone who visits for the first time should watch this most famous of geysers erupt. Although neither the highest or most regular geyser in the Park, it is spectacular. Also, take an hour or two to walk around the boardwalks and visit some of the many other geysers in the Upper Geyser Basin, such as Castle, Grotto, Riverside and Daisy. And be sure to take the 1.4 mile walk to Morning Glory Pool, one of the most colorful thermal features in all of Yellowstone. In addition, be sure to visit the Old Faithful Inn, which is the single most impressive human structure in Yellowstone. And finally, bison and elk can oftentimes be spotted grazing in the area.The Old Faithful area features the Upper Geyser Basin, home to the most famous attraction in Yellowstone, Old Faithful Geyser.

Old Faithful erupts more frequently than any of the other big geysers, although it is not the largest or most regular geyser in the park. Its average interval between eruptions is about 91 minutes, varying from 65 – 92 minutes. An eruption lasts 1 1/2 to 5 minutes, expels 3,700 – 8,400 gallons (14,000 – 32,000 liters) of boiling water, and reaches heights of 106 – 184 feet (30 – 55m). It was named for its consistent performance by members of the Washburn Expedition in 1870. Although its average interval has lengthened through the years (due to earthquakes and vandalism), Old Faithful is still as spectacular and predictable as it was a century ago.

Following is a map of the Old Faithful area:

Yellowstone Old Faithful Map

#2 Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

#2 Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Lower Falls and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is one of the travel spots you should not miss – Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon may not be as big as the Grand Canyon in Arizona, but it is nonetheless breathtaking. The Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon, at 308 feet high, is one of the most photographed features in all of Yellowstone. There are numerous vantage points on both the North and South sides of the Canyon, and we recommend that you take the time to view the Canyon from both sides. Also, be certain to take the 3/8 mile (one way) hike down to the edge of the Lower Falls. The experience at the lip of the falls is breathtaking.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is the primary geologic feature in the Canyon District. It is roughly 20 miles long, measured from the Upper Falls to the Tower Fall area. Depth is 800 to 1,200 ft.; width is 1,500 to 4,000 ft. The canyon as we know it today is a very recent geologic feature. The present canyon is no more than 10,000 to 14,000 years old, although there has probably been a canyon in this location for a much longer period. The exact sequence of events in the formation of the canyon is not well understood, as there has been little field work done in the area. The few studies that are available are thought to be inaccurate. We do know that the canyon was formed by erosion rather than by glaciation. A more complete explanation can be found in the Geological Overview section. The geologic story of the canyon, its historical significance as a barrier to travel, its significance as destination/attraction, and its appearance in Native American lore and in the accounts of early explorers are all important interpretive points. The “ooh-ahh” factor is also important: its beauty and grandeur, its significance as a feature to be preserved, and the development of the national park idea.

The specifics of the geology of the canyon are not well understood, except that it is an erosional feature rather than the result of glaciation. After the caldera eruption of about 600,000 years ago, the area was covered by a series of lava flows. The area was also faulted by the doming action of the caldera before the eruption. The site of the present canyon, as well as any previous canyons, was probably the result of this faulting, which allowed erosion to proceed at an accelerated rate. The area was also covered by the glaciers that followed the volcanic activity. Glacial deposits probably filled the canyon at one time, but have since been eroded away, leaving little or no evidence of their presence.

Mapped below are a variety of hiking trails in the Canyon area.

Yellowstone Lower Falls and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

#3 Hayden Valley

#3 Hayden Valley

This valley, centrally located in Yellowstone National Park, is the first travel spot to go to see wildlife in Yellowstone. As you drive along this beautiful, broad valley you are likely to see herds of bison, scattered elk (and the occasional herd), and the occasional grizzly bear. You are also likely to see waterfowl, including ducks, Canadian geese and pelicans, swimming in or lounging near the Yellowstone River.

There are a number or roadside turnouts along the Hayden Valley, offering views on both sides of the road. The Yellowstone river is positioned on the east side of the roadway.

The Hayden Valley was once filled by an arm of Yellowstone Lake. Therefore, it contains fine-grained lake sediments that are now covered with glacial till left from the most recent glacial retreat 13,000 years ago. Because the glacial till contains many different grain sizes, including clay and a thin layer of lake sediments, water cannot percolate readily into the ground. This is why the Hayden Valley is marshy and has little encroachment of trees.

