fbpx

Points of Interest in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is world-famous for its natural heritage and beauty – and for the fact that it holds half the world’s geothermal features, with more than 10,000 examples. Travelers to Yellowstone can view more than 300 geysers (such as “Old Faithful”), pools of boiling mud, and an amazing assemblage of wildlife, such as grizzly bears, wolves, bison and elk, all while standing on the surface of the Earth’s largest known “super-volcano”.

The park can be sub-divided into approximately eight major areas, which are organized below as they would be encountered by someone traveling the park in a clockwise direction, starting from the east.

Bridge Bay, Fishing Bridge & Lake

These three regions are situated on the north side of Yellowstone Lake. Recreation options include boating, fishing, and a handful of thermal features.

Thermal features and natural attractions in this area include:

  • 1 Yellowstone Lake. With a surface area of 132 square miles (340 square kilometres), Yellowstone Lake is the largest lake at high elevation (more than 7,000 ft) in North America. It is a natural lake, situated at 7,733 ft (2,357 m) above sea level. It is roughly 20 miles (32 km) long and 15 miles (24 km) wide with 141 miles (227 km) of shoreline. It is frozen nearly half the year. It freezes in late December or early January and thaws in late May or early June.  
  • Hayden and Pelican Valleys. The Hayden Valley is 6 miles (9.7 km) north of Fishing Bridge Junction. The Pelican Valley is 3 miles (4.8 km) east of Fishing Bridge. These two vast valleys comprise some of the best habitat in the lower 48 states for grizzly bears, bison, elk, and other wildlife species. 
  • 2 Natural Bridge (just south of Bridge Bay Campground). This rock formation is accessible via an easy one-mile (1.6 km) walk, and there is also a bicycle trail leading to the bridge. The Natural Bridge was formed by erosion of a rhyolite outcrop by Bridge Creek. The top of the bridge is approximately 51 ft (16 m) above the creek. A short switchback trail leads to the top, though travel across the bridge is now prohibited to protect this feature. 
  • 3 LeHardy Rapids (3 mi (4.8 km) north of Fishing Bridge). The LeHardy Rapids are a cascade on the Yellowstone River. Geomorphologically, it is thought that this is the actual spot where the lake ends and the river continues its northward flow. In the spring, many cutthroat trout may be seen here, resting in the shallow pools before expending bursts of energy to leap up the rapids on the their way to spawn under Fishing Bridge. A boardwalk, built in 1984, provides access to the area, although it is closed during the spring nesting season to protect this sensitive bird habitat. 
  • 4 Mud Volcano. This was once a hilltop thermal feature that would hurl mud into the nearby trees during eruptions, but a particularly large eruption blew apart the Mud Volcano, leaving a hot, bubbling mud pool at the base of the hill. Access to the area is via a short loop from the parking lot past the Dragon’s Mouth and the Mud Volcano that is handicapped accessible, and a half-mile (800 m) upper loop trail via Sour Lake and the Black Dragon’s Caldron that is relatively steep. The rhythmic belching of steam and the flashing tongue of water give the Dragon’s Mouth Spring its name, though its activity has decreased notably since December 1994. The Black Dragon’s Caldron exploded onto the landscape in 1948, blowing trees out by their roots and covering the surrounding forest with mud. In January 1995, a new feature on the south bank of Mud Geyser became extremely active, covering an area of 20 by 8 feet (6.1 m × 2.4 m) and comprised of fumaroles, small pools, and frying-pan type features. The most dramatic features of the Mud Volcano area, including the huge seething mud pot known as the “Gumper”, are open to the public only via off-boardwalk ranger-guided walks. 
  • 5 Sulphur Caldron. The Sulphur Caldron area can be viewed from a staging area just north of Mud Volcano. The yellow, turbulent splashing waters of the Sulphur Caldron are among the most acidic in the park with a pH of 1.3. Other features which can be viewed from this overlook are Turbulent Pool (which is no longer “turbulent”) and the crater of a large, active mud pot. 

