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18 BEST THINGS TO DO IN YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK + MAP

Yellowstone National Park is a natural wonderland of geothermal features, breathtaking landscapes and incredible wildlife spotting. Get the most out of this national treasure with our guide to the best things to do in Yellowstone.

Yellowstone is a super volcano. The world’s largest active volcano, it contains half the world’s hydrothermal features.  Its most spectacular eruption was 640,000 years ago when a vast chunk of land collapsed and left a large depression in the earth – the Yellowstone Caldera.

In 1872 it became the first national park in the world, cementing the value of preserving such a valuable landmark. Alongside its geysers and bubbling mud-pots there are savannah-like landscapes and mighty canyons hosting the highest concentration of mammals anywhere in the contiguous United States.

The sheer size of Yellowstone, the overwhelming magnitude of the attractions, the array of outdoor adventures and the number of fascinating places to visit make Yellowstone a national treasure.

Our guide to the best things to do in Yellowstone National Park includes all the top attractions you won’t want to miss, the best places to visit as well as tips for getting the most out of Yellowstone National Park.  

COMMENTS // We do our best to keep the information in this guide up to date, if you notice anything has changed, please leave a comment below.

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1 – OLD FAITHFUL GEYSER

The most famous and most predictable of all the geysers in the park, Old Faithful is an unmissable attraction in Yellowstone. In a spectacular display, a plume of heated water is sent between 100 and 185 feet (30-56 metres) into the air.

Eruptions at Old Faithful are measured with impressive accuracy from one eruption to the next – the longer the eruption the longer the interval to the next.

Generally, eruptions take place anywhere between 60 to 110 minutes from each other – or around 20 times per day. Check the notice boards around the park for the next eruption time to help plan your visit.

WHERE TO WATCH OLD FAITHFUL

There are 3 great locations to see the eruptions at Old Faithful –

  • The Boardwalk – Find a spot on the boardwalk surrounding the geyser and grab a ringside seat. This is the closest you can get to Old Faithful.
  • Observation Point – Take the 1.1-mile (1.7 kilometres) round-trip up to Observation Point. This gives you an elevated view of the whole area.
  • Old Faithful Inn – The outdoor terrace of the Old Faithful Inn gets you above the crowds, but is still quite close to the geyser. It’s a great viewing location.

2 – MORNING GLORY POOL & UPPER GEYSER BASIN

Morning Glory Pool is a hot spring around 30 minutes’ walk from Old Faithful. It’s remarkable for the distinct coloration caused by bacteria that inhabit the water, resembling the flower of the same name.

Although too small to be seen by the naked eye, trillions of microorganisms group themselves by water temperature creating a spiral of colors where blue is hotter and yellow is cooler.

The result is a brightly colored pool with rings of yellow at the edge progressing to brilliant green at the deepest part in the centre. 

morning glory pool yellowstone
Morning Glory Pool, Yellowstone

TOP TIP | WALK FROM OLD FAITHFUL TO MORNING GLORY


Morning Glory Pool is 1 mile from Old Faithful. We suggest you see an eruption at Old Faithful, then walk to Morning Glory Pool via the other geysers in the Upper Geyser Basin.

Make your way back to Old Faithful for another eruption, this time from a different viewpoint.

UPPER GEYSER BASIN

On the way to Morning Glory Pool, you can also explore the geysers of the Upper Geyser Basin, the largest concentration of geysers in the world. There are over 150 of these sprouting geothermal pools in one square mile.

The following geysers erupt at predictable intervals.

Castle Geyser // Castle Geyser contains a 12-foot-high cone that resembles a turreted crater. It erupts every 9 – 11 hours with a maximum height of between 60 and 90 feet.

Grand Geyser // Grand is often the tallest and most dramatic of the Geysers in the Upper Geyser Basin. It reaches a height of between 150 – 180 feet, however, at an interval of 8-12 hours it can be tricky to catch.

Daisy Geyser // Daisey erupts every 90 to 110 minutes to a height of between 60 and 75 feet with a duration of 3 to 4 minutes. There is a smaller geyser near Daisy called Comet which is pretty much constantly active, although small.

Riverside Geyser // Riverside is a picturesque geyser that erupts every 5 – 7 hours at a height of 75 feet. A pool of water above the geyser begins to overflow into the river around 1.5 hours before the eruption.

3 – BISCUIT BASIN & MYSTIC FALLS

Biscuit Basin is a collection of colorful thermal pools and small geysers located around 10 minutes’ drive from Old Faithful. It’s a great thing to do in Yellowstone with an accessible walkway around several cool thermal features.  

The geysers and thermal pools are much smaller than those around Old Faithful, so you’re able to get much closer to them.

It originally received its name due to the biscuit-like formations on the edge of its largest crater, Sapphire. After an earthquake in 1959, an eruption at Sapphire disrupted the formations leaving the interesting geothermal features you see today.   

