Basic Facts about Yellowstone National Park


On March 1, 1872, Yellowstone became the first National Park reserve declared anywhere in the world, by President Ulysses S. Grant. In 1978 it was designated a World Heritage Site. Although it is commonly assumed that the park was named for the yellow rocks seen in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, the park’s name comes from the Yellowstone River that flows through it, which is in turn named after sandstone bluffs found farther down its course in eastern Montana.

Long before any recorded human history in Yellowstone, a massive volcanic eruption spewed an immense volume of ash that covered all of the western U.S., much of the Midwest, parts of the US east coast, northern Mexico, and some areas in Canada. The eruption left a caldera approximately 34 by 45 miles (55 by 72 km). See volcanoes for background; Yellowstone is classed as a supervolcano and its last eruption is thought to have been a VEI-8 event with over 1000 km3 of ejecta, a thousand times more powerful than the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens. The Yellowstone super volcano is believed to erupt every 600,000 to 900,000 years with the last event occurring 640,000 years ago. Its eruptions are among the largest known to have ever occurred on Earth, producing drastic climate change in the aftermath.


With half of the earth’s geothermal features, Yellowstone holds the planet’s most diverse and intact collection of geysers, hot springs, mudpots, and fumaroles. Its more than 300 geysers make up two thirds of all those found on earth. Combine this with more than 10,000 thermal features comprised of brilliantly colored hot springs, bubbling mudpots, and steaming fumaroles, and you have a place like no other.

Yellowstone’s hydrothermal features would not exist without the underlying magma body that releases tremendous heat. They also depend on sources of water, such as from the mountains surrounding the Yellowstone Plateau. There, snow and rain slowly percolate through layers of permeable rock riddled with cracks. Some of this cold water meets hot brine directly heated by the shallow magma body. The water’s temperature rises well above the boiling point but the water remains in a liquid state due to the great pressure and weight of the overlying water. The result is superheated water with temperatures exceeding 400 °F (200 °C).

The superheated water is less dense than the colder, heavier water sinking around it. This creates convection currents that allow the lighter, more buoyant, superheated water to begin its journey back to the surface following the cracks and weak areas through rhyolitic lava flows. This upward path is the natural “plumbing” system of the park’s hydrothermal features. Once it reaches the surface, the various colors of the pools are due to different types of bacteria growing in different temperatures.

Watching Wildlife at Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is one of the best places in the world to watch some of the most magical big game animals roam in freedom. That’s why Yellowstone is such a popular destination for travelers – not only does it have the geysers, but it has the wildlife, too.

What are these majestic beasts you can behold in Yellowstone? Let’s look at some of their “top” species for wildlife watching.

Yellowstone’s Most Watched Animals

Photograph of a Bald Eagle

Bald Eagles: If you want to see bald eagles in the sky roaming free, then head over to Yellowstone National Park. Noted for their big white heads and tails, as well as their symbolism of American freedom, bald eagles – once at the point of extinction – have made a big comeback in America.

Photograph of a Bear with Cubs

Bears: Yellowstone is home to both grizzly bears and black bears. Grizzly bears can run up to 45 miles per hour, feeding on nuts, berries, plant roots, and other animals. They are often agitated when confronted and are more likely to attack than a black bear. A black bear is more common than a grizzly bear, found across North America. They have shorter, more curved claws than grizzly bears and are not aggressive.

Photograph of Bison

Bison: thanks to the conservation efforts of 100-yers ago, the American bison can be witnessed in Yellowstone. In fact, Yellowstone is home to the nation’s largest bison population on public land. These creatures can weigh up to 2,000 pounds, roaming for hundreds of miles to find food. They are characterized by their thick winter coats.

Photograph of Elk

Elk: There are between 10,000 and 20,000 elk living in Yellowstone today. During the winter, most elk will retreat from the park. They are known to be the most abundant large mammal in Yellowstone, with antlers that can weigh about 30 pounds per pair.

Photograph of a wolf

Rocky Mountain Wolves: Due to a destruction of habitat, wolves have largely retreated from the United States northward today. These creatures used to roam as far south as Mexico, with only 100 wolves calling Yellowstone their home today. Commonly traveling in packs of 10 or more, wolves communicate through barks, whines, growls, and howls. They will not attack unless provoked.

Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout: The most abundant fish in the park is the Yellowstone cutthroat trout. These native trout are an important food for at least 16 species of birds and mammals. Defined by their red-orange mark under their jaw, these trout can be found in the cool, clean water streams and lakes around the park confines.

Beavers: This keystone species can be found all over the park, with beaver dams galore. As a crepuscular species, meaning they are active in the morning and evening hours, beavers live in family groups and feed off of willow, aspen, and cottonwood. They also rely on underwater plants for nourishment.

Bighorn Sheep: Although these sheep are widely dispersed over the Rocky Mountains, they can also be found in fragmented populations throughout the park. Named for the large, curved horns on the males, male sheephorn can be spotted by having head-butting contests to win over a female.

Boreal Chorus Frogs: Due to their small size and secretive habitats, it can be hard to spot these frogs. However, you will certainly hear them as you make your way around the park.
Long-Tailed Weasels: Cute as can be, the long-tailed weasel can be spotted in forests, open grassy meadows, marshes, and near water. Spotted as a solitary creature, they are known for their long, sleek bodies and small heads. Their fur turns completely white during the winter.

Moose: The largest member of the deer family, the moose, is commonly found in Yellowstone. Although relatively harmless, these massive creatures can get aggressive if threatened or scared.

Pikas: Considered an indicator species for detecting ecological effects of climate change, the pika inhabits rocky alpines and sub-alpine areas. Active during the daytime, be sure to look at the ground when you are walking to try and spot one.

