Best things to do in Yellowstone national park
Image by Mike Goad from Pixabay

Best things to do in Yellowstone National Park as recommended by experienced travelers!

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A marvel of our planet, Yellowstone National Park is an active super volcano. Did you know that?

The first national park of United States of America, Yellowstone National Park celebrates its 150th birthday this year (2022), in its vast, incredibly beautiful lands. This national park is best known for amazing opportunities to spot wildlife including bears, wolves, bison and more.

Yellowstone National Park is huge, it spreads out into the three states of Montana, Wyoming (major part) and Idaho. Even if we spend weeks here, the time won’t be enough to see and enjoy everything this park has to offer.

So, we have put together a list of must visit places in Yellowstone. Do not miss these must do things when you visit Yellowstone National Park. These are the top places to hit in the park as recommended by seasoned travelers.

Most of the points of interest at Yellowstone are around a grand “8-shaped” loop. We have loosely bunched the spots in the order they appear from the South towards the North.

Here is a map showing all the recommended points of interest on Google Maps for a rough idea of what the loop is like.

8-shape loop screenshot from Google Maps

Southern Yellowstone spots: Morning Glory Pool, Fairy Falls, Grand Prismatic Spring, Old Faithful, Norris Geyser Basin, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Uncle Tom’s Trail, Hayden Valley, Mud Volcano, Mt. Washburn

Northern Yellowstone spots: Beartooth Highway, Lamar Valley, Tower Fall, Calcite Springs Overlook, Mammoth Hot Springs, Fort Yellowstone

Below is the curated list of best things to do in Yellowstone National Park!

1. Morning Glory Pool

  • Best season to visit: spring through fall
  • Best time of day to visit: early in the morning is the best time to avoid crowds
  • Time needed here: 15 minutes
  • Things to bring: camera, water, snacks, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, good walking shoes
Morning Glory yellowstone
Photo by by Sarah Vaughan

Sarah & Matt of Two Outliers blog say: The Morning Glory Pool is one of the most stunning geothermal pools in Yellowstone National Park, with an average temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Located just one mile from Old Faithful in the Upper Geyser Basin, Morning Glory Pool is certainly a must-see spot in Yellowstone! The pool is accessible via a paved trail and boardwalk starting from the Old Faithful Visitor Center.

Originally named for its beautiful blue color, which closely resembled the Morning Glory flower, the pool has changed in color over the years due to vandalism. Visitors have thrown tons of trash, coins, and other debris into the pool, clogging its thermal vent and causing the water temperature to cool down. As a result, the edges of the Morning Glory Pool have slowly started to turn orange and yellow.

Please be respectful to this incredible natural formation – stay on the boardwalk and never throw anything into the pool!

2. Fairy Falls

  • Best season to visit: spring through fall
  • Best time of day to visit: morning is the best time to avoid crowds
  • Time needed here: 30 minutes to an hour (not including the hike)
  • Things to bring: camera, water, snacks, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, good walking shoes, water shoes and swimsuit (optional)
Photo by Stefanie Henne

Stefanie from Open Road Odysseys blog says: If you’re looking for a place to beat the crowds and cool off during your Yellowstone National Park itinerary, Fairy Falls is the perfect option. Fairy Falls is a stunning 200ft waterfall at the end of an easy 2.5-mile hike in Yellowstone National Park.

The hike starts at the Fairy Falls Trail parking lot just south of Grand Prismatic Spring off of Highway 287.
You’ll enjoy the easy stroll through the pine forest before seeing the beautiful waterfall along Fairy Creek. You can spend some time relaxing here and if you feel up to it, you can wade into the water and cool off in the creek and under the cascading waterfall.

Don’t miss the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook on your way back, which branches off the main trail and heads up a steeper incline for a breathtaking view of the colorful spring.

Also read: Top 25 Hidden Gems of USA

3. Grand Prismatic Spring

  • Best season to visit: all seasons
  • Best time of day to visit: late in the day for best color visibility
  • Time needed here: 15 minutes
  • Things to bring: camera, water, snacks, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, good walking shoes
Grand prismatic spring
Photo by Anwar

Anwar from Beyond My Door blog says: Located in the Midway Geyser Basin, Grand Prismatic Spring is one of the most photographed and iconic sites in Yellowstone National Park. The intense colors of the water and land make the site seem otherworldly.

