Yellowstone National Park is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It’s got incredible views, animals galore, and things to do that will keep you busy for days on end.
But with so many things to do at Yellowstone National Park, it’s easy to get overwhelmed or miss out on something really great! So in this post, we share what we think you should not miss while visiting Yellowstone National Park. From hiking trails and geysers to overlooks and animal sightings, there are many unique activities to do in this park!
Take a Hike
One of the best things to do in Yellowstone National Park is to get some fresh air and exercise. Thankfully, you’re surrounded by nature, so it’s easy to head out on a hike!
A few options to consider are :
- Geyser Trail: This trail winds through the Upper Geyser Basin, past many of Yellowstone’s most colorful and popular geothermal features.
- Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone: The canyon is as deep as 600 feet and up to 18 miles wide – that makes for some stunning views! It can get busy, and if you’re planning to hike and see viewpoints, such as Artist Point, we suggest planning for at least half a day here.
- Grand Prismatic Overlook: This hike takes you to the top of a hill overlooking Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Springs (see image above). If you’re looking for something easier, this is great as you can complete it in less than an hour (it took us about 45 minutes round trip with the kids)!
- Mt. Washburn: This is one of the most popular hikes in the park, and it offers sweeping views of Yellowstone’s vast landscapes and wildlife.
Watch for Wildlife
Our kids were absolutely stoked to see bison, moose, and even bears during our visit. It was so cool to see them up close and personal! As far as bears, we only saw black bears, however, it is possible to see grizzly bears in the park as well.
We didn’t run into significant bison jams, but it’s good to know that they do happen and can slow down your drive time through the park. We did end up waiting for a bison to cross the bridge for us one evening, though. So awesome!
If you want to see abundant wildlife, there are two places in the park that you’re most likely to see as many animals as possible. Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley.
The best time for wildlife viewing is often early morning or early evening. There are also many opportunities to see animals from a distance as you explore through the rest of the park. Pay close attention to cars when they are pulled over on the side of the road – this is how we saw two moose one evening!
Hayden Valley is one of the most popular places to visit in Yellowstone. It is a large, open valley with abundant wildlife and incredible views. When visiting, we saw lots of animals – everything from bison to geese to chipmunks!
If you visit Lamar Valley, expect to see lots of wildlife – we saw bison, elk, and even pronghorn antelope. This is also one of the best places to view wolves in Yellowstone National Park! Unfortunately, we never saw them, but it was still worth the trek (and hopefully, your luck will be better than ours).
Watch the Sunset
Yellowstone National Park is full of incredible places to watch the sunset. Some of our favorites were West Thumb Geyser Basin and Lamar Valley.
West Thumb Geyser Basin
The sunset views over Yellowstone Lake are gorgeous – even better, this area wasn’t very crowded during our evening visit.
Another great place to watch the sunset is Lamar Valley – though this area is large, it’s full of stunning vistas. Plus, as we mentioned, you can spot lots of wildlife here – like bison, elk, and coyotes – so it’s great for both activities!
Take a Drive
Yellowstone is a huge park, so it’s best to take your time and explore. There are plenty of scenic drives that you can do with the family.
We recommend checking out GyPSy Guides for a guide as you drive for the park. Even the kids genuinely enjoyed them, and it kept our youngest entertained at 6 years old – he was the first one to remind me to turn it back on when we got back in the car!
Golden Gate Canyon
For epic views, you can drive through Golden Gate Canyon. Before visiting, I had honestly not thought too much of this spot, but it turned out to be one of my favorite locations to visit.
The other drive that stands out from our visit is Dunraven Pass. This winding road takes you past the Gibbon River and into a mountain valley with snow-covered peaks towering in the distance on both sides of the roadway.
Keep in mind that if you’re visiting during the winter, this road is closed. You can expect it to shut down around November and reopen around Memorial Day.
Unfortunately, Dunraven Pass is closed for road maintenance during 2021 between Tower-Roosevelt and Canyon Village. However, we are still sharing because many of you may be planning for visits in 2022 or beyond. You can check the current status here.
If you don’t see geysers, does your visit to Yellowstone even count? 😉 We don’t think so!
