The Best Must-See Attractions in Yellowstone National Park

The first national park in the world, Wonderland – Yellowstone National Park, has many names, and rightfully so. This jaw-dropping natural wonder, which is the best part of Wyoming’s unrestricted landscape, is unmissable, inimitable, and utterly gorgeous. Bordering 3 states and spanning nearly 2.2 million acres, it’s larger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined! Not only that, but it also sprawls across Wyoming, creeping a bit into neighboring Idaho and Montana. So, it’s not surprising that there’s a long list of must-see attractions in Yellowstone National Park, which range from waterfalls, geysers, and hot springs to a wide variety of wildlife. The fact that it is America’s oldest national park also makes it one of the most amazing national parks on Earth and one of the USA’s top tourist attractions. Here’s a guide to the best unmissable attractions while visiting Yellowstone National Park.

West Thumb Geyser Basin


We begin with one of Yellowstone National Park’s smallest geothermal areas, the West Thumb Geyser Basin. Tucked on the western side of Yellowstone Lake, the basin not only has interesting thermal features but also offers good views of the lake. One of the best parts about the West Thumb Geyser Basin Trail is that it’s just 0.6 mi long (1.1 km), easy to do, and even wheelchair-accessible – so it can be covered in just half an hour. Moreover, it follows the lakeshore and passes many lovely thermal features, including Abyss Pool, Yellowstone’s deepest hydrothermal pool. However, there are two more hiking trails nearby, the Lake Overlook and Duck Lake, if you feel like you want to walk around just a bit more. The West Thumb Geyser Basin is closest to Yellowstone’s South Entrance, and we can’t imagine a better introduction to Yellowstone.

Norris Geyser Basin


Some like it hot, and no place likes it hotter than Norris Geyser Basin, which is the oldest and hottest geothermal spot in the park. While Old Faithful might be its most well-known geyser, Norris Geyser, nearly 60 mi (96 km) north, dates back nearly 115,000 years and reaches temperatures more than 450 degrees Fahrenheit! It comprises two sections, the Back and Porcelain Basins, both of which offer unique and different perspectives of the region. While Porcelain is a huge, barren landscape with boardwalks, it isn’t shaded and can get really hot during summer. Back Basin, on the other hand, Back Basin is a lush pine forest with many shaded areas and a much smaller footprint. What’s more, it’s also the site of the park’s tallest geyser, the Steamboat Geyser, which shoots piping hot water 300 feet up in the air.

While the geysers erupt rarely, the basin’s ethereal, alien-like terrain is a sight to behold and unlike anywhere else in the park. Additionally, don’t miss the two museums nearby: the Museum of the National Park Ranger and the eponymous Norris Geyser Basin Museum.

Norris Geyser Basin - by Hans Juergen, Flickr
Norris Geyser Basin – by Hans Juergen, Flickr

Mammoth Hot Springs


Of all of Yellowstone’s incredible sedimentary features, Mammoth Hot Springs, close to the north entrance, is one of the most unique. Formed within the limestone, the feature comprises 50 hot springs and has a strange but ethereally beautiful appearance. The rock’s surface is blanched to white, with shades of sandy brown on the fringes. In fact, many of the ridges look like sharp icicles hanging from above or stalactites that one would find in a cave.

So, how does this distinctive look come about? It’s another result of all the hydrothermal activity in the region; the white hue is simply mineral deposits left behind, which create the Lower and Upper Terraces making up the springs. When you take a stroll through them, be prepared to take in the full force and power of nature. Check out the main highlights of Mammoth Hot Springs, which include Canary Spring, Liberty Cap, Palette Spring, and Minerva Terrace. It takes about an hour to walk along the boardwalk trails circling around the hot springs, where you can expect to spy amazing views and have tons of photo ops.

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone - by sbmeaper1, Flickr
Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone – by sbmeaper1, Flickr

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone


The stunning 24-mile (39 km) long and 0.5-mile (0.8 km) wide Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is one of its most jaw-droppingly scenic attractions. This popular hiking area was formed over thousands of years of erosion and runs from Upper Falls to Lower Falls. Its red-orange walls are truly a sight to behold, and there are many walking trails and lookout points along both rims of the canyon. However, people come here mainly to see Artist Point, a lookout along the southern rim. It offers exceptional views over the canyon and its most famous attraction, the Lower Yellowstone River Falls.

