Montana and Wyoming Road Trip

Home to some of the country’s most scenic landscapes, Montana and Wyoming have so much to offer. The Montana and Wyoming Road Trip lets you explore three of America’s most beloved national parks and several other prominent sites in these sparsely populated states.

Where to Go

Jackson

Start your road trip in Jackson, which serves as a gateway to Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and three ski resorts. Located in the Jackson Hole Valley, snow-capped peaks line this resort town to give visitors spectacular views of the Teton mountain range. The Snake River cuts through the valley and draws rafters, paddlers, kayakers, and anglers. These pristine waters are home to lots of native species, and you’ll often find elk, bison, bald eagles, and other creatures beside the river. Snowy winters host skiers and snowboarders on the slopes of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Snow King Mountain, and Grand Targhee.

Grand Teton National Park

The next stop on your road trip will be Grand Teton National Park. The craggy peaks of the Teton Range take the spotlight inside this nature lover’s paradise. Below the snow-capped mountains lie more than 300,000 acres of glacial lakes, peaceful rivers, alpine meadows, and diverse wildlife. Driving around Grand Teton is a photographer’s dream with picturesque sights like the Moulton Barn and Oxbow Bend. When you’re not clutching your camera, more than 200 miles of hiking trails lead you into the rugged wilderness. The wild waters of the Snake River have some of the country’s best rafting and fly fishing. Those wishing to relax can lounge beneath the mountains and dip their feet in the many crystal-clear lakes dotting the park. Jackson Lake and Jenny Lake garner much of the fame but don’t count out others such as String Lake and Leigh Lake.

Yellowstone National Park

Continue on to Yellowstone National Park. As America’s first national park, Yellowstone remains a cherished piece of natural beauty that has inspired pioneers and artists for over 100 years. Although mostly in Wyoming, parts of the park stretch into Montana and Idaho. Yellowstone stands out for its geothermal wonders such as the colorful Grand Prismatic Spring and the iconic Old Faithful geyser. Upper Geyser Basin contains more geysers than anywhere on the planet and boardwalks meander around the steaming vents. The wildlife watching is incredible and sightings of bison, grizzly bears, elk, bighorn sheep, and moose are common. Lamar Valley, Hayden Valley, and Mammoth Hot Springs are among the most reliable spots to witness animal gatherings. The park’s 900+ miles of hiking trails lead trekkers to breathtaking sights such as Yellowstone Lake and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

Flathead National Forest

The next stop on your road trip lies just south of Glacier National Park. Flathead National Forest offers more than 2.4 million acres of untamed wilderness. The crowds seem to fade along the 2,600 miles of hiking trails engulfed by snowy mountaintops and pristine forests. Scenic lakes and rivers boast some of Montana’s best fishing holes and floating adventures. The 3-Forks of the Flathead River host lots of recreational activities such as whitewater rafting, boating trips, and camping. Swimmers can take a refreshing dip in the nearby Flathead Lake, one of America’s largest freshwater lakes.

Glacier National Park

As you continue on, you’ll hit Glacier National Park, which earns the title “Crown of the Continent” for its dramatic mountain peaks and diverse ecosystem. More than 700 miles of hiking trails and 130 known lakes lead to untamed discoveries inside the Montana wilderness. The Going-to-the-Sun Road courses through the park and takes drivers to many scenic viewpoints. Have your camera ready for jaw-dropping images of Lake McDonald, Logan Pass, and Oberlin Bend. The vigorous Highline Trail and Hidden Lake Trail each start near the Logan Pass Visitor Center. Other popular trails include Grinnell Glacier, Iceberg Lake, Siyeh Pass, and Avalanche Lake. Unlace your hiking boots and enjoy a scenic boat ride along the pristine waters of St. Mary Lake or Two Medicine Lake. Glacier Country boasts one of America’s wildest ecosystems and visitors can expect to find bison, elk, grizzly bears, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, wolves, and hundreds of bird species.

Helena-Lewis & Clark National Forest

Next, you’ll come to Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. Walk in the footsteps of Lewis & Clark and imagine discovering the raw beauty of Montana for the first time. Their famous expedition team traversed these dense coniferous forests, rugged mountains, and wild waterways when searching for a passage to the Pacific Ocean. The rolling prairies meet the Rocky Mountains, and a total of seven mountain ranges engulf the landscape. Its incredible diversity includes snow-lined peaks, arid plains, cascading waterfalls, and fertile valleys. Watching the flat plains give way to each group of isolated mountains is a dramatic sight.