River Otters: Yes, Yellowstone is home to the North American River Otter! As the most aquatic member of the weasel family, these otters can stay underwater for an impressive length of 8-minutes. They are also naturally waterproof and completely adorable.

Trumpeter Swans: Named for its trumpet call, the Trumpeter Swan is North America’s biggest waterfowl. Able to sleep on land or on water, swans make for gorgeous lake pictures set against Yellowstone’s natural flora.

With many more animal options for you to consider, you can see that there is no shortage of animal appreciation within the confines of the park. Just remember to keep your distance!

Viewing Locations

Where are the best places within the park to see these animals?

  • Fishing Bridge: grizzly bears
  • Hayden Valley: bison, black bears, elk, grizzly bears, wolves
  • Lamar Valley: bison, black bears, bighorn sheep, elk, grizzly bears, mule, deer, pronghorn, wolves
  • Mammoth Hot Springs: bison, black bears, elk, mule deer
  • Madison: bison, elk
  • North Entrance: bighorn sheep, bison, elk, pronghorn
  • Northeast Entrance: moose
  • Old Faithful: bison, elk
  • South Entrance: moose
  • West Thumb: elk, moose

When Should You Go?

Seasonality plays a role in every American National Park. However, when it comes to Yellowstone, the wildlife viewing opportunities are amazing any time of year. You can catch the animals feeding during early morning and evening hours. If you want to see hibernation animals, like bears, you can catch them awakening from their slumber during April. However, although they aren’t around in the winter, you can still get a perfect view of a wolf, which prefers to do most of its roaming during the colder months.

Of course, if you hate crowds, the colder, winter months are when the park experiences the least amount of visitors. Naturally, the summer is when it is its busiest.

Categorized as Wildlife Tagged

Hiking Trails in Yellowstone

The Grand Geyser, the largest predictable geyser in Yellowstone, can spout boiling water over 150 feet (46 m) in the air.

Bridge Bay, Fishing Bridge & Lake

  • 1 Natural Bridge (3 mi or 4.8 km round-trip), starts at the Bridge Bay Marina parking lot near the campground entrance road. This easy trail leads to a natural bridge that is a 51-foot (16 m) cliff of rhyolite rock cut through by Bridge Creek. The hiking trail meanders through the forest for 0.25 miles (400 m). It then joins a service road and continues to the right (west) for 1 mile (1.6 km) to the Natural Bridge. The short but steep switchback trail to the top of the bridge starts in front of the interpretive exhibit. Above the natural bridge, the trail crosses the creek through a narrow ravine and then continues along the cliff before rejoining the road. This trail is closed from Autumn through early summer while bears feed on spawning trout in Bridge Creek. 
  • Pelican Creek (1.3 mi or 2.1 km round-trip), starts at the west end of Pelican Creek Bridge, 1 mile (1.6 km) east of Fishing Bridge Visitor Center. This easy trail is a short but diverse trail that travels through the forest to the lakeshore before looping back across the marsh along Pelican Creek to the trailhead. It is a scenic introduction to a variety of Yellowstone’s habitats and is a good place for birding. 
  • Storm Point (2.3 mi or 3.7 km round-trip), Indian Pond pullout, 3 miles (4.8 km) east of Fishing Bridge Visitor Center. This easy trail begins in the open meadows overlooking Indian Pond and Yellowstone Lake. It passes alongside the pond before turning right (west) into the forest. The trail continues through the trees and out to scenic, wind-swept Storm Point. The rocky area near the point is home to a large colony of yellow-bellied marmots. Following the shoreline to the west, the trail eventually loops back through the lodgepole forest and returns to Indian Pond. The trail is often closed in late spring and early summer due to bear activity; inquire at the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center about trail closures before hiking. 
  • Elephant Back Mountain (3.6 mi or 5.8 km round-trip), Pullout 1 mile (1.6 km) south of Fishing Bridge Junction. This moderately strenuous trail climbs 800 feet (240 m) in 1.5 miles (2.4 km) through the dense lodgepole forest. After 1 mile (1.6 km), the trail splits into a loop. The left fork is the shortest route to the top, though both join again at the overlook. The overlook provides a sweeping panoramic view of Yellowstone Lake and surrounding area. 
  • Howard Eaton (7 mi or 11 km round-trip), Parking lot on east side of the Fishing Bridge. This easy trail follows the Yellowstone River for a short distance before paralleling the service road. After leaving the road, the first 2 miles (3.2 km) meander through meadow, forest, and sage flats with frequent views of the river. The last mile (1.6 km) passes through a dense lodgepole pine forest before climbing gradually to an overview of LeHardys Rapids. Those wanting a longer hike can continue to the Artist Point Road at Canyon, 12 miles (19 km) away, but that portion of the trail is not well maintained, requires a full day, and a car shuttle. The trail is often closed due to bear activity; inquire at the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center before hiking. 
  • Pelican Valley (6.8 mi or 10.9 km round-trip), Turn onto the gravel road across from Indian Pond, 3 miles (4.8 km) east of Fishing Bridge Visitor Center; park at end of road. This moderately easy travels through some of the best grizzly country in the lower 48 states—and also prime habitat for bison and other grassland animals. The trail heads north, crosses a few bridges through a meadow, then enters the forest. After it leaves the forest, it ascends a small hill to a nice overlook of the valley, with the creek below and the Absaroka Mountains to the east. From here, the trail turns slightly to the right (east) and passes through a small hydrothermal area. Stay on the trail through this fragile and hazardous area. Soon, the trail veers north (left), crosses a small creek, and climbs up a cutbank. This is a good place to rest and enjoy the nice views of Pelican Creek. One mile (1.6 km) farther, the trail reaches a washed-out bridge. Beyond here the trail continues into Yellowstone’s vast backcountry. The dayhike stops here; return by the same route. Many restrictions apply to this trail because it is in prime grizzly bear habitat: the trail is closed until July 4th, is allowed for day-use only (9AM – 7PM), is recommended for groups of four or more hikers, and off-trail travel is prohibited on the first 2.5 miles (4.0 km). Observe all bear-related precautions; be alert, make noise at blind curves and hills along the trail, and carry bear spray. 
  • Avalanche Peak (4 mi or 6.4 km round-trip), 19 mi (31 km) east of Fishing Bridge Junction (8 mi or 13 km west of East Entrance), across the road from pullout at west end of Eleanor Lake. This extremely strenuous, high-elevation trail is often snow-covered until July, so check at the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center for current trail conditions. Across the road from the parking area and to the right of the creek, the trail enters the forest and begins its steep ascent — 2,100 ft (640 m) in 2 mi (3.2 km). In just over a mile (1.6 km), it arrives at the base of the large bowl of Avalanche Peak, then continues to the left and switches back over large talus slopes to an open level area below the summit. Follow the established trail up to the narrow ridgeline and cross it with extreme caution. Those who make this arduous hike will be rewarded with stunning views of some of the park’s tallest and most remote alpine peaks. Return by the same route. Grizzly bears frequent this area in the fall, seeking out whitebark pine nuts. Hiking this trail is not recommended in September and October. Be aware of lightning above treeline, and even on warm summer days bring rain gear, wool hats, and gloves. Burned trees may fall without warning. 