Geysers are the most identifiable feature of Yellowstone and were expected to be its main attraction. The park has over 600 geothermal features, but the geysers draw in visitors of all ages.
Watching the geysers erupt gives you a front-row seat to the action. There are many of these geysers within the park, but two of the most famous and impressive are Old Faithful and Steamboat.
Tip: You can check the times of the predicted eruptions at Visitors Centers, on the park’s website, or the Yellowstone National Park app. However, be aware that cell signal is spotty at best, except near the main campgrounds and lodging. So your best bet is to check while you’re in one of those areas or go straight to the Visitors Center to ask in each area.
Old Faithful is the most well-known and predictable geyser in Yellowstone. It erupts every 60-110 minutes, typically for 1.5-5 minutes at a time.
Based on historical data, they can predict the eruptions within about 10 minutes based on how long the previous eruption lasted! So, because it is pretty predictable, we could time things and even stay to see it erupt a second time!
Tip: During the busy months, you’ll want to get there well ahead of the predicted eruption time for a front-row seat as crowds can build up quickly.
Steamboat Geyser is located in the Lower Geyser Basin. It is the world’s tallest active geyser and can shoot into the air over 180 feet during major eruptions!
Not every eruption at Steamboat is this spectacular, though smaller ones can still be up to 40 feet in height.
Unfortunately, this geyser is also much less predictable than others. Historically, eruptions have been anywhere between 4 days (in its active phase) and 50 years (in its dormant phase) apart!
Explore Other Geothermal Features
Impressive geysers like Old Faithful and Steamboat are just a start to the other geothermal features in Yellowstone National Park.
There are also many geothermal pools, hot springs, mudpots, and fumaroles to explore. There are many beautiful trails for experiencing the park’s geothermal features too!
Here are a few of our favorites for you to explore during your trip.
Grand Prismatic Spring
The Grand Prismatic Spring is one of the most photographed sites in Yellowstone National Park. This colorful geothermal pool is a must-see!
It’s about 370 feet wide and 121 feet deep and has a boardwalk that goes through the area. The colors are made by bacterial mats that thrive at a wide range of temperatures.
Though walking the boardwalks is incredible, another way to see the colors in all their splendor is by taking the trail to the Grand Prismatic Overlook. It’s a short hike to the lookout point with views that are not to be missed.
Mammoth Hot Springs
Another spectacular geothermal feature in Yellowstone is Mammoth Hot Springs. With a name like that, it’s no wonder this is one of the most popular stops in Yellowstone.
You can drive through this area or stop at each location to explore. These cascading terraces are the largest hot springs in Yellowstone and have formed over many thousands of years.
You can’t miss these!
If you have the time, another great spot to visit is the Boiling River. This is one of the few locations in the park where you can enjoy a warm, natural hot spring.
The water here is super hot underground – there’s a reason it’s called the boiling river! As the hot water mixes with the cold water in the Gardiner River, the temperature can vary. For instance, in 2020, the temperatures ranged from 115-133 degrees Fahrenheit. You can check the temperatures before you go here.
This is a great place to relax and enjoy the scenery, but you’ll want to be careful – certain areas can still be extremely hot.
Note: This area is currently closed due to public health guidelines but may change during the year. You can check for the most up-to-date info here.
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Norris Geyser Basin
There are several geyser basins in the park, but one that stands out is Norris Geyser Basin. This area is characterized by a series of boiling hot springs and bubbling mud pots.
The geothermal features in this area are large, dramatic, and impressive. The colors here also make for a beautiful palette, with reds to oranges giving way to yellows, greens, and blues.
The colors change as the water heats and cools, like an artist’s palette in action. This is due to the different minerals and heat-loving bacteria that thrive in varied temperatures, creating the different colors we see.
Visit Old Faithful Inn & Visitors Centers
Old Faithful Inn
If you have the opportunity, a stop at the Old Faithful Area to see the Inn is not to be missed. The Inn was constructed in 1904, and it sits on one of the most scenic spots in the park, offering views of Old Faithful Geyser.
When visiting the Inn, take a tour through its beautiful lobby and enjoy the elegant architecture. You’ll find photographs of Yellowstone’s first visitors and staff, as well as historical documents that offer a glimpse into Yellowstone’s past. It almost feels as though you’ve stepped back in time when you walk through the doors.