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

Your road trip continues at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. The memorials across the sweeping prairies near the Little Bighorn River reflect on the battle between the US Army and Northern Plains Native American Tribes. In 1876, tensions ran high between encroaching American settlers and the aligned Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes. The heated conflict resulted in more than 250 deaths from the US Army’s 7th Calvary that was led by Lt. Col. George A. Custer. Walking around the battlefield offers an opportunity for reflection on the fallen victims of both sides.

Shoshone National Forest

Finally, your road trip will conclude at Shoshone National Forest, which is renowned as America’s first national forest. Established in 1891, its 2.4 million acres continue to astonish visitors with its snow-lined peaks, verdant forests, and pristine meadows. The dense forest remains a goldmine for outdoor recreation at all times of the year. With over 32 campgrounds and four scenic byways coursing through the landscape, you could spend years discovering its splendor. Its untamed wilderness contains well over 1,000 miles of hiking trails and incredible wildlife sightings. From fishing and ATV riding to horseback riding, Shoshone resonates with all types of nature lovers.

When to Go

Due to seasonal road closures in many parts of Montana and Wyoming, the summer presents the ideal weather for your trip. The Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park is often open from June-September. Although conditions vary by year, it’s best to arrive in summer to drive the entire route. You’ll find more facilities and outdoor activities accessible in Yellowstone and Grand Teton as well. The crowds can be brutal during the summer, but the weather and driving conditions then give you the best opportunity to drive the entire itinerary.

Hidden Gems in Yellowstone National Park

A UNESCO World Heritage Site and the world’s first national park, Yellowstone has an abundance of hidden gems to explore. Situated in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, this US national park is home to a variety of geysers, hot springs, and thermal areas that make its rugged landscape truly beautiful.

Point Sublime

You’ll find a fantastic location to bask in views of magnificent cliffs, waterfalls, and the Yellowstone River at Point Sublime. Found along the south rim of Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon, Point Sublime is a hidden gem with an impressive vista. 

Shoshone Geyser Basin

A true hidden gem, you’ll likely be some of the only visitors when you head to Shoshone Geyser Basin. Located on the west end of Shoshone Lake, this expansive geyser area is home to a variety of regularly-erupting geysers, hot pools, and hot springs of many different colors.  

Terraced Falls

These splendid waterfalls must be accessed by a hidden trail, making them one of the park’s true off the beaten path destinations. Cascading down 130 feet over several terraced levels, these falls are truly a sight to behold. 

Lone Star Geyser

A less-trafficked alternative to Old Faithful, Lone Star Geyser is equally as impressive. Just over 2 miles off the main road, the trek to this geyser is an easy one and you can expect regular minor emissions every 20 minutes, and larger ones every 2.5 to 3 hours. Experience the wonder of Yellowstone’s geysers without the crowds! 

Black Sand Basin

A hotbed of geothermal activity, the Black Sand Basin is home to a grouping of colorful geysers and hot springs that are often widely overlooked. You’ll be amazed by the vibrant colors this extraordinary natural area produces.

Specimen Ridge

Just along the south rim of Lamar Valley you’ll find scenic Specimen Ridge. A picturesque ridge brimming with volcanic debris and ancient gemstones, this is easily one of Yellowstone’s most interesting hidden gems. The 8.5-mile hike to get here is also incomparably breathtaking. 

Watching Wildlife at National Parks

The further we become separated from the pristine wilderness and beauty, the more pleasure does the mind of enlightened man feel in recurring those senses.

George Catlin

In addition to the details of wildlife viewing in the National Parks today, we want to provide you with some important background history that will help you better appreciate everything you are about to see on your journey.

A Brief History

The United States Congress established Yellowstone National Park in 1872 and on March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act into law. The world’s first national park was born.

During turn of the 20th century, Americans were calling out for the protection of the pristine wilderness and wildlife that abounded in the land of opportunity. With Congress taking the initiative in 1872 to establish Yellowstone as America’s first National Park, more people were getting behind the movement of protecting land for the “enjoyment and wonderment of people.”

