Yellowstone National Park
THE BEST IDEA AMERICA HAS EVER HAD
The world’s first National Park is one of the planet’s most unique collections of geography, geothermal activity, and wildlife. Once-common North American animals such as bison, grizzly bears, and wolves live here among other large species just as they did when the first European explorers arrived to document this strange and wonderful place. Thousands of geysers surround historic lodges, mountains, rivers, and canyons that make Yellowstone one of the most spectacular places in America to experience the natural world.
Geysers and Hot Springs
As close as two miles beneath the surface, nearly-molten rock keeps things interesting in the Yellowstone Caldera. More than 10,000 thermal features (geysers, mud pots, hot springs, and steam vents) make Yellowstone truly unique, and many of them are accessible via the Park's network of boardwalks.
Superheated water and steam spew hundreds of feet into the air from Old Faithful and numerous other geysers. Colonies of bacteria give the mineral-rich waters of hot springs–like Grand Prismatic–colors that have to be seen to be believed. And, as they have for thousands of years, calcium deposits continue to build mountains at Mammoth Hot Springs.
Getting Around the Park
Compared to many other National Parks, Yellowstone is very car-friendly, but visitors should be prepared to take it slowly. Frequent 'bear jams,' and 45 mph speed limits dictate a leisurely pace through the Park. Many companies offer tours by bus in the summer or by snowmobile and snowcoach in winter. The Park also boasts more than 1,100 miles of hiking trails, and several outfitters offer guided trips into Yellowstone’s backcountry on horseback.
Millions of people drive Yellowstone’s scenic roads each year (the road leading from Gardiner, Montana to Mammoth Hot Springs is even kept plowed all winter long), but the park offers as much adventure as travelers are looking for.
The most popular activity in Yellowstone is simply watching nature. The views at places like the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and its waterfalls are worth short walks to viewing platforms, and bison and other wildlife are easily seen from the car in areas like the Lamar Valley.
Many of the trails at major features like Old Faithful and Norris Geyser Basin are wheelchair-accessible and do not require special footwear or gear. At the other end of the spectrum, a network of backcountry campsites can keep more adventurous travelers off the beaten path for weeks at a time.
Dining and Lodging
Three of the five entrances to Yellowstone National Park are in small Montana towns that offer a spectrum of dining and lodging options: West Yellowstone, Gardiner, and Cooke City. Just outside the Park’s borders, larger communities like Big Sky, Red Lodge, Livingston, and Bozeman also make for popular Yellowstone basecamps.
Inside the Park, historic lodges and other hotels operate at Mammoth Hot Springs and Old Faithful, and a network of campgrounds are open to RVs and automobiles (some require reservations, others are first-come, first-served.)