This Spring is the largest (and 3rd largest in the world) hot spring in the United States. The intense colors are a result of microbes on the edge of the mineral rich waters. The spring is approximately 370 feet in diameter and visitors must remain on boardwalk areas near the spring. The best time to visit the spring is seasonally dependent, but late day generally provides the best viewing. This is due to colder temperatures early in the day coupled with high hot spring temperatures causing higher visible steam masking viewing. Mid-day particularly during the summer can be difficult to find parking and should be avoided if possible.

While the Grand Prismatic Spring is located in the Midway Geyser Basin, for those in the know, the best viewing is not actually from the boardwalk of the basin itself. For the best angle for viewing, visitors should look to walk on the nearby Fairy Falls trail to the Grand Prismatic Springs overlook. The parking area for this trailhead is located between the Old Faithful Area and the Midway Geyser Basin (closer to the Basin itself). 

4. Old Faithful

  • Best season to visit: all seasons
  • Best time of day to visit: early in the morning is the best time to avoid crowds
  • Time needed here: 15 minutes
  • Things to bring: camera, water, snacks, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, good walking shoes
old faithful yellowstone
Image by Mike Goad from Pixabay

This geyser is famous for its predictablity of eruptions. Visit the Old Faithful visitor center to get the approximate eruption schedule for the geyser. Old Faithful is a rather popular spot in Yellowstone and has a lot of crowd drawn to see the geyser shooting up at intervals.

5. Norris Geyser Basin 

  • Best season to visit: spring through fall
  • Best time of day to visit: before 11:00 a.m. as the parking lot is often full after that
  • Time needed here: 2 hours
  • Things to bring: camera, water, snacks, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, good walking shoes
Norris Geyser Basin
Photo by James Ian

James Ian from Parks Collecting blog says: Norris Geyser Basin is one of the highlights of any trip to Yellowstone National Park. It’s divided into two basins – Porcelain Basin and Back Basin. A boardwalk / dirt trail winds around both of them.  

The two trails start at the small open-air Norris Geyser Basin Museum, which is a classic example of ‘parkitecture’ and is one of the park’s original trailside museums. There are exhibits on geothermal geology, hydrothermal features, and life in thermal areas. 

The area is most famous for the opalescent pools. Most of them are in Porcelain Basin, which you can see from an overlook near the trailhead.  However, to see the pools and bubbling geysers up close, venture down around a figure 8 trail.  

Back Basin is home to the Steamboat Geyser, which is the world’s tallest active geyser. Eruptions can reach as high as 300 feet; however, it doesn’t erupt regularly. 

6. Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

  • Best season to visit: summer for warmest weather and good hiking conditions or April and September to avoid the crowds
  • Best time of day to visit: before 8 AM to avoid crowds and have good light for photography
  • Time needed here: around 3 hours to visit multiple viewpoints and do a shorter hike
  • Things to bring: hiking shoes, hat, jacket, day bag with supplies for hiking and camera, water, sunscreen, sunglasses
Photo by Claire

Claire from Claire Pins Travel blog says: The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is an awe-inspiring site, where the Yellowstone River has cut through colorful layers of rock and two beautiful waterfalls cascade down to the bottom, often creating a rainbow effect in the mist. 

This amazing natural attraction within Yellowstone National Park is definitely worth visiting on a road trip through the western USA

Places to visit on the North Rim of the canyon include Inspiration Point, Lookout Point and the Brink of the Lower Falls, to get up close to the rushing water. 

On the South Rim, visit Canyon Overlook, Sunset Point and Artist Point for one of the most famous views in the entire park! Hikers can try Point Sublime Trail for amazing views that can’t be seen from a car.

Also read: Essential camping gear when you camp with kids

7. Uncle Tom’s Hike

  • Best season to visit: summer or fall as there could be closures to the hike in the winter season due to snow
  • Best time of day to visit: any time of the day
  • Time needed here: at least a couple of hours to complete the hike and enjoy the view
  • Things to bring: camera, water, snacks, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, hiking shoes
Photo by Richa

Richa Joshi from My Tickle Feet blog says: You have tons of unique things to see in Yellowstone and one of them is visiting the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. But what’s more unique here than the vista point is actually doing Uncle Tom’s Hike. 