However, we recommend spending more time here exploring the trails and overlooks on both sides of the canyon, so you can visit lesser-known areas where tourists don’t stop as much. Keep a lookout for osprey, which usually migrate through the area in spring and nest on the rocky outcrops and pinnacles. If you’re on a guided tour, you’ll also learn about the waterfalls throughout the Jackson Hole area. Other main points of interest that you can easily reach by car are the Brink of the Upper Falls and Inspiration Point.

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone - by Tjflex2, Flickr
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone – by Tjflex2, Flickr

Mount Washburn


For those who love hiking, Mount Washburn is one of the must-see attractions in Yellowstone National Park. Hiking to the top of the 10,000 ft-huge mountain is considered to be one of the best things to do inside Yellowstone National Park. There are two trails that lead to the top, with the mail 3.2 mi (5,2 km) trail starting at Dunraven Pass and offering better scenic views. However, it’s more challenging of the two. The second one is the 2.5 mi (4 km) long Chittenden Road Trail, which is basically a wild service road that’s easy to hike but has less impressive views. However, both trails might have you running into bighorn sheep or even bears, so do carry bear spray. Nevertheless, the views from the top are absolutely incredible.

Pro tip: The trails are open only from June to September, and there’s snow on the trail, sometimes even during summer, so ensure that you’re wearing proper spring hiking clothes, rain hiking jackets, and waterproof hiking shoes. Additionally, carry lots of water and picnic lunch to make a day of it.

Mount Washburn - by khasut, Flickr
Mount Washburn – by khasut, Flickr

Yellowstone Lake


Not only is Yellowstone Lake the largest body of water in the national park, but it’s also the largest high-elevation freshwater lake above 7,000 ft in all of North America. It freezes over completely every winter, and even after it unfreezes, usually in June, the water temperature is too low to be swimming in it. However, it’s a fantastic place to go boating, canoeing, stand-up paddleboarding, or kayaking. So, do equip your cars with car racks for stand-up paddleboards. In fact, one of the best ways to explore the lake is by joining a guided scenic boat tour or a guided kayaking tour with an experienced guide. They’ll not only show you close-up views of geysers from the lake but will also teach you kayaking techniques.

Also, stay on the lookout for wildlife, as it’s an excellent spot to catch a glimpse of a bear, bison, or bald eagle! Moreover, there are many hiking trails leading to the shoreline, like the beautiful Storm Point. Interestingly, the historic 1891-built Lake Yellowstone Hotel, which is the park’s oldest lodge, is also one of the best hotels to stay near Yellowstone National Park. Luckily, you don’t have to stay at the lodge to visit it but do make the bookings a year in advance if you plan to stay here. If you want to enjoy lake views and reasonably-priced good food, check out the Lake Lodge Cafeteria

Yellowstone Lake - by Christian Collins, Flickr
Yellowstone Lake – by Christian Collins, Flickr

Hayden and Lamar Valleys


You can see all of Yellowstone’s amazing wildlife in the two distinct scenic valleys flanking Mount Washburn just north of Yellowstone Lake. We’re talking about Lamar and Hayden Valleys, which are the best places to spot bison and wolves, respectively. What’s more, you could also spy on elk, grizzly bears, black bears, bald eagles, and more.

Since Lamar Valley lies 70 mi (100 km) from Old Faithful, its remote location means that it doesn’t see a lot of tourists. Of course, it takes half a day to get there and back (thanks to bison jams), but you’ll be rewarded with spectacular landscapes and lots of wildlife. Think hundreds of wild bison roaming freely around the huge plains, which are even known as the “Serengeti of North America.” Since Hayden Valley sits between Yellowstone Lake and Canton, it’s very popular and very crowded – and the bison jams don’t help. The good news? The bison population is larger than humans + cars, so you can see gangs of bison just about everywhere!

The same rule applies to visiting both valleys, though. When the bison are nearby, keep a safe distance from them and stay inside the car.

Bison in the Lamar Valley - by khasut, Flickr
Bison in the Lamar Valley – by khasut, Flickr

Grand Prismatic Spring


If there is one place that you must absolutely not miss in Yellowstone, it would be the riotously colorful Grand Prismatic Spring. This shining star of Yellowstone’s Midway Geyser Basin is not only the country’s largest hot spring but also the world’s third-largest – and it’s one of the planet’s most unique natural wonders.

No matter how many times you’ve seen how many pictures, nothing prepares you for when you actually stand in front of it. Not only is it deeper than a 10-storeyed building and larger than a football field, but you suddenly realize just how huge it actually is. Even though it might look different from its famous photos, the iconic landmark will still blow you away. Additionally, it’s just as colorful in reality as it’s in the photos, and on sunny days, the kaleidoscope of colors is mesmerizing. The colored hues come from different species of heat-loving bacteria living around it. While the deep center is blue, it’s followed by green and yellow hues, followed by lots of orange on the fringes, which is cooler.

