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! However, with crowds being what they are these days, planning is essential and choosing the best things to do in Yellowstone National Park for your itinerary is important.
Scroll on to find out everything you need to know to get the most out of your next trip chocked full of the best things to do in Yellowstone National Park.
Ready to get started? Let’s go!
Things to Do in 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
- Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park
- Why Trust Us About Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park?
- Things to Know Before Visiting Yellowstone
- Top 5 Best Things to Do in Yellowstone
- Top 10 Best Things to Do at Yellowstone National Park
- Top 15 Best Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park
- Top 20 Best Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park
- 3 Day Yellowstone National Park Itinerary
- Summary of the Top 10 Best Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park
- Map of Things to Do in 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.
US National Parks List & Map
Check out our Complete List of National Parks with comprehensive resources for each one including FREE National Parks Maps, best hikes & trails, interesting facts, amazing things to do, & more.
Things to Know Before Visiting 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.
Top 5 Best Things to Do in Yellowstone
1. See Lower Yellowstone Falls
There are so many things to do in Yellowstone, but a personal favorite for me 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.
Just watching raw power of this two-tiered waterfall as the Yellowstone River plunges first 108 feet at the Upper Falls and then an awe-inspiring 308 feet at the Lower Falls is something else. Yellowstone Falls is the tallest in the Rockies and offers a striking contrast to the geysers and hot springs.
Plan your visit for early morning or late afternoon when the lighting conditions conspire create a picture-perfect rainbow in the mist of the falls. If you’re up for a hike, the Brink of the Upper Falls trail takes you to the top of the waterfall and offers a unique, up-close perspective on the rushing waters.
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.
Old Faithful erupts almost hourly or about 20 times a day so if you’re patient, you will get a chance to see its fully majesty.
Get up early and see the geyser around sunrise for the lowest amount of crowds (there will still be lots of people). Later in the day (by 9am) the area is absolutely slammed.
3. Explore Grand Prismatic Spring
The largest hot spring in the United States (and in my opinion the most beautiful in the world) is a must add to your list of things to do in Yellowstone National Park.
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.
Again, as with most of things to do in Yellowstone, get here as early as possible to avoid the crowds. One pro tip is parking at the Fairy Falls Trailhead and walking the overlook trail which gives you the best view of the spring itself with slightly less crowds.
4. Lamar Valley
Lamar Valley is one of the best places in the park (and the world) to spot epic 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.
The Lamar Valley is a great addition to your list of things to do in Yellowstone for families with children eager to see wildlife.
Interested in visiting? Check out our article for a more comprehensive guide on the Lamar Valley.
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.
Hayden Valley is one of the lesser visited spots (all things considered) and a great addition to your list of things to do in Yellowstone National Park to escape the massive crowds.
Top 10 Best Things to Do at Yellowstone National Park
6. Marvel at Mammoth Hot Springs
As you can see from the picture below, Mammoth Hot Springs is a very unique hot spring that’s been drawing onlookers for a very long time.
The intricate terraces of springs here 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.
This is a good afternoon addition to your list of things to do in Yellowstone as the crowds here aren’t as difficult to manage as those found at Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic.
7. See the Wonders of Biscuit Basin
Nestled within the Upper Geyser Basin, Biscuit Basin is a bit of a hidden gem, less frequented than its famous neighbor, Old Faithful, but no less remarkable.
As you wander the boardwalk trail that weaves through the basin, you’ll marvel at the otherworldly colors of the hot springs. Sapphire Pool, a must-see, will likely catch your eye first with its deep blue hue and crystal-clear water. Don’t let the serene appearance fool you, though – this beautiful pool can occasionally turn into a geyser, reminding us of the volatile and dynamic nature of Yellowstone.
One of the historical curiosities of Biscuit Basin is that it was named after the unusual biscuit-like deposits that used to surround Sapphire Pool. Unfortunately, a significant eruption in the 1950s swept away these formations, but the name has endured, adding a dash of mystery to your visit.
The Biscuit Basin loop trail, a 1-mile hike that will take you through a variety of landscapes, including forested areas and a beautiful overlook of the Firehole River, is a good way to explore the area.
Remember, the ground in these areas can be dangerous, so always stay on the designated boardwalks and trails. Add this one to your list of things to do in Yellowstone to avoid the crowds!
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 many of the top things to do in Yellowstone.
Embarking on an adventure through the Upper Geyser Basin is like stepping into the pages of a captivating storybook where the characters are played by the world’s most incredible geysers. The star of the show, of course, is Old Faithful, famous for its predictability and awe-inspiring eruptions. However, the ensemble cast, with members like Castle, Grotto, and Grand Geysers, each hold their own unique charm and fascination.
The boardwalk trails meander through this geothermal wonderland, providing you with an up-close view of the unique formations, boiling pools, and erupting geysers. Be sure to take your time exploring. The magic of this place isn’t just in the big eruptions, but also in the delicate mineral formations, the steam rising off a hot spring on a cool morning, and the unique sound each geyser makes.