Sapphire Pool at biscuit basin in yellowstone national park
Sapphire Pool at Biscuit Basin

Some of the highlights at Biscuit Basin include –

Rusty Geyser // A small geyser surrounded by a rusty-red basin that has a mini eruption every 2 to 3 minutes. The water temperature consistently above boiling could explain its frequent sprouting.

Jewel Geyser // Consistently erupting every 5 to 10 minutes, Jewel Geyser is named after the pearl-like beads which form around the vent. It’s one of the prettiest pools in Biscuit Basin.

Sapphire Pool // Sapphire Pool is named after its crystal-clear blue water with temperatures around 200°F (93°C). Since the earthquake that destroyed the biscuit-like crust, Sapphire boils and surges regularly but there are no eruptions.  

MYSTIC FALLS WALK

After exploring the geothermal area, you could also hike to Mystic Falls, a 70-foot cascade in a small but rugged canyon. It’s an easy hike with around 320 feet of elevation that should be fine for most children over the age of 5.

The 2.4-mile (3.8-kilometre) hike over lovely forested trails is a unique thing to do in Yellowstone. The round trip should take just under 2 hours.

4 – GRAND PRISMATIC SPRING

The Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in the USA and one of the most spectacular places to visit in Yellowstone.

The striking colors of the pool, matching those of a rainbow, are due to multiple layers of microorganisms around the edge of the mineral-rich water. Ranging from red to green on the edges, the centre is a brilliant blue due to the high temperatures, depth, and the fact that the water is sterile in the centre.

Hot water travels 121 feet from a crack in the earth to reach the surface of the spring. The vibrant colors, steaming atmosphere, and huge size makes Grand Prismatic Spring one of the most photographed locations in Yellowstone.

GRAND PRISMATIC SPRING OVERLOOK

The best view of Grand Prismatic Spring is from the overlook on the Fairy Falls Trail.

The path to the overlook is 1.2 miles (1.9 kilometres) and leaves from the Fairy Falls Trail Parking Lot. The trail is well-marked, has an elevation of 105 feet, and takes around 30 minutes (one way).

Fairy Falls Trailhead parking lot is around 1.3 miles from the Grand Prismatic Spring parking lot – about a 3-minute drive.

grand prismatic spring from the Fairy Falls Trail overlook
Grand Prismatic Spring from the Fairy Falls Overlook

IMPORTANT | PARKING AT GRAND PRISMATIC & FAIRY FALLS


The parking lots at Grand Prismatic and Fairy Falls can both be very busy. If there are no spaces, you may be able to find somewhere on the side road and walk back, however, even these spaces fill up quickly.

The spring can often be shrouded in mist in the morning so it’s best to visit in the late afternoon.

5 – FOUNTAIN PAINT POT TRAIL

Fountain Paint Pot is another must-see geothermal area in Yellowstone. Named after the boiling mud pots in various shades of reds, yellows and browns, Fountain Paint Pot is accessible for people with all levels of ability via a 1/2 mile long circular loop over raised boardwalks.

While Fountain Paint Pot itself is an impressive mud pot with white bubbling mud surrounded by a pinkish-white dried crust, the highlight for us was Silex Spring.

The small pool in a brilliant shade of blue is framed with white silica and orange rippling edges.

Silex Spring at Foutain Paint Pot in Yellowstone
Silex Spring at Fountain Paint Pot

THE YELLOWSTONE GRAND SLAM


One of the most interesting aspects of Fountain Paint Pot is that it contains all four of the geothermal features found in Yellowstone – mud potsgeysershot springs and fumaroles.

Here are some of the interesting geysers to spot on the circular boardwalk loop at Fountain Paint Pot.

Clepsydra Geyser // Almost constantly erupting, Clepsydra Geyser shoots to a height of around 45 feet.

Fountain Geyser // As the dominant member of the group at Fountain Paint Pots, Fountain Geyser erupts every 4 to 6 hours with a spray reaching up to 80 feet.

Morning Geyser // Morning Geyser is the largest geyser at Fountain Paint Pot with successive jets exploding up to 200 feet in the air and around the same wide. Unfortunately, the last major eruption was in 2013, with some smaller activity in 2018.  

6 – FIREHOLE CANYON SWIM

Firehole Canyon Drive – a lovely 2-mile one-way road off the Grand Loop – takes you to a beautiful swimming area which is one of the most fun things to do in Yellowstone.

On the drive, stop off at Firehole Falls, a 40-foot waterfall surging through a thick lava flow that formed the canyon of the walls. There is a small parking area near the falls, and several pull offs along the road.

Just past the waterfall, there’s a wonderful swimming area in the Firehole River. Despite the name, the water is not hot, in fact, it’s decidedly fresh.

Access is via a set of wooden stairs that lead down to a rocky beach area. There’s plenty of room on the beach to laze around, even if you don’t intend to go for a swim.

Facilities at Firehole River Swimming – There is no parking lot at the swimming area, but there are generally places to park on the side of the road. There’s a small changing room at the top of the stairs, but no other facilities.

