Pros: The most hydrothermal features in the world. Beautiful scenery, awesome wildlife watching.
Cons: Ground around hydrothermal features dangerous. Wildlife may be dangerous.
Ground around hydrothermal features dangerous. Wildlife may be dangerous.
I have been to Yellowstone National Park a few times with my family (2005) and on two parent tag along 4th grade class trips with my two boys (2004 and 2007). Yellowstone National Park has the largest concentration of geysers and other hydrothermal features in the world, and this is what it is most known for. However, Yellowstone National Park also offers beautiful scenery and abundant wildlife.
About the park
Yellowstone National Park is America's first national park, it was established in 1872. Yellowstone National Park is located in the North East corner of Wyoming and it covers 3,468 square miles (8978 square kilometers). However, parts of Yellowstone National Park reach into Montana and Idaho.
Yellowstone National Park sits on top of a so called super volcano. The Yellowstone Caldera is the largest known center of active volcanism in the world. The caldera measures 30 by 45 miles. Therefore Yellowstone has the largest concentration of geysers and other hydrothermal features in the world. It has more than 12 times more active geysers than Iceland, and more than all of Russia, in fact more than a third of all active geysers in the world are located at this single spot. There are 300 geysers in Yellowstone and a total of at least 10,000 hydrothermal features altogether. The current caldera was created by a cataclysmic eruption that occurred 640,000 years ago, which released 240 cubic miles (1,000 cubic kilometers) of rock, ash and pyroclastic materials. This eruption was 1,000 times larger than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.
The most popular Geyser is "Old Faithful" in the in Upper Geyser Basin. "Old Faithful" is a large geyser that erupts about every 90 minutes and shoots boiling hot water into the air to a height of between 105 to 185 feet (32 meters to 56 meters). "Old Faithful" is not the largest geyser and not the most predicable geyser, however, it is large and the 90 minutes interval is convenient, and it has therefore become a tourist attraction. The Castle Geyser also in the Upper Geyser Basin is a very beautiful and even larger geyser. The steamboat Geyser in the Norris Basin throws water 300 feet into the air (90 meters). You can also watch bubbling hot springs, mud volcanoes, sulfur volcanoes, and other hydrothermal/geothermal features.
In addition to visiting hydrothermal features you should also watch the wild life. There are at least 30,000 Elk in Yellowstone Park and thousands of bison (buffalo) roam the park in large herds which virtually every visitor will see. In Yellowstone National Park I have seen Bison (Buffalo), elk, pronghorn antelope, deer, coyote, wolf, black bear, cinnabon bear, grizzly bear, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, bald eagle, cranes, falcons, marmot, various rodents and birds. However, that does not tell the whole story. I have seen Wolf fighting Grizzly Bear over a Bison carcass, coyote tricking wolfs out of their elk meat, and I have seen bear (black and grizzly bear) every time I have been in Yellowstone.
However, there is more to see in Yellowstone. Yellowstone National Park has one of the world's largest petrified forests, trees which were long ago buried by ash and soil and transformed from wood to mineral materials. There are 290 waterfalls of at least 15 feet (4.5 m) in the park. The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is a large and impressive canyon with two large waterfalls. The highest is the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and it is 308 feet. There are lakes in the park that drains into both the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, which is very unusual. In 1988 enormous wildfires swept through the park and burned 1,206 square miles (3,213 square kilometer) of forest. You can still see a lot of the burned out forest and the new forest growing from below in its place. This will give you a first hand impression of this natural process. Yellowstone is also one of the most seismically active areas in the United States. From 1,000 to 3,000 earthquakes typically occur each year within Yellowstone National Park.
When you visit Yellowstone National Park you should also visit Grand Teton National Park immediately to the South of Yellowstone National Park. If you fly to Grand Teton National Park or Yellowstone National Park you would typically fly to Jackson Hole to the south of Grand Teton National Park. We rented SUV's at the airport and stayed either in cabins or at the various Lodges inside the two parks. If you want to stay in a Lodge or in a comfortable cabin with a bathroom inside the cabin you may need to reserve a few months ahead. The entry fee is $20 for seven days per non-commercial vehicle and covers both parks.
