23 Incredible Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park (for first time visitors)

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Are you planning to visit Yellowstone for the first time and are researching what are the best things to do in Yellowstone National Park?

Get excited, it’s the best National Park we have visited so far, and we are here to help!

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone
Mammoth Hot Springs

From bubbling hot mud pits, steaming sulphur holes, multi-colored hot springs, geysers shooting off randomly and perfectly timed, grand canyons filled with waterfalls, and an abundance of wildlife roaming around this is a volatile yet spectacular landscape.

There are so many cool and unique things to see in Yellowstone National Park and it has to be seen to be believed.

Not many travel experiences exceed our expectations, but this park actually did, and we’ve visited a lot of awesome national parks over the years.

Before visiting Yellowstone I heard the tales – mostly of Old Faithful and bison – but I still did not grasp how uniquely wonderful, strangely beautiful, and dangerous place Yellowstone NP is.

Now, there are plenty of things to do in Yellowstone National Park Wyoming that does not involve danger – but it’s something to consider and be in awe of.

Best things to do in Yellowstone National Park
Driving through Hayden Valley

To stay safe, don’t step off the boardwalks or think that steaming hot spring is made for swimming. It’s made for one thing only – boiling or eating away at your skin!

Also, don’t try to take selfies with the bison. They have large horns they don’t mind shoving into you if you piss them off.

These are just some of the absurd tales you’ll hear about visitors to Yellowstone. There is even a book called Death in Yellowstone, outlining all the ways you can die.

We visited with our kids, Craig’s sister, and our two nieces, no one was hurt, and we all had an incredible time and consider it to be one of the coolest and most unique places to visit in the US.

Actually, I think it could be added to the coolest places in the world list.

I don’t think there is another place quite like it.

Upper Geyser, Yellowstone
Upper Geyser Basin Loop Trail

Now we can see why it was the United States first park in the national park system. Thank you Teddy Roosevelt for having the vision to protect these unique places of natural and culture beauty for years to come.

If you don’t know what to see in Yellowstone, let’s talk about some of the best Yellowstone attractions you can’t miss down below!

By the way, this is not in any order of best things to do in Yellowstone National Park, as they’re all just so awesome.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs was the first place we visited in Yellowstone and I was bowled over by its beauty. It has a special place in my heart.

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park

Mammoth Hot Springs is a large complex of springs created over thousands of years. Hot water from the springs cooled and deposited calcium carbonate, leaving behind dramatic bleached white hues of frozen cascading terraced pools.

You can walk the boardwalks above the hydrothermal features of the lower and upper terraces and experience awe for a little bit.

Look for the elks sitting on what I guess is the perfect warm spot in between the scalding grounds and steaming springs. Don’t try this at home though!

For us, these hot springs are one of the most incredible things to see in Yellowstone.

Mammoth Village

I also found historic Mammoth Village to be the nicest out of all the Yellowstone villages. This is a great place to rest, picnic, stock up on your goods and spot elk.

Yes, elk love to walk freely around this village. Be sure to keep a safe distance. Rangers usually are there to help steer you away.

Boiling River

Not far from Mammoth Village is a total surprise and a Yellowstone must do!

Boiling River in Yellowstone National Park

I know you’re dreaming of slipping into a hot spring after seeing so many of them in Yellowstone. But remember they are dangerous.

Instead, head to the Boiling River, not as dangerous as the name denotes.

It runs alongside and spills into the Gardner River. There are small areas on the edge of the river where the water is not boiling as it mixes with the very cold water of the river.

Be careful you don’t go too far over to the edge of the river as that is where the water gets pretty darn hot.

The scenery here is spectacular and and it’s one of the coolest places to visit in Yellowstone (parden the pun).

Hayden Valley

I loved driving through Hayden Valley each day as we explored the park from our campsite near Yellowstone Lake.

Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park

I never grew tired of those rolling green hills, with the Yellowstone river running through it, steam rising up from the sides of the road reminding you of the unstable world that lived underneath you.

And the bison. I never got Bison Blasé even when they held up traffic with road crossings and camera clicking. See them up close is without doubt one of the top things to do in Yellowstone!