Historical and educational attractions in this area include:

  • Fishing Bridge. The original bridge was built in 1902 as a rough-hewn corduroy log bridge with a slightly different alignment than the current bridge. The existing bridge was built in 1937. The Fishing Bridge was historically a tremendously popular place to fish. Angling from the bridge was quite good, due to the fact that it was a major spawning area for cutthroat trout. However, because of the decline of the cutthroat population (in part, a result of this practice), the bridge was closed to fishing in 1973. Since that time, it has become a popular place to observe fish. 
  • 6 Fishing Bridge Museum and Visitor Center. The Fishing Bridge Museum was completed in 1931 and would eventually become a prototype of rustic architecture in parks all over the nation. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987. When automobiles replaced stagecoaches as the main means of transportation through the park, people were no longer accompanied by a guide, so the museum was built as a “Trailside Museum,” allowing visitors to obtain information about Yellowstone on their own.  
  • 7 Lake Yellowstone Hotel. The Lake Yellowstone Hotel opened in 1891 on a site long known as a meeting place for Indians, trappers, and mountain men. At that time, it was not particularly distinctive, resembling any other railroad hotel financed by the Northern Pacific Railroad. It was renovated in 1903, with additional changes made in 1929. By the 1970s, the Hotel had fallen into serious disrepair. In 1981, the National Park Service and the park concessionaire, TW Recreational Services, embarked upon a ten-year project to restore the Lake Hotel in appearance to its days of glory in the 1920s. The work was finished for the celebration of the hotel’s centennial in 1991. The Hotel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places that year. 
  • 8 Lake Ranger Station. After a decade of military administration in Yellowstone, Congress created the National Park Service in 1916. Ranger stations began to replace soldier stations throughout the park. The Lake Ranger Station was completed in 1923. The first Director of the National Park Service, Steven Mather, suggested that the station should blend in with its natural and cultural environment. A local woodsman used pioneer building techniques to give the station its “trapper cabin” style. With park architects, Superintendent Horace Albright designed a large octagonal “community room” with a central stone fireplace. This rustic hall served an informational function by day, and, in the evening, it became the scene of a folksy gathering around a log fire. 
  • 9 The Lake Lodge. The advent of the auto in the park in 1915 created a great influx of visitors. The need arose for an intermediate style of lodging between the luxury of the Lake Hotel and the rustic accommodations of the tent camps. In 1926, the Lake Lodge (also a Robert Reamer design) was completed, one of four lodges in the park. The park was no longer primarily accessible to only affluent “dudes” or hearty “sagebrushers.” 

West Thumb & Grant Village

Fishing Cone Geyser and Yellowstone Lake.

These two villages are on the western side of Yellowstone Lake and offer boating, fishing, and some interesting thermal features, including the “Fishing Cone”, a hot springs that bubbles out directly into the lake. The area’s name comes from the fact that with a little imagination, Yellowstone Lake looks like a left hand reaching southward, and this area would be the “thumb” of that hand.

Thermal features and natural attractions in this area include:

  • 10 Yellowstone Lake. Like Lake Village and Fishing Village, this area provides access to North America’s largest high elevation lake. The topmost layers of the lake rarely exceeds 66 °F (19 °C), and the lower layers are much colder; because of the extremely cold water, swimming is not recommended.  
  • 11 West Thumb Geyser Basin. This geyser basin is situated along the shore for a distance of 2 miles (3.2 km), extending back from it about 500 yards (460 m) and into the lake perhaps as many feet. There are several hundred springs here, varying in size from miniature fountains to pools or wells 75 feet (23 m) in diameter and of great depth. Additionally, a small cluster of mud springs. Of particular note, the Abyss Pool offers an optical illusion that makes it look bottomless, and Fishing Cone is a offshore pool which was once popular as a spot to cook newly-caught fish by dipping them into this partially submerged hot spring. (This stunt is no longer allowed.) 
  • 12 Heart Lake. Lying in the Snake River watershed west of Lewis Lake and south of Yellowstone Lake, Heart Lake was named sometime before 1871 for Hart Hunney, an early hunter. 
  • 13 Isa Lake. This lake is on the Continental Divide at Craig Pass in 1891. Isa Lake is noteworthy as probably the only lake on earth that drains naturally to two oceans backwards, the east side draining to the Pacific and the west side to the Atlantic. 
  • 14 Red Mountains. This small range of mountains, just west of Heart Lake, is completely contained within the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park. The name of the range comes from the color of the volcanic rocks which compose them. There are 12 peaks in the range, with 10,308-foot-high (3,142 m) Mount Sheridan being the highest. 
  • 15 Shoshone Lake. This lake is the park’s second largest lake and is at the head of the Lewis River southwest of West Thumb. Shoshone Lake is 205 feet (62 m) at its maximum depth and has an area of 8,050 acres (32.6 square kilometres). Shoshone Lake used to be barren of fish owing to waterfalls on the Lewis River, but today the lake contains introduced lake trout, brown trout, and Utah chubs. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service believes that Shoshone Lake may be the largest lake in the lower 48 states that cannot be reached by road. No motorboats are allowed on the lake. 

