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The Highlights of Yellowstone National Park

by | Destinations, USA | 36 comments

Established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park was the first national park in the US.   But is it the best? Is it worth visiting? And what are the highlights of Yellowstone?

The responses to these questions are a matter of opinion and having visited Yellowstone recently, along with most other National Parks in the US, I have formed my own.

But let’s leave the question of “best” until last….

Old Faithful letting rip is one of the highlights of Yellowstone

So Is Yellowstone worth visiting?

The short answer to this is “Yes, absolutely.” I was being provocative in suggesting that there might be a different answer!

There is only one downside to Yellowstone: it is very busy at all times of the year. Tourists flock to Yellowstone by the busload – literally; the roads jam up because of the volume of cars (especially when any wildlife ventures close to the main thoroughfares); and even in mid-June when we were there, the campsites are full to bursting. So why visit?

Frankly, Yellowstone is AMAZING. It took my breath away on more than one occasion. It has everything. All National Parks have stunning scenery and Yellowstone is no exception: dramatic mountains, beautiful lakes, roaring rivers, picturesque waterfalls and deep canyons. Add into this mix the wildlife (we saw bears, bison and elk) AND the incredible, other-worldly geothermic spectacles and you have the most wonderful experience. Yellowstone has everything!

Yes, there are crowds and congestion – we were part of them! –  but it is worth tolerating these: everyone should see Yellowstone at least once in a lifetime.

So what are the highlights of Yellowstone?

The Highlights of Yellowstone National Park

Grand Prismatic Spring

Grand Prismatic Spring, one of the highlights of Yellowstone

A first view of Grand Prismatic Spring as the multi-coloured mist wafts upwards.

First up in the list of highlights of Yellowstone for me is Grand Prismatic Spring. This is a giant pool of vibrant minerals and geothermic activity. It bubbles away gently, a vivid spectrum of constantly changing colour. A multi-coloured mist wafts upwards, adding to the performance.  It is stunningly beautiful and does not look like it belongs on planet Earth.

Colourful image of Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone

The colours are constantly changing

 

Colourful picture of Grand Prismatic Spring, one of the highlights of Yellowstone

Grand Prismatic Spring

A walkway has been erected around the spring for visitors to see it safely. Like many areas in the park, the surface is not only fragile but dangerous because of the boiling water and the naturally occurring chemicals. It is also possible to hike up to a viewing point and look down upon this spectacle. One of my regrets is that we were not able to do this because of the difficulty in parking in a 28′ RV in the carpark here.

Mammoth Hot Spring

Hot springs, one of the highlights of Yellowstone

Another highlight of Yellowstone is Mammoth Hot Spring. This is at the north end of the park and is quite different from Grand Prismatic Spring. The hot water bubbling up from underground trickles over rocky terraces, leaving colourful mineral deposits behind. Again, it is a constantly changing scene.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs

 

Colourful mineral deposits at Mammoth Hot Springs

Colourful mineral deposits coat the terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs

Wonderful colours and textures

The terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs

The terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs

It was at Mammoth Hot Springs that we saw a newly born elk with its mother. It was not yet on its feet. We have no pictures  though as, quite rightly, a ranger was moving people away via a different route in order to give them some space.

 

The Norris Geyser Basin

The Norris Geyser Basin is another highlight of Yellowstone. There are two routes through the basin, a long one and a shorter one. We took the long one and it was very quiet in terms of people visiting. Perhaps it was less popular because it was longer as it was certainly no less interesting or picturesque! Geysers, steam vents and springs are everywhere in this basin and they put on quite a performance, accompanied by the sound of boiling water bubbling beneath the earth. Norris Geyser Basin is a strange but energetic wasteland, dotted with patches of vivid colour.

Steaming geyser

The gently steaming landscape

Strangely coloured pools at Norris Geyser Basin

Luridly coloured pools everywhere

Wasteland view

A wasteland vista sometimes, but oddly beautiful

Water boiling in a geyser

A cauldron bubbling away

We were passing Vixen Geyser just as it decided to blow!

Vixen Geyser spouting

Vixen Geyser

Vixen Geyser after finished

And this is also Vixen Geyser after the event. The calm after the storm!

We also walked the shorter route in this Basin. It offers a vista over the valley floor, with more springs, geysers and colourful mineral pools. Again it is quite spectacular, a real alien landscape.

Lurid colours of Norris Geyser Basin

Lurid but beautiful

Alien landscape at Norris Geyser Basin

Yes, this is Earth!

Old Faithful

 

Old Faithful blowing

Old Faithful

Old Faithful has to be on the list of highlights of Yellowstone for any visitor, although a word of warning; this area is mobbed! As the name suggests, this is a guaranteed opportunity to see a large geyser blow up to 180 feet into the air.  Old Faithful erupts approximately every 90 minutes. When we were there it probably reached about 100 feet and blew for almost 5 minutes.

