Yellowstone is not only the United States’ first National Park, it is the first national park anywhere in the world. The park was signed into existence by President U. S. Grant on March 1872. Long treasured by Native Americans it was first viewed by those of European origin who passed through the area as trappers and traders. They were spellbound by the geothermal wonders, and with good reason, since half of all of the world’s geothermal features are concentrated within the bounds of Yellowstone.
There is so much to see at Yellowstone that you could return often. For a visit that gives you an experience of the features that most visitors list as their favorites, we suggest a looping drive through the park. Offered below is a counterclockwise drive; but you could begin at any of these, and drive in either direction.
Lamar Valley is broad and beautiful and often missed. It is the best place in the park to see wolves and often also a great place to see bears. Go for the wildlife venue. The valley offers relative serenity and natural beauty.
Mammoth Hot Springs is also the location of park headquarters. See the film at the Visitors’ Center, and the history and wildlife exhibits. Mammoth Hot Springs is breathtaking, with the added benefit that you can take Terrace Drive to see it. Chances are you will also see elk.
Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest geyser basin in Yellowstone. Geysers Steamboat and Echnis are located here. Steamboat is the world’s tallest geyser. But don’t wait around to see it erupt, since the last time it did so was 1991.
Lower Geyser Basin offers the Fountain Paint Pots and Fountains Geyser, among many thermal wonders. This is the only drive-up geyser in the park.
Old Faithful Geyser is the most famous feature in and the symbol of Yellowstone. Old Faithful Inn is also here, the historic structure offers an architectural feast for the eyes. The variety of shapes and colors of the various hot springs makes the easy trail to Morning Glory Pool a must-see.
West Thumb Geyser Basin offers you a chance to view a compact setting of hot springs, by way of two easy-looping walkways that take you past the geysers, pools, geysers, and mud spouts. Located on the shore of Lake Yellowstone, the deep blue colors are quite beautiful.
Yellowstone Lake is enormous, striking and serene, with dramatic trees and mountains as the backdrop. It feels like an inland sea, or one of the fiords of Norway. Be sure to stop at the Yellowstone Lake Hotel and take the tour. The view of the constantly changing colors and shadows of the lake, mountains and forest from the front of the hotel is marvelous.
Hayden Valley is the heart of the park. The road between Fishing Bridge and Canyon Village follows the Yellowstone River through the valley for sixteen miles. Bison, bear, pronghorn, badgers, antelope, wolves can all be seen along the drive. Early morning and late afternoon are best for seeing the animals; be sure to bring your binoculars.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is a favorite among all visitors to the park. Take the trail to Artist Point for a breathtaking view, and the Sublime Point Trail along the rim. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone will provide you with incredible views, vivid colors and the dramatic Upper Falls, Lower Falls and the Brink of the Falls.
Tower Fall plunges from a height of 132 in a dramatic setting of eight huge looming rock formations named the Towers. It is a short walk from the parking area to the fall, and you can take another short trail beyond that for views of the Yellowstone River.
As you drive Yellowstone National Park, remember that it belongs to you, it belongs to the nation, and it belongs to the wild species who call it home. It is a wonderful setting, preserved for all time, for you to savor and enjoy.