15 Yellowstone National Park Must-See Attractions
Yellowstone National Park is not only the first National Park but also one of the most beautiful parks to visit in North America! Not to mention Yellowstone sits atop the largest super volcano in North America, but not to worry, the last eruption was around 640,000 years ago. While all of Yellowstone is breathtaking, here are 15 of Yellowstone’s must-see attractions!
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
- 15 Yellowstone National Park Must-See Attractions
- Grand Prismatic Spring (Midway Geyser Basin)
- Old Faithful Geyser
- Upper Geyser Basin
- Mammoth Hot Springs
- Boiling River Hot Springs
- Lamar Valley
- Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon
- Haydens Valley
- West Thumb Geyser Basin and Yellowstone Lake
- Norris Geyser Basin
- Fountain Paint Pots
- Artist Paint Pots Trail
- Getting Around Yellowstone
- Where To Stay In Yellowstone
- Yellowstone Must-See Attractions in Review
Grand Prismatic Spring (Midway Geyser Basin)
Grand Prismatic Spring is easily one of the top must-see attractions in Yellowstone! With vibrant golds, oranges, and blues, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before!
Grand Prismatic Hot Springs is the largest hot spring in the USA and the 3rd largest in the world! It stretches 370 ft in diameter and it’s as deep as a 10 story building!
Curious about how this spring gets its color? Like many of the springs in the park, thermophile (heat-loving) bacteria living in the cooler water around the spring giving the spring its colors.
The blue center is caused by water scattering the blue wavelengths of light more than others, reflecting blues back to our eye, according to the National Park.
Grand Prismatic Spring is a part of the Midway Geyser Basin. If you choose to view the spring from the boardwalk (no hiking involved), you also have the opportunity to see the Opal pool, Turquoise pool, and Excelsior Geyser Crater up close!
If you don’t mind a short and easy Yellowstone hike, the best view (in my option) would be from the Grand Prismatic Spring overlook. The trailhead starts at fairy falls for a total of 1.2-mile hike round trip.
Old Faithful Geyser
Old Faithful is considered the show-stopper of Yellowstone and is easily a must-see in the park! Since this Geyer is so popular, you will want to arrive at least 30 minutes before the scheduled eruption.
Old Faithful gets its name for being, well, faithful. It in faithfully erupts 22 times a day every day.
The eruption lasts from 1-5 minutes and can reach heights of 100-180 FT!
There is also an overlook view of Old Faithful, however, I think the boardwalk is better. While waiting, you can browse the museum or enjoy some delicious ice cream!
Upper Geyser Basin
Old Faithful is actually a part of the Upper Geyser Basin, where there are a ton of additional geysers to be seen. In fact, the highest concentration of geysers in the world can be found right here! The number of documented features in the Upper Geyser Basin is 1,392!
Starting near Old Faithful, you can walk the 4.9-mile loop trail to see additional geysers, including Morning Glory Pool, another very notable Geyser in Yellowstone National Park.
Mammoth Hot Springs
Another very unique and must-see attraction is Mammoth Hot Springs. These Travertine Terraces are formed from limestone, which gives a chalky white appearance. They basically look like a cave inside out. While people are no longer able to soak in the spring, they are still an incredible sight to see!
Boiling River Hot Springs
Looking to go for a swim in Yellowstone National Park? Then you will want to check out Boiling River Hot Springs which is near Mammoth Hot Springs! Because Yellowstone has high-elevation lakes and rivers, the temperatures tend to be very cold. However, due to Yellowstone’s hot springs that reach over boiling, there are some areas where these hot springs and rivers mix, making it perfect for soaking.
Update: Currently, no swimming or soaking is allowed until further notice.
Besides the Earth’s natural features in Yellowstone, the real show stoppers (in my opinion) are Yellowstone’s wildlife!
You will most likely see wildlife while driving through the park (especially bison). However, if you want to be treated with additional wildlife sitings, I would highly recommend making your way to Lamar Valley!
Located on the Northeast end of the park, Lamar Valley is specifically known to have great wildlife spottings and is even called America’s Serengeti.
While wildlife is never guaranteed, the best time to view wildlife in Yellowstone is dawn and dusk when temperatures are more comfortable.
During your visit, keep your eyes open for wolves, bison, grizzly bears, coyotes, deer, pronghorn, badgers, bald eagles, and osprey.
During the Winter, many roads close in the park, but Lamar Valley is open year-round!
Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon
Did you know Yellowstone has its own Grand Canyon, and grand it is! It’s one of the most picturesque areas in Yellowstone, and you can drive right up to all the action (no hiking required)!
Located in Canyon Village, you will find 2 stunning waterfalls and pastel canyons reaching 4,000 ft wide and 1,200 ft deep in some areas.
Lower Falls (my favorite) is a 308-foot waterfall and offers viewpoints with panoramic views of the Canyon. Viewpoints include the Brink of the Lower Falls, Lookout Point, and Uncle Tom’s Trail (temporarily closed).