Uncle Tom’s Hike is a steep hike that takes you from the top of Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon to the base of Lower Falls. This hike involves steep stairs, 328 steps to be exact, to go down the canyon. Some parts of the trail get wet with water splashing from the lower falls so make sure you are wearing comfortable and non-slippery shoes.

Although you can see the falls from Inspiration point, the intensity of these falls from the bottom of this hike is a different experience altogether. Watch out for that rainbow because it’s almost always there to greet the ones who took the effort to come all the way down. Remember going down the stairs may seem easy but you have to come back up those same steep steps so pace it out.

8. Hayden Valley

  • Best season to visit: spring through fall when Yellowstone’s main roads are open
  • Best time of day to visit: either dawn or dusk, when the valley’s famed wildlife is most active
  • Time needed here: Most visitors simply drive through Hayden Valley or stop at its overlooks, taking about half an hour or so to enjoy its sights. That being said, if you’re in a time crunch while visiting the park, you should, conservatively, plan for at least an hour here- it’s quite common to get stuck in a bison-related traffic jam!
  • Things to bring: camera, water, snacks, binoculars, spotting scope
Bison on the road in yellowstone
Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Jessica from Uprooted Traveler blog says: Hayden Valley’s main draw is its wildlife, from bison to bears and wolves- so make sure to bring along some binoculars! Centrally located in Yellowstone National Park, Hayden Valley is one of the best places in the park to see wildlife, thanks to its open meadows and gently rolling hills.

Additionally, because of its location near several other attractions, this is a great place to include on any Yellowstone itinerary, with several turnouts for visitors to pull off the road, scope out the park’s abundant wildlife, and soak in the incredibly scenery, with the picturesque Yellowstone River snaking across the valley’s green floor.

9. Mud Volcano

  • Best season to visit: all seasons
  • Best time of day to visit: any time of the day
  • Time needed here: 1 hour
  • Things to bring: camera, water, snacks, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, sturdy walking shoes
mud volcano yellowstone
Photo by Cynthia Matthews

Cynthia from Sharing the Wander blog says: Drive a couple of miles south from Hayden Valley, and you will find the area labeled “Mud Volcano”. This area is full of bubbling, hissing sulfurous mudpots and fumaroles, which are like mudpots, but drier. Head to the left to walk clockwise around the boardwalk. This means that you will have a gentle upwards climb, and end with the most exciting feature- Dragon’s Mouth!

Mud Volcano is one of the “not-to-miss” spots on our A Guide to Yellowstone with Kids: 3-Day Itinerary. The 1 km boardwalk can be slippery on chilly mornings, so watch your step if you are visiting early in the day. There is a bit of a sulfurous smell in the air, but it’s not too strong, and shouldn’t affect your enjoyment of the area.

 At the top of the boardwalk, you’ll find Black Dragon’s Cauldron. This cauldron appeared with a bang in 1948, blowing trees out by their roots. For decades, it sent bursts of black mud 20 feet into the air but currently is very quiet.

At the bottom of the boardwalk, you’ll find Dragon’s Mouth, which looks like a dragon deep inside a cave is exhaling periodically- sending clouds of smoke into the air. From the bubbling mud lakes to the creative names, this area will stir your imagination!

10. Mount Washburn

  • Best season to visit: Summer to avoid hiking in deep snow; July to see the wildflowers at the peak
  • Best time of day to visit: Start in the morning to get a parking spot and avoid hiking in afternoon heat
  • Time needed here: 3 to 6 hours to complete the hike
  • Things to bring: Bear spray, water, snacks, layers and a hat for windy summit, sturdy hiking shoes, sunscreen (no shade on the trail), camera, sunglasses
Photo by Mary King

Mary from Bucket List Places blog says: Mount Washburn is one of the most beautiful hiking spots in Yellowstone, and offers incomparable views. The moderately difficult hike is about 6 miles round trip, following a well-worn vehicle track to reach the 10,219’ summit. 

Along the trail, you’ll see grassy slopes dotted with wildflowers, views across the mostly flat northwestern region of Yellowstone, and maybe even some bighorn sheep known to frequent the mountain. 