West Thumb & Grant Village

  • West Thumb Geyser Basin (0.4 mi or 640 m round-trip), West Thumb Geyser Basin parking area, 0.25 miles (400 m) north of West Thumb Junction.. An easy boardwalk trail that is wheelchair accessible with assistance on slopes. The trail offers a stroll through a geyser basin of colorful hot springs and dormant lake shore geysers situated on the scenic shores of Yellowstone Lake. 
  • Lake Overlook (2 mi or 3.2 km loop), On right as you enter West Thumb Geyser Basin parking area.. The trail is moderately strenuous with a 400-foot (120 m) elevation gain near overlook. Hike to a high mountain meadow for a commanding view of the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake and the distant Absaroka Mountains. The loop trail ascends steeply, passing backcountry thermal features, then gradually descends through meadows & forest. 
  • Duck Lake (1 mi or 1.6 km round-trip), At the end of the West Thumb Geyser Basin parking area, on the right. A moderately strenuous trail that climbs a small hill for a view of Duck and Yellowstone lakes and the expanse of the 1988 fires that swept through this area. Trail descends to shore of Duck Lake. 
  • Shoshone Lake (via DeLacy Creek) (6 mi or 9.7 km round-trip), 8.8 miles (14.2 km) west of West Thumb Junction. An easy hike along a forest’s edge and through open meadows to the shores of Yellowstone’s largest backcountry lake. Look for sandhill cranes in meadows, moose near shore, and water birds on and near the lake. Beyond here the trail continues into Yellowstone’s vast backcountry. The day hike stops here; return by the same route. 
  • Riddle Lake (alt=4.8 mi or 7.7 km round-trip), Approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) south of the Grant Village intersection, just south of the Continental Divide sign. An easy hike that crosses the Continental Divide and travels through small mountain meadows and forests to the shores of a picturesque little lake. Look for elk in the meadows and for birds near the lake. The trail is in a bear management area and is closed until July 15; after July 15, groups of four or more people are recommended but not required. 
  • Lewis River Channel / Dogshead Loop (7 or 11 miles (11.3 or 17.5 km) round-trip), Approximately 5 miles (8.0 km) south of the Grant Village intersection, just north of Lewis Lake on west side of road.. A moderately strenuous trail that gives you a feel for Yellowstone’s backcountry. Hike through forest to the colorful waters of the Lewis River Channel. Look for eagles and ospreys fishing for trout in the shallow waters. Turn around here for the shorter trip or continue on a loop trail that takes you to Shoshone Lake and returns on the forested Dogshead Trail. Beyond here the trail continues into Yellowstone’s vast backcountry. The dayhike stops here; return by the same route. 

Old Faithful

Clepsydra geyser at play, Lower Geyser basin.

