Yellowstone National Park Things to Do Tips by KimberlyAnn Top 5 Page for this destination
Yellowstone National Park Things to Do: 632 reviews and 1,380 photos
Old Faithful Geyser
The Largest concentration of geysers in the world is in the Upper Geyser Basin. Check at the Old Faithful Visitor Center to find out when some of these wonderful Geysers are predicted to erupt, but remember, these are just guesses. Old Faithful is the most famous geyser in the park and is located in the Upper Geyser Basin. This geyser erupts more frequently than the other big geysers, erupting every 40 to 126 minutes. Old Faithful’s eruption lasts from 1 ½ minutes to 5 minutes on average, and reaches heights of about 105 – 184 feet, expelling 3,700 to 8,400 gallons of boiling water.
Click my Video tab to watch my short video, Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone Park, which will give you a view of a partial eruption of Old Faithful.
Beehive Geyser is another favorite geyser in this basin, I know it is my favorite in the park. Unfortunately this geyser can be dormant for long periods, and we have only been lucky enough to watch it once, and I didn’t happen to have my camera along! The eruption usually lasts for about 4 to 5 minutes. The narrow cone of Beehive acts like a nozzle, projecting a powerful column of water to a height of 130 to 180 feet in the air. This geyser is generally higher than Old Faithful and certainly much noisier as it roars while the water is forcefully shot upwards. It is spectacular!!
When you get to Grand Geyser, if the pool looks full, and people seem to be gathering around it, wait awhile and you might be lucky enough to see this one erupt. This is a fountain geyser, which erupts in bursts rather than a column like Old Faithful and Beehive. This is the tallest predictable geyser in the world, sometimes reaching 200 feet.
There are many more geysers to enjoy in the Upper Geyser Basin, so don’t just watch Old Faithful, then jump in your car and head out again.
If you missed the link to the Old Faithful Web Cam that I had placed on my Yellowstone Introduction Page, check the website below.
Directions: Upper Geyser Basin is on the south west side of the park.
Porcelain Basin in Norris
Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest geyser basin in Yellowstone, with many of the hot springs and furmaroles (steam vents) having temperatures over the boiling point. Norris is divided into two sections. These are the Back Basin, which is in a more forest like setting; and Porcelain Basin which is beautiful, yet desolate looking, lacking vegetation. No plants can live in the Porcelain section, because of its hot, acidic water which springs from many thermal features in the basin. The Norris Geyser Basin is constantly changing, due to the many earthquakes in the area, usually so small that you won’t even feel them. Each year hot springs and geysers become dormant, while others appear or become active once again, once clear springs may become muddy or even temporarily become geysers. Usually these earthquakes are just a disturbance and after a few days or a little over a week the featured once again returns to the previous state. Sometimes, however, the earthquake is large enough that permanent changes are created. Steamboat Geyser is the one we really would love to see. When we moved to Cody, Steamboat was considered to be dormant, possibly to never erupt again. However, one year it once again sprang into action. This is the world’s tallest active geyser, throwing water more than 300 feet (90 m) high. The eruptions, however, are not predictable, and are very rare. When it does erupt it is usually active for 3 to 40 minutes. It is common, however to see it throwing bursts of water from 10 to 40 feet in height. Of the geyser’s I have seen erupt in this basin, Echinus is one of my favorites in the park. Echinus use to be predictable, regularly erupting about every hour. Unfortunately an earthquake has permanently interrupted this regularity, and Echinus is now unpredictable. If you are lucky enough to catch an eruption, it is worth the time. This is a fountain geyser, so if you can, watch the entire show. The pool slowly fills and then it begins to boil, next it begins to erupt with bursts of water that last from 3 to 5 minutes. Then the water drains back into its opening like water flowing down the drain of a sink. Please be aware that this geyser is the largest acid-water geyser known, with its waters almost as acid as vinegar. For this reason you will want to protect your camera lenses.
My second photo is of Cistern springs, located in the Back Basin. This springs has a variety of colors created by the algae and bacteria living in it. Each one requires a different temperature, so those living near the hottest area, will be different from those on the edge. My Third photo is of Emerald Springs, also in the Back Basin. This is a 27-foot deep pool, which is lined with yellow sulfur deposits. The yellow color, combined with the reflected blue color of sunlight, gives this springs its beautiful, emerald green color. Photo 4 gives you an example of the more wooded look of the Back Basin. Photo 5 is another overlook view of Norris Back Basin.
Be sure to check out my short video featuring Porcelain Basin, which is located in Norris.
Also, take time to view this excellent 4:15 minute video on Norris Norris Geyser Basin
Directions: Norris is on the west side of the park, north of the Madison area. It is located at the junction of the road, which runs across the middle of the main park road between Norris and Canyon Village.