Historical and educational attractions in this area include:

  • West Thumb Ranger Station. Built in 1925, with the open breezeway enclosed in 1966, the West Thumb Ranger Station is an excellent example of historic architecture associated with ranger stations in Yellowstone. 

Old Faithful

The Grand Prismatic Spring, viewed from above. For a closer view, there are raised boardwalks around the spring and nearby pools (viewable in the detail of the picture)

Old Faithful is the image people think of when they think of Yellowstone, and the geyser erupts regularly (check the visitor center for estimated eruption times). This area is also home to the iconic and historic Old Faithful Inn, as well as a vast number of geysers and hot springs that are easily accessible via boardwalks.

Thermal features and natural attractions in this area include:

  • 16 Upper Geyser Basin. Yellowstone, as a whole, possesses close to sixty percent of the world’s geysers, and the Upper Geyser Basin is home to the largest numbers of this fragile feature found in the park, including the iconic “Old Faithful” geyser. Old Faithful, the world’s most famous geyser, has large eruptions occurring an average of about once every eighty minutes, although the timing between each eruption varies by as much as an hour and has been increasing over the years. Rangers are able to predict the geyser’s eruptions to within about ten minutes, provided the duration of the previous eruption is known. In addition to Old Faithful, this basin contains an additional 150 geysers within a one square mile (0.65 km2) area; of this remarkable number, the eruptions of Castle, Grand, Daisy, Riverside, and Old Faithful are predicted regularly by the naturalist staff. In addition to geysers the area is home to numerous hot springs. Boardwalks allow access to the most interesting areas. Do not leave the trails; the surface here is thin and unstable and has a real chance of depositing you in a boiling pool of water if you walk where you’re not supposed to. 
  • 17 Lower Geyser Basin. This large area of hydrothermal activity can be viewed by foot along the boardwalk trail at Fountain Paint Pots and by car along the 3-mile (4.8 km) Firehole Lake Drive. The latter is a one-way drive where you will find the sixth geyser predicted by the Old Faithful staff: Great Fountain. Its splashy eruptions send jets of diamond droplets bursting 100–200 feet (30–60 metres) in the air, while waves of water cascade down the raised terraces. Patience is a virtue with this twice-a-day geyser, as the predictions allow a 2-hour (plus or minus) window of opportunity. Fountain Flats Drive departs the Grand Loop Road just south of the Nez Perce picnic area and follows along the Firehole River to a trail head 1.5 mi (2.4 km) distant. From there, the Fountain Freight Road hiking/biking trail continues along the old roadbed giving hikers access to the Sentinel Meadows Trail and the Fairy Falls Trail. Also along this path is the only handicapped-accessible backcountry site in the Old Faithful district at Goose Lake. 
  • 18 Midway Geyser Basin. This geyser basin is on a hill overlooking the Firehole River. Smaller in size than the other geyser basins in the area, the runoff from its thermal features flows into the river, leaving steaming, colorful trails in its wake. In particular, Excelsior Geyser reveals a gaping crater 200 ft × 300 ft (60 m × 90 m) with a constant discharge of more than 4,000 US gallons (15,000 litres) of water per minute into the Firehole River; this geyser once erupted so violently that it may in fact have blown itself up, and no eruptions have since occurred. Also in this surprising basin is Yellowstone’s largest hot spring, the beautifully-colored Grand Prismatic Spring. This feature is 370 feet (110 m) in diameter and is 160 feet (50 m) deep. The Fairy Falls trailhead provides access to an observation platform on the hill behind the spring that lets you get an elevated view of the entire basin. 
  • 19 Lone Star Geyser Basin. This backcountry geyser basin is easily reached by a 5-mile (8.0 km) round-trip hike that follows an old, now-closed road from the trail-head south of Old Faithful. Lone Star Geyser erupts about every three hours. There is a logbook, in a cache near the geyser, for observations of geyser times and types of eruptions. Bicycles can make it most of the way to Lone Star. 
  • 20 Shoshone Geyser Basin. Shoshone Geyser Basin is reached by a 17-mile (27 km) round-trip hike that crosses the Continental Divide at Grant’s Pass. This basin has no boardwalks, and extreme caution should be exercised when traveling through it. Trails in the basin must be used. Remote thermal areas, such as this, should be approached with respect, knowledge, and care. Be sure to emphasize personal safety and resource protection when entering a backcountry basin. 
  • 21 Firehole River. The river derives its name from the steam (which they thought was smoke from fires) witnessed by early trappers to the area. Their term for a mountain valley was “hole,” and the designation was born. The Firehole River boasts a world-famous reputation for challenging fly-fishing. Brown, rainbow, and brook trout give the angler a wary target in this stream. 
  • 22 Kepler Cascades. This is the most easily reached waterfall in the district. A marked pullout just south of Old Faithful and a short walk from the car offers the visitor easy access to view this 125-foot (38 m) cascade.  
  • 23 Morning Glory Pool. Named after the flower “morning glory” (Convolutus), which the pool resembles. The color of the pool is due to bacteria which inhabit the water. The pool rarely erupts. Lately the color changed due to clogging, caused by tourists throwing objects into the pit.  

