If you’ve had the opportunity to visit our nation’s first national park, you know how overwhelming it can be. Encompassing more than 3,000 square miles and containing the largest concentration of geothermal attractions in the country, it’s safe to say there’s a lot to see in Yellowstone National Park.
Outside of the geysers, fumaroles and hot springs, Yellowstone also contains a vast backcountry waiting to be explored, mountain peaks to be climbed, and dozens of historic structures worth stopping in to. Whether you only have a holiday weekend or you’re planning to spend the summer exploring all that Yellowstone has to offer, these nine attractions should be at the top of your list.
1. Upper Geyser Basin
Home to the Old Faithful geyser and a plethora of other geothermic hot spots, for many, the Upper Geyser Basin is the epitome of Yellowstone National Park. It’s not only Old Faithful that’s worth seeing though; stretching for nearly three miles away from the Old Faithful Visitor Center, planked boardwalks lead visitors to other various hot springs, fumaroles and worthwhile geysers in the area.
2. The Old Faithful Inn
Constructed in 1903 and located a few hundred yards away from the Old Faithful geyser, the Old Faithful Inn is an architectural and historical wonder to behold. With a classic log-and-stone structure, the ambiance of the Old Faithful Inn resonates in the Golden Age it was built, and the history it holds resonates with everyone who visits. Reservations for the Old Faithful Inn need to be made months in advance, and if you can’t get yourself a booking, it’s still recommended to check out the Old Faithful Inn Dining Room for a full-course meal or an awesome breakfast buffet.
3. West Thumb Geyser Basin
Overlooking the massive “West Thumb” of Yellowstone Lake, the West Thumb Geyser Basin takes visitors on a boardwalk tour covering lakeshore geysers, perforated pools and surging springs (plus a “paint pot” or two). The view of Yellowstone Lake isn’t half-bad either, making the West Thumb Geyser Basin a quick stop that can be remembered for a lifetime.
4. Midway Geyser Basin
The Midway Geyser Basin presents some of the largest geothermal attractions found in the park. Most notably, visitors to the Midway Geyser Basin are treated to the multi-color arrangements of Grand Prismatic Spring, which can leave you wondering what planet you just landed on. Upon any visit, be sure to not only walk the boardwalk surrounding the spring, but take the time to hike from Fairy Falls trailhead to give you a more bird’s-eye view of Grand Prismatic and the surrounding Midway Geyser Basin.
5. Lamar and Hayden Valley
If spotting wildlife is high on your priority list when visiting Yellowstone, the Lamar and Hayden Valleys should be up on your list. As you simply drive by these central and north Yellowstone valleys, your chances of spotting wildlife are good, and so is the chance of bison crossing the road right in front of you. Bring binoculars along to use while parked at one of the many pull-offs—or venture forth throughout the trails found in the area—and with healthy respect toward the wildlife, you can catch a glimpse of many of Yellowstone’s native residents including buffalo, bears, wolves, and elk.
6. Mount Washburn
If you want to add some elevation to your Yellowstone adventure, Mount Washburn can take you there. With two trailheads that access the summit of Mount Washburn, and the corresponding operational fire tower found there, visitors can choose between steep switchbacks and not-as-steep switchbacks. Either route includes a 5‑plus mile round trip, and both deliver on big views that include Hayden Valley, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and even Grand Teton on clear days.
7. Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
While Yellowstone National Park might be best noted for its incredible geothermal attractions, it also delivers when it comes to grand vistas and waterfalls. No better example of that can be found than the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, created by the rushing water of the Yellowstone River. Both South Rim and North Rim hikes offer views of the oil painting-esque landscape if you don’t mind traversing a good number of stairs to see it all.
8. The Boiling River
Located near the northern border of Yellowstone in Montana, the Boiling River is part of the Mammoth Hot Springs area of the park and offers one of the few legal thermal soaking areas to sit in. Visitors to the Boiling River do not, and should not, soak in the nearby hot springs itself, but instead can enjoy the warmth at the junction where the hot water meets the cold water of the Gardner River, creating a perfect place for folks to enjoy the thermal powers that make Yellowstone what it is.
9. Norris Geyser Basin
Featuring a scorched environment lined with geothermal features, the Norris Geyser Basin unveils the hottest, oldest and most dynamic area of Yellowstone. Split into the Back Basin and Porcelain Basin, the boardwalk trails throughout the area feel like gateways to a different planet, and the sulfur steam adds a visceral element to the experience. While there are many geyser basins to check out in Yellowstone, Norris Geyser is deserving of your time.