Article Overview: Best Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is the grandaddy of them all, America, and the world’s, original national park. Yes it was here that America’s best idea originally came to life.
Everyone who has ever though of going to a national park has heard of Yellowstone. It’s as ubiquitous with the term “national park” as the image of a park ranger’s hat.
So of course you’re planning a trip to this timeless outdoor destination! Scroll on to find out everything you need to know to get the most out of your next trip to Yellowstone National Park.
Table of Contents: Best Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park
Table of Contents: Best Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park
- About Our Travels to Yellowstone National Park
- Things to Know Before You Visit Yellowstone
- Best Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park
- 1. Lower Yellowstone Falls
- 2. Old Faithful
- 3. Grand Prismatic Spring
- 4. Lamar Valley
- 5. Hayden Valley
- 6. Mammoth Hot Springs
- 7. Biscuit Basin
- 8. Upper Geyser Basin
- 9. Norris Geyser Basin
- 10. West Thumb Geyser Basin
- 11. Go Wolf Watching
- 12. Stay at a Historic Lodge
- 13. See the Roosevelt Arch
- Summary of the Top 10 Best Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park
- Map of Things to Do at Yellowstone National Park
Why Trust Us About Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park?
I’m Will Pattiz and along with my brother Jim, we’re collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers (and sometimes the Parks Brothers) and we absolutely LOVE the national parks.
You should probably know that we don’t just make this stuff up out of thin air. We’ve spent our entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, USDA, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues. Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
Things to Know Before You Visit Yellowstone
Yellowstone Entrance Fees
Entrance Fees are $30 per vehicle OR if you plan to visit more National Parks within the next 12 months we suggest you go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be purchased at any national park) and gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more including 2,000 sites for free after a one time $79 fee.
Cell Service at Yellowstone
Cell Service is hit or miss throughout the park. The visitors centers have service along with the lodges and areas around main roads. As you get further away from developed amenities the service tends to dissipate.
Best Yellowstone Guide Book
Best Guide Book is this one which can help you plan on the fly once you’ve embarked on your road trip.
Best Yellowstone Map
Map: The best map for Yellowstone is without a doubt this one by National Geographic.
Getting to Yellowstone National Park typically involves planning a great American roadtrip (we have a whole guide on that here). However, if you want to get straight there your best bet is flying directly into Jackson Hole Airport (JAC). A close runner up airport is Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN) in Montana. It pays to check which is cheaper both for flights and rental cars.
Stay on the Trail
Stay on marked trails! Seriously, in this park leaving designated trails can result in death due to the abundance of geothermal features in the area. Often what might appear like solid ground is not and can give way resulting in tragedy.
Crowds at Yellowstone National Park
Be prepared for crowds. Unless you’re visiting in the winter, be prepared for some serious crowds. Yellowstone is an iconic global travel destination and there’s no avoiding what comes with that.
Best Time to Visit Yellowstone
Best Time to Visit Yellowstone National Park is in the fall. With the hectic and cramped summer season over and kids back in school visitation to the park tapers off and access becomes much easier. The fall also provides excellent wildlife viewing opportunities and fall foliage.
Where to Stay at Yellowstone
We’ve compiled a list of the best places to stay at Yellowstone here.
Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park
Top 5 Best Things to Do at Yellowstone
1. See Lower Yellowstone Falls
There are so many things to do and see in Yellowstone, but my favorite is taking in the staggering beauty of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Lower Yellowstone Falls.
The best spot to see Lower Yellowstone Falls from is from Artist Point. The name is a bit of a misnomer as Thomas Moran’s famed Yellowstone paintings are from what is today called Lookout Point, nonetheless Artist Point provides the best vantage of the canyon and falls in all their glory.
2. Admire Old Faithful
You can’t go to Yellowstone and not see Old Faithful. This venerable geyser has been reliably erupting high into the sky for centuries and is a wonder to behold.
Stop in and grab a bite at the Old Faithful Inn before you saunter over to the geyser and take in it’s awesome power.
3. Explore Grand Prismatic Spring
The largest hot spring in the United States and in my opinion the most beautiful in the world.
Walk the boardwalks of this otherworldly hot spring and peer into its depths as you read interpretive signs telling you all about how this natural wonder was formed and just what is going on beneath your feet.
Some people get it into their heads that they should fly their drones above this incredible geothermal feature to get a better perspective – this is illegal!
It’s also offensive to the park and Americans who care about our national treasures.
4. Lamar Valley
Lamar Valley is one of the best places in the park to spot wildlife. Bears are frequently seen here, along with foxes, coyotes. and the park’s elusive wolf packs.
Around sunrise and sunset are the best times to see wildlife in any part of the park and the Lamar Valley is no exception. Bear jams are common here in the summer as tourists flock to areas where they might have a chance at spotting a grizzly.
Just be patient and use pullouts when possible. And remember to always keep a safe and respectful distance from all wildlife in the park.
5. Discover Hayden Valley
While the Lamar Valley offers opportunities to see a wider variety of wildlife, the Hayden Valley can sometimes offer more reliable opportunities to see bison, elk, and even bears.
After sunset is usually the best time to find yourself a spot here and watch the golden light sweep through the valley as you search for signs of wildlife.
Hayden Valley is easily accessed from Canyon Village and is the perfect sunset excursion if you happen to be staying in that area.