Historical and educational attractions in this area include:

  • 24 Old Faithful Inn. Built during the winter of 1903-04, the Old Faithful Inn is one of the few remaining log hotels in the United States. It is a masterpiece of rustic architecture in its stylized design and fine craftsmanship. Its influence on American architecture, particularly park architecture, was immeasurable. The building is a rustic log and wood-frame structure with gigantic proportions: nearly 700 feet (210 m) in length and seven stories high. The lobby of the hotel features a 65-foot (20 m) ceiling, a massive rhyolite fireplace, and railings made of contorted lodgepole pine. Visitor can stand in the middle of the lobby and look up at the exposed structure, or climb up a gnarled log staircase to one of the balconies and look up, down, or across. Wings were added to the hotel in 1915 and 1927, and today there are 327 rooms available to guests in this National Historic Landmark.  
  • Lower Hamilton Store. Built in 1897, this is the oldest structure in the Old Faithful area still in use. The “knotty pine” porch is a popular resting place for visitors, providing a great view of Geyser Hill. (The oldest building at Old Faithful was built as a photo studio in 1897 for F. Jay Haynes. It used to be 700 ft (210 m) southwest of Beehive Geyser and about 350 ft (110 m) northwest of the front of the Old Faithful Inn, but it now stands near the intersection of the Grand Loop Road and the fire lane, near the crosswalk.) 

Madison

Madison is midway between Old Faithful and the Norris Geyser basin and offers an array of thermal features.

  • 25 Artists Paintpots. Artists Paintpots is a small but lovely thermal area just south of Norris Junction. A one-mile (1.6 km) round trip trail takes visitors to colorful hot springs, two large mud pots, and through a section of forest burned in 1988. Adjacent to this area are three other off-trail, backcountry thermal areas: Sylvan Springs, Gibbon Hill Geyser Basin, and Geyser Creek Thermal area. These areas are fragile, dangerous, and difficult to get to; travel without knowledgeable personnel is discouraged. 
  • 26 Gibbon Falls. This 84-foot (26 m) waterfall tumbles over remnants of the Yellowstone Caldera rim and is easily accessible from a pullover on the park road. The rock wall on the opposite side of the road from the waterfall is the inner rim of the caldera.  
  • 27 Monument Geyser Basin. This small, nearly dormant basin lies at the top of a very steep one-mile (1.6 km) trail. Highlights of the area include thermos-bottle shaped geyser cones that are remnants of a much more active time, several intriguing travertine structures, and some great views.  
  • 28 Madison River. The Madison River is formed at the junction of the Gibbon and Firehole rivers, hence Madison Junction. The Madison joins the Jefferson and the Gallatin rivers at Three Forks, Montana, to form the Missouri River. The Madison is a blue-ribbon fly fishing stream with healthy stocks of brown and rainbow trout and mountain whitefish. The canyon created by the river consists of steep, tree-covered rock walls on each side. 
  • Terrace Springs. The small thermal area just north of Madison Junction. This area provides the visitor with a short boardwalk tour of hot springs. 
  • 29 Firehole Canyon Drive and Firehole Falls. Firehole Canyon Drive, a side road, follows the Firehole River upstream from Madison Junction to just above Firehole Falls. The drive takes sightseers past 800-foot (240 m) thick lava flows. Firehole Falls is a 40-foot (12 m) waterfall. An unstaffed swimming area here is very popular in the warmest of the summer season. Cliff diving is illegal. 
  • 30 National Park Mountain. The mountain is part of the lava flows that encircle the Madison Junction area. Near this site, in 1870, the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition is said to have camped and discussed the future of the region they were exploring. Legend has it that this was where the idea of the national park was discussed, but there is no evidence of the campfire conversation ever taking place, and there is certainly no evidence to show that the idea of a national park was discussed.  

