If you’ve never been to Yellowstone National Park before, you’re missing out. With its impressive amount of geothermal activity, rainbow-hued hot springs, and cascading waterfalls, it’s impossible to fit everything in during one trip. There’s a reason visitors come back here year after year!
Yellowstone National Park is the world’s first-ever national park. The area spans 3,741 square miles across northwest Wyoming and into the edges of Montana and Idaho. You can easily spend a few days ticking off all of Yellowstone’s top attractions. But you’ll quickly find out that a few days just isn’t enough.
If this is your first visit to Yellowstone, you’ll definitely want to spot the herds of free-roaming bison in Hayden Valley, watch as Old Faithful Geyser spouts hot water sky-high into the air, and be awed by the kaleidoscopic colors of Grand Prismatic Spring.
If you’ve got more time, you can take in unreal views of gushing waterfalls, go boating on pristine lakes, or hike to mountain summits for epic valley views. Take the time to explore the more hidden corners of Yellowstone, and you never know what sort of natural attractions and local wildlife you’ll come across!
With so many cool things to see and do, you might not know where to begin. So we’ve compiled our list of the absolute best things to do in Yellowstone National Park for you. Stick to these fun and unique Yellowstone bucket list recommendations, and there’s no doubt you’ll have an amazing time exploring this beautiful corner of Wyoming!
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15 Fun Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park
1. Photograph the Rainbow-Colored Grand Prismatic Spring
If there’s one thing to put at the top of your Yellowstone bucket list, it’s Grand Prismatic Spring. It’s likely that you’ve seen photos of this incredible natural wonder before, but there’s nothing quite like seeing it in person!
Located in the Midway Geyser Basin, Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in the US and the third-largest in the world. While its size and depth are incredible, it’s the kaleidoscope of colors that have made this hot spring so famous.
Thanks to the different types of microorganisms that thrive in the hot spring’s varying temperatures, Grand Prismatic Spring appears as a layered rainbow of red, orange, yellow, green, and blue in the center. To view the multi-colored hot spring from above, follow the Grand Prismatic Overlook Trail, where you can take in sweeping views from the platform.
Grand Prismatic Spring is by far one of the most popular Yellowstone attractions, so be prepared for crowds and busloads of tourists. Despite its popularity, you can’t visit Yellowstone without glimpsing this remarkable natural beauty!
2. Take a Relaxing Dip in the Boiling River
Located 2 miles north of Mammoth Hot Springs, it’s well worth stopping off at the Boiling River if you plan on visiting Mammoth. As the name implies, the Boiling River is basically a natural hot tub created by a boiling hot spring that flows into the cold waters of Gardner River. The result makes the water the perfect temperature to soak your aching muscles after a day hiking around Yellowstone.
It’s one of the most unique natural hot spring experiences in the world and one of the most unique things to do in Yellowstone! So be sure to bring a towel and bathing suit to enjoy the rejuvenating waters.
The river is easy to reach via the easy 1.25-mile out-and-back Boiling River Trail. Be careful not to touch the water until you reach the naturally protected soaking area, as the water can be really hot! Once you do reach the swimming area, it’s perfectly safe to sit down and relax in the shallow stream and experience the rush of hot and cold temps!
Do note that you’ll need to check the official website, as Boiling River does close seasonally for safety reasons.
3. Watch Old Faithful Geyser Erupt
Yellowstone is blessed with over 500 geysers – but Old Faithful Geyser is the most famous (and reliable) of the bunch! Old Faithful erupts every 90 minutes (give or take 10 minutes or so), so you can rest assured that you’ll get to see this iconic attraction in action.
When Old Faithful erupts, it unleashes anywhere from 3,700 to 8,400 gallons of water high into the air. The eruptions usually last anywhere from 1.5 to 4.5 minutes, so you’ll have plenty of time to snap photos and enjoy the show.
As another one of Yellowstone’s most popular attractions, it’s best to arrive 30 minutes early if you want to snag a ringside seat on the boardwalk, which encircles the geyser. This is the place to be if you want unobstructed views of the spectacle – though it does get crowded.
You can also hike to the Observation Point for a bird’s-eye view of the show without the huge crowds. To reach the viewing deck, you’ll have to hike a short but strenuous half-mile to the top.
4. Marvel at the Otherworldly Landscape of Mammoth Hot Springs
One look at Mammoth Hot Springs, and you’ll immediately see why this is one of the most unique things to do in Yellowstone. With their otherworldly landscape, these hot springs are unlike any other in the park. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to actually bathe in them, but they are well worth visiting anyway.
What makes them stand out from the rest are the unique travertine terraced formations, which make this area incredibly photogenic. Some of the hot springs also boast a variety of vibrant colors (think bright blue, yellow, and green) thanks to the heat-loving microorganisms that reside in the water.
You’ll want to spend at least an hour or two exploring the Mammoth Hot Springs area. There are two sections to visit – Mammoth Lower Terraces and Mammoth Upper Terraces – which are conveniently connected by a series of walkways and stairs.
