Yellowstone Travel: The Must See Sights
Considering a Yellowstone Trip?
I had visited Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming many years ago with my family when I was only 7 or 8 years old. Then recently, I decided as an adult to go back to the area since I had only very vague memories of that long ago trip.
As I shared my experiences with others, I found that, unlike me, not all people wish to spend several days there enjoying the sights. They aren't hikers, campers, or horseback riders. They just want to spend a few hours passing through to kind of a get a "flavor" of the landscape, and then pass on to the things that hold more interest to them.
So on this page, I thought I would share what I consider to be the top sights at this unique park. This is my Yellowstone travel "must see" list. I will try to eliminate sights that include swimming in a "Firehole" or hiking a few miles! In fact, all of these sights can easily be reached from the main scenic loop road.
I'll start this tour of the highlights entering the park from the east entrance where you'll glimpse Yellowstone Lake along the way and then head north along the scenic loop and around to the west and then southward.
Yellowstone Travel: Yellowstone Lake
There are numerous smaller lakes at Yellowstone that are worthy of a sigh, but Yellowstone Lake, particularly at the Fishing Bridge really caught my imagination. It was placid, deep blue, surrounded by lodgepole pines and mountains. Wildflowers blanketed the area, the sun was bright, and the air cool and fragrant. I was in a dream.
Reaching this portion of the lake is simple if you come in from the east entrance. It's just east of the juncture of the east entrance road and the main scenic loop. Just park your car and walk to the water's edge a few yards away.
The photo below doesn't do it justice but seeing in person is believing.
Yellowstone Travel: Hayden Valley
Hayden Valley will be a very simple sightseeing destination. It's an area, not a sight, so you don't have to even stop the car. However, it's best if you travel in late summer, August for instance, when the Bison and Elk are in rut. In my experience, Bison are gathered in Hayden Valley during this time and are often near or on the road. You may well experience stopped traffic in the area due to this, but it presents the perfect photo opportunity.
Care should be take to give the animals the right of way and to anticpate their presence in the road. You shouldn't approach them too closely either. They are known to gore visitors. The shot below was taken from my car window, without zoom, immediately as this Bison crossed in front of me.
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Ok, we've probably all seen pictures of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. It is as deep as 1,200 feet and has steep walls of yellow, gold, brown, black, and pink. It's craggy, rocky, and has the winding Yellowstone River far below. Here visitors can view both the Upper and Lower Falls. The Lower Falls is the larger of the two.
If you refuse to hike, then you can take the North Rim drive and stop at the various overlooks and walk only a few yards to view the Canyon and Lower Falls in all their splendor.
The other option is to take the road down the North Rim Drive and take the short walk to the Upper Falls Viewpoint and Artist Point for a more distant look at the Lower Falls.
If you choose to hike a bit, and I tell you it's worth it, take the North Rim's trail to the Brink of the Lower Falls. It's very steep but will let you stand at the brink and enjoy the rushing river, the power, the spray, the rainbow as the water descends, and the surrounding canyon walls.
The photo below is the more distant view of the falls.
Mammoth Hot Springs
Your Yellowstone travel must of course include plenty of geothermal features, that's what this park is about.
As hot springs go, this one is mammoth, thus the name. Just a few yards from the parking lot you can see the hot springs and the travertine/limestone sediment that it deposits each day. The terraced hot springs are always growing. It's said that the Mammoth Hot Springs deposits 2 tons of sediment each day.
It is located on the northwestern edge of the scenic loop. I photographed a corner of it, but it was raining off and on the day I was there so colors in the photograph are muted.
The Porcelain Basin
The Porcelain basin is toward the west side of the scenic driving loop. It features hot springs, mud pots, furmaroles (steam vents), and geysers as well. Visitors can walk a matter of yards to the basin and view it in it's vastness. Steam rising across the entire basin. Once you enter the basin you can walk along the board walk to experience each of the features up close and feel the temperature change as you move along.
I wouldn't say it's beautiful but it is weird and wonderful in it's own way. It was raining the day I was there, so the colors are muted in the photograph, but you can see that it's a very unique environment.
Midway Geyser Basin and Grand Prismatic Spring
Yes, we all know that Yellowstone has a variety of hydrothermal features, you know, geysers and other steaming, smelly things that bubble. However, you can't appreciate how beautiful some of them are until you are standing in front of them, or among them.
The Grand Prismatic Spring is another recommended sight to include in your Yellowstone travel plans. It was shrouded in fog when I was there early one morning. Add in the steam that it normally creates and it was a very other-worldly environment. The photo below might scare you off as it looks like something from a horror movie, but believe me the slow moving fog and the turqouise, orange, and white colors were phenomenal.
Old Faithful is located in the Upper Geyser Basin on the southwest side of the scenic loop. The many geysers in the area are easy to view and impressive as they erupt, but I suppose for many people who've either seen them on TV/video or who have lived with man-made fountains all of their lives, this might not be as unusual of a sight as one might imagine. However, most of us can't imagine visiting Yellowstone without seeing Old Faithful, so I would recommend it if time allows. Below is a photo of Old Faithful ending it's eruption and another nearby Geyser beginning.
If time allows, you can also circle around to the West Thumb area (also pictured below) where you can find springs and so forth right along the edge of the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake. Definitely a pretty site on a sunny day and a great way to wind up your quick tour of Yellowstone National Park.