Things to do in Yellowstone National Park
The things we did in Yellowstone National Park was, hiking, hiking to the top of Mt. Washburn, observe wildlife, and watching hydrothermal features (including old faithful, other geysers, the castle geyser, the dragons mouth, and the mud volcano). We drove around to look at the scenery (and the wildlife), we rode horses, and we visited the otherworldly but beautiful landscape at mammoth hot springs and visited the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is not as big as the Grand Canyon in Arizona but it is still astounding and beautiful and the two large waterfalls in the canyon make the canyon at least as interesting as the Grand Canyon in my opinion. Not only are the waterfalls about 100 meter tall they are also wide and the massive amounts of falling water creates so much mist that you also get some astounding rainbows. However, you can also do boating, fishing, fly fishing, and in winter you can go on guided snow mobile or snow coach tours.
Driving around and looking for wildlife in Lamar Valley in June was one of the most interesting things that I have done in my life. Lamar Valley is located in the North East corner of Yellowstone National Park. Lamar Valley is a beautiful open valley with a river, the Lamar River, flowing through its center. It is typically heavily populated by easy to spot buffalo herds. In fact you see buffalo herds every time you go there. We also saw lots of wolf, grizzlies, coyotes and other animals in Lamar Valley. We saw five wolves fighting with a grizzly bear over a buffalo carcass, and we saw two coyotes which succeeded in stealing elk meat from a couple of wolves. One coyote began to bother the wolves which subsequently started chasing him, while the other coyote tore pieces off the elk carcass for them to share later. These kind of astounding nature experiences leave you baffled, and you can hardly believe your eyes. We have been in Lamar Valley in August but did not have the same luck then. You should go looking for wildlife in Lamar Valley close to dusk or dawn in early or mid June. Roosevelt Lodge is close to Lamar Valley and a good place to stay if you plan to do wildlife watching in Lamar Valley. Another place where you are likely to see a lot of bear is along the road from Tower Falls to Canyon Village, especially around the Mount Washburn area. However, we have also seen grizzlies south of Mammoth Hot Springs.
Warning / Danger
It should be noted that the ground around the hydrothermal features may collapse and you can fall into the hot water, or worse into sulfuric acid. We learned on our second visit to Yellowstone that someone had fallen into hot water the day before and had been stuck for hours before they could get him out with the help of a helicopter. He was severely burned. Dozens of people have died from falling into boiling water or acidic water. That means that you should stay on the trails when observing hydrothermal features.
Wildlife can also be dangerous. The animal that kills and injures the most people is surprisingly the Bison. Bison look very docile, like fat cows; however, they are wild powerful animals that sometimes charge tourists. People often bother Bison, touch them, and walk in front of them, without realizing that they may suddenly charge, and if they do you may not live. Naturally you should not approach grizzly bears and you should also be careful with cinnabon and black bears.
Lodging in Yellowstone National Park
I recommend that you stay in Yellowstone National Park or close to it like in Gardiner, rather than staying in Jackson. Jackson is too far away. Some great and elegant places that we stayed at in Yellowstone Nation Park are the Old Faithful Snow Lodge ($89-$173), and Canyon Village ($51-$160). We also stayed at Roosevelt Lodge which is located in a great spot and close to both Lamar Valley and Tower Falls/Mt. Washburn. Roosevelt Lodge also has a top notch restaurant and bar. Roosevelt Lodge provides beautiful rustic log cabins ($65-$103) which do not have private bathrooms. If you do not mind the fact that you have to leave the cabin to take a shower or go to the bathroom then I highly recommend Roosevelt Lodge, but it is not for everyone. My dad was afraid of being eaten by a bear on his way to the bathroom so he did not want to stay there. We also stayed at a Best Western in Gardiner, but that was because we did not have anywhere else to stay. I should say that "Old Faithful Inn" is considered the nicest place to stay in Yellowstone but we did not stay there because it was full. Naturally you can stay cheaper by camping.
The hydrothermal features is a must see, however, there are many other beautiful things to see in Yellowstone National Park, including mammoth hot springs, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, the water falls, and the wildlife. Yellowstone National Park is one of the most beautiful and interesting places in the United States and if you have not been there you should go there. If you go you should also visit Grand Teton National Park. To see more about Grand Teton National Park see my review on Grand Teton National Park.