Upper Falls spills at 109 ft high can be seen at the Brink of the Upper Falls or the Upper Falls viewing area by Uncle Toms’s Trail.
Haydens Valley is another must-see attraction in Yellowstone for tons of wildlife! If you plan on driving the lower loop, which has the most attractions anyways, you will likely drive through Haydens Valley!
Located North of Yellowstone Lake and Mud Volcano, be prepared to see tons of Bison! During our time driving through, we were also lucky to spot a coyote.
Again, the best time to see wildlife is dusk and dawn! However, we drove through around 2-3 pm and still saw tons of Bison.
Other visitors to Haydens Valley include grizzly bears, wolves, and waterfowl.
West Thumb Geyser Basin and Yellowstone Lake
Located in the Southeast area of the park, the West Thumb Basin and Yellowstone Lake are other must-see attractions in the park!
Walk the boardwalk to spot many geysers and hot springs, including Abyss Pool, Black Pool, Twin Geyser, Painted Pool, Lakeshore Geyser, and Fishing Cone, to name a few.
While West Thumb may be one of the smallest Geyser basins, it’s easily the most scenic being located right next to Yellowstone Lake. The hot springs are among the most colorful in the park, and elk visit this area.
Norris Geyser Basin
If you are loving the thermal features, you will want to add Norris Geyser Basin to your list! Did you know Norris Geyser Basin has the hottest and some of the most acidic in Yellowstone National Park?
During a visit, you can enjoy 2 trail loops, both of which are relatively short! The Porcelain Basin Trail (.75 miles) and The Black Basin Trail (1.5 miles) offer great views of the thermal features here.
Fountain Paint Pots
Fountain Paint Pot is one of the first Yellowstone attractions when entering from the West Gate. The trail leads you through petrified trees, hot springs, geysers, mud pots, and fumaroles all in one place!
The .5 mile boardwalk will give you a nice view of all the features, including Fountain Paint Pot, Red Spouter, Morning Geyser, and Fountain Geyser!
Artist Paint Pots Trail
Near Norris Geyser Basin, you will also find Artist Paint Pots Trail. This short hike will bring you through a grassy open field, then trees, and then finally, the paint pots. The trail is dirt and very large, making it easy for the whole family. At the overlook, you can see all the geothermal features and a nice view of the park. Consider checking this spot out closer to sunset!
Getting Around Yellowstone
Additionally, I’d recommend bringing an old-school GPS that works on Satellite like a Garmin or TomTom. There are many dead spots along Grand Loop Road where you will not have any cell phone reception.
I’d also recommend downloading the Yellowstone app that updates you with road closures, attractions, and maps.
Alternatively, if you rather someone else do the driving, you might be interested in taking a few tours that cover Yellowstone’s must-see attractions. You can find Yellowstone tours with Get Your Guide here!
Where To Stay In Yellowstone
Booking your Yellowstone accommodation is actually one of the first things you should do before mapping out your trip! This is because accommodations get booked over 1 year in advance, especially if you are looking to stay inside the park!
Staying Inside Yellowstone
Yellowstone has quite a few lodges inside the park including Old Faithful Inn, Canyon Lodge and Cabins, and Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Cottages. All Yellowstone Lodging can be booked directly of Yellowstone’s Official Website.
Alternatively, you can also camp inside the park! Use Yellowstone’s official website for campgrounds and RV lots!
Staying in West Yellowstone
If you cannot get a room in Yellowstone, or it’s out of the budget, plenty of hotels and vacation rentals surround the park. Again, these go quickly, so you must book in advance.
Since we were coming from Bozeman, Montana, we decided to stay in West Yellowstone, Montana at a vacation home.
The town is really cute, with tons of places to eat, and just about 5-10 minutes from the West Yellowstone Gate Entrance. This gate is also closest to most Yellowstone main attractions.
Some lodges to consider in West Yellowstone include:
Crosswinds Inn is one Booking(dot)com’s top picks with over 1.5k reviews! The lodge features a pool, and complimentary breakfast. It is located .9 miles from the West Yellowstone Entrance and just 30 minutes from Old Faithful!
Kelly Inn West Yellowstone is another top-rated hotel located in West Yellowstone. This hotel offers complimentary breakfast, an indoor pool, a hot tub, and a sauna. Kelly Inn is also pet-friendly and just a 3-minute drive from the Yellowstone entrance!
Staying in Gardiner, Montana
Gardiner, Montana is another popular choice outside of Yellowstone. It is located North of Mammoth Springs and is a good option if you are coming from Glacier National Park. View available lodging at Booking.com here!
Yellowstone Must-See Attractions in Review
This covers the best things to see in Yellowstone National Park! I hope you have the best time exploring the first US National park, and please remember to follow the park’s rules/guidelines and help keep the park clean by disposing of your trash correctly!