Norris

Looking like an image from space, mattes of cyanobacteria thrive in the scalding waters of Biscuit Basin.

South of Mammoth, the Norris area is a home to a vast array of thermal features, including Steamboat Geyser, the world’s largest. The area was named after Philetus W. Norris, the second superintendent of Yellowstone, who provided the first detailed information about the thermal features.

Thermal features and natural attractions in this area include:

  • 31 Norris Geyser Basin. Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest, oldest, and most dynamic of Yellowstone’s thermal areas. The highest temperature yet recorded in any geothermal area in Yellowstone was measured in a scientific drill hole at Norris: 459 °F (237 °C) just 1,087 ft (331 m) below the surface, and there are very few thermal features at Norris under the boiling point (199 °F or 93 °C at this elevation). Norris shows evidence of having had thermal features for at least 115,000 years. The features in the basin change daily, with frequent disturbances from seismic activity and water fluctuations. Steamboat Geyser, the tallest geyser in the world (300 to 400 feet or 90 to 120 metres) and Echinus Geyser (pH 3.5 or so) are the most popular features. The basin consists of three areas: Porcelain Basin, Back Basin, and One Hundred Springs Plain. Porcelain Basin is barren of trees and provides a sensory experience in sound, color, and smell; a 3/4-mile (1.2 km) dirt and boardwalk trail accesses this area. Back Basin is more heavily wooded with features scattered throughout the area; a 1.5-mile (2.4 km) trail of boardwalk and dirt encircles this part of the basin. One Hundred Springs Plain is an off-trail section of the Norris Geyser Basin that is very acidic, hollow, and dangerous. Travel is discouraged without the guidance of knowledgeable staff members.  
  • 32 Roaring Mountain. Next to the park road just north of Norris on the Norris-Mammoth section of the Grand Loop Road, Roaring Mountain is a large, acidic thermal area (solfatara) that contains many steam vents (fumaroles) which make noises ranging from a nearly inaudible whisper to a roar that can be heard miles away. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the number, size, and power of the fumaroles was much greater than today. 
  • 33 Gibbon River. The Gibbon River flows from Wolf Lake through the Norris area and meets the Firehole River at Madison Junction to form the Madison River. Both cold and hot springs are responsible for the majority of the Gibbon’s flow. Brook trout, brown trout, grayling, and rainbow trout find the Gibbon to their liking. The Gibbon River is fly-fishing only below Gibbon Falls. 
  • 34 Virginia Cascades. A three-mile (4.8 km) section of the old road takes visitors past 60-foot (18 m) high Virginia Cascades. This cascading waterfall is formed by the very small (at that point) Gibbon River. 
  • Norris-Canyon Blowdown. This is a 22-mile (35 km) swath of lodgepole pine blown down by wind-shear action in 1984. It was then burned during the North Fork fire in 1988. This is the site where a famous news anchor said, “Tonight, this is all that’s left of Yellowstone.” A wayside exhibit there tells the story. 