Top 10 Best Things to Do at Yellowstone National Park
6. Marvel at Mammoth Hot Springs
As you can see from the picture above Mammoth Hot Springs is a very unique hot spring that’s been drawing onlookers for more than a decade.
The intricate terraces of the springs are formed from the geothermal activity going on just beneath the surface.
The Lower Terraces provide the best walking and viewing opportunities of the springs.
Boardwalks and paved paths will take you by some amazing geothermal features along with plenty of interpretive signs explaining what exactly it is you’re looking at.
7. See the Wonders of Biscuit Basin
Biscuit Basin is a great spot to get away from the crowded areas and enjoy a lesser-known and beautiful geyser basin.
There’s ample hiking trails and plenty of spots to enjoy the beauty of Yellowstone’s geothermal wonders without the crowds that are so common in other areas of the park.
8. Explore the Upper Geyser Basin
The Upper Geyser Basin is probably the most popular area in the park – and with good reason! Here you’ll find Old Faithful, but you’ll also find countless other geysers and geothermal pools and springs.
The entire area is accessible via a 3-mile paved loop trail that is perfect for visitors of all abilities. You’ll find plenty of fascinating features and interesting interpretive signs as you wind your way through the basin.
9. Check Out Norris Geyser Basin
Yet another geyser basin in Yellowstone with so much to see. Here you’ll find Steamboat Geyser, the tallest known geyser in the world.
There’s a myriad of hiking trails throughout the area that will take you to all kinds of interesting pools and geysers.
Make sure to always stay on the trail! Leaving the trail is extremely dangerous and has lead to visitor deaths in the past.
Top 15 Best Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park
10. Head Over to West Thumb Geyser Basin
Even though this is a smaller geyser basin it’s not one to overlook. Abyss Pool and Black Pool are must-sees along with many other fascinating features found here.
You’ll also be treated to views of Yellowstone Lake.
The area used to be home to a gas station, cabins, a cafeteria, and campgrounds, but those were removed in the 1980’s in order to protect the area and ensure future generations will be able to enjoy the basin unimpaired.
11. Go Wolf Watching at Lamar Valley
It’s no easy feat to see a wolf in the wild, but at Yellowstone, if you know where and when to go, you may just get lucky.
The Lamar Valley area is your best bet to see wolves in action here. Sunset and sunrise are almost always the best times to see wildlife and wolves are no exception. A spotting scope or binoculars also help!
12. Stay at a Historic Lodge
Yellowstone is the world oldest national park and is home to some wonderful old lodges that can almost make you feel like Theodore Roosevelt brush past you on your way to be seated.
The best of these venerable park lodges is the Old Faithful Inn (pictured above).
13. See the Roosevelt Arch
For National Park connoisseurs this is a must. It’s here that Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone of the archway to America’s first national park. The inscription on the arch reads, “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people” and stands as a monument to America’s best idea.
Summary of the Top 10 Best Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park
- Lower Yellowstone Falls
- Old Faithful
- Grand Prismatic Spring
- Lamar Valley
- Hayden Valley
- Mammoth Hot Springs
- Biscuit Basin
- Upper Geyser Basin
- Norris Geyser Basin
- West Thumb Geyser Basin
- Wolf Watching
- Historic Lodges
- Roosevelt Arch
Map of Things to Do at Yellowstone National Park
Helpful Articles Related to Things to Do at Yellowstone National Park
Things to Do Yellowstone: 15 BEST Things to Do Yellowstone National Park
The Lamar Valley: Lamar Valley: A Trip to Yellowstone’s Best Wildlife Viewing Spot
Yellowstone Facts: 10 AMAZING Yellowstone National Park Facts
Best Airports Near Yellowstone: The BEST Airports Near Yellowstone National Park
The Wyoming National Parks: 10 EPIC Wyoming National Parks: The Complete Guide (+ Photos)
Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone: Driving Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone National Park Road Trip
Grand Teton Hikes: 18 EPIC Grand Teton National Park Hikes (Photos + Guide)
Grand Teton Guide: Grand Teton National Park Ultimate Guide
Grand Teton Maps: The Best Maps for Grand Teton National Park
Tips for Visiting Yellowstone National Park (or any national park)
Permit Systems and Reservations
Check to see if the national park you’re visiting has a permit or reservation system in place before visiting. As parks become increasingly crowded more has to be done to safeguard them which means controlling the hundreds of millions of people who visit these places each year.
Popular national parks with reservation systems of some kind include Yosemite, Yellowstone, Zion, Rocky Mountain, Glacier, Arches, Acadia, Denali, and more.
Want Less Crowds? Try a National Forest!
Try visiting a national forest while you’re on your trip to avoid the crowds. There are 155 national forests in America, many of which are equally as beautiful as the national parks they neighbor and only see a fraction of the visitors.
For example, try the Flathead National Forest next to Glacier National Park, the Bridger-Teton next to Grand Teton, and the Dixie which borders nearly all of the Utah National Parks.
Practice Safety, Seriously
National parks are amazing but wild places so it is essential to practice basic safety while visiting them. Every year people die while vacationing in national parks. This is easily avoided by:
- Sticking to trails
- Checking the weather before going out on a hike
- Maintaining a safe distance between wildlife which means at least 25 yards from most wildlife and 100 yards from predators
- Avoid ledges with steep drop offs
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