Wolves, elks, coyotes, and the occasional grizzly bear also frequent the area to graze, drink, and feed. We only saw bison, but in the distance once were wolves.

There are many things to do in the Hayden Valley area of Yellowstone.

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park

I only learned that Yellowstone NP had a Grand Canyon and waterfalls after writing a post last year about best Montana hikes.

Are you serious? The Grand Canyon is spectacular and a Yellowstone must see!

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park

The Yellowstone River runs through here, plunging 109 feet at the Upper Falls and then another 308 feet at the spectacular Lower Falls down into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

I found the Lower Falls to be the more beautiful.

We recommend spending time to explore both the North and South rim of the Grand Canyon, as it offers a wide perspective of its dramatic splendor.

Let’s look at where you can get good views of the Lower and Upper Falls.

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone South Rim

Artist Point

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park

This is where you’ll find the full glory of the pastel rainbow colors of the canyon and the spraying waterfalls in the middle of the view.

We were told around 9am is the best time to come and possibly see a rainbow shooting across the falls. We didn’t see it!

Upper Falls View

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park

This view is at the start of Uncle Tom’s trail and offers views over the Upper Falls.

The Grand Canyon Of Yellowstone North Rim

A one-way scenic loop drive takes you to many of the viewpoints of the North Rim’s Grand Canyon. Plan your stops well so you only have to drive it once!

Brink of the Upper Falls

Easy paved walk down to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls and watch it’s full power surging over the top.

Brink of the Lower Falls

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park

I loved this 0.8 mile return walk through the forest and down steep switchbacks to the observation point perched at the top of the Lower Falls of Yellowstone as it surges 308 feet over the lip into the heart of the canyon.

The views down the river into the colorful canyon make the switchbacks worthwhile.

Lower Falls lookout Point

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park

The Lookout Point offers easiest access view of Lower Falls on the North Rim

Redrock Point

Feeling energetic and want another view of Lower Falls? From the Lower Falls Lookout Point you can take the steps down Red Rock Point Trail to get further down the canyon.

Grand view

You can walk from Lookout Point to Grandview Point giving you views along the way close to the canyon rim.

Inspiration Point

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park

Here the canyon view widens and you get incfredible views of the pastel pinks, yellows, orange and greens of the canyon. Named Inspiration Point for a reason.

Best Hikes at Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Uncle Tom’s Trail

Unfortunately this hike was closed on our visit. It’s a strenuous 0.8 mile return hike dropping 500 feet down (over 300 steps) to the base of the Lower Falls.

South Rim Trail

The South Rim Trail has some of the best views of the trail and is one of the best things to do in Yellowstone National Park with kids!

It’s 1.8 miles one way beginning south of the Chittenden Bridge and ending at Artist Point passing by impressive views of the Upper and Lower Falls.

We walked from Upper Falls Viewpoint to Artist Point. We had two cars, so could leave one waiting for us there.

North Rim Trail

3.8 miles trail along the northwest wall of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. It crosses pristine pine forests perched atop precarious canyon walls.

Mud Volcanos

What. Is. This. Place?

Were my only words when exploring the mud volcano area of Yellowstone National Park.

Mud Volcanos

This area of muddy hot springs and fumaroles are located near one of the Yellowstone Volcano’s vents. You will see the steam rising from the road as you drive through here.

Bison love grazing in this area, surprisingly, because it’s a sulfurous land that stinks real bad.

A 0.7-mile loop takes you through the bizarre bubbling pools of mud and churning water with names like Sizzling Basin, Churning Caldron, Black Dragon’s Cauldron. Some look like they’re about to create waves.

There’s a steep slope in the beginning which takes you past “Cooking Hillside,” sprawling on both sides of the walkway.

Take the loop in a clockwise direction and end with the mouth of the dragon.

Dragon’s Mouth Spring is a spot where boiling water has gradually eroded away the hillside, creating a cavern that resounds constantly with roaring waters—almost like there really is a dragon lurking in there.

The kids loved visiting here after hearing the Native America myth surrounding it the day before in the Visitor Center.

I would say these volcanos are one of the most unique things to see in Yellowstone.