  • Observation Point (1 mile (1.6 km) or 1.4 miles (2.3 km) round-trip (does not include portion on Upper Geyser Basin boardwalks)), Walk counterclockwise around the Old Faithful boardwalk; turn right at the sign to Geyser Hill. Trailhead is on the right after the Firehole River bridge, approximately 0.3 miles (480 m) from the visitor center. This moderately-strenuous trail gains 160 feet (49 m) of elevation with switchbacks that lead up the hill 0.5 miles (800 m) to a commanding view of the Upper Geyser Basin. Return the same way or continue west to Solitary Geyser, which erupts frequently, then to the Geyser Hill boardwalk. The longer route is 1.4 miles (2.3 km). 
  • Mallard Lake (6.8 mi or 10.9 km round-trip), Southeast side of the Old Faithful Lodge cabins, near the Firehole River. Take the first right turn as you come into the Lodge area and continue down the road to the trailhead. This moderately strenuous trail crosses the Firehole River, passes Pipeline Hot Springs, and climbs rolling hills of partially-burned lodgepole pine and open, rocky areas to the lake. Return the same way. (Or return via the Mallard Creek trail, for a total of 12 miles or 19 km) 
  • Howard Eaton (5.8 mi or 9.3 km round-trip), Park near the Old Faithful Ranger Station, then follow the paved path across the Grand Loop Road. Turn left at the first intersection, turn left again, and follow orange trail markers to the beginning of the trail.. A moderately difficult trail that climbs a burned hill, continues through spruce-fir forest, then down to Lone Star Geyser. Return the same way. 
  • Lone Star (4.8 mi or 7.7 km round-trip), 3.55 miles (5.71 km) south of Old Faithful Junction, just beyond parking for Kepler Cascades.. An pleasant, easy, partially paved trail follows an old service road beside the Firehole River to the geyser. Cyclists must dismount at the end of the asphalt and walk the last few hundred feet. Lone Star erupts up to 45 feet (14 m) from a 12-foot (3.7 m) cone approximately every three hours. 
  • Divide (3.4 mi or 5.5 km round-trip), 6.8 miles (10.9 km) south of Old Faithful Junction, look for a pullout on the right. This moderately strenuous trail crosses Spring Creek and climbs 735 feet (224 m) through mixed conifer forest to the Continental Divide. You can see Shoshone Lake from halfway up the trail. 
  • Mystic Falls (2.5 mi or 4.0 km round-trip), At the back of the Biscuit Basin boardwalk, 2 miles (3.2 km) north of Old Faithful Junction. You can also begin 0.25 miles (400 m) south of Biscuit Basin; park in pullouts on either side of the road. A moderately strenuous trail that follows a lovely creek through mixed conifer forest to the 70-foot (21 m) falls, over which the Little Firehole River drops from the Madison Plateau. Turn around here or climb the switchbacks to an overlook of the Upper Geyser Basin, then loop back to the main trail. The trail passes through a bear management area and is closed until the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. 
  • Mallard Creek (9.2 mi or 14.8 km round-trip), Approximately 3.8 miles (6.1 km) north of Old Faithful Junction, toward Madison; look for a trailhead sign and pullout on the right. A strenuous trail that was designed as a winter ski trail. The route follows hilly terrain through heavily burned forest up to Mallard Lake. Return the same way or, if you have arranged a car shuttle, follow the Mallard Lake Trail to the Old Faithful area. 
  • Fairy Falls, Short route: Park 1 mile (1.5 km) south of Midway Geyser Basin, cross the steel bridge and walk 1 mile (1.5 km) to the trailhead. Long route: park at the end of Fountain Flat Dr. and walk 1.75 miles (2.82 km) to the trailhead.. This easy trail travels through young forest 1.6 miles (2.6 km) to the 200-foot (61 m) falls. Continue 0.65 miles (1.05 km) past the falls through a wet area to Imperial Geyser, which has frequent minor eruptions. The trail travels through a bear management area and is closed until the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. 
  • Sentinel Meadows & Queen’s Laundry (3 mi or 4.8 km round-trip, or 4 mi (6.4 km) if you go to Queen’s Laundry), 10 miles (16 km) north of Old Faithful, turn left on Fountain Flat Drive. Park at the end of the road, cross the footbridge over the Firehole River to the trailhead.. A moderately difficult trail that is very wet in spring and buggy in summer. The trail follows the Firehole River a short distance, then veers toward the meadows. Look for the large sinter mounds of hot springs and the remains of the old, incomplete bathhouse at Queen’s Laundry, 1.9 miles (3.1 km) from the trailhead. Begun in 1881, construction was abandoned as park administrations and priorities changed. Minerals from the hot springs preserved the structure, which was the first building constructed by the government for public use in any national park. Queen’s Laundry is a National Historic Site. 


  • Purple Mountain (6 mi or 9.7 km round-trip), 0.25 miles (400 m) north of Madison Junction on the Madison-Norris road, limited parking. This moderately difficult trail ascends 1,500 ft (460 m) through intermittent burned lodgepole pine forest and ends with a nice view of the Firehole Valley and lower Gibbon Valley; some views of the Madison Junction area are also visible. 
  • Harlequin Lake (1 mi or 1.6 km round-trip), 1.5 miles (2.4 km) west of Madison Campground on the West Entrance road. This is a gentle ascent through burned lodgepole pines to a small, marshy lake popular with mosquitos and waterfowl (but not harlequin ducks). Nice quick hike to escape the road for a little bit. 
  • Two Ribbons Trail (1.5 mi or 2.4 km round-trip), Approximately 5 miles (8.0 km) east of the West Entrance, no marked trailhead, look for wayside exhibits next to boardwalk in large pull-outs. This is a completely boardwalked trail that winds through burned lodgepole pine and sagebrush communities next to the Madison River. Good examples of fire recovery and regrowth as well as buffalo wallows. There are no interpretive signs or brochures other than the wayside exhibits at the trailheads. 
  • Gallatin Area. There are many excellent hiking opportunities in the Gallatin area. Most of these, however, are longer and steeper than the average day hike. They include Daily Creek, the Sky Rim, Black Butte, Specimen Creek, Crescent Lake/High Lake, Sportsman Lake, Bighorn Pass and Fawn Pass. For more information, consult a Visitor Center or one of the hiking trail guides available from the Yellowstone Association. 


Bison amble along a park road. Despite their docile appearance, bison are temperamental and can move extremely fast.They should be viewed from a safe distance through binoculars or telephoto lenses.