9. Check Out Norris Geyser Basin
Yet another geyser basin in Yellowstone with so much to see – I promise you there are other things to do in Yellowstone but these places each are worth the visit.
Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest and oldest of Yellowstone’s thermal areas, with a landscape that feels like it could belong to a different planet. The basin is divided into two sections: Porcelain Basin and Back Basin. Porcelain Basin offers a surreal, almost lunar landscape with its barren, white ground and steaming vents, while Back Basin is home to more forested areas and the tallest active geyser in the world, Steamboat Geyser.
As you wander the trails through Norris, you’ll be struck by the range of colors in the hot springs and by the geysers that can erupt at any moment. Keep your eyes peeled for Echinus Geyser, which, although less predictable than it used to be, offers a remarkable eruption when it does go off.
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
West Thumb Geyser Basin, though smaller than some other basins in Yellowstone, punches well above its weight in terms of scenic beauty and unique features. Located on the edge of Yellowstone Lake – the largest high elevation lake in North America – West Thumb offers a blend of aquatic and geothermal attractions that are pretty sensational.
From the boardwalk, you’ll have a chance to see geysers, hot springs, and even some fumaroles right by the water’s edge. Be sure to check out Abyss Pool, known for its deep blue color and significant depth, and Fishing Cone, a geyser located right in the lake where early park visitors used to catch a fish and cook it in the hot water!
Take your time exploring West Thumb. It might be smaller than some of the other basins, but it’s brimming with fascinating sights.
The area used to be home to a gas station, cabins, a cafeteria, and campgrounds, but those were removed in the 1980s in order to protect the area and ensure future generations will be able to enjoy the basin unimpaired.
11. Go Wolf Watching
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.
Known as America’s Serengeti, Lamar Valley is a world class wildlife viewing destination located in Yellowstone National Park. In the Lamar Valley you’ll find bison, elk, pronghorn, grizzly bears, moose and the valley’s most iconic animal, wolves.
Seeing a wolf in the Lamar Valley is on many a national park fan’s bucket list (it was on mine for a long time until my first sighting a few years ago).
While these animals are not always easy to spot there are certain locations and techniques to know about that will definitely improve your odds of seeing one.
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.
14. Mount Washburn Hike
Strapping on your hiking boots and taking on the Mount Washburn trail is another one of the best things to do in Yellowstone to beat the crowds. As you ascend the well-maintained trail, you’re treated to an ever-changing tapestry of wildflowers with panoramic views at the summit that are nothing short of breathtaking.
On a clear day, you can see across much of the park, including the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Hayden Valley. Keep an eye out for bighorn sheep, which often graze on the mountainside.
15. Hike to Tower Fall
Another great consideration for your list of things to do in Yellowstone National park is seeing Tower Fall.
The journey to Tower Fall is a remarkable trek filled with the sounds of rushing water, the scent of pine trees, and the awe-inspiring sight of the 132-foot waterfall plunging into the Yellowstone River.
Nestled in the Tower-Roosevelt area of the park, the fall is named for the towering rock pinnacles at the top of the waterfall. Witnessing the power and beauty of this waterfall, particularly in the early morning light, is a memory you’ll cherish long after your visit.
Top 20 Best Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park
16. Indulge In a Fly Fishing Paradise
If you’re a fly fishing enthusiast, Yellowstone National Park is heaven. With its diverse ecosystem and wide array of fish species, it offers some of the best fly fishing spots in the world.
Imagine wading into the crystalline water with a rod in hand, mindful of the delicate life underfoot. The beauty of Yellowstone isn’t just in its big, grand, wide-open landscapes. It’s in the subtle details, the intricate dance of ecosystems, and the mystery of these waters teeming with trout.
Standing amidst the rushing streams, you cast your line, as if casting a spell, patiently awaiting the moment of connection between man, rod, and fish. It’s not just about the catch, it’s about the anticipation, the thrill of the chase, and the deep respect for the life that thrives in these waters.
Now that we’ve got you in the moment, here’s some tips to help you plan your fly fishing trip at Yellowstone:
- Know the Top Spots: Each section of the park boasts some incredible fly fishing destinations. In the northwest, consider the Firehole River, Gallatin River, or Gibbon River. The northeast features the Lamar River and Soda Butte Creek, while the southwest and southeast are home to the Bechler River and Snake River, respectively, among many others.
- Understand the Seasons: The Firehole River, in particular, is a great spot for early-season fishing. Thanks to nearby geysers that warm the water, the snow melts faster here than at other rivers. The best fishing here is in the early spring, but as summer approaches, the water can become too warm for trout. The Lamar River in the northeast is another excellent option, with various sections offering different pros and cons. Soda Butte Creek, a tributary of the Lamar River, is also worth checking out for cutthroats, cutbows, and rainbows.
