Wondering what to see at Yellowstone? At 3,472 square miles, the America’s first national park has plenty of natural beauty to explore. But my list of favorite amazing Yellowstone National Park Attractions doesn’t include Old Faithful. I’d much rather see herds of bison than herds of people. Instead, my list of best things to see in Yellowstone includes more colorful, less crowded, and just as amazing (sometimes even more so) locations than the infamous punctual geyser.
Unique Yellowstone National Park Attractions
Grand Prismatic Spring. – Of all the things to see in Yellowstone, Grand Prismatic is my favorite. The rainbow of color that makes the spring so iconic is stunning. The vibrant rusty oranges blend into to yellows and greens and then the shockingly blue center of the spring. *Nerd Alert: The orange and yellow colors are formed by bacteria and heat. It’s truly a unique place, and one of the most photographed Yellowstone attractions. You can reach it using the boardwalk past Excelsior Geyser (a stunning deep blue pool) , or take the Grand Prismatic Overlook Trail and look down from above. This overlook is where most iconic postcard shots are taken from, but both viewpoints will give you stunning photos.
Norris Geyser Basin. – There are looping trails around both the Porcelain Basin and Back Basin that make up the area. Porcelain Basin is open with hundreds of geysers, vents and other geothermal features. It’s also the home of the tallest active geyser in the world. The Back Basin trail loops through a forested area, with features scattered through the route. The Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest geothermal area in Yellowstone National Park, and changes most frequently. Take the time to look inside the museum at the top of the basin and enjoy the view of the steaming, bubbling, spouting activity below.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. – Up to 1,200 feet deep and 4,000 feet wide, the canyon is a definite Yellowstone National Park Must See. The Yellowstone River flows over 2 separate waterfalls, cutting deep into the surrounding rock layers for twenty miles. Artist Point is the most popular viewing spot, with a view of the 308 ft. Lower Falls and an impressive view of the river and colorful canyon walls that almost looks like an Instagram filter. However if you want a less crowded view, go past the pavement end and hike the 3 mile (roundtrip) trail to Point Sublime. Views are spectacular along the trail as well as at the point. Use caution, since the trail can get close to the edge, and doesn’t have rails. Uncle Tom’s Trail (which leaves from the parking lot at Artist’s Point) also has fewer crowds because of the 500 vertical feet ascent from the viewing spot. But the view of the Lower Falls from the bottom with a rainbow through the spray is completely worth the effort. The trail includes paved switchback, 328 stairs, and plenty of resting spots to catch your breath.
Yellowstone Lake. – Kayak, fish for cutthroat trout, or take a boat tour of the lake for some water activity within the park. However, the water is too cold for swimming. Make sure to visit Lake Village and check out Lake Lodge and Lake Yellowstone Hotel for a look into history. The area around the lake is also great for wildlife viewing, but remember your bear safety rules.
Less Crowded Yellowstone Attractions
Artist Paint Pots. – This group of over 50 springs, geysers, steam vents and mud pots is an excellent overview of the types of geothermal activities found in Yellowstone National Park. Mud pots, gurgling pools of grey-blue mud, spurt up air like a bubbling witch’s cauldron. A short .6 mile partial boardwalk trail leads around the area. Part of the trail leads up and down Paintpot Hill, and isn’t accessible to wheelchairs or strollers. However, travel to the top and you will be rewarded with spectacular views of the valley. Additionally, this part of Gibbon Geyser Basin is less traveled so it’s also a welcome respite from the larger crowds.
Lamar Valley. – Looking for wildlife? This is your spot to see bison. One of the “big 5” animals visitors try to see in the park (along with wolves, elk, bighorn sheep, and bear), Yellowstone’s bison herd roams freely in Lamar Valley. Looking at the thousands of animals together, it’s easy to imagine the herds across America in the past. You may also get lucky and see some of the others here too, since they also frequent this area. As always, follow the park rules about getting close to the wildlife. Some animals may be accustomed to having humans nearby, but they’re all wild. No photo is worth getting too close to a large, angry animal. Plus, even if you survive, the video some other bystander takes will go viral on the internet and you’ll look like an idiot. Not worth it.
Firehole Lake Drive and Swimming Spot. – Firehole Lake Drive is a one-way, three-mile road that begins near Mammoth Hot Springs. There’s a variety of pools and geysers along the route, as well as Firehole Lake. The road meanders through the wooded area, with plenty of pullout areas to stop and see the features. This little side road isn’t heavily traveled, so you can take your time and enjoy the quiet while you enjoy the view. This is also the home of one of the two official swimming spots in Yellowstone National Park (the other is Boiling River, north of Mammoth). During the warm summer months, it’s a unique experience you don’t find elsewhere in the park. Park in the small area next to the road, then take the stairs down to the swimming area and take a refreshing dip in one of the least well-known Yellowstone National Park attractions.
Day Hiking and Backcountry Trails. – Since the vast majority of the people looking for things to do in Yellowstone National Park never venture more than 1/4 mile from a main road, this means the trails are almost completely tourist-free. The Lamar River Trail, Little Gibbon Falls trail, and the Lone Star Geyser trail are good places to try, and very family-friendly. Park visitor centers have a free day-hike handout for each major area of the park, including a “Day Hike Sampler” with a couple hikes per area. Several guides for Yellowstone hiking trails are also available as pdf downloads from the National Park Service. As an added bonus, day hiking doesn’t require a permit. Just make sure to follow safe hiking practices and carry bear spray.
Have you visited Yellowstone? What are your favorite Unique Yellowstone National Park Attractions?
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