  • Grizzly Lake (4 mi or 6.4 km round-trip), 1 mile (1 km) south of Beaver Lake on the Mammoth-Norris road. This moderately difficult trail passes through a twice-burned lodgepole pine stand (1976 and 1988) and through nice meadows. The lake is long, narrow, and heavily wooded. It can be difficult to access beyond the trail end of the lake. Marshiness and mosquitos can make travel difficult early in the season. The lake is popular with anglers due to a strong population of small brook trout. A log jam crossing is required to continue past Grizzly Lake. 
  • Solfatara Creek (13 mi or 21 km round-trip), Beginning of Loop C in Norris Campground and 3/4 mile (1.21 km) south of Beaver Lake Picnic Area on the Mammoth-Norris road. An easy-to-moderate trail with one climb and descent of about 400 feet (120 m). The trail follows Solfatara Creek for a short distance to the junction with Ice Lake Trail, it then parallels a power line for most of the way to Whiterock Springs. It climbs a short distance up to Lake of the Woods (difficult to find as it’s off trail a bit) and passes Amphitheater Springs and Lemonade Creek (don’t drink it). These are small, but pretty thermal areas in the otherwise non-descript lodgepole pine forest. The trail then continues on to meet the road. There is no trail connection back to the campground except the way you came. Parking a car at both ends is desirable. This is a good place to send folks who don’t want to see many other hikers, but it can be under bear restrictions so check with rangers before setting out. 
  • Ice Lake Trail (direct route) (0.3 mi or 0.48 km), 3.5 miles (5.6 km) east of Norris on the Norris-Canyon road. This easy, handicapped accessible trail leads to a lovely, small lake nestled in the thick lodgepole pine forest. Some of the area was heavily burned in 1988. Hikers can continue from Ice Lake to Wolf Lake, Grebe Lake, and Cascade Lake, and then on to Canyon. 
  • Wolf Lake Cut-off Trail (6 mi or 9.7 km round-trip; 1 mi (1.6 km) to junction with Wolf Lake Trail, then 2+ miles (3+ km) to Wolf Lake), Big pull-out about 1/4 miles (400 m) east of Ice Lake Trailhead on Canyon-Norris Road. There is no trailhead sign due to lack of regular maintenance on the trail, but orange markers can be seen once hikers cross the road from the trailhead.. This trail is moderately difficult due to stream crossings and downfall; the trail may be difficult to find at times. The path follows the Gibbon River for at least 1 mile (1 km), passing Little Gibbon Falls. Dense, partially burned lodgepole pine forest is your main companion the rest of the way to Wolf Lake. 
  • Cygnet Lakes Trail (8 mi or 13 km round-trip), Pullout on south side of Norris-Canyon road approximately 5.5 miles (8.9 km) west of Canyon Junction. This easy trail travels through intermittently burned lodgepole pine forest and past small marshy ephemeral ponds to the lush meadows surrounding Cygnet Lakes (small and boggy). Day use only! Trail not maintained beyond Cygnet Lakes. 
  • Artist Paint Pots (1 mi or 1.6 km round-trip), 4.5 miles (7.2 km) south of Norris on the Norris-Madison road. This easy trail is one of the overlooked yet wonderful short hikes of Yellowstone. The trail winds across a wet meadow on boardwalk then enters a partially burned lodgepole pine forest. The thermal area within the short loop at the end of the trail contains some of the most colorful hot springs and small geysers found in the area. Two mudpots at the top of the hill allow closer access than Fountain Paint Pots. Caution for flying mud! Remind folks to stay on the trail throughout the area. The trail has one steep uphill/downhill section, and the trail erodes easily so may be rutted after rains. 
  • Monument Geyser Basin (2 mi or 3.2 km), 5 miles (8.0 km) south of Norris Junction on the Norris-Madison road, just after Gibbon River Bridge. This trail is deceptively easy, then difficult. It meanders along a gentle gradient following the Gibbon River then it turns sharply uphill and climbs 500 feet (150 m) in 1/2 mile (800 m) to the top of the mountain! Footing is on eroding geyserite and rhyolite, somewhat reminiscent of ball bearings. The geyser basin is a very interesting collection of dormant cones of varying sizes. One resembles a thermos bottle! Most of the activity here has dried up; hikers looking for exciting thermal activity will be disappointed, but those looking for adventure will find it. Remind folks to stay on trail! 