Sulphur Cauldron

Across the road from the Mud Volcanoes is an overlook for Sulphur Caldron.

Sulphur Couldron

Hold your noses, this place stinks so bad I was dry reaching. But as the most acidic springs in Yellowstone National Park, it’s a worthy stop. Just make it quick!

Lamar Valley

One of the top things to do in Yellowstone would be to get up early and drive through Lamar Valley.

Yes, just do it.

Lamar Valley. Yellowstone NP

You have a great chance of seeing grizzly bears and wolves against a backdrop of mountain peaks and a small river flowing through the valley.

This valley is quite expansive so to find the animals look for the spotters by the side of the road. You can’t miss them.

Professional wildlife watchers come here for that elusive glimpse and photo of these beautiful animals.

I was so grateful to spot someone we had met days before. She called us over to look through her scope and there was a a pack of white and black wolves frolicking in the grass. We never would have spotted them otherwise.

The scopers spend hours out here and are typically generous with allowing you to take a peak so don’t be afraid to ask. Perhaps take your own scope and join them.

Along this drive we also saw black bears – no grizzly bears though, they continued to allude us not just in Yellowstone National Park but in all places you can find them in the United States.

Lamar Valley Wildlife Tour

4 days and 3 nights discovering the natural wonders of Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Click image below to learn more:

Old Faithful

We were a little disappointed with Old Faithful, considering it would probabaly be the most poular of the Yellowstone attractions – best accessed from the west entrance.

Old Faithful, Yellowstone

Don’t get me wrong it as cool, and is considered one of the best things to do in Yellowstone National Park, but after everything we had seen previously, this didn’t seem to have the same wow impact.

It is pretty impressive that Old Faithful shoots its steaming liquid 100 ft. in the air at a predictable time every day (every 40 – 90 minutes).

That makes it an exciting Yellowstone attraction for most visitors. As many of the other geysers aren’t as predictable or frequent.

Beehive Geyser

This was one of our favorite Yellowstone sights!

Beehive Geyser, Yellowstone National Park

The Bee Hive Geyser randomly started shooting while we were attending the Junior Ranger program at the visitor center. Named for the 4 foot cylinder cone resembling a beehive, it fires its water 200 ft straight up into the air.

Eruptions last about 5-minutes and end with a roaring steam that can be heard a quarter-mile away.

It’s a Yellowstone must see and I think way cooler than Old Faithful.

Trouble is, no one ever knows when it goes off, but usually twice a day. May you be as fortunate as we were.

Old Faithful Inn

While in the Old Faithful region, you might want to pop into the Old Faithful Inn – its one of the attractions of Yellowstone in itself.

Old Faithful Inn

The Inn is a national historic landmark built with local logs and stone. It’s considered the largest log structure in the world.

Old Faithfull Inn is the most popular lodging in the park – of course with those views of Old Faitfhul and the Upper Geyser Basin – but many visit just to gawk at the towering exposed wooden beams of the lobby and the massive stone fireplace.

There’s a dining room, lobby with live music, and a deck with views of Old Faithful.

Upper Geyser Basin Loop Trail

Upper Basin contains nearly one quarter of all geysers in the world, which is phenomenal, considering its small size, and is a must do in Yellowstone!

Upper Geyser Basin Loop Trail

It’s where you’ll find the majority of the geysers in Yellowstone National Park, as well as rainbow colored hot springs and steaming fumaroles.

Be sure to move beyond Old Faithful (the most famous geyser of all which is found here) to explore the network of paved paths and boardwalks that wind through the Upper Geyser Basin exploring the thermal features.

It will be a quieter experience and so pretty with Firehole River meandering through.

HOT TIP: make your first stop of the day the visitor center to gather the predicted times for geyser eruptions each day. Plan your stops around these times and see how many you can fit in.

Grotto Geyser, Upper Geyser Basin Loop Trail
Grotto Geyser

Some of the more popular things to see in the Upper Geyser are:

  • Grotto Geyser (felt like a few mystical creatures were living amongst the caves of this unusual geyser)
  • Giant Geyser
  • Beehive Geyser (see above)
  • Morning Glory Pool

Midway Geyser Basin

There’s an 0.8 mile boardwalk that takes you through the basin and up to the outer edge of Grand Prismatic Spring, one of the grandest of Yellowstone sights.