Historical and educational attractions in this area include:

  • The Norris Soldier Station. The Norris Soldier Station (Museum of the National Park Ranger) was an outlying station for soldiers to patrol and watch over Norris Geyser Basin. It was among the longest occupied stations in the park. A prior structure was built in 1886, replaced after fire in 1897, and modified in 1908. After the Army years, the building was used as a Ranger Station and residence until the 1959 earthquake caused structural damage. The building was restored in 1991. 
  • 35 The Norris Geyser Basin Museum. The Norris Geyser Basin Museum is one of the park’s original trailside museums built in 1929-30. It has always been a museum. It is an outstanding example of a stone-and-log architecture.  

Mammoth

Hot pools and travertine terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs. The color in the rock is due to algae living in the warm pools that have stained the travertine shades of brown, orange, red, and green.

Mammoth is home to the park headquarters and the impressive calcite terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs. This area has numerous services and is a surprisingly good place to see elk grazing on the manicured lawns surrounding the park administrative buildings.

Thermal features and natural attractions in this area include:

  • 36 Mammoth Hot Springs. These mammoth rock formations are the main attraction of the Mammoth District and are accessible via boardwalk. These features are quite different from thermal areas elsewhere in the park as travertine formations grow much more rapidly than sinter formations due to the softer nature of limestone. As hot water rises through limestone, large quantities of rock are dissolved by the hot water, and a white chalky mineral is deposited on the surface. Formations here change rapidly, and while a favorite spring may appear to have “died,” it is important to realize that the location of springs and the rate of flow changes daily, that “on-again-off-again” is the rule, and that the overall volume of water discharged by all of the springs fluctuates little.  
  • 37 The Gardner River and Gardner River Canyon. The North Entrance Road from Gardiner, Montana, to Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming, runs along the Gardner River. The road winds into the park, up the canyon, past crumbling walls of sandstone and ancient mudflows. The vegetation is much thicker in the canyon than on the open prairie down below, the common trees being Rocky Mountain juniper, cottonwood, and Douglas-fir. Low-growing willows also crowd the river’s edge in the flatter, flood-prone sections of the canyon. Watch for wildlife in season: eagles, osprey, dippers, and kingfishers along the river and bighorn sheep in the steeper parts of the canyon.  
  • 38 45th Parallel Bridge and Boiling River. A sign north of where the road crosses the Gardner River marks the 45th parallel of latitude. A little distance south of the sign, a parking area on the east side of the road is used by bathers in the “Boiling River”, one of a very few spots in the park where visitors can soak in naturally-heated water. Bathers must walk upstream about a half mile (800 m) from the parking area to the place where the footpath reaches the river. This spot is also marked by large clouds of steam, especially in cold weather. Here, the hot water runoff from the Mammoth Terraces, enters the Gardner River. The hot and the cold water mix in pools along the river’s edge. Bathers are allowed in the river during daylight hours only. Bathing suits are required, and no alcoholic beverages are allowed. Boiling River is closed in the springtime due to hazardous high water and often does not reopen until mid-summer. It tends to be very crowded, so try to visit very early in the morning during peak season. 
  • 39 Mt. Everts. Mt. Everts was named for explorer Truman Everts of the 1870 Washburn Expedition who became separated from his camping buddies, lost his glasses, lost his horse, and spent the next 37 days starving and freezing and hallucinating as he made his way through the un-tracked and inhospitable wilderness. Upon rescue, he was, according to his rescuers, within but a few hours of death. Everts never made it quite as far as Mt. Everts. He was found near the “Cut” on the Blacktail Plateau Drive and was mistaken for a black bear and nearly shot. His story, which he later published in Scribner’s Monthly Magazine, remains one of Yellowstone’s best known, lost-in-the-wilderness stories. It has also been published in book form, edited by Yellowstone’s archivist Lee Whittlesey under the name Lost in the Yellowstone. Mt. Everts is made up of distinctly layered sandstones and shales–sedimentary rocks deposited when this area was covered by a shallow inland sea, 70 to 140 million years ago.  
  • 40 Bunsen Peak. Bunsen Peak and the “Bunsen burner” were both named for the German physicist, Robert Wilhelm Bunsen. He was involved in pioneering research about geysers, and a “Bunsen burner” has a resemblance to a geyser. His theory on geysers was published in the 1800s, and it is still believed to be accurate. Bunsen Peak is 8,564-foot-high (2,610 m) and may be climbed via a trail that starts at the Golden Gate. Another trail, the old Bunsen Peak road, skirts around the flank of the peak from the YCC camp to the Golden Gate. This old road may be used by hikers, mountain-bikers, and skiers in winter. The peak overlooks the old Ft. Yellowstone area and it is only a gradual climb. Bring water and snacks (and bear bells if you think they’ll work).  

