Coordinates: Yellowstone National Park

October 31, 2016

  • by
  • Melanie Ott

National Park: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Iconic Feature 

Geysers – Yellowstone contains nearly half the world’s geysers, which are essentially hot springs with constricted plumbing that causes pressure to build until it erupts, spewing steam and blistering-hot water hundreds of feet. Many eruptions are predictable – Old Faithful gained its name for a reason. There are two types of geysers: cone geysers that erupt from stone cones or solid mineral deposits, and fountain geysers that erupt in pools of water. 

The Park

America’s first National Park, Yellowstone covers nearly 3,500 square miles primarily in Wyoming and small sections in Montana and Idaho, mostly comprised of wild forested areas but also containing geological and hydrothermal formations that it’s most famous for. Geologist Ferdinand V. Hayden convinced congress to protect the area, and President Grant signed the Act of Dedication in 1872 establishing our first National Park.

Main Attractions 

Old Faithful
No matter how many times you’ve heard about Old Faithful, it’s a pleasant surprise the first time you sit down in person and wait for it to do its thing. The park posts eruption prediction times, which while on average is every 75 minutes can blow its top earlier or later. It’s not an exact science, but predictions hold a 90% accuracy rate.

Once it gets going, it’s a sight to behold, spraying thousands of gallons of 200-degree water 180 feet in the air. Eruptions can last between one and five minutes. Some wonder if Old Faithful will continue its consistent show; while eruptions have decreased in the past 50 years (from 21 to 20 per day), the famous geyser still keeps impressing captivated audiences.

Geysers & Hot Springs
While you should definitely not miss Old Faithful, many other geysers put on impressive shows, and several hot springs create beautiful features. Lone Star Geyser is a show to catch, erupting around every three hours to a height of 30 to 40 feet. Mammoth Hot Springs is a popular feature formed by acidic solutions dissolving limestone, bubbling to the surface, then flowing and cooling in exposed air, building terraced mineral deposits.

Grand Prismatic Spring is one of the park’s best known features, the first description dating back to 1839. Located in the Midway Geyser Basin, it’s the largest hot spring in the US stretching 300 feet across and 200 feet deep, and a blistering 160 degrees. Known for its impressive colors that change with the seasons, they blend like a paint palette from deep blue in the center to yellow and orange on the perimeter.

Yellowstone is known for its wildlife: bears, wolves, bison, moose, and birds of all kinds. May is the best month to see baby bears wandering around with their mama, and fall is a great time to catch some wolves, whose population is just beginning to flourish after near extinction in the park. 

Please remember to respect all wildlife. Always keep your distance and do not disturb them in their home. Not only can they pose a threat to humans, but we also cause them harm through thoughtless and even well-intended actions. Always contact park rangers if you have any concerns.

Other Park & Nearby Activities

Yellowstone’s enormous size means there are plenty of activities to do outside of the obvious draws, more than we can list in this article but read on for a few options, and have a look at the park’s website for your adventuring needs. 

Hiking around the park is plentiful with over 1,300 miles of trail. The Bunsen Peak Trail is a 4.5-mile loop with 1,350 feet elevation change that offers views of Mammoth Hot Springs, Norris Geyser Basin and Gardner’s Hole from the summit sitting at 8,527 feet. Or take a 3-mile hike that leads through the Fossil Forest, an area defined by ancient petrified trees so perfectly persevered you can count their rings. 

Overnight stays in the backcountry require a permit for one of nearly 300 designated campsites. Advanced reservations can be made by mail, fax or in person, but you can download the application online. If you aren’t familiar with camping in bear country, do some research before you go to understand what precautions and previsions are necessary.

Cyclist who choose to tour on two wheels or bikepack through the park should choose spring months before roads back up with vehicle traffic. Downhillers can head to several locations outside the park, like the Grand Targhee Bike Resort or Jackson Hole Bike Park located in their respective resorts that provide rides to mountain tops via chairlift.

Yellowstone Lake offers boating and fishing opportunities, and you can rent boats or jump on a charted guide boat at Bridge Bay Marina. Canoes and kayaks are allowed on backcountry lakes if you’re willing to pack them in, but if you want to bring your own boat, you must obtain a permit from the National Park Service and have an invasive species inspection. Fishing inside the park is bountiful, just make sure anglers over 16 have a permit, available for purchase at the Marina or Yellowstone General Store.

Lodging and Dining

Here your stay and sustenance options are as plentiful as activity choices, from hotel accommodations to cabins sans running water. The Yellowstone National Park Lodges website lists your options, and has an online reservation system. Many facilities are closed during the off season, so plan ahead for winter adventuring. 

A beautiful lodging option is Old Faithful Inn, a national historic landmark built in the early 1900s. Open from May to October annually, it houses 327 rooms, restaurant, lounge and gift shop situated next to its namesake geyser. With grand fireplace, hand-crafted clock and towering ceilings with balconies and crow’s nest, it’s certainly worth a look even if you aren’t spending the night.

For peak-season dining, the Grant Village Lake House features Vietnamese cuisine, or head to the Grant Village Dining Room for sophisticate plates of seared duck, Alaskan salmon and eggplant parmesan. Quick sandwiches, salads and soups can be had at the Canyon Deli in Canyon Village or the Yellow Lake Deli. For those staying in the off season, special dining events are held on holidays like Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Check the website for dining options and restaurant operating days.

Best Season

Yellowstone offers entertainment for every season, with summer being the most popular for hiking and sightseeing. Peak season from late spring to mid fall will always be busy and crowded, so be warned. Roads back up with vehicles stopped to observe wildlife or waiting for parking in packed lots. If you want to avoid the headache of driving around and searching for parking, opt for a bus tour instead. Unlike some smaller parks, Yellowstone has no shuttle service.

To avoid crowds altogether, head to the park in the off season, but check road conditions as most close once snow begins to fall and remain closed until spring. Winter travel is generally limited to guided snowmobile or snowcoach. You can purchase winter packages that include transportation, lodging, meals and activities like cross country skiing, snowshoeing and ice skating

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