Pro tip: The colors are duller on cloudy days and brightest on warm, sunny days. Since it’ll always be crowded, the parking lot is bustling all the time. If you come with an organized tour, you can visit all the places much faster because you aren’t hunting for a parking spot. Also, do note that the place is very windy, and there’s no shade, so carry/wear sun protection, like sunscreens and UPF sun hats. Please do hold on to your hats, as you won’t be able to retrieve them if they fly off, and they’ll pollute the unique geothermal region. The coolest bit, though, is that Midway Geyser Basin is wheelchair-accessible via a boardwalk! 

Grand Prismatic Spring - by mzagerp, Flickr
Grand Prismatic Spring – by mzagerp, Flickr

Upper Geyser Basin & Morning Glory Pool


The Upper Geyser Basin is home to some of Yellowstone’s most iconic attractions, especially the below-mentioned Old Faithful geyser, and happens to contain 25% of the entire world’s geysers! That said, there’s a lot more to see and do in this beautiful area, which has lots of walking paths winding their way across geysers and other thermal features.

Since there are many, many geysers to see here, many of which are dormant, we suggest starting walking from the Old Faithful Observation Point trailhead. While walking all the way to the gorgeous Morning Glory Pool, you’ll be able to see many geysers, maybe even some of them in action. Some of the favorite spots for travelers along the Upper Geyser Basin are the Grotto geyser, Daisy geyser, and Castle geyser, a trail that culminates at the vibrant Morning Glory Pool. The pool, which is a hot spring, was named “Convolutus” (Latin name of the morning glory flower), which was a radiant blue akin to the flower itself. Due to vandalism (which has since decreased) and changes in water temperature over time, the hues have shifted, but the pool still remains a stunning must-see sight on your Yellowstone adventure.

Morning Glory Pool - by Matthew Paulson, Flickr
Morning Glory Pool – by Matthew Paulson, Flickr

Old Faithful Geyser


Sitting at the top of this list is undoubtedly the Old Faithful Geyser, one of Yellowstone’s most remarkable landmarks. It’s one of the most predictable and famous of Yellowstone’s nearly 500 geysers and was also the first one to be named, spewing water nearly 180 ft into the air. It got its name during the 1870 Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition, which also led to the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1872.

Interestingly, the Old Faithful used to erupt “once every hour” earlier, with even the park advertising the same. However, decades of seismic activities, including earthquakes, have altered the network of underground fissures considerably. Today, it’s slightly less faithful than it was 150 years ago – it erupts in intervals of around 90 minutes or so. Hence, it’s also one of the best and easiest geysers to see in action. There are even times it erupts 10-15 minutes before schedule, and the good news is that the eruption is long enough for you to admire and click photographs of the geyser.

Since Old Faithful lies very close to the park’s west entrance, it’ll be busy no matter the time you come. That said, the Old Faithful region is huge and has all kinds of facilities, including a visitor center, restaurants, shops, bathrooms, and a petrol station. 

Old Faithful geyser at sunset - by Mattia Panciroli, Flickr
Old Faithful geyser at sunset – by Mattia Panciroli, Flickr

Cool Facts About Yellowstone National Park

  • Yellowstone National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with half of all known geothermal features in the world nestled inside the park.
  • The park sits atop North America’s largest supervolcano, a system that’s still active. While any eruptions aren’t happening anytime soon — the last was approximately 640,000 years ago — the supervolcano is powerful enough to envelop much of the continental US in ash.
  • The National Park Service records state that Yellowstone National Park is the only place in the country where buffalo have continuously existed since the prehistoric era.

Where to Stay in Glacier National Park

How many days do you need at Yellowstone?

If it comes down to it, one could easily keep exploring the park for as much as two weeks! However, practically speaking, you’ll want to plan at least three nights (four days) at Yellowstone to fully appreciate its beauty.

What is the best way to see Yellowstone?

Hitting the trails is one of the best ways to see Yellowstone, as walking even 0.5 mi on a trail or boardwalk offers a more complete sense of the national park’s landscape and features.

What is the best season to visit Yellowstone?

Spring and winter are the best times to avoid crowds while visiting Yellowstone National Park. In fact, it’s one of the best US winter vacation spots, and despite the cold, there are opportunities for wildlife spotting, skiing, etc.

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