Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first national park, is a natural wonder with geysers, mud pots, diverse landscapes, wildlife, and magnificent colors! There is a great deal to see, and I have broken down my top 10 must-see destinations within the park. NOTE: This list excludes attractions from Canyon Village – Lake Village road as it was closed. It will reopen May 2022.
Yellowstone National Park was formed in 1872 and it is home to 2 million acres of protected land. The park is huge, and is mainly in Northwestern Wyoming, while also extending into Montana and Idaho. The park is largely visited by people throughout the world who are there to enjoy unique land formations, hikes, and the wildlife, especially bison that roam the park and stroll on the roads. Because the park is so expansive, it’s difficult to see every specific attraction, so I have compiled a list of my 10 must-see destinations. I visited the park in late May where all the roads open due to improved weather. At this time, the Canyon Village – Lake Village road will be closed for over a year for construction until May 2022. This road offers spectacular attractions as well, but I unfortunately could not visit them, so these will be excluded from this list.
When to Visit
The weather in Yellowstone can be quite extreme throughout the year. Temperatures can drop as low as -40 F during the Winter season, which starts in September/October, and Summer months offer comfortable weathers but unexpected rain and snowstorms. Summer is the most popular season since all the roads are open, but navigating through a crowded park may not be ideal. I recommend visiting late May or early September to avoid large crowds and road closures.
Length of Stay
To see the majority of the park, I recommend 3-4 days in the park. You will need a car or motorcycle to get around.
Yellowstone 10 Must-See Destinations
*The attractions are listed starting from the South Entrance going clockwise for convenience.
- West Thumb Geyser Basin
Among all the hydrothermal areas in Yellowstone, West Thumb Geyser Basin differs from all other basins since it is on the edge of Yellowstone Lake, the largest body of water in Yellowstone. This causes some of the hot springs to be completely or partially submerged by freshwater. The area also includes pools and mud pots. You will see some great formations here including Abyss Pool, Black Pool, and Fishing Cone.
Travel notes: The geyser basin is not very large and can be completed in under 45 min. There is a loop boardwalk that is 2/3 mi. long that starts and ends in the parking lot. There are plenty of deer in the area which you may see as well!
2. Old Faithful Geyser
Not much of a surprise, but Old Faithful Geyser, which is the park’s most famous attraction, is a must-see destination for a few reasons: one being that its eruptions are highly predictable, earning it its ‘faithful’ title, two being that it’s magnificent to watch, and three it’s conveniently located in the upper geyser basin that is home to a lot of other geysers, pools, fumaroles, and mud pots. The geyser eruptions range from every 35 to 120 min. and lasts for 1 1/2 to 5 min. It shoots water up to 90-180 feet.
Travel notes: There is a large boardwalk surrounding the geyser and plenty of seats for visitors. The area becomes crowded during each eruption, but the view can be seen from anywhere of the surrounding area so you don’t necessarily need to be up close to the geyser. There is a hotel building with a gift shop, cafeteria-style restaurant, and public restrooms. This building offers the geyser predictions for six main geysers throughout the park, including Old Faithful. There is also a visitor center. The parking lot is close to the geyser and accessible by wheelchair.
3. Upper Geyser Basin
The Upper Geyser Basin, Yellowstone’s largest geyser basin, is home to many magnificent hots springs, pools, and geysers as well as Old Faithful. Many bison roam around the area, especially on cold days, to stay warm near the hot springs. My favorite spots are Morning Glory Pool and Grotto Geyser. Morning Glory Pool has been renamed to Fading Glory Pool due to it’s loss of blue color from years of visitors throwing trash into it. It is still magnificent to look at, but please don’t throw anything into any of the pools!
Travel notes: When you walk past Old Faithful, there is a 1 mile long boardwalk that ends at Morning Glory Pool. I highly recommend this trail as it goes through the majority of the geysers and pools in this area. There is no dull moment on this trail and you may even see bison! Allot ~2 hours for the boardwalk there and back. If you have time, you may walk to the North Section of Upper Geyser Basin which includes additional pools and geysers. You may also drive there if you prefer not to walk.
4. Grand Prismatic Spring at Midway Geyser Basin
Grand Prismatic Springs is Yellowstone’s largest thermal spring and it is a treat for the eyes. The spring is rainbow-colored, hence the name grand prismatic, thanks to the microbes and differing water temperatures surrounding the middle of the pool. The pool is piping hot, with the hottest in the blue portion, and the water cools off the further it is from the middle. Unfortunately, I went on a cold, gloomy day where the colors could not be seen well. There is also the Excelsior Geyser, Turquoise Pool, and Opal Pool that are worth seeing in the Midway Geyser Basin.
Travel notes: There is a large boardwalk surrounding the area to see the spring. The walk is relatively short. The pool is large and best seen on a sunny day at the view point, which is a 0.6 mi. trail starting at the Fairy Falls Trailhead. There is plenty of parking.
