The highlights of Yellowstone National Park

During our trip through the US we were told there are two things an American needs to see in his/her life: the massive Grand Canyon and the highlights Yellowstone National Park. While road-tripping through Colorado and Utah, locals and other travelers (most of them Americans) would ask us where else we were going besides UT and CO. When we told them ‘Yellowstone’, we heard nothing but good things about it, many of those we spoke to thought it was the most beautiful place they had ever seen. This worried me a bit. We have seen many of nature’s beauties and some of the most inspring places such as the glaciers in Patagonia, grizzlybears in Alaska, geysers in Iceland and crystal clear lakes in New Zealand. Would we end up being disappointed?
There’s a lot to see and do in Yellowstone. If you love nature, you can easily enjoy yourself for at least one week there. If you have just a little bit of time, you will have to make choices because you just can’t see and do everything. Although we moved around a lot and still didn’t see everything, we made a top 5 of our personal highlights of Yellowstone National Park, which we think everyone should see!

1. Norris Geyser Basin

More than half of the worlds geothermal activity lies within Yellowstone. The park lies on top of a supervolcano that will blow away most of America if it erupts during humanity. Even though Norris Geyser Basin doesn’t have the most exciting or active geysers, there are more than geysers here than in any other place in the park. Colorful springs, pinetree forests and smoking hotpots make a truly spectacular scenery. There are many miles of walking trails, most of them easily accessible and on wooden boardwalks. Try to visit in the evening, the sun shining down on the landscape and the lack of other people make it worthwhile! We actually came back here twice because there was so much to see and do, so make sure to allow yourself enough time!
norris geyser basin highlights of yellowstone national park

highlights of yellowstone national park

highlights of yellowstone national park

2. Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Yes, I’ll admit it… After seeing Iguazu and even Niagara (which I thought was a total tourist trap, to be honest), a visit to the Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was doomed to become a disappointment. How wrong we were, the canyon and its waterfalls are simply spectacular and became one of the major highlights of Yellowstone for us. Take your time to walk down to the brink of the lower falls and see the water plunge down into the river, way down below. Also, don’t forget to take a look at the osprey’s nest high above the river! I could’ve easily spent hours here, watching the water coming down from the river and wrestle itself through the narrow canyon.
grand canyon of the yellowstone

3. Old Faithful geyser on Geyser Hill

Even though you will not be the only one here (the sight of benches and hundreds of people was slightly discouraging) it’s very well worth gathering around Old Faithful with a few hundred other people. No geyser in Yellowstone has as much character as this old lady and is as gorgeous. Rangers predict the next eruption (allowing a 10 minute difference) so you can plan a walk or cup of coffee in the Old Faithful Inn around the eruptions, which are pretty much every 90 minutes. If you visit during daytime, my suggestion is to walk to the backside of the geyser to get away from the crowds, who are sitting at the other side. Or even better: go just before sunset so there are very few people there, which is what we did the first time around. While we were there during daytime, Beehive geyser erupted at the same time as Old Faithful which was a true bonus, since this one typically only erupts once a day.
old faithful geyser highlights of yellowstone national park

4. Mammoth Hot Springs

Even though the name suggests different, unfortunately you can’t bathe in Mammoth Hot Springs. But seeing the springs will make you feel warm inside! Upon arriving in the small village of Mammoth, we got instantly annoyed by all the other tourists there. However, seeing the beauty of the springs made up for that. Formed in terrace shape, these springs and its water dripping down from it will be among the most amazing things you will ever see in your life. If you are lucky, a bison will be complimentary in your picture.
wildlife and highlights of yellowstone national park

Yellowstone Lake

Those who love ‘classical landscapes with mountains and a lakes’ will very much enjoy themselves at Yellowstone Lake. With the sun shining down on the lake and the Teton Range rising up at the end of the horizon, this is a very picturesque place. Take a cup of coffee in the Grant Village Lodge with its massive windows, while overlooking the lake or take a stroll along the waterline. You may opt to visit West Thumb Geyser Basin where there are small explosion craters in the lake, nothing like I’ve ever seen before. Seeing grizzlies is very well possible here in this area of the park and many trails around here are closed in the beginning of the season due to high grizzly activity.
yellowstone lake highlights of yellowstone national park

west thumb geyser basin
Of course there were also sights we were (a little) disappointed in. This doesn’t mean they are not worth visiting, when we were there the circumstances just weren’t ideal…

1. Grand Prismatic Spring

We expected to see lots of colors and the possibility to take great pictures. Unfortunately, Grand Prismatic was fuming like crazy and the pictures that we took from the same level showed nothing but mist. As an alternative, we hiked up a steep and slippery mountain at the back of the spring to get an aerial view. Nice, but still, it wasn’t what I expected. It wasn’t you Prismatic, it was us…
grand prismatic highlights of yellowstone national park

2. Mount Washburn

Described as the must-do hike and one of the major highlights of Yellowstone, yet we had to go to three different visitors centers around the park to get the right information about the presence of snow on the trail leading to the top of Mount Washburn. We decided to go there in the early morning (7am) because thunder can be a real threat later during the day. When starting our hike, it was freezing and the wind was blowing like crazy. The trail was quite easy and we only had to plow through a bit of snow and some frozen melting water. Although grizzlies are often seen on the slopes of this trail, they were probably still in hibernation because other than a couple of yellow bellied marmots, we didn’t see any wildlife. The wind on the top of the mountain was crazy, luckily we could hide and warm up inside at the weather station. Clouds covered the park and made it seem dark and quite depressing. On the way down it cleared up a bit, I guess the herds of people on the way up were luckier than us…
mount washburn

Bonus addition to our highlights of Yellowstone National Park

The wildlife! Everyone hopes to see bears, moose, elk and bison. We got lucky and saw a lot of them, most of it from the car. Our most impressive encounter was with a young black bear on one of the (backcountry) hikes we did though. Scary at first (shiiit, it’s chasing us!) but one thing to remember and our number one highlight of our whole USA roadtrip!
wildlife yellowstone national park
I hope our story and pictures inspired you to go and visit all at least all the highlights Yellowstone National Park. Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions about the park, by leaving a comment below. If you’re looking for more tips about your stay, don’t forget to check out our post on how to plan your visit to Yellowstone National Park!
Want to read more? You may like these posts as well:
Mountainous Monday: Climbing Mount Washburn in Yellowstone National Park
Colorful Yellowstone: a photo essay
Oh Oh Yellowstone – about our bear encounter!
[The blog was first posted in July 2013 and updated in January 2016]
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