Yellowstone National Park is not only America’s first national park, but is, probably, the premier national park in the US. It combines dramatic scenery, exemplified by the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, with incredible thermal areas, e.g. Old Faithful, and a great variety of wildlife which is extremely accessible to visitors. The park consists of two circular routes (a northern, 112 km or 70 mile loop, and a southern, 150 km or 96 mile loop) which meet and share a common east-west road across the middle of the park. Each of the loop roads requires at least a day, so a minimum stay in the area should last two full days (keep in mind that it is better to stay longer to allow more time at the various sights). Yellowstone requires a considerable amount of walking in order to fully appreciate the thermal and scenic areas since many of the sights are along trails or elevated boardwalks above the thermal areas and are some distance from the roads.
There are numerous must sees in the park. The following is a list of the major sights.
Old Faithful geyser (in the Upper Geyser Basin, the largest concentration of geysers in the world) is the unofficial symbol of the park. It is called Old Faithful because it reliably erupts every 78 minutes on average and its eruptions spray heated water over 100 feet into the air.
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (at Canyon Village) offers views of yellow, orange, red and white canyon walls above the blue-green Yellowstone River, 330 meters (1000 feet) below. Yellowstone Falls, at one end of the canyon, adds more beauty to the scene. Stop at the various overlooks, such as Artist Point and Inspiration Point, to get different perspectives.
Mammoth Hot Springs (in the northernmost region of the park) features colorful terraces of superheated water flowing over a kind of limestone called travertine. The end result is a colorful (shades of white, yellow, cocoa, and pink), steaming staircase.
Norris Geyser Basin includes Steamboat Geyser, the world’s tallest, among others as well as colorful (shades of blue, yellow, orange and green) pools and other thermal features.
Wildlife, such as, Bison, Elk, Bears, Wolves, etc, are common throughout the park (although wolves are seldom seen near the populated areas) so be prepared to stop at traffic jams which begin as soon as significant wildlife is spotted, because people just stop their cars in the middle of the road to take pictures and to watch. Instead of getting upset, just relax and enjoy the experience.
Fountain Paint Pot (in the Lower Geyser Basin area) is extremely different from the other thermal features and is interesting and entertaining. Here multi-colored mud boils and spouts.
Many other attractions are spread throughout the huge park. There are numerous walking trails which lead to waterfalls, other thermal areas, etc.
Cody, Wyoming, is a town which recalls the days of cowboys and shoot-outs. It was founded by William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, hence the name, in 1896. Memorabilia of the founder and the period are found at various sites in the town. Check them out especially if intrigued or interested in the Old West. Cody is also the eastern gateway to Yellowstone National Park.
West Yellowstone, Montana is the western gateway and is another quaint, little town with a western flair.
Gary’s Gem: An interesting and memorable experience is to take a swim in the Firehole River, a cold, mountain stream which is warmed considerably as it travels through the thermal areas, becoming comfortably warm. Access is just off Lower Loop Road, just south of Madison (check with a Ranger at any of the Visitor Centers to get more specific directions and to make sure swimming is still permitted).