  • Beaver Ponds Loop (5 mi or 8.0 km round-trip) (between Liberty Cap and the stone house next to the Mammoth Terraces). This moderately strenuous trail starts just north of Liberty Cap and the Mammoth Terraces, and begins with a 350-foot (110 m) climb up and above Clematis Gulch. At the junction with Sepulcher Mountain Trail, go right. Soon thereafter, the trail levels out and rambles through meadows and stands of aspen to a series of beaver ponds. Look for elk, mule deer, pronghorn, moose, beaver dams and lodges, the occasional beaver, and waterfowl. Be alert for bears: both black and grizzly bears forage in this area. Past the ponds, the trail travels through forest and grassland back to Mammoth. 
  • Bunsen Peak (4.2 mi or 6.8 km round-trip), 5 miles (8.0 km) south of Mammoth on the Mammoth–Norris Road, across from the Glen Creek trailhead. This moderately strenuous trail climbs 1,300 feet (400 m) through forest and meadow to the summit of Bunsen Peak, which has panoramic views of the Blacktail Plateau, Swan Lake Flat, Gallatin Mountain Range, and the Yellowstone River Valley. (You’ll also see communications equipment, which supplies Mammoth and nearby communities.) Return by the same route. 
  • Osprey Falls (8 mi or 13 km round-trip), 5 miles (8.0 km) south of Mammoth on the Mammoth–Norris Road, across from the Glen Creek trailhead. A strenuous trail that follows Bunsen Peak Road (hiking/biking only) through grassland and burned forest 2.5 miles (4.0 km) to Osprey Falls Trail (no bikes allowed). Descend 700 feet (210 m) into Sheepeater Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in Yellowstone. Osprey Falls, on the Gardner River, plunges 150 feet (46 m) over the edge of a lava flow. 
  • Lava Creek (3.5 mi or 5.6 km one-way), Across the road from the Lava Creek picnic area on Mammoth–Tower Roa. A moderately strenuous trail that follows Lava Creek downstream past Undine Falls (60 feet/18 m), descending gradually. Lava Creek meets the Gardner River further downstream. The trail crosses the river on a footbridge to a final steep climb out, ending near the Mammoth Campground. 
  • Rescue Creek (8 mi or 13 km one-way), 7 miles (11 km) east of Mammoth on Mammoth–Tower Road; ends 1 mile (1.6 km) south of the North Entrance Station. A moderately strenuous trail that follows Blacktail Deer Creek Trail past the east end of Blacktail Pond to the top of a short hill, then veers left on the Rescue Creek Trail. Climb gradually through aspens and meadows, then descend through forests to sagebrush flats that lead to a footbridge across the Gardner River. 
  • Blacktail Deer Creek/Yellowstone River (12 mi or 19 km one-way), 7 miles (11 km) east of Mammoth on Mammoth–Tower Road. A moderately strenuous trail that follows Blacktail Deer Creek as it descends 1,100 feet (340 m) through rolling, grassy hills and Douglas-fir forest to the Yellowstone River. Cross the river on a steel suspension bridge then join the Yellowstone River Trail, which continues downriver, passing Knowles Falls and into arid terrain until it ends in Gardiner, MT. There is a very narrow, short stretch near Gardiner that is slippery when wet. 
  • Sepulcher Mountain (11 mi or 18 km round-trip) (between Liberty Cap and the stone house next to the Mammoth Terraces). This strenuous trail follows the Beaver Ponds Trail to the Sepulcher Mountain Trail junction, then climbs 3,400 feet (1,000 m) through forest and meadows to the 9,652-foot (2,942 m) summit. Loop trail continues along the opposite side of the mountain through an open slope to the junction of Snow Pass Trail, which descends to the Howard Eaton Trail, which goes north to Mammoth Terraces and the trailhead. 


  • Lost Lake (4 mi or 6.4 km round-trip), behind Roosevelt Lodge. A moderately difficult trail that offers views of Lost Lake, waterfowl, wet meadows, sagebrush hilltops, wildflowers, possibly beavers and quite often black bears. This trail begins behind Roosevelt Lodge and climbs 300 feet (91 m) onto the bench. Here it joins the Roosevelt horse trail and continues west to Lost Lake. From Lost Lake the trail follows the contour around the hillside to the Petrified Tree parking area, crosses the parking lot and continues up the hill. It loops behind Tower Ranger Station, crosses the creek and returns to the lodge. Caution: If you encounter horses, move to the downhill side of the trail and remain still until they have passed. 
  • Garnet Hill (7.5 mi or 12.1 km round-trip), Approximately 50 yards (45.7 m) north from Tower Junction, on the Northeast Entrance Road. (Park in the large parking area east of the service station at Tower Junction.). A moderately difficult trail that follows the dirt stagecoach road about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) to the cookout shelter. Continues north along Elk Creek until nearly reaching the Yellowstone River. Here the trail divides, with the west fork joining the Hellroaring Trail and the east fork continuing around Garnet Hill and back toward Tower. Close to the road, the trail joins a horse trail that leads you to the Northeast Entrance Road. Walk along the road about one-fourth mile (400 m) back to the parking area. 
  • Hellroaring (4 mi or 6.4 km round-trip), 3.5 miles (5.6 km) west of Tower Junction. A strenuous trail that begins with a steep descent to the Yellowstone River Suspension Bridge, then crosses a sagebrush plateau, and drops down to Hellroaring Creek. Both the Yellowstone River and Hellroaring Creek are popular fishing areas. Bring water as this trail can be hot and dry during the summer. In addition, watch your footing on boulders by the river and be aware that other backcountry trails branch off of this one, so pay attention to trail signs. An alternative route begins at Garnet Hill and continues west on Hellroaring trail; return to the Garnet Hill trailhead (distance 10 miles/16 km). 
  • Yellowstone River Picnic Area (3.7 mi or 6.0 km round-trip), Yellowstone River Picnic area, 1.25 miles (2.01 km) northeast of Tower Junction on the Northeast Entrance Road. A moderately difficult trail that climbs steeply to the east rim of the Narrows of the Yellowstone and then follows the rim. Look for peregrine falcons and osprey, which nest in the canyon, and bighorn sheep along the rim. View the Overhanging Cliff area, the towers of Tower Fall (the fall is not visible), basalt columns, and the historic Bannock Ford. The trail heads northeast; at the next trail junction turn left and descend to the road. (The Specimen Ridge Trail, strenuous and poorly marked, continues northeast.) Walk west along the road for 0.7 miles (1.1 km) to the Yellowstone River Picnic Area. 
  • Slough Creek (First meadow: 2 miles (3.2 km), Second meadow: 4.5 mi (7.2 km) one-way), On the dirt road toward Slough Creek Campground; where the road bears left, park beside the vault toilet. A trail that is moderately strenuous for first 1.5 miles (2.4 km); then easy. This long-distance trail follows a historic wagon trail into the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness beyond Yellowstone. It begins with a steep climb then descends to the first meadow. Stop and relax here or continue to the second meadow. Be alert for bears and moose. Caution: If you encounter horses, move to the downhill side of the trail and remain still until they have passed. 
  • Mt. Washburn (from Dunraven Pass, 3.1 miles (5.0 km); from Chittenden Road, 2.5 miles (4.0 km) one-way), Chittenden Road Parking Area, 8.7 miles (14.0 km) south of Tower Junction; Dunraven Pass Parking Area, 13.6 miles (21.9 km) south of Tower Junction on the Tower–Canyon Road. More parking is available at the north trailhead; bicycles and park vehicles also use this route.. A strenuous trail that climbs 1,400 feet (430 m). Either trail ascends Mt. Washburn on a wide path with spectacular views. Look for bighorn sheep and wildflowers. Stay on the trail to avoid destroying fragile alpine vegetation. At the top, enjoy the view and interpretive exhibits inside the shelter at the base of the fire lookout. This is a high elevation trail: storms are common; bring rain gear, wool hats, and gloves. 