Midway Geyser Basin, Yellowstone NP

This begins across the Firehole River to the beginning of the trail where water cascades down over the river bank from the hydrothermal pools above creating a yellow and orange colorful wonder.

You then go up to Excelsior Geyser, a steaming pool of vibrant blue water. This geyser sends more than 4,000 gallons of boiling water a minute over the crater rim into the river.

Be very careful on the boardwalk here.

It is a narrow, yet a popular area. Some people just don’t take care and we were nearly pushed off a couple of times. Watch your children.

Remember – you do not want to step off the boardwalk. Oh yeah, we saw a few people doing it to get their photos. Faaaarrrrrkkkkkkkk.

Grand Prismatic Spring

The only slightly disappointing thing for us on our Yellowstone trip was kind of missing the Grand Prismatic Spring at its best, and not seeing it from the elevated viewpoint.

Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park

We still walked around it and managed to see much of its beauty, but most of it was shrouded in steam.

We just timed it wrong with the weather.

Not to worry, more reason to visit the West Yellowstone area again.

Grand Prismatic Spring would absolutely be one of the best things to do in Yellowstone National Park, although again I haven’t heard about it as much as Old Faithful.

At nearly 113 m (370 ft.) across and 37 m (121 ft.) deep, Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in America and one of the largest in the world.

It steams and bubbles and has a vivid rainbow like appearance.

HOT TIP: the best place to see Grand Prismatic Spring is from the Grand Prismatic Overlook Trail. It climbs 105 feet over 0.6 miles from the Fairy Falls Trailhead. This is the view.

Yellowstone National Park

This is where you’ll get that picture you have always seen of Yellowstone’s star attraction.

Artists Paintpots

Artists Paintpots is a group of over 50 springs, geysers, vents and bubbling mud pots of varying textures and colors of red, blue, grey and brown.

Artists Paintpots

There is an easy 0.6 mile trail this studio created by nature, starting in the forest and then moving up the hillside with pretty views over the gibbon Geyser Basin where the Paintpots are.

We visited on an overcast day so it felt very moody and like the witches were surrounding us and ready to throw us in their cauldrons.

Dunraven Pass

The drive out to Lamar Valley through the Dunraven Pass is specatular. It’s the highest road pass in Yellowstone National Park.
If you want to go even higher consider …

Mount Washburn Hike

Mount Washburn is located along Dunraven Pass. There is a popular hiking trail to the top, which we have noted down as one of the things to do in Yellowstone when we return.

You will get top of the world panaoramic vistas and a good chance of seeing bighorn sheep, wildflowers and maybe even bear.

Tower Falls

Tower Falls is located between Tower-Roosevelt and Canyon Village.

Tower Falls, Yellowstone National Park

It’s easy to combine this with your Lamar Valley excursion.

Tower Falls drops a dramatic 132 feet straight down before joining the famed Yellowstone River roughly 1,000 yards downstream. Come early to avoid the crowds.

There are a few pullouts on the road before the falls which offers great views of the canyon area here.

Norris Geyser Basin

Welcome to the hottest, oldest and most volatile thermal region of Yellowstone National Park.

Norris Geyser Basin

No plant, algae, or bacteria can survive here, which is a shame as I’m sure they’d love the mesmerizing array of colors.

My favorite was the green river running through Porcelain Basin. Is that for real?

There are two areas here: Porcelain Basin and Back Basin.

Back Basin is more heavily wooded with various features scattered along the 1.5 mile boardwalk path.

Steamboat Geyser is in this area and is the tallest geyser in the world, spraying water 300 – 400 feet. It could go off anywhere from every 4 days to 50 years so good luck with your timing!

Barren Porcelain Basin is absolutely spectacular. One of my favorite views of Yellowstone National Park was looking over this basin. A 3/4 mile boardwalk encircles the basin and offers quite the sensory experience.

Gibbon Falls

I enjoyed Gibbon Falls and, having never heard of it as a place to see in Yellowstone, it was a lovely surprise.

