Yellowstone National Park: a natural treasure, the holy grail for outdoorsmen -- many of us have grown up hearing stories about the park and its majestic herds of buffalo, rolling valleys, winding rivers, and breathtaking mountains. It’s no wonder that this park is at the very top of many travelers’ bucket lists.
Volcanoes, Geysers, and Hot Springs - Oh My!
One of the most fascinating and unique features of Yellowstone is the fact that it sits on top of a massive, dormant volcano. The volcano is what creates the many steaming hot springs, gurgling mud pots, and spitting geysers in the park. In fact, Yellowstone National Park has more geysers than anywhere else on the planet!
Of all Yellowstone’s geysers, Old Faithful remains the most famous. The notorious geyser sits in a historic district, and can be viewed on a boardwalk. About every hour, it erupts, jetting hot water over 100 feet into the air. A visit to Yellowstone provides an opportunity to see such rare hydrothermal features, like Old Faithful, up close.
The geysers are not the only feature created by Yellowstone’s volcano. Some of the most interesting and unique attractions in the park are the fascinating “mud volcanoes.” These mud pots (also called paintpots because of the minerals which tint the mud an array of colors) seem like something out of a science fiction film, and can often be heard and smelt -- they are also called “sulphur caldrons” -- before they are seen.
One of the most photographed spots in Yellowstone is at the Grand Prismatic Spring - and any grand tour of Yellowstone would be incomplete without it. The Grand Prismatic, is one of several pools in Yellowstone, and is the largest hot spring in the United States. The pool is filled with dazzling, neon blue water in the center, and rimmed with vibrant yellow and orange residue. The stunning, otherworldly colors are a result of the minerals and bacteria in the pool.
Aside from its impressive geothermal features, Yellowstone is also known for its magnificent natural scenery and pristine wilderness. Among the best sights include gushing waterfalls, like the Tower Waterfall, rock formations like the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and the peaceful Lake Yellowstone. Another important natural element of the park are its valleys, such as Hayden Valley, which are popular areas amongst tourists to have a picnic lunch and spot wildlife.
Another reasons people from all over the world are attracted to Yellowstone is because of its abundant wildlife. Because a hunting ban has protected all of the animals within Yellowstone since the park’s inception, animal sightings are common, and some are even unafraid of humans. As a result, there are many Yellowstone wildlife tours that focus specifically on the animals!
In particular, visitors come to see the wild herds of bison and elk, moose, and black and grizzly bears. If you are lucky, you may even see a beaver, an otter, or a wolf -- there are currently 13 wolf packs residing within the park’s boundaries!
Yellowstone by the Seasons
Located in the heart of North America, Yellowstone is subject to a drastic seasonal change. In the summer, temperatures average in the low 70’s, and in the winter temperatures below zero are common.
The summer is the most popular time to visit Yellowstone National Park, and although there are certain places that can get crowded, these crowds can be easily avoided -- summer is still a beautiful time to visit the park. During the summer months, all roads and campsites are open, and this allows visitors to see all of the seasonal attributes: the breathtaking wildflower bloom, the trout spawn, elk and mountain goat calving, and the bison rut.
In the fall, enjoy one of North America’s greatest masterpieces: the autumn. Explore Yellowstone with a backdrop of vibrant yellow and reds as the forest changes color. At this time, black bears and grizzlies are particularly active as they strive to fill their stomachs before hibernation. The park’s population of elk is also in rut, the time of the year that they mate. As a result, visitors can expect to their them bugling and perhaps witness an intense clash between two males.
The winter is a magical time in the park. With many roads blanketed in thick layers of snow, snowmobile tours of the park are a popular and thrilling way of getting around. For those uninterested in the intensity of the snowmobiling, don’t worry -- you can still tour Yellowstone in a historic snowcoach.
No matter what season you arrive in, or what you end up doing - America’s first national park is sure to stun and leave you with memories that will last a lifetime.