Ulysses S. Grant and the United States Congress created Yellowstone National Park on March 1, 1872, making it the first national park in America. The park is significant not only for its age but also for its size, encompassing over 2.2 million acres in three states – Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.
Due to the park’s massive size, attempting to visit all the natural wonders contained within its borders can take weeks. Here are three sites that are not to be missed on your next trip to Yellowstone.
Old Faithful and the Upper Basin
Yes, Old Faithful is busy. Yellowstone National Park receives upwards of 4 million visitors each year, and the vast majority make a trip to the world’s most reliable large geyser. But this doesn’t mean you should skip it just because you might have to jockey for the best place to see it erupt. Old Faithful erupts every 44 to 125 minutes and blasts as much as 8,400 gallons of boiling water to heights of 145 feet—a dramatic, exciting, and dependable spectacle to observe.
Old Faithful can serve as your entry point to the Upper Geyser Basin, which features many other well-known geysers such as Daisy, Castle, Grotto, and Riverside. You can get away from the crowds at Old Faithful by taking a 1.4-mile walk to the Morning Glory Pool, a colorful thermal feature.
You can learn about the stratovolcano hidden beneath your feet at the Old Faithful visitor center. The stunning Old Faithful Inn, built in 1904, is also nearby if you want to stay the night in comfort.
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Many of the beautiful images on postcards from Yellowstone feature scenes from the stunning Grand Canyon area of Yellowstone. The canyon was formed by the eruption of the Yellowstone Caldera nearly 650,000 years ago and shaped by the subsequent lava flows and periods of glaciation that followed.
The canyon is nearly a mile wide, 20 miles long, and features some of the best hiking in the park. One of the best hikes in the area lets you meander through the canyon’s terra cotta-hued walls on the South Rim Trail. At the end you will find Artist Point, one of the most iconic viewpoints of the Yellowstone Falls.
You can see the Silver Cord Cascade, the tallest waterfall in the park, by hiking to the North Rim. Alternatively, you can look off the brink by the waterfall by following the Clear Lake-Ribbon trail. You can also see the geologic activity that shaped the park up close by checking out the vertical basalt overhangs and Overhanging Cliff.
Grand Prismatic Spring and The Midway Basin
Another site worth pushing through the crowd for is the Grand Prismatic Spring in the Midway Basin. The Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in America and the third largest in the world.
The heat created by the hot spring feeds micro-bacterial mats that give off vivid displays of color. These colors change as the climate changes over the course of the year, from green and red colors in the spring, orange to red in the summer, and dark green in the winter. These colors are contrasted by the stark blue of the center of the spring, which is sterile due to the extreme heat.
The Midway Basin is one of the smaller basins in Yellowstone but still features excellent hiking and opportunities to see wildlife. You can hike to the now dormant Excelsior geyser while keeping your eyes open for an opportunity to see bison, bighorn sheep, and white-tailed jackrabbits. To the direct north of the Midway Basin you will find the famous Fountain Paint Pots.