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Yellowstone National Park

We covered Yellowstone National Park in a seven-part series several years ago. This is an enhanced and updated single post highlighting the sections of the magnificent park which is also UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Getting There

Our journey began by flying to Salt Lake City, Utah and renting a car for the road trip. The distance between Salt Lake City and West Yellowstone, Montana, which was our home base, is 320 miles/4.5 hours via I-15. We chose to break up the trip by spending our first night in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

From Salt Lake City, take I-15 north toward Ogden, Utah. Continue north toward Pocatello, Idaho. Stay on I-15 to Idaho Falls.

Drive time between Salt Lake City and Idaho Falls is 3 hours through gorgeous scenery.

Falls on the Snake River, Idaho Falls, Idaho

From Idaho Falls, take US Highway 20 north toward Rexburg, Idaho. Continue north to West Yellowstone, Montana, which is the west entrance into the park. Drive time between Idaho Falls and West Yellowstone: 1.75 hours.

Must-do stops in West Yellowstone include the Museum of the Yellowstone and the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center

Destination – Yellowstone National Park

The scenic Grand Loop Road through Yellowstone is laid out in a figure eight as shown on the map below. The highest speed limit we saw was 45 miles per hour, but that doesn’t mean much. When there are animal sightings, traffic stops. Bison jams are common, and visitors are at a standstill until the big beasts decide to move out of the way. Heavy traffic also slows travel, especially in the summer months.

Madison Area

The Madison River meanders lazily past Mount Haynes

Trivia: the Madison is one of the three rivers that converge near Three Forks, Montana to form the headwaters of the Missouri River. The other two rivers are the Gallatin and the Jefferson.

Gibbon Falls
Steamy water and brilliant colors from the runoff of Blood Geyser in the Artists’ Paint Pots area of the park

Other points of interest in the Madison area of the park include:

Norris Area

The Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest area of Yellowstone National Park, in volcanic terms that is. Visitors will find geysers, hot springs, mud pots, steam vents, pools, and lakes at Norris. Steamboat Geyser, the largest geyser in the world, is also located here, though its eruptions are irregular and unpredictable. Hiking and walking trails are the best way to see everything this area has to offer.

Porcelain Basin, Norris Geyser Basin
Green and yellow thermophiles (hot water loving bacteria) create a spilled paint effect

Other points of interest at the Norris area of the park include:

Canyon Village Area

The canyon village area is home to the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. These are some of the most popular sights in the park.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Lower Falls

Trivia: Lower Falls is 308 feet tall, which is twice as high as Niagara Falls, and it is the highest waterfall in the park.

Points of interest in the Canyon Village Area include:

Driving south from Canyon Village toward Lake Village and West Thumb Geyser Basin, visitors will pass through Hayden Valley. This area of the park is a great place to see wildlife and early mornings and evenings are best for sightings.

The Yellowstone River meanders through Hayden Valley

Just past Hayden Valley is Mud Volcano and Dragon’s Mouth Spring. The area is super interesting and super sulphur-y! Take it from us, the intriguing sights will make you forget all about the smell.

Mud Volcano’s pit of boiling mud of is difficult to see in this shot because of the steam

Some of the sights on the Mud Volcano Trail include Mud Cauldron, Mud Geyser, Sizzling Basin, Cooking Hillside, Black Dragon’s Cauldron, Grizzly Fumarole, and Sour Lake. All are aptly named, but don’t be afraid of the smells. This where Yellowstone shows off some of its best volcanic features.

Dragon’s Mouth Spring. This spring not only spews steam and emits boiling water, but it also roars!

Six miles south of Mud Volcano is the Lake Village area which includes the Fishing Bridge, Visitor Center, Lake Yellowstone Hotel, and marina.

West Thumb Geyser Basin Area

The West Thumb Geyser Basin and Grant Village areas of the park are located approximately 28 miles/30 minutes southwest of the Lake Village area. Located on the banks of Yellowstone Lake, West Thumb, which is a small caldera, has some of the most colorful pool features of the park.