While you can glimpse incredible views from your car along Terrace Drive, we highly suggest walking around the area, which boasts a whopping 50 hot springs. Some of the standout attractions are Minerva Terrace, Palette Spring, Liberty Cap, and so much more! Bring your camera because you’re going to want to take countless photos of this natural wonder!
5. Go Chasing Waterfalls in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
A visit to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone should be at the top of any Yellowstone bucket list. In addition to its thundering waterfalls, you’ll have all sorts of jaw-dropping viewpoints and scenic hikes to choose from. Whether you spend an hour here or all day, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone will not disappoint!
The canyon itself is roughly 20 miles long and 1,200 feet deep at its deepest point. The most spectacular sight is watching the Lower Yellowstone Falls plunge 308 feet into the canyon.
Artist Point is by far the most popular spot to marvel at the waterfall. If you’re up for a bit of a hike, you can follow the South Rim Trail to Point Sublime for sublime canyon views.
There are so many incredible things to do in this magical part of Yellowstone it’s well worth taking the time to do some more exploring. If you want to tick off some of the most incredible attractions, be sure to pay a visit to Brink of the Lower Falls, Lookout Point, Red Rock Point, Grand View, and Inspiration Point.
6. Go Boating, Fishing, and Hiking at Yellowstone Lake
If you’re looking for a relaxing alternative to Yellowstone’s adrenaline-pumping activities, spend a day on Yellowstone Lake. This is the largest body of water in Yellowstone and the largest high-elevation lake in North America at over 7,000 feet.
Unfortunately, you can’t swim in the lake because of the dangerous year-round cold temperatures. But, if you are planning to visit in warmer months, you can enjoy all sorts of family-friendly activities in and around Yellowstone Lake!
Home to native cutthroat trout and non-native lake trout, this is an ultra-popular spot for fishing. However, you will have to obtain a permit to do any fishing.
To soak in the lake’s natural beauty, veer away from the water and walk along one of the many scenic trails. For easy strolls, you’ll love the 0.6-mile Pelican Creek Nature Trail and the 2.3-mile Storm Point Trail. If you want to get your heart pumping, the more challenging 4.7-mile Avalanche Peak Trail will reward you with stunning views of Yellowstone Lake!
7. Marvel at Local Wildlife in Lamar Valley
Known as America’s Serengeti, the majestic Lamar Valley is the best place in Yellowstone to view a wide range of the area’s wildlife. Yellowstone is famously home to roughly 5,000 bison, and Lamar Valley is a popular place to watch hundreds of them roam across the plains.
Among the many majestic creatures you might spot during your visit are elk, moose, grizzly and black bears, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, bald eagles, and so much more. Visit in the winter, and you might even spot (or hear!) the famous Junction Butte and Lamar Canyon wolf packs.
Wildlife aside, Lamar Valley is breathtakingly beautiful. Landscape photographers will be blown away by the setting, so be sure to pack your camera equipment.
If you want to capture the best shots, it’s best to visit during dusk or dawn. Even if you’re not a photographer, experiencing a sunset or sunrise in Lamar Valley is one of the best sights in Yellowstone.
8. Hike to the Top of Mount Washburn
A hike to the top of Mount Washburn is one of the most popular things to do in Yellowstone. It’s a challenging hike, but the stunning views of Yellowstone National Park from the 10,243-foot summit are well worth the effort. The hike takes roughly 2 to 3 hours each way, so be sure to set off early.
There are two ways to reach the top. Most visitors opt to start at Dunraven Pass since this trail boasts beautiful views all along the way. The only catch is that this 3.2-mile (one-way) trail is a bit more challenging. If you want something a little less strenuous, the Chittenden Road Trail is just 2.5 miles (one-way) but isn’t nearly as scenic.
Whichever you choose, you’ll need to time your visit right, as the trails are only open from June to September. Plus, storms are common, which may impact your chances of making it to the summit.
9. Take a Scenic Drive Along Yellowstone Grand Loop Road
If you’re short on time and want to tick off most of the park’s best attractions, driving along Yellowstone Grand Loop Road is one of the best things to do in Yellowstone.
The figure-eight-shaped stretch of road is 142 miles long and takes anywhere from 4 to 8 hours to complete, depending on how many stops you make. So, at the very least, it’s best to hit the road early in the morning and leave an entire day to tick off this epic Yellowstone activity.
There are so many things to see and do along the Grand Loop that you could (and should!) easily spend 3 to 4 days tackling this incredible road trip! Along the way, you’ll come across basically all of the must-see attractions in Yellowstone, including Old Faithful, Hayden Valley, Midway Geyser Basin, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Mammoth Hot Springs, and so much more!
10. Spot Herds of Roaming Bison in Hayden Valley
Hayden Valley is the place to go if you want to see a bunch of bison in their natural setting. The valley is actually home to the largest rut of free-roaming bison in the world!
The only road to run through the valley is a two-lane stretch of pavement. So, don’t be surprised if the bison meander around the road, blocking traffic for minutes or even hours!
