What to See and Do
- Opened at the end of August 2006, the beautifully upgraded Canyon Visitor Center displays the volcanic source of Yellowstone's wonders in ways that all can understand. Exhibits about the caldera eruptions, subsequent lava flows, glacial effects, and earthquakes bring you up to date on scientific knowledge about the park's geology. Don't miss it on your next visit to the Canyon area!
- The Old Faithful Visitor Education Center that opened in August 2010 is a wonderful place to orient your family to what Yellowstone has to offer. Lots of rangers are at the counter to answer questions, and there's an excellent bookstore. You will want to spend some time in the exhibit rooms. All types of hydrothermal features are explained, a model geyser works itself up to a small eruption about every nine minutes, and there are highlights of the scientific discoveries being made in the park and a diorama of Yellowstone's life forms.
- If you visit Mammoth Hot Springs, be sure to ask at the visitor center about where to see the best thermal activity, which varies greatly from month to month.
- The springs at Mammoth Hot Springs are not for soaking your body, but some of them are a treat for the eyes. To visit the best features, you may need to climb a lot of stairs. But the hot spring activity varies greatly, and some years you will see beautifully active springs and terraces not far from the settled area at Mammoth and near the Upper Terrace Drive.
- On a short loop walk at Fountain Paint Pot, you'll pass a delicately colored plopping mud pot, a fumarole, and several hot pools on the way to frequently erupting geysers. Try to catch Fountain Geyser in one of its beautiful 100-foot (30 m) eruptions; it plays every few hours.
- Some of the best photos of Grand Prismatic Spring have been taken from the air, but if you are determined to reach a good viewpoint you might climb Midway Bluff or the burned-over hill skirted by the Fairy Falls Trail.
- Autumn is the time when elk bulls can be heard making their high-pitched bugling sound as they round up their harem.
- Two large animals you are sure to see during even a short park visit are bison and elk. Bears, moose, and wolves are more elusive.
- It's easy to tell squirrels from chipmunks (both very plentiful in Yellowstone): chipmunks have stripes on their faces and bodies, but squirrels have them only on their bodies. Please don't feed either one!
- Two kinds of birds may want to share your idyllic picnics: gray jays and Clark's nutcrackers.
- Although white-tailed deer occur in Yellowstone, the big-eared mule deer are much more common.
- Remember that you must not approach or feed any wildlife in the park. You must stay at least 100 yards (91 m) away from bears and wolves and at least 25 yards (23 m) away from other wildlife, including bison, elk, and coyotes.
- From Soda Butte westward on the Northeast Entrance Road, look for wolves. There are fewer wolves now than when the Druids and Slough Creek pack dominated the Lamar Valley. The Druid pack is completely gone, but wolf watchers with spotting scopes still see other packs in both the Lamar and Hayden Valleys.
- The third week of October every year is Wolf Awareness Week.
- Recent estimates put the number of grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem at about 500 to 600 (with at least half that many in the park itself); black bears exist there in similar numbers.
- To decide whether a bear you see at a distance is a black or a grizzly, try to observe its overall size. Adult black bears are usually about 3 feet (90 cm) in shoulder height; a grizzly boar may be 4.5 feet (1.4 m) high.
- To treat yourself to an incredibly expansive view of the whole southeast quadrant of Yellowstone Park, look out from the lakeshore platform in front of Lake Hotel, where you'll see many square miles of lake and dozens of mountains on three sides.
- A good place to see the northern edge of the present Yellowstone caldera is along the east-west stretch of road that leads from Madison Junction to Gibbon Falls.
- For an unusual and uncrowded view into the Yellowstone River canyon across the river from the busy Tower Fall area, take the Specimen Ridge Trail from the Yellowstone River picnic area. You can see Calcite Springs and sometimes spy osprey or peregrine falcon nests in the canyon.
- Both approaches to the Northeast Entrance, from either Billings, Montana or Cody, Wyoming, take you over beautiful high mountain passes on the way into the park.
- Entering the park through the Northeast Entrance, you'll find some mountains with "layer-cake geology."
- Lower in elevation than any of the other entrances, the North Entrance has always been the most accessible by road (and formerly by rail) from Montana towns such as Helena, Butte, Billings, or Bozeman.
- If you approach the West Entrance via U.S. Highway 191, you travel through the Gallatin River canyon. Here along the river and in Gallatin National Forest, opportunities for camping, hiking, horseback riding, fishing, kayaking, and float trips abound.
- Mountain lovers and back-country hikers would do well to choose the South Entrance. The entire southern section of the park is remote mountain country of undeveloped high meadow and forest.
- The East Entrance will be your first choice if you're interested in Native American lore or western museums (in Cody), or horseback riding and guest ranches. Between Cody and the park, you can indulge in every sort of outdoor activity, from golf and fishing to backpacking and windsurfing.
- Fall is short but wonderful in Yellowstone National Park! The month of September and part of October make up Yellowstone's autumn; because of the high altitude, after about mid October there are likely to be more snowy days than warm ones.
- Autumn is when the bull elk are bugling their unearthly sounds to assert their dominance over the area (and over the cows), bears are coming to the lower altitudes to forage for the foods they need to gorge on before hibernation, and the aspen trees are turning golden. Best of all, the visitors have thinned out remarkably.
- Head over to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone to marvel at the world's most spectacular combination of rainbow-colored canyon walls and breathtaking waterfalls. The light is great for photography this time of year, and the trails, lakes, and mountains await you.
- So-called ghost trees, covered with ice, and a huge ice pyramid at Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River are two of the fabulous winter sights in Yellowstone.
- From mid December until sometime in May, the West, East and South park entrances are closed to cars and trucks but open to skiers, snowshoers, snowcoaches, and snowmobiles. Call the Yellowstone National Park information office (307-344-2117) for current road information.
- In winter, the park offers ranger-led snowshoe walks along the Riverside Trail inside the West Entrance. Participants are asked to bring their own snowshoes, dress warmly with layered clothes, and to bring sunglasses, a light snack, and water.
- Horses are available at Canyon, Mammoth and Tower-Roosevelt junctions, for hire from the park concessionaire. The Gallatin Range in the northwest corner and the Lamar Valley are popular areas for horseback riding.
- In Shoshone National Forest, at the foot of Beartooth Butte, lies crystal-clear Beartooth Lake. There you'll find a campground with 21 sites, a picnic area, and a boat ramp. Call (307) 527-6241 to reach the Shoshone National Forest.
- Yellowstone park ranger-interpreters answer questions, predict geyser eruptions, present evening amphitheater programs, and lead daytime hikes. Rangers are available at ranger stations and visitor centers at many points in the park, but the Lake Village ranger station is now closed.