Yellowstone National Park

Location: Wyoming, with a slight overlap into Montana.

Park Tally: 32/59

Orientation: Yellowstone is a world renowned park, celebrated for its scenic views, abundant wildlife, hydrothermal features and opportunities for adventure. The park has five entrances, allowing for access from various parts of America’s northwest. Once in the park, visitors can choose to explore various sections, with the most popular being Old Faithful, Mammoth Hot Springs, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and the Lamar Valley.

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Yellowstone has a very interesting geological history, past and present. The park is actually located on top of an active volcano, with three major eruptions occurring within the past two million years. The many hydrothermal features and seismic activity within the park attest to the heat that rests below Yellowstone, with 1000-3000 earthquakes occurring per year. Some scientists actually consider Yellowstone to be a “supervolcano” – meaning that it is capable of an eruption of more than 240 cubic miles of magma.

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Most iconic view:  Yellowstone has many famous locations, though the most well-known is probably Old Faithful Geyser and nearby Old Faithful Inn. Visitors flock to see Old Faithful Geyser erupt every 60-110 minutes, with water spurting as high as 184 feet into the air. The eruptions normally last between 1.5 to 5 minutes and up to 8,400 gallons of water can be expelled – it is quite the sight!

The Old Faithful area has numerous short and longer walking options for sights of the active geothermal region. The National Park Service place signs in front of some of the geysers, providing predictions of eruptions. Be sure to check out the Morning Glory Pool for a colorful display.

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Nearby Old Faithful Inn opened in 1904 and is the largest log hotel in the world. The historic structure boasts a multi-story log lobby, flanked by long frame wings containing guest rooms and other facilities. The Inn was the first of the great park lodges of the American west, and continues to be a favorite for many.

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Accessible activity: The park offers an abundance of options for easy-going sight-seeing and day trips. Located in the Midway Geyser section of the park, Grand Prismatic Hot Spring is a popular place to explore. The area offers scenic views via a boardwalk trail, allowing visitors to experience the springs’ colors and steam rising from the surface of the water. Grand Prismatic is the largest hot spring in the United States, and the third largest in the world (at 220 x 300 feet and 120 feet deep).

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Lamar Valley is a worthwhile scenic and accessible drive in the park. This wide, extensive valley is home to wolf, grizzly bear, bison, elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and coyote. Lamar Valley’s beautiful expanse of open space allows for views of the Lamar River and impressive mountain peaks. You can experience the Lamar Valley from your car, making it the perfect outing for a range of Yellowstone’s visitors. Though, beware of the “bison-jams!”

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For the adventurous: The best way to get off-the-beaten-path in Yellowstone is to head into the backcountry for an overnight camping trip. The park offers numerous trails and camping options (301 backcountry campsites in total!) – though be sure to pick up a permit in advance at one of the Visitor Centers, Ranger Stations or Backcountry Office.

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Best photo opportunities: Photographers come from all over the world to capture the beauty of Yellowstone. One of the more popular shooting locations is the Lamar Valley, particularly for those interested in wildlife photography. The trick is to be up early and stay out late if you want the greatest chance to see more allusive animals such as bear and wolf. We thoroughly enjoyed driving through the Lamar Valley during sunrise and sunset, stopping frequently along the way to photograph wildlife and stunning landscapes.

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Quick facts

  • Yellowstone was established as the world’s first National Park in 1872.
  • The park covers 3,472 square miles, making it larger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined.
  • When Yellowstone National Park was first created, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana were not yet states. This resulted in little opposition of the park proposal from regional government business interests. The park was said to be a “breathing place for the American lungs”.
  • Prior to European settlement, the greater Yellowstone area was home to many native tribes, who have a traditional connection to the land and its resources. Some of these tribes include the Blackfeet, Cayuse, Coeur d’Alene, Bannock, Nez Perce, Shoshone, and Umatilla.
  • Yellowstone is made of up 80% forest land, 15% grassland, and 5% water coverage.
  • There are more than 500 active geysers in the park (more than half the world’s geysers).
  • There is more free-roaming wildlife in the park than there is in the 48 lower states of America combined – wrap your head around that!
  • Wolves were reintroduced to the park in 1995 (after a 70-year absence), which improved Yellowstone’s ecology dramatically. Some of the benefits included helping to increase beaver populations and bring back aspen and other vegetation.
  • In 2016, Yellowstone had 4,257,177 visitors – making it one of the most popular national parks in the United States.

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