Painting from Thomas Moran, known for his contributions to the American conservation movement, illustrating the unique springs located in Yellowstone.

Following the establishment of this park, tourists started to pour in to behold the hot springs, geysers, waterfalls, and wildlife that made Yellowstone a special place on this planet. Businesses, governments, and peoples started to realize they could not only preserve the land, but they could also profit from it after establishing the park boundaries. Yellowstone was an important precedent in the natural progression of park establishment in the United States. People realized if they weren’t careful, they could decimate wildlife populations and disrupt delicate ecosystems that could result in extinction and dire living circumstances.

To this day, park rangers regularly help visitors recreate while minimizing their impact to the ecosystems of National Parks.

Unfortunately, some species, like the Carolina parakeet or the passenger pigeon, were not able to recover from the Western sprawl that so feverishly took place in the United States. The American bison, so typically cited as an example of this sprawl in action, was essentially gone in the wild by the 20th century. But, one herd remained, in none other than Yellowstone National Park. The park rangers took it upon themselves to prevent all poaching in hopes to sustain the species.

Yellowstone Superintendent Horace Albright, shown here with future president Herbert Hoover in 1928, was involved in the creation of the National Park Service. Later, as agency’s director, he greatly increased the number of parks east of the Mississippi and helped preserve historic sites.

This kind of selfless act gave birth to the conservation movement, heralded by President Theodore Roosevelt. After spending time in what would become the Badlands National Park, the president decided it was important for the American people to not only be able to visit these parks, but to also understand the flora and fauna that existed therein. He saw, firsthand, the disappearance of species as humans slowly moved into the Dakota regions. He knew he wanted to act before any more habitat was destroyed.

Heading to Washington, he took his studies, his observations, and his research, and expanded a number of forest reserves, wildlife preserves, and national parks. Eventually, the National Park system, comprised of hundreds of park s scattered throughout the country, embodying forests, mountains, seashores, oceans, rivers, prairies, and other features, came to be. Once the park battle was complete and the lines were drawn, a lesser-known battle raged on – one that concerned animals.


Understanding American Wildlife

Those first visitors to Yellowstone National Park came for the geology and the scenery. However, it is fabled that they stayed for the wildlife. After noticing the herds of bison slowly depleting in the park, the park management team took some actions to stop poaching. In many cases, park rangers endangered themselves o ensure that the species could not be accessed by poachers. While they worked out the kinks in their system, trying to maneuver around a “ranch-like” process to keep the wild game safe, these park rangers also had to deal with the wild animals that poached on the bison, like mountain lions, coyotes, and wolves. Park biologists tried to intervene and tell Washington rules had to be enacted to prevent the hunting and poaching. As we mentioned above, for some species, it was too late.

While park rangers worked to familiarize themselves with hundreds of thousands of years of wildlife management, they made another grave mistake – they staged bear-feeing events for tourist tickets. Staging these events helped the parks raise money from attendees so they could better protect the boundaries. But, bears with no fear of humans caused a dangerous situation, with many of them clogging roads to go beg next to cars. The Park Service enforced laws prohibiting the feeding of the wildlife.

In the early days of National Park Service management in Yellowstone, bears would be fed at at garbage dumps. Today, bears in the park are wild.

These laws marked the first instance of enacting rules and regulations regarding wildlife viewing in the United States. From these actions, the splendor and enchantment of spotting a wild animal from a distance in National Parks came to be.

In the mid 20th century, the war for the environment roared on, with the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act being enacted. These laws worked together to enhance the wildlife management policies to fewer and fewer animals had to be lost at the expense of human negligence.

Simultaneously, the Wildlife Management Report in National Parks was released in 1963, stressing the importance of not only defending big game, but also defending the smaller, lesser known species. This report still guides wildlife management in the parks today.

What’s the most important concept to take away from that report? It’s that if possible, try and minimize all disturbance in natural habitats when in the park. Meaning, stay on foot trails, respect the signs, and to those reading this today, make sure your selfies aren’t in pristine wilderness.

Today, that’s exactly what every park in the United States will ask you to do. By entering a National Park, you are agreeing to these rules of non-disturbance and interference. The parks are supposed to provide you with clearly marked paths and usable areas. For all of the other areas, special permits need to be filed with the local government. With the Parks System over 104-years old today, this cherished American institution places emphasis on native species, natural conditions, and natural processes (yes, this means that some species will kill/eat other species).