The park has several Visitor’s Centers, and one that stands out is the one at Old Faithful. Inside, you will find exhibits about the geothermal activity, wildlife, and history of Yellowstone.
Our kids had a lot of fun learning more about how geysers erupt, what causes the geothermal activity, and why there are so many colors in the springs.
Note: Please check the park website before your trip for current status. Old Faithful Inn and Visitor’s Centers continue to have closures and restrictions due to the pandemic.
Another excellent thing to do in Yellowstone is to go on a waterfall-seeking adventure. The park is home to hundreds of waterfalls, some hidden and unnamed and others named and easily accessible via well-marked trails or boardwalks.
Upper Falls is an impressive waterfall that’s easy to see from the South Rim Trail in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The thundering water drop is a sight to behold.
One of the most iconic falls in the park is Yellowstone Falls. The view from Artist Point is considered one of the best in Yellowstone and is highly photographed and painted.
Early visitors to the park were first captivated by the falls in the 1800s. The wide waterfall drops into a deep canyon and is truly stunning.
Tower Falls is located in the Tower Creek Valley. The falls were created by a series of landslides in the Yellowstone Caldera. Today, these falls drop an impressive 210 feet.
Unfortunately, due to road closures between Tower-Roosevelt and Canyon Village, Tower Falls is not accessible in 2021. However, we are still sharing because you may be planning for visits in 2022 or beyond.
Practice Your Photography
If you’ve ever wanted to up your photography game, Yellowstone National Park is full of opportunities to practice. From a spewing geyser to a bison in the middle of the road, there’s no shortage of things that will challenge your composition skills.
If you have a tripod and a zoom lens, you’ll be all set to get some great shots, but even without them, you can still capture some good photographs. You just have to think a little outside the box.
In fact, during our visit, we only took our cell phones and GoPro and still got some incredible shots. We hadn’t invested in our “real” camera yet, and I was still thrilled with the images. Though next time, my Sony will absolutely come along!
A few great locations to practice your photography are Lamar Valley, Yellowstone Lake, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Grand Prismatic Spring – and, of course, the famous geyser Old Faithful.
Sign up for a Tour or Ranger-Led Talk or Walk
Suppose you would like to see the sights and learn even more about Yellowstone’s history and natural beauty. In that case, you should consider signing up for a guided tour.
Tours are available for all ages and can range from simple walks to more in-depth, advanced hikes. You can even do a snowmobile tour in the winter season, where you’ll see a completely different side of the park.
If you aren’t up for taking a tour, you can also do a ranger-led talk or walk. Rangers are knowledgeable and have great stories to tell about the park, the animals, and the geology you aren’t likely to find elsewhere.
If you would rather explore on your own, we highly recommend using GyPSy Guides to narrate your drive through the park. It will bring the park to life in a way completely different from just looking out the window.
More Information on Yellowstone Activities
Yellowstone National Park is one of the most beautiful places in America and the world’s first national park. It’s also a place where you can get up close (just not too close 😉) and personal with wildlife, geothermal features, waterfalls, and more!
With so many things to see and do, it might seem challenging to choose your “must-dos”, especially if this is your first time visiting Yellowstone. But we know you’ll have a great time visiting the main attractions, keeping your eyes out for wild animals, soaking in the spectacular views, and exploring the more unique places from our list.
Make the Most of Your Trip with Our Yellowstone National Park Trip Guide & Planner
For even more information on these must-dos, itinerary suggestions, or other tips about visiting, check out our other Yellowstone National Park posts or grab instant access to our (downloadable and printable PDF!) Yellowstone National Park Trip Guide & Planner.
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Additional Help for Planning Your Yellowstone Vacation
- Getting Started: Planning a Trip to Yellowstone
- Tips for Visiting: Don’t Visit Yellowstone Without Knowing These Things
- Where to Stay: Where to Stay in (and Near) Yellowstone
- Itinerary Suggestions: Yellowstone 3-day Itinerary (Plus Suggestions from 1-7 Days)
- What to Pack: Yellowstone Packing List: What You Need (and What You Don’t)