At the summit, the scenery is even more breathtaking; see an expanse of grassland, ravines, and mountains with nearly 50 miles of visibility on a clear day. While you’re snapping selfies on the peak, you’ll agree that Yellowstone is one of the most instagrammable National Parks.

The summit also has a fire lookout tower which includes restrooms and interpretive exhibits to learn more about the mountain.

11. Beartooth Highway

  • Best season to visit: Spring through Fall are the best times of year to travel this highway as it usually gets closed in the Winter
  • Best time of day to visit: First thing in the morning or before sunset is the perfect time to enjoy the wildlife and sun rays playing off the scenery
  • Time needed here: It takes approximately 1 hour of driving time along the highway but you will want to make multiple stops along the way to take in the views and snap some pictures
  • Things to bring: camera, water, snacks, jacket, binoculars
Beartooth Highway yellowstone east side
Photo by Nathan Sado

Nathan Sado from All About Glamping blog says: While staying in Yellowstone there are tons of unique sites to see, but one place that is often overlooked is Beartooth Highway. Beartooth Highway is just outside of Yellowstone to the East and on your way to the iconic town of Red Lodge, Montana. It has an incredible and unique landscape as if you were in Iceland or Greenland. It is a winding, dramatic road that climbs higher and higher over a mountain pass. You may want binoculars to observe wildlife. A camera for documenting the vistas and a jacket as it can get quite windy at higher elevations. 

Tip: Make sure to stop off at the Yellowstone Overlook, Clay Butte Lookout, Top of the World store, and the Beartooth Pass Vista. 

Also read: Camping with kids- All the tips you need to know

12. Lamar Valley

  • Best season to visit: late spring to early fall
  • Best time of day to visit: dawn and dusk are known to be the best times to see wildlife out and about
  • Time needed here: Take your time to stop at the pullouts along the way. Stop anywhere you see a group of people, they might have spotted some wildlife
  • Things to bring: camera, water, snacks, binoculars, spotting scope
Bear - yellowstone national park
Image by Wayne Schwisow from Pixabay

Kim from Traveling Swansons blog says: Lamar Valley, located in the northeastern corner of the park, is the place to see wildlife in Yellowstone.  It’s often called the “American Serengeti” because of its large populations of wildlife that live here.

For the best chance of seeing wildlife, visit Lamar Valley at dawn and dusk.  Lamar Valley is accessible by vehicle year-round, but the best time to visit is the warmer months from mid-May through early October when the animals are most active.

Animals commonly seen here are grizzly bears, bald eagles, deer, pronghorns, and bison!  You don’t have to look too hard to find bison; they are everywhere in Lamar Valley!

If you want to find wolves, Slough Creek in Lamar Valley is a great place to spot them.

Binoculars are great to have while here. You will want to keep a watchful eye for wildlife at all times because you never know what you might find.

13. Tower Fall

  • Best season to visit: all seasons
  • Best time of day to visit: any time of the day
  • Time needed here: 1 hour
  • Things to bring: camera, water, snacks, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, hiking shoes
Tower Falls yellowstone
Photo by Candice

Candice from CS Ginger blog says: One of the best things to see on the northern side of Yellowstone National Park near Mammoth Hot Springs and Lamar Valley is Tower Fall. It is a beautiful waterfall that is about 130 feet. This waterfall played a critical role in the early years of the Yellowstone area. It was first photographed in 1871 and led to Congress officially designating Yellowstone as the first national park in 1872.

You used to be able to hike down to the bottom of Tower Fall but due to severe erosion, you can no longer visit the bottom of the falls. However, there is a really nice overlook where you can see this beautiful waterfall. From the parking lot, it is about 150 yards to the overlook.

If you want to do more exploring, you can continue down the path for about three-fourths of a mile to see where the waterfall joins the Yellowstone River. This is a great path to look for wildlife and enjoy the beautiful views.

14. Calcite Springs Overlook

  • Best season to visit: all seasons
  • Best time of day to visit: sunset
  • Time needed here: 20 minutes
  • Things to bring: camera, water, snacks, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, hiking shoes, binoculars
Calcite-Springs-Overlook yellowstone
Photo by Sean Lau

Sean from Living Out Lau blog says: Yellowstone National Park is filled with many gorgeous vistas, but some of them can require a strenuous hike to get to. If you are in search of a viewpoint that doesn’t require any physical effort, then the Calcite Springs Overlook is ideal for you.