Our National Parks do more than just provide visitors with access to the awe and wonder of our planet; they are also protective entities that are home to more than 270 threatened and endangered species. Additionally, our parks are home to more than ¼ of all species throughout the entire United States.

And, if it weren’t for these systems, that endangered species figure would be much, much higher. In fact, nearly half of them would be extinct.


Wildlife Watching 101

Now it’s time to dive into the actual art of wildlife viewing. Humans have been watching animals since our first time on the planet. It’s an art form that connects us to nature, allowing us to observe all that Mother Nature is capable of producing. There is no better place in the entire world to wildlife view than in our National Parks.

National Parks are a great place to look at animals for a number of reasons:

  • The parks are open to all which means anyone can enjoy the viewing.
  • The animals are generally more tolerant of people.
  • The habitats are natural, which means you are seeing these animals where they actually live and belong.

It is hard to estimate how many people go to these parks to view wildlife. It has been surmised somewhere near 88% of visitors to Grand Teton National Park, 76% of visitors to Voyageurs National Park, and 71% of visitors to the Everglades National Park were there to see animals, according to data from the University of Idaho Visitor Services Project. This same survey found that wildlife viewing ranked as nearly the #1 reason why billions of people will make their descent onto an American National Park.

One of the “fun” or challenging elements of wildlife viewing is that you will never see everything in the parks. Remember there are 4,847 vertebrate species in the national parks, as well as 3,988 in the contiguous 48 states. And, keep in mind, scientists admit this is only a fraction of how many species actually roam these parks – that we have yet to discover.

With so many species, so much mystery, and a safe environment from which you can view wildlife, the National Parks are assuredly calling your name.


Why should you view wildlife?

You’ve already expressed interest in familiarizing yourself with the great outdoors by picking up this guide. But, just in case you need a final push to get out there and enjoy the wildlife outside your doors, here are a few reasons why we believe every person should make it a point in their life:

  • You Will Be Healthier: Countless studies have confirmed spending just 20 minutes outside makes people happier, both physically and mentally. That means simply being outside and watching animals roam near by can raise your spirits and reenergize your body.
  • You Will Understand Nature Better: When one has a personal understanding and experience of nature, they can better advocate for the environment and share their awareness with people around them. There is something about seeing these animals up-close-and-personal to really understand their importance in our world.
  • It’s Something Everyone Can Do: Whether you want your kids to spend less time on their phones, or you want to move and exercise more, going outside and looking at wildlife is an all-consuming activity that will keep even the most agitated of children captivated. There is entertainment beyond our mobile devices, and it’s available for you in the National Parks system.

In the following section, we are going to cover some safety groundwork to ensure you are protecting yourself and your family while pursuing animals in America today. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.


Staying Safe Near Wildlife

Animals are wild, non-domesticated creatures that respond based on instinct. If they feel like you present a threat to them or their baby, they will attack. It’s not an attack out of pleasure or confusion – it’s an attract to protect themselves and their tribes, herds, packs, etc. That’s why you need to view wildlife responsibly. Far too many people have been injured, or killed, by viewing wildlife without any proper understanding of where to go or what to do. We want to clear that up for you.

Look Up the Park’s Guidelines

Different parks will come with different rules based on the animals contained therein. For example, the Everglades will have specific rules related to alligators, whereas Yellowstone will have rules about moose, Grizzly bears, and falling into geysers (by accident). Therefore, we recommend the rule of ‘know before you go.’ Before you arrive at your park, simply look at their website and view any animal hazards or suggestions. If you plan to camp, you will want to check over leaving food outside, etc.

Pay Attention to the Road

It is actually quite common for car pileups and accidents to occur in parks today. That’s because the driver will catch themselves looking off into the distance at the elk beneath the Rocky Mountains, only to forget they are driving a car. If you are traveling with someone else, take turns switching off driving. Whoever is driving needs to pay attention to the speed limits, as well as any animal jams in the road. Should you come upon wildlife in the road, do NOT honk your horn. You will stress them out and cause them to act irrationally. Go slow and keep your eyes on the road.

