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Top Ten Things To Do In Yellowstone Park
Yellowstone National Park is HUGE, and for first time visitors to this amazing national park, it can be a bit over whelming when trying to figure out where to go and what to see. To help with this seemingly impossible task, we have listed below what we feel are the “Top Ten Things To Do in Yellowstone Park“. We’ve spent over 40 years exploring and discovering Yellowstone Park, and we’ve learned not only through our own personal experience, but also through talking with thousands of visitors throughout the years, what the “must sees” are for Yellowstone National Park visitors.
Yellowstone Park Road System: The Grand Loop
Before I start with the actual list, I want to briefly explain how the road system works in Yellowstone National Park. There are five entrances to Yellowstone Park: the West Entrance at West Yellowstone Montana, the North Entrance at Gardiner Montana, the Northeast Entrance at Cooke City and Silver Gate Montana, the East Entrance near Cody Wyoming, and the South Entrance located between Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park.
All of these Yellowstone Park entrances connect to what is known as “The Grand Loop”, which is the road system that runs throughout Yellowstone Park. The Grand Loop is basically round, with a connecting road from Norris Junction to Canyon that cuts half way through the middle of the loop from west to east.
“The Grand Loop” essentially takes you to all of the main attractions in Yellowstone Park, and was a brilliant design created over one hundred years ago. In our opinion, they couldn’t have designed it better…. it’s truly a perfect road system for visitors to explore Yellowstone Park.
Our “Top Ten Things To Do in Yellowstone Park” are all found along The Grand Loop. To make things organized and simple, we will list these “must sees” in the order they are found along The Grand Loop starting at the North Entrance, and going clockwise around the loop….
Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs is located just about 5 miles south of the North Entrance of Yellowstone Park. This iconic area is not only famous for the amazing Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces, but it is also a wonderful place to observe wildlife, such as elk, grizzly bears, black bears, big horn sheep, buffalo, wolves and much more. In fact, often times you’ll see a large elk herd laying on the lawn in the center of town.
In addition to the amazing hot springs terraces, Mammoth Hot Springs is also home to the historic Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins, a visitor center, restaurant, post office, general store, gift store, gas station, and the Mammoth Hot Springs Campground, which is the only campground in Yellowstone National Park that is open all year round. In addition to all of this, Mammoth Hot Springs is also the official Yellowstone National Park headquarters.
Tower Fall / Roosevelt Area
Located about 18 miles east of Mammoth Hot Springs at Tower Junction, the Tower Fall / Roosevelt Area was President Teddy Roosevelt’s favorite area in the entire park. This special place is located in the heart of what is called the “northern desert”. It’s called a “desert” because this area receives the least amount of snow and rainfall in Yellowstone Park. The terrain is vast yet quite mountainous, and is covered in a mix of Douglas fir trees, junipers, cedars, and ancient sage brush.
Located at the Roosevelt Area is the historic Roosevelt Lodge and Cabins, as well as stage coaches that take visitors on a fun stage coach ride and an authentic cowboy cookout. There is also guided horseback rides available. So if you’re looking for that feeling of the “Old West”, and if you want to explore the “cowboy” in you while visiting Yellowstone Park, then the Roosevelt Area is the place for you.
Just up the road from the Roosevelt Lodge is Tower Fall, which is a gorgeous waterfall that is well worth the effort to see. Near Tower Fall is a restaurant and a really nice gift shop, as well as the popular Tower Fall Campground. The road between Roosevelt Lodge (at Tower Junction) and Tower Fall is extremely scenic, as it looks down upon the might Yellowstone River in a deep canyon.
There is usually plenty of wildlife in the Roosevelt / Tower Fall Area as well, including black bears, grizzly bears, wolves, elk, moose, deer and big horn sheep, just to name a few.