5. Artist Paint Pots
This was one of my favorite destinations with geysers, vents, and mud pots to be seen on a partly wooded 0.6 mi. loop trail with some elevation. The features are not as “spectacular” as other popular spots, but the hike is enjoyable and the overlook of the mountains and geyser basin is beautiful. The fresh snow made the walk quite enjoyable and the view is spectacular.
Travel notes: There is a short 5-10 min. hike through a forest path before the wooded trail begins. There are plenty of parking spaces.
6. Norris Geyser Basin
Norris Geyser Basin is Yellowstone’s oldest and hottest thermal area with small and large pools constantly emitting steam. The overlook at the entrance is one of the most magnificent views ever: unique colors from microbes and a LOT of steam blowing whichever way the wind is blowing. The main area, Porcelain Basin, offers a walk around many pools, vents, and mud pots on a 0.7 mi. boardwalk loop trail. The trail also branches off to Nuphar Lake on the side and is composed of spring water and melted snow.
Travel notes: Besides the Porcelain Basin, you may also walk the Back Basin which includes other magnificent vents, springs, and geysers, including Steamboat Geyser, which is the world’s tallest active geyser. Its eruptions are difficult to predict and you most likely will not get to see an eruption, but it has been erupting somewhere between 3 to 26 days. Other attractions within the Back Basin include Green Dragon Spring, Porkchop Geyser, Blue Mud Steam Vent, and Emerald Spring. There is plenty of parking and there is a short, asphalt road to the Porcelain Basin.
7. Mammoth Hot Springs
The Mammoth Hot Springs area is composed of unique travertine terraces that are naturally pale white and colored brown and yellow by microbes in water from the geothermal springs. The hot springs area is spread out, with each formation having its own unique appearance. The area offers a variety of rock textures and colors, and it is all accessible by a boardwalk. This was one of my favorite spots as well!
Travel notes: The area is expansive and can all be accessed by foot, but you will need a good 2-3 hours to see it all as the boardwalk covers 1.75 mi. with elevation and there is additional walking to the visitor center area. This area is at the end of the hot springs area, near the North entrance, that also includes the Historic Fort Yellowstone, and other buildings. Parking near Mammoth Hot Springs is limited. You can find additional parking at the visitor center. If you choose not to walk up the steps of the boardwalk, you may drive to the upper terraces.
8. Roosevelt Arch
If you have the opportunity to visit the Northern entrance of Yellowstone, the first constructed entrance of the park, I highly recommend it as you can see the Roosevelt Arch, which was laid down by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903. At the top of the arch, the quote “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People” is inscribed. When the park first opened, this was the only entrance into the park, and the arch was meant to give visitors a big impression of what was to come.
Travel notes: Right outside of the arch is a small town called Gardiner with a population of around 850 people. The town relies heavily on Yellowstone tourists and there are hotels, restaurants, and tourist activities like white water rafting and zip lining. I stayed at The Roosevelt Hotel for one night and purchased groceries at a local grocery store. If you get lucky, you may see wild life such as pronghorn and deer roaming through the town!
9. Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
The Grand Canyon in Yellowstone is a 24 mile long canyon with the Yellowstone River running through it. The impressive Yellowstone Falls, upper and lower falls, can be seen here with plenty of hiking trails that allow closer access to the falls.The canyon is colored with typical beige and green, but also includes pastel pink and yellow mineral stains from former geysers and vents in the area. The area is breathtaking and certainly worth a 3-4 hour stop!
Travel notes: Because the Canyon Village-Lake Village Road is closed, only a few hiking trails are open. The falls now can mainly only be seen from the overlooks. One of the main trails, Uncle Tom’s Trail, which offers a close-up look of the falls has been under construction for a while and is currently closed. There are plenty of parking lots in the area. Because the elevation is higher here, weather can be extreme and unexpected.
10. Mud Volcano at Hayden Valley Geyser Basin
Mud Volcano is another geyser area with mud pots, pools, and vents. The most impressive attraction here is Dragon’s Mouth Spring (picture to the right), which is a caved-in hole, with roaring waters, and hot steam. There is a short 0.6 mi. loop trail of boardwalks that allows you to see larger mud pots with bubbling and boiling mud. The colors here are not as spectacular as those shown previously in other geyser basins, but it’s quite fun to look at pits of bubbling mud and hear the roaring sounds they make.
Travel notes: The trail is a loop with slight elevation that starts and ends at the parking lot. Most of the main attractions are near the front so you may choose not to walk the whole trail.
This concludes my list of 10 must-see destinations in Yellowstone National Park! I had a difficult time coming up with the list since the entire park is stunning. A trip to Yellowstone usually takes up the bulk of tourists’ itineraries, but in some occasions, some people only have 1 day in the park. If that is the case, I would recommend entering from the South, and visiting the major attractions around that area: West Thumb Geyser Basin, Old Faithful, West Thumb Geyser Basin, and Grand Prismatic Springs.
If you have any additional questions or remarks, feel free to leave a comment!