Dead trees near the summit of Mt. Washburn. These trees are the victims of a massive forest fire in 1988 that burned through over 30% of the forest running through the park.

  • Howard Eaton Trail (to Cascade, Grebe, Wolf, and Ice lakes, and Norris) (2.5 or 12 mi (4 or 19.3 km) one-way, depending on destination), pullout 0.25 miles (400 m) west of Canyon Junction on the Norris–Canyon Road. This modertely easy trail has very little rise and offers hikers the chance to choose their destination on a trail that passes through forest, meadow, and marsh: Cascade Lake (2.5 miles/4.0 km), Grebe Lake (4.25 miles/6.84 km), Wolf Lake (6.25 miles/10.06 km), Ice Lake (8.25 miles/13.28 km), and Norris Campground (12 miles/19 km). The trail can be wet and muddy through July with many biting insects. 
  • Observation Peak (11 mi or 18 km round-trip), 1.25 miles (2.01 km) north of Canyon Junction on the Tower–Canyon Road. This strenuous trail has a 1,400-foot (430 m) vertical rise in 3 miles (4.8 km) on its way to a high mountain peak that offers an outstanding view of the Yellowstone wilderness. The trail passes through open meadows to Cascade Lake (described on back of handout). Beyond the lake, it climbs 1,400 feet (430 m) in 3 mi (4.8 km) through whitebark pine forest. Past Cascade Lake, no water is available. 
  • Cascade Lake (5 mi or 8.0 km round-trip), pullout 0.25 miles (400 m) west of Canyon Junction on the Norris–Canyon Road or Cascade Lake Trailhead, 1.25 miles (2.01 km) north of Canyon Junction on the Tower–Canyon Road. This easy walk allows people with limited time to enjoy open meadows where wildflowers abound and wildlife is often seen. The trail can be wet and muddy through July with many biting insects. 
  • Grebe Lake (6 mi or 9.7 km round-trip), 3.5 miles (5.6 km) west of Canyon Junction on the Norris–Canyon Road. This moderately easy trail has little vertical rise as it follows an old fire road through meadows and forest, some of which burned in 1988. At the lake you can connect with the Howard Eaton Trail or return the way you came. 
  • Seven Mile Hole (11 mi or 18 km round-trip), Glacial Boulder pullout on the road to Inspiration Point. A strenuous trail that follows the canyon rim for the first 1.5 miles (2.4 km), offering views of Silver Cord Cascade across the canyon. In another half mile (800 m) the trail joins the Washburn Spur Trail; after another 3 miles (4.8 km) it turns right onto the trail to Seven Mile Hole, which drops more than 1,000 feet (300 m) in 1.5 miles (2.4 km). Be especially careful where the trail passes both dormant and active hot springs. 
  • Mt. Washburn (3.1 mi or 5.0 km one-way from Dunraven Pass, 2.5 mi or 4.0 km one-way from Chittenden Road), Dunraven Pass, 4.5 miles (7.2 km) north of Canyon Junction; Chittenden Road, 10.3 miles (16.6 km) north of Canyon Junction. This strenuous trail rises 1,400 ft (430 m). Starting at either trailhead, you ascend Mt. Washburn on a wide trail with spectacular views. Look for bighorn sheep (keep your distance) and wildflowers. Stay on the trail to avoid destroying fragile alpine vegetation. At the top, enjoy the view and interpretive exhibits from inside the shelter at the base of the fire lookout. Caution: Storms are common; bring rain gear, wool hats, and gloves. 
  • Washburn Spur Trail (11-11.5 mi or 18-18.5 km one-way, depending on which Mt. Washburn trail you use), Either trailhead for Mt. Washburn. A strenuous trail that rises 2,000 ft (610 m) in 2.5 miles (4.0 km). After ascending Mount Washburn, begin the spur trail from the east side of the fire lookout. The trail descends very steeply over rough terrain for 3.7 miles (6.0 km) to Washburn Hot Springs. Caution: Stay on the trail in this hydrothermal area. Continue south, passing the turnoff to Seven Mile Hole and ending at the Glacial Boulder pullout on the road to Inspiration Point. The trail is in very poor condition. 
Categorized as Hiking Tagged

Fly, Drive, or Trek to Yellowstone National Park

By Plane

The principal airport serving Yellowstone is Jackson Hole Airport (JAC IATA), in Grand Teton National Park, near Jackson, and the largest airport in Wyoming. United and Delta serve Jackson Hole year-round, from Denver and Salt Lake City respectively. These airlines plus American and Frontier provide seasonal flights from those cities and eight others across the US.

Other airports with commercial services are at:

  • Billings (Montana) (BIL IATA). From numerous cities.
  • Bozeman (Montana) (BZN IATA). From eight cities year round and more seasonally.
  • Cody (Wyoming) (COD IATA), Yellowstone Regional Airport. From Salt Lake City and Denver.
  • Idaho Falls (Idaho) (IDA IATA). From six cities.
  • Salt Lake City (Utah) (SLC IATA). A bit of a long drive (~6 hours) away, but still the closest major airport to the park, with flights from major cities throughout the country, as well as limited international flights.
  • West Yellowstone (Montana) (WYS IATA). From Salt Lake City, Jun–Sep only.

