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Explore the first national park in the United States

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone was the first national park established in the United States and it is unlike any other. It is situated on a dormant supervolcano, amidst countless active geysers and geothermal heat sources. Here you can really get up close to watch geysers such as Old Faithful, Anemone, Beehive, Plume, and The Lion Group erupt daily at precise times.

Located largely in the North East corner of Wyoming, but also extending into Montana and Idaho, Yellowstone's mountain ranges are part of the Rocky Mountains. There are at least 70 named mountain peaks over 2,400 metres high in 4 different mountain ranges. Yellowstone is also home to hundreds of animal species, some of them narrowly brought back from near extinction.

More than three million visitors come to marvel at the natural wonders of this park but only a few venture beyond the designated lookouts. After witnessing the roaring geysers, you can explore further and enjoy forests, alpine meadows, magnificent lakes, and a large canyon with waterfalls. Did you know that in the 19th century, the regular eruptions from the Old Faithful geyser were even used to wash clothes?

Experience the steaming geyser basins of Yellowstone
Walkways allow visitors to get close to the geothermal activity

Hiking trails and tours

There are over 1600 kilometres of hiking trails in Yellowstone National Park for you to explore. You can use the walkways and get up close to the natural geysers, or go further, away from the tourist lookouts, you can begin to discover the real Yellowstone and see nature in the wild. Following a guided tour into the extended valleys will allow you to see the beautiful less crowded areas of the national park.

Take a two-day bear and wolf private safari to see the best of Yellowstone National Park. This is the perfect way to learn about the iconic predators and immerse yourself in the wilderness of America's most untamed ecosystem. A two-day safari gives you the opportunity to observe more wildlife during peak periods. In addition to wildlife, you will see several famous sights, such as Mammoth Hot Springs and Lamar Valley.

The park is beautiful in the summer, but an off-season visit means fewer crowds. Another way to find peace and quiet is to go further into the park, away from the extensive network of paved roads. Yellowstone has hundreds of kilometres of hiking trails that wind through the vast Lamar Valley Trail Head and along canyon ridges.

The iconic Mammoth Hot Springs have gone through different phases of activity and dormancy
View some of the 300 geysers, hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles with a professional guide.

Scenic drives

There are spectacular drives through Yellowstone National Park that will take your breath away. The Lamar Valley Road and the Grand Loop Road are the most famous as they both give the driver the greatest chance of spotting some of the park's most exciting wildlife. On these exciting routes, you may see black bears, ospreys, river otters and pronghorn antelopes.

Firehole Canyon Drive and Firehole Lake Drive are stunning routes where you can look down on the falls and across the geysers rising up from the lake. With such remarkable countryside and so many fascinating stops along the way, it doesn’t make sense to rush. The road meanders and turns with occasionally steep, edging drop-offs which call for cautious, measured driving.

If it is wolves you are hoping to spot then Blacktail Plateau Drive is the best scenic driving route through the park. This is a one-way dirt track at altitude, so take your time and enjoy the scenery. Plan your visit carefully as many of the roads are forced to close due to the winter snowfall. The road from the North to the Northeast Entrance is the only one that is open all year round. This is the route to reach many sights including Mammoth Hot Springs, the Lamar Valley and Silver Gate.

Explore the many great driving routes through the park
Bison have right of way in Yellowstone National Park

Wildlife

The wildlife of Yellowstone is as exciting as the landscape here. Wolves were hunted to extinction in the last century and only reintroduced Book a guided tour with professional nature guides who will share their knowledge with you and make your visit an unforgettable experience. Many of these guides are experienced wildlife biologists and former rangers and they can tell you stories of the reintroduction of the bison, the largest mammal in North America.

The park is home to over one hundred species of animals, including bears, bison, elk and antelope, and the aptly named Rocky mountain wolf. The further you hike, the greater the chance of spotting the park's famous wildlife. Do remember to keep the recommended distances. Stay 100 metres away from black and grizzly bears, and wolves and 50 metres away from bison, elk, and all other wildlife.

Other interesting fauna to keep an eye open for are Canadian lynx, coyotes, and cougars. There are other large mammals such as the elk, moose, mule deer, white-tailed deer, mountain goats, pronghorn and bighorn sheep. The park also boasts over 300 species of birds, including 26 pairs of nesting bald eagles.

Grey wolves, once exterminated from the park, have now been reintroduced
Grizzly bears and bison roam freely and their numbers are increasing

The natural fauna of Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park is over two million square acres over pristine land. Following the many hiking trails and through this park you come across 290 waterfalls and a huge variety of plant species. A guide can help you identify them and teach you to avoid poisonous plants such as hemlock or meadow death.

The lodgepole pine is the most common tree in the park. These are very characteristic of the Rocky Mountains and are beautiful in summer or winter. There are also deciduous trees, such as aspen and cottonwood and their rich colours make autumn hiking a memorable experience. There are many plant species from the Great Plains and these meet with the mountain fauna in the park.