We waited about 40 minutes for the main event, but whilst waiting, we were treated to two other, smaller geysers blowing. And then Old Faithful let rip! That is kind of special.

Old Faithful

Old Faithful never disappoints

West Thumb Geyser Basin

 

There are several Geyser Basins in Yellowstone and they are all different in character. West Thumb, on the edge of the lake has its own distinctive flavour with bubbling mudpots, boiling springs and spurting geysers. It is colourful and quirky and definitely worth seeing.

View over the Lake

View over the Lake from West Thumb Geyser Basin

Mud pots and hot springs

Mud pots and hot springs at West Thumb

Geyser in the lake

Just by the lake shore, geysers steaming gently

Colourful mineral deposits

Colourful mineral deposits from the hot springs

Colourful mineral pool

Fabulous colours everywhere

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River

 

Colourful walls of Yellowstone Canyon

Artist Point

The canyon is yet another highlight of this park. The canyon is deep and rocky, as canyons are, but this one is special because of the colour, particularly at the area called Artist Point. The rainbow of mineral deposits here is remarkable and makes the canyon very picturesque. The waterfalls tumbling into the canyon provide another spectacle in this memorable landscape.

Waterfall tumbling into Yellowstone River

Several waterfalls cascade down into the Yellowstone River

 

 

The Wildlife

 

A bear walking along, one of the absolute highlights of Yellowstone

Just ambling along!

Seeing wildlife by chance in the wild is very special and this is definitely one of the highlights of Yellowstone. In addition to the newborn elk we saw at Mammoth Hot Spring, we saw bears twice whilst we were in the park.

Young grizzly bear

Another young grizzly

Yellowstone has hundreds if not thousands of bison. Sightings are frequent and people stop to admire them.

Large bison

Bison, an iconic American image

The bison highlight for us though was seeing these two young ones having a head to head. Unusually, we were the only ones there to see it!

Two bison fighting

Going head to head!

So is Yellowstone the best National Park?

This is always going to be a matter of personal opinion and defining something as the best – or not – may be controversial. In my opinion though, Yellowstone is not the best National Park in the US. It is in the top five, but where on that list I am not saying – yet! That is for another post.

Postscript: Beartooth Highway

 

Frozen lake on Beartooth Highway

Beautiful frozen lakes – in June

 

This is not exactly one of the highlights of Yellowstone, because it is not exactly part of the park! However, Beartooth Highway, leading from the Northeast Exit from Yellowstone, is spectacular and definitely worth checking out. It is only open in the summer months, the specific dates being dependent on the weather and the snow.

We drove it in mid-June in our RV. The road was clear, but the walls of snow on the highway where the ploughs had cut through were higher than the RV in places! It is one of the windiest, twistiest roads we have driven and is quite a climb – the pass is almost 11,000 feet. It would be superb on a motorbike ( – we did meet a group of bikers) and in the RV it was “entertaining”! There was still lots of snow and the lakes were frozen and beautiful. The views are magnificent.

Snowy landscape

So much snow!

Mountain vista

Wonderful mountain views from this road.

Twisty road

A road with many switchbacks and hairpins

Walls of snow along the highway

The snow walls were higher than the RV in places!

Fabulous view down into the valley

Wonderful views from the top

A fabulous road to drive – if you are a confident driver!

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Related articles in which you may be interested:

Exploring Death Valley: hike it, bike it, love it!

Little Ubehebe Crater

Death Valley National Park is definitely a contender for the best National Park

Trip the Hike Fantastic: unforgettable hikes in the US

Hiking Grand Canyon

The US has many fabulous, iconic hikes and here are some of the best we have found – so far!

 

36 Comments

  1. You really outdid yourself with the photos in this post, Jane! Yellowstone really is such a wonder. And even though you described the crowds, the photos make it feel like you were all alone in the wilderness 🙂

    Reply
    • Thank you so much Lynn. I was hoping to present a realistic picture. Yellowstone is awesome.There is no arguing with that. However, in recommending that people see it, I wanted them to be aware that there is this one slight downside.

      Reply
    • What a wonderful place! Thankyou for sharing those incredible photos!

      Reply
  2. Excellent work Jane. Your photos are stunning throughout, especially love the colours or the grand Prismatic Spring. You hit the right angle that’s sure. The whole trip seems like such a wonderful and memorable experience.

    Reply
    • Thank you John. Yellowstone really does have the wow factor. It is one of the most memorable travel experiences I have had.

      Reply
    • Your photos are incredible! The colours of those hotsprings remind me those found in New Zealand.

      Thank you for sharing. Added to the bucketlist ????

      Reply
  3. Absolutely loved reading this Jane I’m mesmerized by the beauty that exists in this park from the grand prismatic spring to the mammoth hot springs and the old faithful ..how amazing!! I hope that we can find the time to visit this beautiful national park.
    Cheers,
    Zarina

    Reply
    • Thank you Zarina. I always hesitate to recommend places to others as their experience may be different, but I really do think everyone should visit Yellowstone at least once in a lifetime.