Historical and educational attractions in this area include:

  • 41 Fort Yellowstone. All of the red-roofed, many-chimneyed buildings in the Mammoth area are part of historic Fort Yellowstone. Beginning in 1886, after 14 years of poor civilian management of the park, the Cavalry was called upon to manage the park’s resources and visitors. Because the Cavalry only expected to be here a short while, they built a temporary post near the base of the Terraces called Camp Sheridan. After five cold, harsh winters, they realized that their stay in the park was going to be longer than expected, so they built Fort Yellowstone, a permanent post. In 1891, the first building to be constructed was the guard house because it directly coincided with the Cavalry’s mission – protection and management. By 1916, the National Park Service was established, and the Cavalry gave control of Yellowstone back to the civilians. Since that time, historic Fort Yellowstone has been Yellowstone’s headquarters.  
  • 42 Roosevelt Arch. The first major entrance for Yellowstone was at the north boundary. Robert Reamer, a famous architect in Yellowstone, designed the immense stone arch for coaches to travel through on their way into the park. At the time of the arch’s construction, President Theodore Roosevelt was visiting the park. He consequently placed the cornerstone for the arch, which then took his name. The top of the Roosevelt Arch is inscribed with “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people,” which is from the Organic Act of 1916.  
  • Kite Hill Cemetery. Dating to the 1880s, this cemetery contains graves of early settlers and employees. 
  • Yellowstone Archives, Heritage and Research Center (go out through the North Entrance ( the Roosevelt Arch), bear left as you enter Gardiner, and go past the local high school (on the right); the road will re-enter the Park boundaries near the Center). Often overlooked because it’s not well-advertised to Park Visitors, the Archives hold records and materials that are part of the National Archives, but in this case the location is managed by NPS. The Archives are generally open to the public May through September, but advance appointments are required (mainly due to staffing constraints). In the Archives, you can find original photographs, journals and maps used by the original European expeditions to the area, along with more than a century of records, logs, photos and other materials starting from the Park’s earliest days. Only a tiny fraction of these materials are represented in the various interpretive locations around the Park. The only danger to you here is time; it’s easy to get lost in the history. (updated Sep 2019 | )

Tower-Roosevelt

The Tower area is one of the park’s more rugged regions and is a good place for spotting wildlife. The Lamar Valley, east of Tower, is home to one of the park’s more accessible wolf packs as well as elk, bighorn, and other large animals.

Thermal features and natural attractions in this area include:

  • 43 Petrified Tree. The Petrified Tree, near the Lost Lake trail head, is an excellent example of an ancient redwood, similar to many found on Specimen Ridge, that is easily accessible to park visitors. 
  • 44 Specimen Ridge. Along the Northeast Entrance Road east of Tower Junction, this area contains the largest concentration of petrified trees in the world. There are also excellent samples of petrified leaf impressions, conifer needles, and microscopic pollen from numerous species no longer growing in the park.  
  • 45 Tower Fall. This 132-foot-tall (40 m) waterfall is easily accessible from the main park road and is framed by eroded volcanic pinnacles.  
  • 46 Calcite Springs. This grouping of thermal springs along the Yellowstone River signals the downstream end of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The steep, columnar basalt cliffs on the opposite side of the river from the overlook are remnants of an ancient lava flow, providing a window into the past volcanic forces that shaped much of the Yellowstone landscape. The gorge and cliffs provide habitat for numerous wildlife species including bighorn sheep, red-tailed hawks, and osprey.  