By Car

The park has 5 entrances. The nearest cities to each entrance are given.

  • 1 North – Accessed from Gardiner (Montana) via US Route 89, 56 mi (90 km) from Livingston. This entrance is open all year and leads to the park headquarters at Mammoth Hot Springs, 5 mi (8.0 km) inside the park boundary. The iconic Roosevelt Arch is at this entrance.
  • 2 Northeast – Accessed from Silver Gate and Cooke City via US Route 212 (Beartooth Highway). The entrance and road to Cooke City are open all year, but Route 212 past Cooke City is closed in winter (mid-October to late May).
  • 3 East – Accessed from Cody, 53 mi (85 km), via US Route 14/16/20. This entrance is closed in winter (early November to early May).
  • 4 South – Accessed from Grand Teton National Park via US Route 89/191/287. This entrance is closed in winter (early November to mid-May).
  • 5 West – Accessed from West Yellowstone via US Route 20/191/287, 60 mi (97 km) from Ashton, Idaho. This entrance is closed in winter (early November to late April).

By Foot

There are an extensive number of trails entering the park on all sides including the 3100-mile-long (5000 km) Continental Divide Trail.

Stay Safe at Yellowstone National Park

Fragile sinter crusts and ledges can give way, plunging a careless tourist into the boiling waters below

Yellowstone has some hazards related to volcanic activity. There are also hazards from dangerous animals.


Though many of the animals in the park are used to seeing humans, the wildlife is nonetheless wild and should not be fed or disturbed. According to park authorities, stay at least 100 yards/meters away from bears and wolves and 25 yards/meters from all other wild animals! No matter how docile they may look, bison, elk, moose, bears, and nearly all large animals can attack. Each year, dozens of visitors are injured because they didn’t keep a proper distance. These animals are large, wild, and potentially dangerous, so give them their space.

In addition, be aware that odors attract bears and other wildlife, so avoid carrying or cooking odorous foods and keep a clean camp; do not cook or store food in your tent. All food, garbage, or other odorous items used for preparing or cooking food must be secured from bears. Treat all odorous products such as soap, deodorant, or other toiletries in the same manner as food. Do not leave packs containing food unattended, even for a few minutes. Animals which obtain human food often become aggressive and dependent on human foods, and many can suffer ill health or death from eating a non-native diet. A short film about food safety is now mandatory before a back country permit will be issued.

Thermal areas

Fragile sinter crusts and ledges can give way, plunging a careless tourist into the boiling waters below

Always stay on boardwalks in thermal areas. Scalding water lies under thin, breakable crusts; pools are near or above boiling temperatures. Every year visitors traveling off trail are seriously burned, and people have died from the scalding water. Park rangers can also issue $130 fines for being out of bounds, or much more if there is any geological damage. It’s common to get sprayed with fine mist from the geysers, though. You don’t need to worry about being burned, as the water has traveled sufficient distance to cool down, provided you’re within the designated areas. However, glass lenses (such as eyeglasses and camera lenses) may be permanently damaged by the high mineral content of the water in the mist. For cameras, clear glass filters can provide inexpensive protection for high-priced lenses (be sure to have some replacements). If water from a thermal feature gets on a vulnerable lens, it must be washed off immediately (if no clean water is available, you can try – no, this is not a joke – licking the lens); if you try to wipe off the geyser water with a cleaning cloth (without rinsing the lens first), you risk grinding the suspended minerals into the glass of the lens and scratching it.

It is illegal to swim or bathe in thermal pools. There is a designated swimming area along the Firehole River near Madison Junction.

Yellowstone Lake

This is one of the largest, high-altitude bodies of fresh water on the planet. The Lake is large enough to have its own weather effects, and conditions can change rapidly. More than a few fatalities have occurred on the lake, when boaters fell victim to weather conditions that went from calm and sunny to violent storm in a matter of minutes. East of West Thumb Geyser Basin, near Lake Village, there is a marina where boats are available for rental from a Park concessionaire.


Know your 10 essentials when going on a hike, cell phones won’t work in most areas of the park, and may not be depended on in an emergency situation. 1. Navigation 2. Hydration & Nutrition 3. Pocket Knife 4. Sun Protection 5. Insulation 6. Ability to make fire 7. Lighting 8. First Aid 9. Shelter 10. Whistle


The weather can change rapidly and with little warning. A sunny, warm day can quickly become a cold, rainy or even snowy experience even in summer. Hypothermia can be a concern. Be prepared for a variety of weather conditions by bringing along appropriate clothing. Lightning can and does injure and kill people in the park, so watch the sky and take shelter in a building if you hear thunder. If you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes; it’ll probably change.

Other concerns

When camping, either filter, boil, or otherwise purify drinking water. Assume that even crystal clear waters may be polluted by animal and/or human wastes, and intestinal infections from drinking untreated water are increasingly common. Iodine tablets are not as effective as other methods but are readily available at local stores and easy to bring on a hike.

Finally, with so many people visiting the park each year petty crimes are something to be vigilant against. Lock your car doors and exercise sensible precautions with valuables, especially when leaving cars near trail heads or other areas where you might be away from your car for any length of time.

Law Enforcement

As a US National Park, Yellowstone is subject to US Federal Law. Generally, permits (such as for fishing) issued by surrounding States are not valid in the Park. If a visitor is cited for an offense while in the Park (such as speeding, feeding wildlife, failing to secure food in a campsite, etc), the fine must be paid immediately. The visitor is then free to make their case to the court at the Park Headquarters in Mammoth Hot Springs.

Categorized as Safety Tagged