Many Hot Springs Are a Beautiful Clear Blue
Besides the wonderful geysers in the Upper Geyser Basin you will see beautiful hot water pools, and bubbling hot springs. As an example, with temperatures over 299 degrees F, Crested Pool is almost constantly boiling. Because of the high temperature, less bacterial growth can live in this pool making the water a crystal clear blue color. Morning Glory Pool a long time favorite of people visiting Yellowstone, is also located in the Upper geyser Basin. Unfortunately people throwing coins and trash into the water have damaged Morning Glory. These become embedded into the sides and the opening of the spring has been reduced. This in turn has caused the water temperature to cool some, allowing orange and yellow bacterial to grow in the now cooler water. These are just two of the wonderful pools to gaze into. Look into the pools and enjoy the variety of colors and textures of each
Check out my video, titled Chinese Spring. This hot spring, located in the Upper Geyser Basin, is a small spring, that is 12.5 feet deep. The story behind this spring is that the name came from a Chinese laundryman who unintentionally caused this spring to erupt while using it to do laundry. Under normal conditions, this spring does not erupt, so enjoy the bubbling, but don’t expect to see an eruption.
I would plan at least two hours to walk the boardwalks and trails around the Upper Geyser Basin.
Directions: The Upper Geyser Basin is on the south west side of the park in the Old Faithful area.
Base of the Upper Falls Near the Upper Falls Area
The North Rim Trail offers a fairly easy forested walk, opening to various views of the canyon, river, and its falls. The distance is about 3 miles one way, and since this is not a loop trail, unless someone drops you off at one end, and picks you up at the other end, you must turn around and walk back to your starting point, making the hike a little less than 6 miles. You do not, however, have to hike the entire trail, but could choose one of various starting points, and then walk as far as you like, turning around and returning when you wish.
If you plan to walk the trail from the south end, you will find the trail head at the South Rim Drive bridge (also called the Chittenden Bridge). If you begin at the bridge on the south end, the first half mile, which runs to the Upper Falls parking area, gives you beautiful views of the river as it approaches the canyon. The Upper Falls parking area, is therefore another location that you could start your hike from. From this parking lot the trail continues past Crystal Falls, which is located on Cascade Creek for another ½ mile to the Lower Falls Parking area. The trail goes over the top of this waterfalls. From this parking area you would continue another ½ mile north to Lookout Point, then another ¼ miles to Grandview Point, and from there finish your hike by walking another mile to Inspiration Point.
If you are walking it from the north end, the trail head is located at Inspiration Point, and you would simply walk the trail in reverse of my above description. When walking in this direction, the trail from Inspiration Point to Grand View Point runs through the forest, away from the rim of the canyon for a mile. For this reason, if you wish to shorten your hike, and not walk the entire trail, I would recommend cutting out this first portion of the north end. With the reduction of this one mile, you are actually cutting two miles off the round trip, shortening the hike to 4 miles.
This is a nice hike, and if you take a number of photographs, and stop at all the view points, I recommend that you plan a half day.
My first three photos were taken near the south section of the trail, and the last two are taken in the north area between Inspiration Point and Grand View Point.
Directions: Many of the access points, including the north end of this trail are located along the one-way North Rim Drive. The most southern access points are located along the east section of the main park road, near the canyon area.
Larmar Valley, View from Behind Soda Butte
As someone who lives in the Yellowstone Area, and who visits at least once a year, Lamar Valley is one of my favorite places to visit. The valley is located along the most northern road in the park between Tower and the Northeast Entrance. Lamar Valley is our favorite area to explore if we are going to the park with wildlife viewing as our agenda for the day. However, unless you are going to be in the park for a number of days, or wildlife is your main objective for visiting the park, this may be too out of your way. We love packing up our spotting scope, a lunch, and driving up to the park from our hometown of Cody. Sometimes we go in through the NE Entrance of the park, and out through the East Entrance, which is the closest entrance to Cody. I find the Lamar area not only beautiful, in a stark, mountainous sort of way, but it is the area we have had the best luck in spotting some of the major wildlife in the park. You can often see elk and bison in the valley; in fact this is the main winter range for these two large animals. This is also a good area to look for wolves, coyote, pronghorn (sometimes called antelope), bears, and foxes. In the far NE portion of Lamar, in the area of Barronette Peak, look at the sheer cliffs for mountain goats and bighorn sheep. As you drive the valley, sometimes wolves or bears may be at a distance from the highway, and you may not notice them, so if you see a lot of folks out with spotting scopes, stop and find out what they are watching. There may be a wolf or bear in the distance that you missed seeing. These folks can point it out to you, and you can get a look with your own scope or binoculars, if you have them. If you don't have a scope, sometimes tourists or locals that do, will offer you a view through theirs.
