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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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Anto is a 30-something outdoor fan who travels the world about 100 days a year, combined with a full-time office job. She loves to go hiking, enjoys a good class of wine and can usually be found with an iPhone in her hand. Favorite destinations: New Zealand, Patagonia, Austria and Alaska.

37 Comments

  • Shannon Colman

    Great photos Martijn and Antonette! I will be heading to Yellowstone this summer during a road trip through Western USA (no doubt along with millions of other tourists!) Did you have to pay a fee to enter the park?
    I look forward to reading about your other visits to national parks!
    Dank je wel:)

    • admin

      Hi Shannon,
      Indeed you have to pay for entering Yellowstone National Park. But I would say ‘Money well spend’ ;-).
      A good tip is to buy a yearly pass, so you can visit all the national parks in US. This could save you dollars.
      Martijn

  • kim

    Hi,

    Thank you so much for your blog post. may I ask what time of year you went? We were thinking about doing the Mt. Washburn hike because of how highly its ranked on tripadvisor, but your post and pictures are giving me second thoughts. We are a fairly active family of 6, youngest is 7.

    Thank you!
    Kim

    • anto

      Hi Kim, thank you for your visit to our website. We were in Yellowstone mid-June, which we thought would be late enough to do this hike. However, a bit later in the season would be better. But as the park rangers told us, it varies each year. To make sure there’s as little snow left as possible, I’d recommend going later into the season if possible, however it was do-able for hikers with stamina though. Have a great trip to Yellowstone with your family! Antonette

      • Kim

        Thanks! I think this one will be on our might-do list instead of the must-do, although snow in June would certainly be something we’ve never seen before! Appreciate your help,
        Kim

  • mytravelfever

    Thanks for your post and photos. I am trying to plan a trip to Yellowstone but have been a bit overwhelmed with how big the park is and how much there is to see and hike. How many days do you think would be needed to do the park justice?

    • anto

      I would say at least 2 full days but more is better. We arrived around 4.00 pm on the first day, then had two full days and drove down to the Tetons around noon on the 4th day. And we still didn’t see everything. We also love hiking so that took some time, too. However, if you have more time, definitely plan it. Are you going to the Tetons, too?

  • Heide Brunette

    I loved all the pics and info. My husband and I are going to Yellowstone and Grand Teton the end of this month. You never mentioned what you did for meals, we planned on packing a picnic each day. Any suggestions? Thanks again!

  • Michelle

    We just came back from Yellowstone. This place deserves a long visit! We finally got to walk the Uncle Tom trail in the Grand Canyon. It was marked “strenuous” but we thought that was an exaggeration. Our calves were BURNING by the time we got back up those 360 plus steps! The hardest part for us seeing so many tourists ignore the warnings to not walk over active hot spots or go near the wildlife. We saw so many people getting out of their cars to walk over to a lone bear cub by the side of the road I was worried we would personally witness a nasty bear attack. One big surprize for us was how cold it is at night even in July.

    • anto

      Yes, it was super cold at night. We were in June and it was almost freezing, also because of the high altitude. I just hate it when people step out of their car to picture a bear … they should be left alone. But totally agreed, Yellowstone deserves a super long visit. If it were up to me, I’d spend my whole vacation there and in the Tetons, so much to see and do – I’d never have time to hike all the trails for sure!

  • mark

    This place looks amazing I would love to tour America just to go to Yellowstone, Zion, canyon lands and the grand canyon. Our kids would love the wildlife. fantastic post much enjoyed

  • Toni | 2 Aussie Travellers

    Yellowstone would be a fantastic place to visit, we’re definitely more attracted to the outdoors and nature based highlights a country has to offer and the US definitely has it share of those. I wasn’t even aware of the geothermal activity in the area before.

  • LeAnna

    We went to Yellowstone as a kid and, sadly, don’t remember a ton of it. However, as we plan to start RVing the country in the upcoming years, I can’t wait to return!

  • Amy

    We loved Yellowstone! I was such a skeptic, but was pleasantly shocked at how much more it was than just ‘Old Faithful’. It really is quite spectacular. Fantastic photos!

  • Hugo

    Just beautiful! I haven’t been but Yellowstone ranks really high in the list of things for my next visit to the US.

    I’m a big fan of the National Parks and have been to a few over several trips there.

    That road trip is something that I’m looking forward to.

    • anto

      The USA truly has some of the most amazing national parks and they do a great job preserving them. Travelling in the US is always such a pleasure!

  • Mar

    OMG these images and the landscapes are absolutely out of this world. I reckon that, even if I have seen them a million times, if I ever make it to yellowstone I will be as humbled and stunned as I am seeing these photos

  • Kathrin

    Wow it looks so stunning! Never really thought of going to Yellowstone but now I really have to re-consider. Love the picture of the Grand Prismatic Spring.

    P.S. I realy hope that the supervolcano is not going to exlode! 😀

  • Meg Jerrard

    Thanks for a great post! My favorite part about Yellowstone was the wdildlife, and driving our car up past a huge heard of Bison who made us stop to let them cross the road!!

    I really need to get back though because we made the epic mistake of traveling to the park on the first day of school holidays. Note to self to check those dates beforehand!!

  • Jenna

    I’m not sure why we haven’t made it out to Yellowstone yet–I’ve always wanted to go, but it always gets pushed back for some reason! Hopefully we can check it out this summer. Thanks for sharing your highlights and lowlights–Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon sounds really cool and the Grand Prismatic Spring looks so pretty! Too bad you didn’t have great conditions at the spring, but looks like you had some awesome wildlife sightings!

  • Dariece

    First off, your photos are absolutely stunning, and the photos alone are enough to inspire a visit! The Grand Prismatic Spring looks gorgeous from what you captured…I can’t imagine how breathtaking it would be in ideal condition!
    Thanks for sharing your highlights, and the things that were slightly disappointing for you.

  • Shannon

    I read this just now only to realise I’d already read it two years ago before I went to Yellowstone! I visited all the places mentioned in this post, and I agree with your verdicts, although I was definitely luckier with Mount Washburn and the Grand Prismatic Spring! Thanks again for your inspiration 🙂

  • Maria Onufrow

    I’ve really enjoyed reading your Yellowstone posts, we are going there in June and appreciate the advice. Thanks for sharing.

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