Keep Your Distance

Although we all want that perfect picture for Instagram or Facebook, it’s important to realize you could be jeopardizing your life. The best way to stay safe around animals is to maintain a distance of at least 25 yards. If you are dealing with predators, like wolves or bears, maintaining a distance of at least 100 yards is to your benefit. However, if you stick to marked trails and overlook points inside the park, you should not find yourself dealing with this kind of scenario. Consider bringing binoculars if you want to be able to see the animal details up close.

Do Not Disturb Wildlife

If you see an animal sleeping or a baby separated from its mother, do not further disturb the animal. It’s the law. It is illegal to feed, touch, tease, frighten, or disrupt the wildlife while you are in these parks. Plus, if you surprise or scare an animal, they are much more likely to attack you out of defense. Stay on the trails to ensure you are not accidentally surprising any animals.

Store Your Food

Animals have much more sensitivity to smells than we do. If you have a half-eaten cookie in your pocket, they can smell that from 100 yards away. Naturally, they are going to try and figure out where that smell is coming from. Try and eat your meals at designated areas and stash your trash. Do not bring opened food with you out on the trail. If you are camping, you must seal your food in a plastic bag and place it in your vehicle. Grizzlies will come looking for it in the night.

Tell a Ranger

If you see an animal that looks sick, rabid, scared, confused, or abused, please tell a park ranger immediately. They need to be made aware of animals that may be dying and more likely to approach you. If you notice an animal, in broad daylight, walking up to cars in a parking lot, close your door and lock it. They could have rabies.

Put the Phone Down

We have all heard of the horror stories in Yellowstone National Park when tourists back into geysers on their phones and end up dying. Although capturing the moments on your phone is perfectly fine, be sure to put it back in your pocket when you are walking. You need to be aware of your surroundings at all time, as well as aware of where you stepping. You could accidently crush a bird’s nest or kill a baby animal. It is best to be as aware as possible.

Look But Don’t Touch

Even if you find yourself face to face with a cordial animal, like a duck or bunny, please refrain from touching them. They could be carrying a disease if they are that comfortable coming up to you, or they could have their sense of danger altered by having you touch and hold them. You need to keep their habitat as uninterrupted as possible, even if they animal appears to be friendly.

Follow Your Instincts

As humans, we have animalistic instincts, too. That’s why if you are feeling a pang of intuition to move, leave, or say something, then do it. Your instincts are your best way of staying safe if you find yourself in a question animal scenario. That’s why it’s especially important to put the phone down. Staring into your phone will create a barrier between you and the environment.

Be Responsible

Lastly, just be responsible. There is no reason why wildlife viewing needs to be dangerous. If you are responsible, aware of your surroundings, and you follow all labeled rules for the park you are in, there should be no problems. Remember that you are now in the animal’s home, not the other way around. Respect them and their way of life. They will show you respect in return.

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Places to Visit after Yellowstone

From Yellowstone, you can easily drive to:

  • Grand Teton National Park (WY). Yellowstone’s southern neighbor is famous for its dramatic mountain vistas and its alpine lakes. Admission to Grand Teton is included in the Yellowstone price. The road connecting the two parks is closed during winter (early November to mid-May).
  • West Yellowstone (MT). This town is most notable as a gateway to the park, with all the motels, services, and kitsch that park visitors require. West Yellowstone is the most convenient non-park lodging option for those planning to visit the Old Faithful area.
  • Gardiner (MT). Just north of the park, Gardiner is another border town that provides lodging and service options. It is the most convenient non-park option for those wanting to be near the Mammoth area of Yellowstone.
  • Cody (WY). About 50 miles (80 km) from the park’s east entrance, this town offers a Wild West atmosphere in addition to lodging and service options. The Cody rodeo runs during the summer and the Buffalo Bill museum provides an excellent collection of old West artifacts and western art.
  • Virginia City (MT). Historical gold mining town of the old west. About 90 min from West Yellowstone, and halfway to either Butte or Bozeman, Montana. In the town of Ennis, be sure to turn right at Main St. onto Montana Hwy 287, and stop following the US highway of the same number.
  • Idaho. There are no roads in the small Idaho portion of the park, and very few visitors ever venture in. However, if you want to visit southern Idaho next, exit through West Yellowstone, and follow US Hwy 20. The first major city is Idaho Falls (just over 100 miles (160 km)).

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.