Lamar Valley is the area where the Draper Natural History Museum, one of the 5 sections of our wonderful Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming, chooses to take people when leading wildlife viewing expeditions into Yellowstone. This outing is generally planned for May and is led by the Draper Museum's curator. It has always been a great outing, where we have seen such animals as black bears, grizzlies, wolves, bison, pronghorns, big horn sheep, elk, badgers, bald and golden eagles, peregrine falcons, osprey, sandhill cranes, and harlequin ducks, along with many other birds.
Of course, when I say this is our favorite place, this only means we have the best luck here. Even though this is a wonderful place to see wildlife, there have been times we have driven it and seen nothing. No specific place in the park is a guarantee viewing spot. Remember, do not hold up traffic if you see something of interest, rather pull over to view the animals.
Paint Pots in West Thumb
West Thumb overlooks Yellowstone Lake, and although a small basin, contains some interesting and beautiful features. Below the surface of Yellowstone Lake are hot springs and hydrothermal vents. Some of these are just offshore in West Thumb. If you look closely, you may be able to see some of their swirling patterns on the water’s surface. This geyser basin pours an average of 3,100 gallons of hot water into the lake every day, but despite of this the lakes average below the surface summer temperature still remains at 45 degrees F. Again, the colors that you see in the spring waters here are due to the heat loving microorganisms, called thermophiles that live in the springs.
Old Faithful Visitor and Education Center
Located in the Old Faithful Area, the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center opened on August 25, 2010. As you enter the center, you will find yourself in a lobby, with a huge window overlooking Old Faithful Geyser. This center contains staff to answer your questions, and supply you with informative pamphlets. There is an excellent museum in the center that features exhibits on the park’s hydrothermal features. These features are what made the park famous, and include geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles (steam vents). You will learn about life in these environments, the volcano beneath Yellowstone, and ongoing scientific research within the park. There is a Young Scientist exhibit room, that includes a full-size geyser model, and hands-on exhibits. If you are an adult with no children, don’t skip this room, it can be enjoyed by all ages. There is also a theater to view films to further enhance your understanding of Yellowstone. This is an excellent place to learn how geysers erupt, how life forms live in the scalding water and boiling mud, and what the colors in a hot spring may tell you. I highly recommend this visitor center, as it will increase your understanding, and appreciation of Yellowstone’s thermal areas.
The center also contains a small book store, where you can purchase a few souvenirs, post cards, and books.
Listen to the Sounds!
Mud Volcano is not the most beautiful of the active areas in the park, but it is interesting. I especially love the Black Dragon’s Caldron, and the mud volcano is so much fun late in the summer or in the fall, when the waters are not watered down by spring rains and snow melt. I read once that the mud volcano sometimes would hurl football-sized blobs of mud. I have never seen this, but I have seen it when it is thick and plopping out tennis ball size pieces of mud. The Dragon’s Caldron is not very pretty to look at, but the sound that it makes is worth the stop.
Directions: On the West side of the main park road between Fishing Bridge and Canyon Village.
Bacterial Mat by Grand Prismatic Springs
Midway Geyser Basin is another interesting, but small geyser basin. You can stroll this boardwalk in about 20-minutes. In Midway you will see the large crater of Excelsior Geyser, which last erupted for two days in 1985. Today this huge pool produces about 4,000 gallons of scalding water each minute. Grand Prismatic Springs is another popular site in this basin. 370 feet wide, this is the largest and one of the most beautiful hot springs in the park. The algae and bacteria that live in the hot water causes the wonderful colors that you see in the pools. My photo shows what some of these bacterial mats look like.
Directions: Midway Geyser Basin is located north of the Old Faithful Geyser Basin, and south of but close to the Firehole Lake Drive.
Inspiration Point, a Grand View
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is truly grand, plunging 1,000 feet to the Yellowstone River below. Inspiration Point is one of my favorite views of the canyon, even though you will not see a closeup view of the falls from this look out point. The Canyon itself is so incredible that it is well worth the stop, just to view it without the distraction of a full waterfall view. From the Upper Falls to the Tower Falls the canyon is about 20 miles long. Its depth ranges from 800 to 1,200 feet deep, and the width is 1,500 to 4,000 feet across. This canyon has been mentioned in Native American Indian lore and in accounts of early explorers who first saw this wondrous canyon. As you can imagine, many early people coming upon this huge canyon were not only awed by it, but also recognized that it was a significant barrier to their continued westward travel.
Directions: Take the first spur road to the left as you drive the one-way Canyon Rims Road. Inspiration Point is at the end of this side road.
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