Tower Junction is also the “Gateway to the Lamar Valley”, which is a famous stretch of road between Tower Junction and the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone Park near Silver Gate and Cooke City Montana. Because this road is not actually part of The Grand Loop, the Lamar Valley is not officially on our list of the “Top Ten Things To Do in Yellowstone Park“, but it should be, so we’re going to talk about here anyway….
Located between the Roosevelt / Tower Fall Area and the Northeast Entrance near Silver Gate and Cooke City Montana, lies the world famous Lamar Valley. The Lamar Valley has been called “America’s Serengeti” because of the amazing abundance and variety of wildlife found in this incredible river valley. Buffalo, elk, wolves, grizzly bears, black bears, pronghorns, big horn sheep, river otters, bald eagles, moose and much more call all be found in the Lamar Valley, so anyone who enjoys viewing wildlife should plan on spending some time in this famous valley. Again, since the Lamar Valley is not directly located on The Grand Loop, it’s not officially on our “Top Ten Things To Do in Yellowstone Park“, but it very well should be, so we always include it when talking about our favorite Yellowstone Park “must sees”.
Mount Washburn / Dunraven Pass Area
About 11 miles south of the Roosevelt / Tower Fall area, along The Grand Loop, is the Mount Washburn / Dunraven Pass Area. Another one of our “Top Ten Things To Do in Yellowstone Park“, Mount Washburn is located between Tower Fall and Canyon Area. Dunraven Pass, which rests on the southwestern flank of Mount Washburn, is the highest point along The Grand Loop.
As this winding road works its way higher and higher up the slopes of Mount Washburn, you’ll find a trailhead that takes you up to the Mount Washburn Lookout. From the observation deck of this lookout tower, you can practically see all of Yellowstone National Park. So if you like to hike and like amazing views, you should definitely take this scenic hike up to the Mount Washburn Lookout… and by the way, there is a good chance that you’ll see bighorn sheep along this amazing trail.
Approximately 8 miles south of Mount Washburn along the Grand Loop is another of our “Top Ten Things To Do in Yellowstone Park“, and that is the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Located in the Canyon Area, this breathtaking canyon is one of the top highlights of Yellowstone National Park. Paved roads will take you along the north and south rims of this world famous canyon, and along these roads are incredible pullouts, overlooks and trails. One of the most world-renowned overlook is Artist Point, which is probably only second to Old Faithful Geyser as the most photographed spot in Yellowstone Park.
Lower Falls, a thundering waterfall that is 308 feet tall, pours millions of gallons of the Yellowstone River each day at the head of the canyon, and is without question one of the most iconic, classic and recognized views of Yellowstone National Park… In fact, probably equal to Old Faithful Geyser erupting. There is a hiking trail that actually takes you to the brink of these magnificent falls.
The amazing Hayden Valley of Yellowstone Park is found just south of Canyon, and just like the Lamar Valley, it is known for its incredible variety and abundance of wildlife. Through the heart of Hayden Valley flows the meandering Yellowstone River as it leaves Yellowstone Lake and works its way to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. This wide valley is extremely scenic, and you’ll be quite amazed at the wildlife viewing opportunities found in this awe-inspiring valley.
The Lake Area of Yellowstone National Park is another top highlight of Yellowstone National Park, and is definitely among our “Top Ten Things To Do in Yellowstone Park“. The Lake Area includes Yellowstone Lake, Fishing Bridge, Lake Yellowstone Hotel, and Bridge Bay Campground and Marina. Located just south of Hayden Valley along The Grand Loop, all of the just mentioned attractions in the Lake Area are “must sees”, and well worth your time to explore and enjoy.
Yellowstone Lake is the largest high altitude lake in North America, and it’s HUGE! And the historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel rests along its northern shore. This charming hotel captures the 1920’s era of Yellowstone Park, and is something you just have to see…. it’s wonderful!
Fishing Bridge is just east of Lake Yellowstone Hotel, and it crosses the Yellowstone River just after it leaves Yellowstone Lake. This historic bridge is an iconic symbol of Yellowstone National Park, and is a definite “must see” during your Yellowstone Park vacation.