#4 Mammoth Hot Springs

#4 Mammoth Hot Springs

This is Park headquarters and it radiates history, featuring some of the oldest buildings in the Park, including structures from the days when the U.S. Army was managing Yellowstone. Be sure to drop by the Visitor’s Center and allow enough time to watch a film, browse the history exhibit, and walk through the upstairs wildlife museum. In addition, Mammoth Hot Springs Terrace is quite magnificent, and the Terrace drive is a must. Finally, be sure to look for the seemingly ever-present elk grazing on the green lawns of Mammoth Village.

Mammoth Hot Springs are the main attraction of the Mammoth District. These features are quite different from thermal areas elsewhere in the park. Travertine formations grow much more rapidly than sinter formations due to the softer nature of limestone. As hot water rises through limestone, large quantities of rock are dissolved by the hot water, and a white chalky mineral is deposited on the surface.

Although visitors are sometimes confused by the rapidly shifting activity of the hot springs and disappointed when a favorite spring appears to have “died,” it is important to realize that the location of springs and the rate of flow changes daily, that “on-again-off-again” is the rule, and that the overall volume of water discharged by all of the springs fluctuates little.

Following is a map of the Mammoth area:

Yellowstone Mammoth Hot Springs Map

#5 Yellowstone Lake

#5 Yellowstone Lake

This is the largest high-altitude lake in the lower 48 states, and it is breathtaking in grandeur. As you follow the long shoreline both east and north, you will see snow-capped mountains rising across the lake. On windy days, ocean-like waves break onto the shore. Be sure to visit Lake Village and walk through the Hotel. You might also want to sit on the porch of Lake Lodge and take in the view.

Following is a map of the Yellowstone Lake area:

Yellowstone Lake map

#6 Norris Geyser Basin

#6 Norris Geyser Basin

One of Yellowstone National Park’s most popular geyser basins, Norris is home to Echinus (one of the Park’s most popular geysers) and Steamboat (the world’s tallest geyser). In addition, there are several miles of boardwalks from which you can explore dozens of multi-colored thermal features. Finally, elk and the occasional bison can sometimes be spotted in the area.

#7 Lamar Valley

#7 Lamar Valley

This wide, expansive valley is home to bison, elk, coyote, grizzly and wolf, and is must-visit area for serious wildlife watchers. Bison and elk are readily visible, and coyotes can oftentimes be spotted. Visitors who are willing to rise early in the morning or wait up until dusk also may have the opportunity to see bears and wolves. In fact, Lamar Valley is the #1 destination for viewing wolves. There are also abundant fishing opportunities in the Lamar Valley.

The valley is rather remotely located in the northeast corner of the Park, otherwise it would receive a higher ranking in our Top Ten.

#8 Tower Fall

#8 Tower Fall

This is the most popular waterfall in Yellowstone other than the Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon. The waterfall is located behind the General Store. A short walk will take you to an overlook, but we also recommend you take the short-but-steep hike down to the base of the waterfall.

Tower Fall is also a popular winter travel spot. It is accessible via cross-country skies or snowshoes by following the Roosevelt Junction to Tower Fall road.

Tower Fall is 17 miles north of Canyon or two miles south of Roosevelt. During the winter months, the frozen falls are accessible via cross country skies.

#9 Lower Geyser Basin

#9 Lower Geyser Basin

This is the most popular waterfall in Yellowstone other than the Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon. The waterfall is located behind the General Store. A short walk will take you to an overlook, but we also recommend you take the short-but-steep hike down to the base of the waterfall.

Tower Fall is also a popular winter destination. It is accessible via cross-country skies or snowshoes by following the Roosevelt Junction to Tower Fall road.

Tower Fall is 17 miles north of Canyon or two miles south of Roosevelt. During the winter months, the frozen falls are accessible via cross country skies.

#10 West Thumb Geyser Basin

#10 West Thumb Geyser Basin

This geyser basin features some interesting thermal features, including several which are in Yellowstone Lake itself. It also offers a good view of the Lake.

Several hiking trails begin at the basin, and bison, elk and bears frequent the area. The basin is a favorite stopping point for snowmobilers and snowcoaches in the winter months.

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