Situated next to Tower Fall in the northeastern part of the Park, the Calcite Springs Overlook offers spectacular views of the Yellowstone River as it divides the mountainous landscapes around it. 

It offers views as far as your eyes can reach, and is the perfect time to go during sunset. If you are visiting Yellowstone in autumn, then the autumn foliage further enhances the beauty of this vantage point. 

This is the perfect spot to eat one of the packed lunches you might’ve taken with you for your trip. For the Calcite Springs Overlook, you might want to include a pair of binoculars on your Yellowstone packing list. They are perfect to see the details in the landscapes. However, don’t expect to see tons of wildlife here.

Also read: 5 Most beautiful beach camping spots in California

15. Mammoth Hot Springs

  • Best season to visit: early summer or early fall
  • Best time of day to visit: before 10 am and after 5 pm to avoid crowds
  • Time needed here: 1 to 1.5 hours
  • Things to bring: camera, water, snacks, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, hiking shoes
Mammoth Hot Springs yellowstone
Photo by Catherine Xu

Catherine from Nomadicated blog says: Walk the Upper and Lower Terrance boardwalks marveling at the 50 cascading hot springs of Mammoth Hot Springs. These stunning formations began their life-cycle as thermally-heated water creeping through small fissures of limestone and depositing it above the surface, creating the white, chalky travertine terraces.

Just south of the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park, Mammoth Hot Springs is accessible year-round. It offers two main areas to walk amongst the geothermal springs: Upper Terrace and Lower Terrace. A winding network of boardwalks connects the two areas into an easy 1.75 mile stroll to see the best of the geothermal features.

16. Fort Yellowstone

  • Best season to visit: summer
  • Best time of day to visit: any time of the day
  • Time needed here: 2 to 3 hours
  • Things to bring: camera, water, snacks, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, hiking shoes
fort yellowstone
Photo by Mike Goad from Pixabay

Cath from Passports and Adventures blog says: Fort Yellowstone is located in the northwestern corner of the park and is accessible from the Gardiner entrance to the park. Fort Yellowstone is a 1890’s fort with museum and visitor center and is where the headquarters of the park rangers is situated. It has a thriving community and some great buildings to view.

Located at Fort Yellowstone is the Albright Visitor Center. This Visitor Center has an exhibition about the wildlife and history of Yellowstone including one about the population of the bison, a gift shop and rest room, important for those travelling with young kids. It is also a great place to visit when it is raining in Yellowstone, which can happen from time to time.

Take a picnic to enjoy on the benches. At Fort Yellowstone you can have a picnic on tables in front of the Albright Centre or enjoy something to eat in diner or restaurant of the hotel. There is also a post office should you wish to send some postcards home.

Fort Yellowstone is also at the gateway to Mammoth Hot Springs and from Fort Yellowstone, you can also travel east to visit the Roosevelt area and Lamar Valley.

Conclusion

Now that you know all the must visit places in Yellowstone National Park, enjoy your visit!

A few things to keep in mind: The lodging and campgrounds are booked very early, so plan ahead to grab spots inside the park to make travel easier. Be mindful of staying on boardwalks at geothermal areas, they are boiling and dangerous. The park is huge and driving with wildlife along the roads takes time. Be patient and have fun!

Also read: Fun games to pass time without your phone

Some more interesting spots you can visit if you have more time in the park: Artists Paint Pots, Fountain Paint Pots, and Firehole Falls!

Top things to do in Yellowstone national park
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About Priyadarshini Rajendran 199 Articles
Priyadarshini Rajendran is a travel enthusiast, avid reader and a passionate writer. She has a few of her books published and is writing more books. Before becoming a full-time writer, she worked as a software consultant taking breaks for her travels. Her blog is her passion and she writes about travel, books and food on the blog. She offers customized itineraries for South Indian destinations.

4 Comments Posted

  1. This is such an amazing all-inclusive post about Yellowstone. I had no idea there was so much to do there. The pictures are stunning. I’m definitely saving this for later. Thank you for sharing!

  2. If there’s one (well, two places) I want to visit in the US, it’s Yellowstone and Yosemite (plus as many parks and nature reserves as I can make it to) — thank you for the travel inspo and such a detailed post. I’m possibly planning a trip later this year.

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