Yellowstone also has an abundance of wildflowers and unusual plants. For example, the Yellowstone Sand Verbena grows around the shores of the lake and is specially adapted to survive the warmth of the geothermal activity and also the long cold winters. Likewise, the Yellowstone Sulfur Flower thrives well in the sulphurous soil of the park. The park guides have infographic cards of all the types of wildflowers in the park; see how many you can find.

Lower Falls is the tallest waterfall in the Yellowstone National Park
© Stephen Walker, Unsplash
Hiking trails lead you to stunning places through the park
© TravelEssence

Cycling routes - enjoy the ride

While driving through Yellowstone is great, biking through Yellowstone is a whole different experience. It allows you to slow down and really take in the scenery with all its sights and sounds. There are quite a few bike rental locations in the national park and they provide helmets, repair kits and all necessary equipment. Enjoy cycling somewhere where the wildlife have right of way and the advice is to bring bear spray!

If you can, plan on biking Yellowstone in the early autumn as the park is quieter. The aspen trees are stunning in their fall colours and the temperatures are still mild enough for outdoor activities. There is a small window of time every fall and spring when the roads of the park are closed to cars but are open to bikes. In spring when the snow has melted from the main thoroughfares only park employees and cyclists are allowed to use them, so no public vehicles.

Try the Mammoth to West Entrance route or the steep, twisty North Entrance to Northeast Entrance route for some exciting cycling in shoulder season.Cycling from West Yellowstone to Madison Junction is a great round trip of 45 kilometres. This is an adventurous day out and elk, bison and waterfowl can often be spotted on this route.

Cycling is not allowed on the hiking trails, but there are plenty of other paved and unpaved roads to choose from. Keep 50 metres from wildlife, 100 metres from bears and do not cause the bison to run if you meet them on the road.

Cyclists passing by the geyser Old Faithful
Cyclists photographing the park wildlife

Activities in Yellowstone

  • Take a rafting trip on the rivers that run through the park
  • Go kayaking near lakeside geysers
  • Visit a real rodeo
  • Try your hand at fishing
  • Explore the national park on horseback with a guide
  • Hunt for dinosaur fossils and petrified trees
  • Watch a dance performance on a Native American Reservation
  • Look out for ancient petroglyphs on cave walls
Travel slowly on horseback and take in the scenery
Rafting is an exciting way to see the park from the rivers

Five museums in one: The Buffalo Bill Museum of the West

Be sure to include this exciting museum as part of your cultural journey through Yellowstone and further through the United States. There are five fascinating museums under one roof here so there's a lot to see here. Luckily the entry ticket is valid for two days so you can come back a second time.

  • Buffalo Bill Museum - explore true stories of the greatest cowboys and cowgirls of the Wild West and see the real possessions of Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley. Learn about Sitting Bull and Pawnee Bill; try to separate fact from fiction and cowboy myth from history.
  • Plains Indian Museum - learn about cultures, histories, and the living traditions of Plains Indian peoples in one of the nation’s largest collections of Native American art and artefacts. Listen to the stories of their traditions, trials, and triumphs, past and present.
  • Draper Natural History Museum - visit this truly immersive and child-friendly experience and learn about the national park in this hands-on exhibition. You can get up close to nature; touch and smell what makes Yellowstone’s diverse ecosystems and geothermal activity so unique.
  • Cody Firearms Museum - immerse yourself in the most comprehensive firearms museum in the United States, with over 10,000 artefacts and 4000 historical firearms. Stroll through the beautifully redesigned galleries that are interesting for experts and casual visitors alike.
  • Whitney Western Art Museum - view timeless classics from Remington, Russell, Moran, and Bierstadt or browse selections from today’s world-renowned western artists. A world-class collection of western art on the road to Yellowstone that is a real art lovers dream to visit.

There are also special visiting exhibitions covering different topics such as black cowboys in the United States or what lies beneath Yellowstone Lake's mysterious vents. The Buffalo Bill Museum is a must-see in the Yellowstone area — it’s a great place to learn the connection between historical and cultural aspects of the national park.

The Draper Natural History Museum portrays the natural world as seen by early inhabitants and explorers
Listen to the stories of the Native Americans in the Plains Indians Museum

Best times to visit

Yellowstone National Park is open all year but it can be busy in the summer, particularly in the designated lookout areas. If you visit in the spring, you can really get away from the crowds and enjoy nature undisturbed, and so you have a greater chance of seeing wildlife. Visiting the park in autumn is also a good idea as the colours of the trees are stunning and the temperatures are mild.

The best months to see wildlife in Yellowstone are April, September and October, which is also when there are fewer crowds. The bears come out of hibernation in March and April and the elk-rutting is a spectacular sight to see in September. July and August are the warmest months with pleasant daytime temperatures of 22 degrees centigrade on average and little rainfall.

Visiting in winter can also be an exciting experience because snow makes the park silent and more beautiful. Not all roads are accessible to the public, but try taking a guided tour and exploring the park on snowshoes. Although winter may seem like the least likely time to go hiking in the woods, it really is one of the most rewarding. Snow illuminates the landscape in new ways; pack up your snacks and hot drinks and set off into the woods.

The Old Faithful Geysers erupts every 50 to 100 minutes all year round
Yellowstone is open all year, even when covered in snow

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