West Thumb Geyser Basin
Located west of the Lake Area along The Grand Loop, is the West Thumb Geyser Basin. The drive along the north shore of Yellowstone Lake from the Lake Yellowstone Hotel all the way to the West Thumb Geyser Basin is a treat all by itself. The West Thumb Geyser Basin is home to several beautiful geyser pools, and there are even geysers located on the floor of Yellowstone Lake near the shore. The board walk takes you along this fascinating shoreline, and you’ll see the famous Fishing Cone Geyser, where in the old days, fishermen and women would stand along the side of the cone, catch a trout with their fishing pole, and plop the trout into the cone. The boiling water would cook the fish while it was still on the hook!!!
Old Faithful Area
What can we say about the Old Faithful Geyser Area? It is without question the most famous place in Yellowstone Park, and probably the most visited. Located along the Grand Loop between the West Thumb Geyser Basin and Madison Junction, the Old Faithful Area is home to the world-renowned Old Faithful Geyser and Old Faithful Inn. Also in the area is a new visitor center, as well as the Old Faithful Lodge, Old Faithful Snow Lodge, restaurants, gift shops, and much more. Just beyond the front door of the historic Old Faithful Inn is the incredible Upper Geyser Basin, where boardwalks will take you to an amazing array of geysers such as Morning Glory Pool, Castle Geyser, The Grotto Geyser and Grand Geyser just to name of few. The Old Faithful Area is at the very top of the list of our “Top Ten Things To Do in Yellowstone Park“.
“Geyser Row” is located just north of the Old Faithful Area along The Grand Loop, and is home to several world famous geyser basins such as Black Sand Geyser Basin, Biscuit Basin, Midway Geyser Basin and Lower Geyser Basin. Nestled next to the Firehole River, ALL of these incredible geyser basins are “must sees” while vacationing in Yellowstone National Park. Iconic geysers such as Grand Prismatic Spring, Emerald Pool, Sapphire Pool and Excelsior Geyser Crater are just a few of the famous and wondrous geysers located at “Geyser Row“.
Madison Junction Area
Found along The Grand Loop about 8 miles north of “Geyser Row” is the Madison Junction Area. As one of our “Top Ten Things To Do in Yellowstone Park”, the Madison Junction Area is home to what is known as “America’s Campground”. I might be a little partial because the Madison Campground is where my family would spend several weeks every summer throughout my entire childhood, but I believe it just might be one of the most beloved campgrounds in the country. Nestled next to the legendary Madison River, the Madison Campground is definitely one of the most popular in Yellowstone National Park.
And just about a mile south of Madison Junction, along The Grand Loop, is the fascinating Firehole Canyon Drive. This drive is not only scenic, but is also where a really fun swimming area is located on the Firehole River.
And just west of Madison Junction, between Madison Junction and West Yellowstone Montana, is the awe-inspiring Madison Canyon, which is not part of The Grand Loop but is well worth the 14 mile trip into West Yellowstone if you have time for it.
Norris Junction Area
The main attraction at Norris Junction is unquestionably the remarkable Norris Geyser Basin. This vast geyser basin is the hottest and most volatile basin in Yellowstone Park, and is home to Steamboat Geyser, which is the world’s largest geyser.
Also found near Norris Junction is the popular Norris Campground, located along the banks of the glorious Gibbon River, and several miles north of Norris Junction are attractions such as Roaring Mountain, which can be enjoyed on your way back to Mammoth Hot Springs to the north.
So there they are…our picks for the “Top Ten Things To Do in Yellowstone National Park“. Of course there are countless other attractions that Yellowstone National Park offers its visitors, and are all absolutely amazing, but we wanted to make a very complicated and overwhelming task much simpler, and that is to help visitors know what the “must sees” are while they are vacationing in the world’s first national park.
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