Opening times – The beach is closed during high water in Spring and in Winter. Check at any of the visitor centres in the park for dates that swimming is allowed on your visit.

UPDATE ABOUT BOILING RIVER SWIMMING

The only other possible swimming location in Yellowstone is Boiling River. A flood in June 2022, altered the mix of hot spring water and cold river water so that swimming is no longer possible. In addition, the boardwalks were washed away, and road access was cut off.

As a result, Boiling River is currently closed with no date yet available for when it will reopen.

7 – STEAMBOAT GEYSIR AT NORRIS BASIN

Steamboat is the world’s tallest, currently active geyser and around eruption time it is one of the unmissable Yellowstone attractions.

Eruptions can last anywhere from 2 to 30 minutes where water is thrown more than 300 feet skyward. Curtains of water rush back down the slopes around Steamboat, dragging mud, sand, and rock back into the two vents to be shot back up into the air.

Trees have been dislodged and cars have been damaged during some of the more ferocious eruptions. The area surrounding Steamboat is a desolate landscape with dead trees, frozen in white from the spray.

Plume of steam 24 hours after a Steamboat eruption

Unfortunately, Steamboat is an unpredictable geyser. Recorded intervals between eruptions range from 3 days to 50 years. In 2020 there were around 48 eruptions, in 2021 around 19 and in 2022, there were 11.

On our visit, in 2021, it was erupting every 9 to 10 days.

TOP TIP | SEEING STEAMBOAT IN ACTION


Timing your visit for the eruption itself is difficult but for 24 hours after an eruption, there is a magnificent plume of surging steam which is well worth seeing.

If you hear (or see online) that Steamboat has erupted during your visit to Yellowstone, make your way there to see the steam aftermath.

Steamboat Geyser

OTHER SITES AT NORRIS GEYSER BASIN

Norris Geyser Basin is the most volatile of all the geothermal areas in Yellowstone and it’s worth strolling around to explore the area washed in yellow and orange hues.

There are 2 main sections –

Porcelain Basin // Porcelain Basin is a barren landscape of hot springs and steaming vents in a colourful and compact space. There are no regular geysers, but it’s an interesting stroll over ground paths and raised boardwalks. The circuit is 0.75 miles (1.2 kilometres).

Back Basin // The Back Basin at Norris is a much larger area than Porcelain Basin with features spread across a partially wooded area. Don’t miss Emerald Springs, a beautiful green hot spring and Green Dragon Spring, a small pool partially covered in rock. Steamboat is also in the Back Basin. The circuit is 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometres).

Porcelain Basin, Norris.

8 – ROARING MOUNTAIN

Roaring Mountain is a thermal area containing several steam vents known as fumaroles which cascade up the side of the mountain.

As the hottest feature in Yellowstone, fumaroles have less water than hot springs or geysers, so the water is immediately converted to steam as it escapes.

The result is a mountain constantly smoking and hissing. Acid sulphate which also escapes from the vents has bleached the side of the mountain an eerie white.

Up until 1885, the fumaroles were much louder and more active, earning it the nickname Roaring Mountain.

The barren mountainside constantly shrouded in steam is an interesting stop on the Grand Loop Road.

Parking at Roaring Mountain – The pull-off is 5 miles north of the Norris Geyser Basin junction. There is generally plenty of parking, but as this is an overlook rather than a trailhead, if it’s full you should only need to wait around 5 minutes.

Roaring Mountain

9 – MAMMOTH HOT SPRING TERRACES

The Mammoth Hot Springs is a series of travertine terraces with shallow pools cascading down walls colored by algae. Containing over 50 hot springs plus numerous gas vents and the remnants of dormant thermal features, it’s one of the most fascinating and scenic things to do in Yellowstone.

The terraces are viewed via two connected boardwalk loops.

FUN FACT | HOW ARE TRAVERTINE TERRACES FORMED?


Hot water rises through small fissures in the earth where it interacts with hot gases forming a compound called carbonic acid. The acid dissolves limestone on its way up through layers of rock which reforms as the white chalky mineral which is deposited as travertine.

mammoth hot spring terraces Yellowstone national park
Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces

LOWER TERRACE BOARDWALK

The Lower Terrace boardwalk is accessed from the Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces parking lot or the Grand Loop Road. The complete lower terrace loop is around 1 mile.

Some of the main features on the Lower Terrace are –

Liberty Cap // Liberty Cap is a 37-foot-high travertine cone formed when the now dormant hot spring had a continuous flow for around 100 years.

Minerva Spring // Minerva Spring is a large terrace with intricate travertine formations. It was completely dry until 1951 when the flow and color started returning.

Cleopatra Terrace // Cleopatra Terrace is a large orange and yellow mound, slightly off the trail near the edge of the forest.

Palette Spring // The most impressive feature at Mammoth Terraces, Palette Spring is a steep ridge of small pools and terraces with crisscrossing patterns in bright orange and brown.  

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