Despite the expected traffic jams, it’s well worth visiting this beautiful valley. Just be sure to use common sense by keeping your distance from the bison and staying in your car if they are walking along the road.
The best time to visit is from June to September – or, better yet, July and August when the rut is most active. While you’ll be able to spot bison at any time of day, the creatures are more active in the early morning or late afternoon. While Hayden Valley is a popular spot to see bison, you’ll likely also see elk, grizzly bears, coyotes, wolves, and so much more.
Once you’re done marveling at the wildlife, it’s also possible to stretch your legs on a scenic hike. While Hayden Valley is closed to off-trail foot travel, the valley has two scenic trails – the Hayden Valley Trail and the Mary Mountain Trail – if you need a break from sitting in your car.
11. Visit the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center
If you’re traveling with kids, be sure to stop off at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center. The center is home to a range of wild animals that were unable to survive in the wild. Not only does the center provide a home to these animals, but they educate visitors with a range of fun activities, programs, and events!
Explore the grounds, and you’ll be able to spot bears lounging around in their naturalistic outdoor habitat, complete with a waterfall and a fish-stocked pond. If you want to learn more about the region’s bear population, BEARS: Imagination and Reality is an interactive exhibit that goes over bear myths, art, literature, history, and folklore.
Bears aside, the center is also home to two packs of wolves, a ground squirrel exhibit, and four bird of prey exhibits. The Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center is a non-profit organization designed to save bears and other wildlife that would be euthanized or otherwise cannot survive in the wild. Admission is $15 for adults and $10 for children, and all profits go to helping and maintaining the animals.
12. Go Geyser Hopping in Upper Geyser Basin
Upper Geyser Basin is not only home to Old Faithful, but you’ll find 25% of the world’s geysers in this part of Yellowstone, including some of the world’s largest geysers! While you’ll definitely want to pay a visit to Old Faithful, it’s well worth taking the time to escape the crowds and wander around the area to check out all of the other natural attractions.
There are too many cool things to see in Upper Geyser Basin to mention in this short post, but you should definitely try and check out Castle, Daisy, Grand, Old Faithful, and Riverside geysers. Before heading out, be sure to stop by the Old Faithful Visitor Center, so you can time your geyser visits with the predicted eruption times.
The multi-colored Morning Glory Pool is another one of the top attractions in Upper Geyser Basin that’s well worth checking out. You can reach it by following the easy 4.5-mile Upper Geyser Basin Loop.
13. Check Out West Thumb Geyser Basin
If you plan on stopping off at Yellowstone Lake, you should definitely carve out some time to check out the nearby West Thumb Geyser Basin. Nestled on the shores of Yellowstone Lake, this area is brimming with geothermal activity and boasts stunning vistas of the lake and beyond.
Visitors of all ages can follow the easy 0.5-mile boardwalk trail, which will take you past all of West Thumb Geyser Basin’s natural wonders. Fishing Cone, Black Pool, Thumb Geyser, Seismograph Pool, and Lakeshore Geyser are all must-see attractions in West Thumb Geyser Basin.
But the crowning jewel is Abyss Pool, a dramatic blue pool that plunges 50 feet into the earth. If that’s not photogenic enough, you can enjoy sweeping views of Yellowstone Lake from Abyss Pool! Luckily, the area is compact, so you only need 30 minutes to an hour to see everything West Thumb Geyser Basin has to offer.
14. Pay a Visit to the Historic Old Faithful Inn
Dating back to 1904, Old Faithful Inn is one of nine lodges located within the park. But what makes this historic inn stand out from the rest is that it was the first-ever hotel in Yellowstone National Park and is now a National Historic Landmark. It’s also the largest log hotel in the entire world!
If you want to be based within the park, you can stay in one of the contemporary or rustic rooms. But even if you’re not staying at the hotel, it’s well worth paying a visit to look around or even dine at the restaurant. Step inside, and you’ll immediately be wowed by the multi-level log-trimmed lobby.
The friendly staff will even offer you a free guided tour of the hotel, as well as provide you with the day’s geyser predictions, so you can plan the best times to see all of Yellowstone’s geothermal activity in action!
Be sure to head out to the hotel’s massive front deck on the second story for unobstructed views of Old Faithful. You can even hang out here with a picnic lunch and enjoy the show!
15. Take a Detour to Mud Volcano
One of the more unique Yellowstone attractions, Mud Volcano is a must-see if you’re planning to visit nearby Hayden Valley. It may not be the most impressive geothermal area in all of Yellowstone, but it’s unlike any other place in the park and still worth checking out.
This area is marked with muddy cauldrons and steaming fumaroles – be warned that you will definitely smell the sulfuric odor! The star attraction is Mud Volcano, which is actually an otherworldly pit of bubbling mud.
Dragon’s Mouth Spring is another crowd-pleaser for kids and adults alike. Over the centuries, boiling water eroded the hillside, creating a cave in the process. You’ll see steam emitting from the cave and hear a range of eerie noises, giving the impression that there is actually a dragon hidden inside the cavern!
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Yellowstone National Park. What’s your favorite thing to do in Yellowstone?
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