- Prepare for Challenges: Some rivers, like the Gibbon River, may offer a more challenging experience with fast-running water and rough pockets. However, this can make the fishing experience even more thrilling and enjoyable, with the opportunity to catch a variety of rainbow, brook, and brown trout, and even grayling.
- Check the Fishing Season: Yellowstone National Park has a set season for fishing, which typically begins on Memorial Day weekend and lasts until the first Sunday in November. Fishing is allowed from sunrise to sunset during the season. Keep in mind that certain areas may be closed from time to time due to water levels and fish populations.
- Get a Permit: Before you can start fly fishing in Yellowstone, you’ll need to obtain a permit. These are available at all ranger stations, visitor centers, and Yellowstone General Stores. Permits for those aged 16 and older cost $18 for three days, $25 for seven days, and $40 for an annual permit. Younger anglers must either fish with an adult who holds a valid
17. Black Sand Basin
Black Sand Basin, located just a mile from the famous Old Faithful, is a lesser-known but equally fascinating geothermal area. The basin is home to a collection of hot springs and geysers, including the colorful Emerald Pool and the frequently-erupting Cliff Geyser.
Walking the short boardwalk loop through the basin, you’ll be captivated by the vibrant colors and the steamy, mystical atmosphere. Each step on the boardwalk reveals a new wonder, reminding you of the volcanic forces simmering just beneath your feet.
18. Firehole River Swimming Area
If you’re visiting Yellowstone in the summer and looking for a fun way to cool off, make sure to stop by the Firehole River Swimming Area. Located on the Firehole Canyon Drive, this spot offers a chance for a refreshing dip in the river’s clear waters.
The river is warmed by the geothermal features of the park, making it a comfortable swimming spot. As you float in the water, surrounded by the stunning canyon scenery, you’ll feel a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
19. Yellowstone Lake Paddling
Yellowstone Lake is the largest body of water in Yellowstone National Park, and it offers a serene and scenic kayaking experience. Paddling on the lake gives you a new perspective of the park and an opportunity to escape the crowds while marveling at its geothermal features from a distance.
The best time of the year to kayak on Yellowstone Lake is during the summer months, specifically in July and August. During this period, the weather conditions are more favorable, and the chances of encountering a sudden storm on the water are less.
If you don’t own a kayak, don’t worry – there are several places where you can rent one. You can choose to go on an adventure with a guide or even go solo, which offers an incredible sense of freedom to explore Yellowstone Lake at your own pace
Keep in mind, the lake can be quite cold, even in the summer, so appropriate clothing and safety gear are a must.
20. Yellowstone’s Junior Ranger Program
The Junior Ranger Program is a fun and educational way for kids to learn about the park’s ecology, geology, and history. Frankly it’s one of the best programs the National Park Service manages instilling the importance of conservation ethos in our nation’s future.
Participants engage in a variety of activities, earn badges, and even take a pledge to protect the park and its wildlife. It’s an activity that’s both entertaining and enriching for young park visitors.
3 Day Yellowstone National Park Itinerary
- Morning: Start your day early by exploring the Mammoth Hot Springs. The area is less crowded in the mornings, and you can take your time to explore the terraces.
- Afternoon: Head over to Lamar Valley for a picnic lunch and spend the early afternoon wildlife watching. Remember, this is a prime spot for viewing bison, wolves, and other wildlife, especially in the late afternoon and early evening.
- Evening: Head to Tower-Roosevelt area and explore the Tower Fall.
- Night: Consider stargazing if the weather permits. Yellowstone’s night sky is breathtakingly beautiful due to minimal light pollution.
- Morning: Begin your day with a visit to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Hike the trails along the canyon and make sure to view the Lower Yellowstone Falls via Artist Point.
- Afternoon: Travel down to Hayden Valley. It’s another excellent spot for wildlife viewing, with a high concentration of grizzly bears.
- Evening: Visit the West Thumb Geyser Basin. It’s less crowded in the evening and you can enjoy the sunset over the lake.
- Night: Return to your lodging and rest for the night.
- Morning: Start early and head to the Old Faithful area. You can explore the Upper Geyser Basin while waiting for the next eruption.
- Afternoon: After lunch, make your way to the Midway Geyser Basin to see the Grand Prismatic Spring.
- Evening: Finish your trip with a visit to Yellowstone Lake. The Lake area is serene and a perfect place to wind down.
FAQ – Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park
I would recommend spending a minimum of two days at Yellowstone National Park while three days would be more optimal. The park is massive and many of the top things are a considerable distance apart.
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
- Mount Washburn Hike
- Hike to Tower Fall
- Fly Fishing
- Black Sand Basin
- Firehole Swimming Area
- Yellowstone Lake Paddling
- Junior Ranger Program
Map of Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park
Pin Things to Do in Yellowstone 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
Consider Visiting Grand Teton as Well!
Helpful Articles Related to Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park
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Yellowstone Facts: 10 AMAZING Yellowstone National Park Facts
Where to Stay in Yellowstone: Where to Stay in Yellowstone – Best Hotels + Helpful Guide
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
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