Historical and educational attractions in this area include:

  • 47 The Buffalo Ranch. The Lamar Buffalo Ranch was built in the early part of the century in an effort to increase the herd size of the few remaining bison in Yellowstone, preventing the feared extinction of the species. Buffalo ranching operations continued at Lamar until the 1950s. The valley was irrigated for hay pastures, and corrals and fencing were scattered throughout the area. Four remaining buildings from the original ranch compound are contained within the Lamar Buffalo Ranch Historic District (two residences, the bunkhouse, and the barn) and are on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can drive by to view the historic buffalo ranch, however, there are no facilities open to the general public at this location.  
  • 48 The Tower Ranger Station & Roosevelt National Historic District. The Tower Ranger Station, though not on the National Register of Historic Places, is a remodeled reconstruction of the second Tower Soldier Station, which was built in 1907. The Roosevelt Lodge was constructed in 1920 and has been determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The Roosevelt National Historic District also includes the Roosevelt cabins.  
  • 49 The Northeast Entrance Ranger Station. The Northeast Entrance Ranger Station was constructed in 1934-35 and is a National Historic Landmark. Its rustic log construction is characteristic of “parkitecture” common in the national parks of the west during that period.  

Canyon

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Yellowstone Falls

The Canyon village is named after the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and offers access to this impressive natural landscape. Recreational opportunities include hiking and wildlife viewing – the Hayden Valley area is probably the best place in the park for seeing bison.

Thermal features and natural attractions in this area include:

  • 50 The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is the primary geologic feature in the Canyon District. It is roughly 20 miles (32 km) long, measured from the Upper Falls to the Tower Fall area. Depth is 800 to 1,200 feet (240 to 370 m); width is 1,500 to 1,400 feet (460 to 430 m). The present canyon is no more than 10,000 to 14,000 years old, although there has probably been a canyon in this location for a much longer period. Chemical processes over time have left stripes and patches of different colors in the rock of this canyon. Trails lead along the north and south rims of the canyon, but while traveling the entire trail in one day is possible, it makes for a long and tiring day. Best to make it two shorter (~3 hour) day hikes. If you’re a photo buff, plan your walks so the sun illuminates the opposite side for great pictures.  
  • 51 The Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone. The Upper Falls is 109-foot-high (33 m) high and can be seen from the Brink of the Upper Falls Trail and from Uncle Tom’s Trail. The Lower Falls is 308-foot-high (94 m) and can be seen from Lookout Point, Red Rock Point, Artist Point, Brink of the Lower Falls Trail, and from various points on the South Rim Trail. The Lower Falls is often described as being more than twice the size of Niagara, although this only refers to its height and not the volume of water flowing over it. A third falls can be found in the canyon between the Upper and Lower falls. Crystal Falls is the outfall of Cascade Creek into the canyon. It can be seen from the South Rim Trail just east of the Uncle Tom’s area.  
  • 52 Hayden Valley. Hayden Valley is one of the best places in the park to view a wide variety of wildlife. It is an excellent place to look for grizzly bears, particularly in the spring and early summer when they may be preying upon newborn bison and elk calves. Large herds of bison may be viewed in the spring, early summer, and during the fall rut, which usually begins late July to early August. Coyotes can almost always be seen in the valley. Bird life is abundant in and along the river. A variety of shore birds may be seen in the mud flats at Alum Creek. A pair of sandhill cranes usually nests at the south end of the valley. Ducks, geese, and American white pelicans cruise the river. The valley is also an excellent place to look for bald eagles and northern harriers.  
  • 53 Mt. Washburn. Mt. Washburn is the main peak in the Washburn Range, rising 10,243 ft (3,122 m) above the west side of the canyon. It is the remnant of volcanic activity that took place long before the formation of the present canyon. Mt. Washburn was named for Gen. Henry Dana Washburn, leader of the 1870 Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition. One of the best places in the park for spotting bighorn sheep and also a great spot for wildflowers, a trail leads up the mountain to a lookout tower near the 10,243-foot (3,122 m) summit. The altitude may affect some hikers, so it is best to be acclimatized to the higher elevation before attempting this hike. In addition, bring extra layers, even in the summer, since the top can be windy and cold.  

Historical and educational attractions in this area include:

  • 54 Canyon Village. The Canyon Village complex is part of the Mission 66 project in the park. The Visitor Center was completed in 1957, and the new lodge was open for business in the same year. Though some people consider the development representative of the architecture of the time, none of the present buildings in the complex can be considered historic. There are, however, still remnants of the old hotel, lodge, and related facilities.