Lots of shades of blue, and not a cloud in the sky – Yellowstone Lake

West Thumb features hiking/walking trails (boardwalk), a bookstore and information station, as well as a campground. Grant Village includes a hotel and visitor center.

Bluebell Pool
Black Pool
Abyss Pool

Upper Geyser Basin Area and Old Faithful

This area of the park sits halfway between West Thumb and Madison and is the most popular section of the park.

Old Faithful Geyser

While it is not the biggest or most frequently erupting geyser in Yellowstone National Park, Old Faithful is certainly the most popular. Visitors flock to the grandstand viewing area to watch it erupt, which it does about every 90 minutes.

Built in 1904, the Old Faithful Inn is a National Historic Landmark

Things to do in the Upper Geyser Basin:

The Upper Geyser Basin has over 150 hydrothermal features and approximately half of the geysers in the world!

Trivia: the chalky white substance around the geysers in Yellowstone is called geyserite.

Midway Geyser Basin Area

Grand Prismatic Spring, which is the third-largest hot spring in the world, is the star of the Midway Geyser Basin.

Nature’s art. Up close view of the thermophiles – Grand Prismatic Spring
Excelsior Geyser

Excelsior Geyser once spewed hot water hundreds of feet into the air, but it hasn’t erupted since the mid-1980s. Today 4,000 gallons of boiling water per minute pour from its crater into the Firehole River.

Turquoise Pool can also be found in the Midway Geyser Basin

We are including Fountain Paint Pots as a sub-area of the park because we thought the area had some interesting sights, especially the geysers. The area is located between Midway Geyser Basin and Madison.

Silex Spring
Clepsydra Geyser erupts almost constantly

Trivia: a clepsydra is a water clock, and the name in the Greek language means water thief.

Mammoth Hot Springs Area

The springs in this area have created a series of travertine terraces. A boardwalk trail takes visitors through this amazing wonderland of minerals, water, and thermophiles.

Minerva Terrace
Palette Spring
Rustic Falls can be seen from an overlook near Mammoth Hot Springs

Other highlights in the Mammoth Hot Springs area include:

Roosevelt-Tower Area

Note: parts of the north and northeast sections and entrances to the park may be closed due to flood damage. Check the website for information about road and trail closures.

The northern part of the park has rolling hills, meadows, and wildlife – what a thrill!

Bison jam!

Trivia: Yellowstone’s bison were once on the verge of extinction due to unenforced hunting in the early years of the park. The current genetically pure (haven’t been bred with cattle) herd, which now numbers in the thousands, are descendants of the original twenty-four that were diligently preserved and carefully bred by the park.

Calcite Springs and the Yellowstone River
Columnar basalt decorates the cliffs overlooking the Yellowstone River.
Tower Fall, 132 feet tall

The Roosevelt area of the park features Roosevelt Lodge and Cabins, a campground, and restaurant. A general store with fast food and a gas station can be found at Tower. The Tower Fall trailhead is next to the store.

Lamar Area

Unfortunately, we were unable to visit this section of the park. The Lamar Valley is reportedly one of the best viewing areas for wolves and other wildlife at Yellowstone. Located in the Northeast corner of the park near the Cooke City entrance, the scenic drive features mountains, the Lamar River, and trailheads for several trails. The drive from the northeast entrance to the Roosevelt-Tower area is 28 miles/1 hour.

Thank you for staying with us through this long post. Yellowstone is the one U.S. National Park that everyone should get to see at least once in their lifetime. And it’s the only one we want to revisit because once wasn’t enough for us! We are going to close the post with an up-close shot of one of the formations at Palette Spring.

Travertine icicles drip from a ledge while tiny water droplets create dangling strings of pearls. The icy-looking landscape is enhanced by the cascading colors of the thermophiles.

Looking for more national park adventures? Click on these:

Death Valley National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

 

Travel safe, travel smart, and we will see you down the road!

Mike and Kellye

As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) We aren’t paid for our recommendations, and we only recommend our own tried and true products, vendors, and venues. Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own. Photo copyright infringement is not intended. Our written content and photos are copyrighted and may not be published without our permission.

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