      Reply
  4. I haven’t yet been to Yellowstone and now you’ve just cemented it to my Bucket List! The Grand Prismatic Spring looks mesmerising to watch. In fact all of the geysers and pools are really intriguing – especially Ye Old Faithful. Definitely worth sitting around waiting for that to blow. It certainly looks like another planet.

    Reply
    • You are so right! There are times you feel you simply cannot be on planet Earth.

      Reply
  5. This just punctuates the fact that I need to visit Yellowstone! It’s so beautiful and alien looking at the same time. Thanks for sharing your gorgeous photos of the diverse landscapes. 🙂

    Reply
    • Thank you Kit. It is difficult to take a bad photo in Yellowstone as there is so much wonderful material to work with!

      Reply
  6. There are a lot of national parks in the US I would love to visit but I have to say, Yellowstone (alongside Yosemite) is the one that is right up there in terms of which one I would head to first and this post confirms that. It just seems to have everything in one place really and offer some truly magical experiences.

    Reply
    • Absolutely! Yellowstone is such a memorable experience and there is so much to see. I have visited Yosemite briefly and loved it. Planning to spend more time there in the autumn.

      Reply
  7. I visited Yellowstone years ago, and it is one of the most stunning places on Earth. We saw many of the same sights, and my favorites were Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. We ended up a little too close for comfort to a bison while touring the geysers. They are beautiful but a bit scary, too! Your post makes me want to plan a return trip.

    Reply
    • I know what you mean! We came across a herd of bison whilst we were on the motorbike. They came very close and it was quite unnerving. They are enormous – and those horns!

      Reply
  8. Yellowstone is like the Old Faithful of the park system. You know it’s always there and never disappoints. Between the geysers and animal world, there are just so many beautiful things to see and do. Summer weekends get a little tight, but it’s still a magical place.

    Reply
    • Yes, magical just about sums it up!

      Reply
  9. So lucky you got to see the Bisons and crazy you were the only ones there given the fact that this national park is extremely busy. I hope to visit this gorgeous park soon. This year I’ll be heading to Yosemite, but Yellow Stone is on my list. I also want to see the Old Faithful let rip!

    Reply
    • Thanks Candy. Yes, I have unfinished business with Yosemite and am hoping to visit again in the autumn.Enjoy!

      Reply
  10. No wonder Yellowstone is busy all year; every attraction you write about looks truly amazing! I’m especially intrigued by the Grand Prismatic Spring. It’s too bad you weren’t able to see it from above! Even Beartooth Highway is such a cool preview all the amazing things inside Yellowstone. I just hope that the crowds of tourists are responsible about litter and as you mention at the spring, safety.

    Reply
    • That’s a good point Kevin. Even with all the crowds of people there, I do not recall seeing any litter or anyone behaving irresponsibly. One would hope that that is the case when people have taken the trouble to visit this wonderful place. Thank you for reading.

      Reply
  11. The Grand Prismatic Spring seems unreal. The rainbow coloured mist looks fantastic and makes me wonder how strange nature could be! The mud pots look beautiful. You have got some great clicks. Thanks to this wonderful guide on Yellowstone National Park.

    Reply
    • I know! It’s strange to think of “mud pots” being “beautiful” but they truly are.

      Reply
  12. Grand Prismatic Spring is surely an amazing highlight in the Yellowstone National Park. I have seen many pictures of the same. Also, the geyser basin, the lake, and the Grand canyon of the park look very interesting.

    Reply
    • Yes, interesting and beautiful at the same time.

      Reply
  13. Yellowstone looks and sounds amazing Jane. Your photos are stunning. It’s definitely on our list!

    Reply
    • Thanks Wendy. You will not be disappointed. Yellowstone is truly breathtaking.

      Reply
  14. Having just been in Yellowstone, it was fab seeing your pics and remembering the beauty! It wasn’t that busy by September, so I’d definitely recommend visiting in May or Sept instead of June-Aug – takes the pressure off slightly 🙂

    Reply
    • Good to know! We will definitely be returning.

      Reply
  15. Great guide for Yellowstone. Thanks for the wonderful pictures. It brings back memories of going there a couple years ago.

    Reply
  16. Alien landscape sums it up so well. It’s just amazing what nature can do. I’m shocked by how much snow was on the roadside in that drive. In June! Guess it never melts does it.

    Reply
  17. I think you’ve nailed it and I’m completely jealous of the bear sightings, I’ve yet to get that clear of a look at one. Gorgeous pictures, they really capture the beauty of Yellowstone!

    Reply
  18. I so need to visit Yellowstone! Gorgeous pics!

    Reply
  19. We’re so glad you had an excellent time at Yellowstone. How special was it to see a newborn elk!

    Reply
  20. Would love to visit there one day! The Mammoth Hot Springs are so cool!

    Reply

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Hello!  I’m Jane. I live in the Lake District in the north of England with my husband, Peter. We love to travel, but this is a great place to call home.

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