Gibbon Falls, Yellowstone National Park

It’s located off the road between Madison and Norris Junctions. There are several viewpoints from the car park.

Walk along as far as you can as it’s where you’ll see the full beauty of the falls tumbling 84 feet down into a a small pool and continuing on its journey down the river.

Beryl Spring

Beryl Spring is an easy Yellowstone attraction to visit as you drive on the road to Norris Geyser Basin.

Beryl Spring

It’s small, pretty and really hot.

Someone was about to put their hand in it to test it until his wife started screaming at him. You really believe people couldn’t be that stupid until you visit Yellowstone and see it for yourself.

A sidewalk takes you right up to the hot spring. Look, but don’t touch!

Yellowstone Lake

Can you believe the most dangerous place in Yellowstone is actually Yellowstone Lake?

Yep. More people have died by its freezing temperatures than by any other means in the park!

Yellowstone Lake

We don’t recommend you go swimming here. It’s 7, 752 ft. above sea level and frozen six months of the year.

It features geysers, hot springs and underwater canyons. It’s 136 sq. miles so pretty big and offers loads to do and see in the area.

While driving along here a giant elk was crossing the road from the lake shore, bugling as he went by.

We camped in this area and heard the elk bugling at night. We visited at the right time of year for this, which was mid-September and during mating season.

One of the popular trails here was closed due to an aggressive grizzly. There are a few in this area so be careful.

Storm Point Walk

Unlike most national parks we visited on our US road trip, we didn’t do much hiking in Yellowstone. We were far too busy gawking at the sites.

Hiking will be at the top of our list when we return (Don’t forget your bear spray)

Storm Point Walk, Yellowstone NP

One trail we did do was the short and easy Storm Point Walk along Yellowstone Lake, which again offered another perspective of the park.

The 2.3 mile loop trail passed through open meadows thorough the forest and out to the scenic Storm Point.

Look around the rocks here as you will most likely spot some marmots. The trail follows the shore of a bit before looping back through the forest.

A solitary bison was loafing in the meadows as we walked past.

It was an easy walk for all of us, and I would add this to your list of things to do in Yellowstone with kids.

Yellowstone Hotel

One of our favorite things to do in Yellowstone was to eat at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel dining room AND enjoy a cocktail in the lounge listening to the piano music with lake views.

Yellowstone Hotel

The food in the restaurant was also delicious – every course. We splurged on three as it was Craig’s birthday.

Visitor Centers and Junior Ranger Programs

You will find Visitor Centers at all the major villages and areas in Yellowstone NP.

They are a Yellowstone attraction in their own right.

Yellowstone Visitor center

Spend time in the visitor centers and watch a film and check out the interactive displays. Each center will have ranger talks and guided walks. They are a wealth of information.

It’s great to get up to date information on geyser eruption times, closures, hiking tips, safety, wildlife spotting tips, sunrise and sunsets and bear safety etc.

Trails are often closed due to the volatility of this land and wildlife threats.

The Junior Rangers Program is a must for all those visiting Yellowstone National Park with kids.

The book is packed full of activities that will help the kids learn more about the importance of Yellowstone and the crazy environment they will be walking amongst.

They will love earning their Junior Ranger budget from Yellowstone, the world’s first national park.

Top Yellowstone National Park Tours

G Adventure Tours

The following tours with G Adventures visit Yellowstone National Park:

How Much Time Do You Need in Yellowstone?

We recommend longer than one day, and at least five days to see everthing on this list. That’s what we did it in.

If you can’t do that, then I think three days would be a great amount of time to see the top attractions in Yellowstone and all the diverse areas of the park.

Yellowstone is much bigger than you realize and can take a couple of hours to drive from one section to another, espcially with all the wildlife gawkers.

Be strategic with your planning and get up early to beat the crowds!

Getting Around Yellowstone National Park

Unless you join a tour, you will need your own vehicle to explore this gigantic park. We recommend it. Find your ideal car rental here:

 

Places Near Yellowstone National Park

More USA National Parks Tips

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If you’re still unsure about what to do in Yellowstone and have any questions or even suggestions, leave a comment down below.

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