Yellowstone National Park, located over a volcanic hotspot, is known for its exploding geysers such as the famous Old Faithful, colorful hot springs, and active Yellowstone Caldera, a supervolcano that has continued to explode with lava over the past two million years. Although Wyoming is the most popular state for visiting Yellowstone, the park is so expansive that it stretches into the neighboring states, Montana and Idaho, and boasts a wide array of landscapes, including mountains, rivers and lakes, waterfalls, hot springs, meadows and grasslands, thermal pools, and geysers. The region also has several hundred species of plants and animals, many of which are endangered or threatened, and as part of the Greatest Yellowstone Ecosystem, it serves as one of the most famous ‘natural’ laboratories still studied today.
One of the biggest tourist draws to Yellowstone National Park is the Old Faithful Geyser; while it’s a sight worth visiting, there are many other areas to take advantage of the natural beauty of the park along with a slew of recreational activities. Head to Mammoth Hot Springs for a tour of the history of Fort Yellowstone from 1886 and catch a glimpse of the hot spring terraces or bike along the Old Gardiner Road. Check out the Tower-Roosevelt Area where nature enthusiasts can hike to Tower Falls, take a class at the old Lamar Buffalo Ranch, scope out the wildlife across Lamar Valley, hike along the Bannock Trail, take in the breathtaking views at Calcite Springs Overlook, discover the petrified trees in Black Canyon, or have a drink at the historic Roosevelt Lodge. The Norris Area is also a great place to spot the Geyser Basin, the thermal pools near Roaring Mountain, the waterfalls at the Virginia Cascades, and the Norris-Canyon Blowdown – a 22-mile-long area filled with fallen pine trees; there’s also fly-fishing in the Gibbon River and the Norris Canyon Basin Museum for the history buffs. Other popular areas for sightseeing and activities include Canyon Village, Madison and West Yellowstone, Old Faithful, Lake Village, Fishing Bridge, Bridge Bay, and Grant Village & West Thumb.
There’s also plenty of backcountry hiking – with over 300 backcountry campsites and 1,000 miles of trails – boating, cycling, fishing, guided tours, campfire programs and walks, horseback riding, llama packing, picnicking, and wildlife viewing with over 67 species of mammals and 330 species of birds. Although peak season is during the summer months, the park still sees many visitors year-round, including winter when there’s cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, snowcoach tours, and snowshoeing. For more details on which facilities are open throughout the year, or regulations on permits, visit the National Park Service website.
Yellowstone has plenty of options for overnight stays – from camping to various lodging facilities. There are 12 ‘front-country’ campgrounds with RV parking, plus 300 additional backcountry campsites. There are also nine lodges throughout the park, including the Canyon Lodge & Cabins, Grant Village, and the Lake Lodge Cabins – with two lodges open during the winter. If you are planning on visiting during peak season, be sure to reserve a spot early; for the last-minute visitors, check out the nearby towns for more accommodations.
For dining adventures while visiting Yellowstone, having a picnic at any of the 53 picnic areas throughout the park is recommended, and there are plenty of stores open for grocery purchases, including the Canyon General Store, the Fishing Bridge General Store, and the Lake Hotel General Store. For a more refined dining experience, there’s the Canyon Lodge Dining Room, the Grant Village Restaurant, the Lake Yellowstone Hotel Dining Room, and the Old Faithful Inn Dining Room, amongst many others – there’s also an array of delis, cafeterias, and casual dining spots. During winter, the Mammoth General Store serves lunch on weekdays, and the Mammoth Hotel Dining Room, Old Faithful Snow Lodge Geyser Grill, and Old Faithful Snow Lodge Dining Room are open for regular dining.