Yellowstone Park: 5 must-see attractions [map + photos]
A true star of the American National Park system and the oldest national park in the world, Yellowstone is a must for any USA road trip.
With an area of 8983 km2, it's hard to know where to begin. So here is my Top 5 things not to miss during your visit!
#1- Grand Prismatic Spring
Star of the Midway Geyser Basin, Grand Prismatic Spring (GPS) is a giant colourful basin - you won't believe your eyes! GPS has a circumference of 92 metres and is 49 metres deep.
The hot spring has bright rings of orange, yellow, and green around the turquoise waters of its centre.
The multicolored layers get their hues from the different species of thermophile (heat-loving) bacteria inhabiting each zone. The high temperatures at the centre make the water there sterile, so it remains blue.
Although the basin can be seen from the ground, you will get the best view by venturing a little higher up.
To do so, take the trail to Grand Prismatic Overlook, easily accessible from the Fairy Falls parking.
Be aware of the weather, the time of your visit, and the wind, all of which can affect the view due to steam.
The best time to visit is in the middle of the day, between May and September. If possible, choose a warm, sunny day, as cool temperatures and clouds encourage the formation of steam.
GRAND PRISMATIC OVERLOOK
Time (round-trip): 1 to 2 hours
Distance (round-trip): 1.9 kilometre
Elevation change: 32 metres
#2- Lamar Valley
Home to a large bison herd, Lamar Valley is the prime area of the park for watching wildlife. It is the only place in the United States where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times.
To reach Lamar Valley, take Route 212 from the Northeast Entrance.
I advise bringing binoculars to be able to observe these imposing mammals from a distance.
However, it is possible that they may venture onto the road, blocking traffic. Don't be in a hurry!
A bison weighs more than a ton, but make no mistake... it can reach land speeds of 50km/h.
In other words: forget about petting them.
In addition to bison, you may see elk, grey wolves, and bears.
Your best change of spotting wildlife is at dawn or dusk.
Try to plan your schedule accordingly.
#3- Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
No, it's not a mistake: Yellowstone, one of the top national parks in the West, has its own Grand Canyon!
This geological feature was created by thousands of years of erosion and its size it quite impressive: 1.2 km wide and up to 300 metres deep!
While you're there, why not go for a hike?
With the canyon, the Yellowstone River and its two waterfalls, there will be plenty of scenic views!
Lookout Point Trail leads to a panoramic view of Lower Falls, which is more than 94 metres tall.
It's a nice easy hike, perfect if you're on a family vacation in the USA.
Time (round-trip): 30 minutes
Distance (round-trip): 0.6 kilometre
Elevation change: 58 metres
If you're a little more athletic, hike down to Red Rock Point.
This trail ventures deep into the canyon to a wooden platform close to the falls, offering a spectacular view that will take your breath away.
Be sure to wear good hiking shoes, because the trail down (and back up again) is very steep!
RED ROCK POINT
Time (round-trip): 1 hour 30 minutes
Distance (round-trip): 1.8 kilometre
Elevation change: 1175 metres
#4- Norris Geyser Basin
Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest geothermal area in Yellowstone, and the most changeable. Pastel colours, hissing steam, and pungent odors combine to create an experience unique in Yellowstone.
Located in the western section of Yellowstone National Park, the geothermic basin sits on top of a supervolcano. Surface water is superheated as it works its way down towards the magma chamber.
The superheated water then rises to the surface, where it escapes in the form of water (a hot spring), steam (a fumarole), or, if the pressure is too great, a geyser!
Geyser Basin consists of two areas: Porcelain Basin and Back Basin. Allow for half a day to visit them both.
Porcelain Basin is a flat basin named for the milky blue and pink colour of the mineral deposited there, caused by the presence of dissolved silica in the waters.
This area is also home to the Whirligig Geyser. The colours in this geyser are amazing with vibrant yellows, oranges and greens caused by high levels of iron oxide, bacteria and algae.
Finally, you will find Crackling Lake, named because of popping sounds from springs on its southern shore. Through the lake's colourful translucid waters, bubbles of hot water can be seen rising to the surface.
Back Basin is more heavily wooded and has several geysers including two star attractions, Echinus Geyser and Steamboat Geyser.
Echinus is the most acidic geyser in the world, giving it a distinctive red colour.
At 91-122 m, Steamboat, is the tallest geyser in the world.
However, they are quite capricious, and major eruptions may be separated by intervals of several years. But who knows, maybe you will be lucky enough to witness this rare event!
Another point of interest you won't want to miss is Blue Mud Steam Vent. This feature is actually a bubbling mud pot, caused by acid dissolving the surrounding calcium carbonate, thickening the water with muddy clay.
#5- Old Faithful
Of course, the list would not be complete without Old Faithful!
To the west of Yellowstone Lake and accessible by the park's western entrance, Old Faithful is true to its name, with regular and predictable eruptions, on average every 90 minutes.
An Old Faithful eruption can reach a height of 50 metres and is well worth the wait. The viewing area around Old Faithful is very well laid out, and even offers benches where you can comfortably sit and wait for the show.
If you would prefer a less crowded viewing area, I suggest the Geyser Hill trail.
This trail leads among a series of nearby hot springs and geysers and offers a spectacular bird's-eye view of Old Faithful.
Friendly advice: ask at the Visitor Center for approximate eruption times in order to plan your visit!
GEYSER HILL TRAIL
Time(round-trip): 2 to 3 hours
Distance (round-trip): 3.6 kilometres
Elevation gain: 616 metres
Difficulty: Easy to Intermediate
Map of the 5 must-sees of Yellowstone
This concludes my Top 5 must-see attractions of Yellowstone National Park.
Don't hesitate to share your own discoveries in the comments below!