50+ Things To Do in Yellowstone in 2021
June 18, 2021
Table of Contents
- What To Know about Visiting Yellowstone in 2021
- Things To Know Before Visiting Yellowstone
If you’re visiting the incredible Yellowstone National Park soon, you’ve come to the right place! This blog post will cover over 50 things to do in America’s First National Park. In addition, I have tips on what you need to know about visiting Yellowstone in 2021, and what you’ll always need to know for visiting this unbelievable park.
- The northeast portion of the Grand Loop Road, between Canyon Village and the Tower Junction, is closed in 2021 for road repairs. This means that the stops along this stretch of road, such as Tower Fall, are unreachable.
- Due to Covid-19, the visitor centers inside the park are offering limited services. They are limited in capacity and exhibits are not open for viewing.
- Masks are required indoors if you have not been fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
- Many buildings are limiting the capacity allowed indoors at once. This was most obvious at the Old Faithful Inn, which often had a long line of people outside the door.
- The US is experiencing a rental car shortage. If you are renting a car, be sure to rent it far in advance and do not arrive without a reservation.
Are you staying inside of the park, or considering staying there in the future? Check out my comparison of three different lodges inside of the park.
- Dangerous wildlife lives throughout the park and you are entering their home. While they are cool to see, be sure to keep a very wide distance between yourself and any animal, especially bears and bison.
- Yellowstone is one of the most visited national parks and gets very crowded. Do your best to visit the popular attractions very early or late in the day for the best experience. When you do visit places during peak hours, be patient with the other people and cars around you. Remain flexible with your plans so that you can come back to a stop later if needed.
- There are plenty of places to get gas and food while traveling through Yellowstone. However, it’s smart to pack food and fill up on gas before entering the park so you can focus on the geysers rather than waiting in lines.
- Entering Yellowstone costs $35 for a seven-day pass. If you are visiting multiple national parks within the year, I highly recommend purchasing the America the Beautiful Pass for $80.
1. Enjoy a Guided Tour from your car with GyPSy Guide
GyPSy Guide is an app that plays information automatically as you drive through the park. The guide will tell you the history of Yellowstone, information about stops to make, locations where you’ll likely see wildlife around the park and more. It’s incredibly helpful for guiding you around the park and making sure you don’t miss anything. The only downside is that the app is not up to date on current conditions and closures, so be sure to check the park website or go to a visitor center to stay up to date. The tour costs $6.99 for Yellowstone (you can bundle it with Grand Teton National Park too) and you’ll want to download it in advance when you have service or wifi outside of the park.
2. See a Sunrise in Yellowstone
Not only is the sunrise beautiful over this landscape, but you’ll likely avoid any sort of crowd. I recommend watching the sunrise at Mammoth Hot Springs; the light reflecting off of the springs glows yellows and creates gorgeous reflections.
3. See a Sunset in Yellowstone
Similar to sunrise, a sunset in Yellowstone is wonderful for avoiding the crowds and enjoying the beauty of the park. I recommend watching the sunset from Artist's Point at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The sky lights up and reflects stunning colors onto the canyon below.
4. Take a Hike in Yellowstone
Yellowstone has over 1,000 miles of trails, yet few visitors venture beyond the boardwalks. Hiking allows you to escape the crowds and takes you to incredible viewpoints, waterfalls and geysers that you cannot see otherwise. If possible, be sure to leave some time for hiking while visiting Yellowstone.
5. Watch Old Faithful Erupt with a Drink in Hand
On the second floor of the Old Faithful Inn, there is a bar and a large balcony that provides a great viewpoint for Old Faithful Geyser and the entire Upper Geyser Basin. Order a coffee or cocktail and sit back to watch Old Faithful erupt from above. In addition to the Inn balcony, there is also a porch at the Old Faithful Lodge with rocking chairs. You can purchase ice cream inside of the lodge and enjoy it while watching the eruption.
6. Old Faithful
Old Faithful is the most famous thermal feature in Yellowstone. The geyser faithfully erupts about every 90 minutes with an average height of 130-140 feet tall. It’s an incredible sight to see it erupt. There are many different places you can view the eruption, one being from the stadium style seats right on the boardwalk next to the geyser. Check the Old Faithful Visitor Center for the predicted eruption times.
7. Grand Prismatic Spring
The Grand Prismatic Spring cannot be missed when visiting Yellowstone. The spring is bigger than a football field, deeper than a 10 story building and shows the whole rainbow of colors. Take the short walk on the boardwalk to get up close to the spring. Consider going early or late because this is a very popular destination.
8. Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook
You cannot truly appreciate the size of Grand Prismatic Spring until you get above it. To reach the overlook above the spring, complete the 1.6 mile round trip hike with 200 feet in elevation gain. It’s definitely worth this short climb to gain an appreciation of the incredibly colorful spring.
9. Norris Geyser Basin
The Norris Geyser Basin is the oldest and hottest thermal area in Yellowstone. There are two loop trails here: the Porcelain Basin and the Back Basin. The Porcelain Basin is a short boardwalk loop that goes over a large stretch of white and pastel colored springs. It’s beautiful to see from above and to walk through. The Back Basin is home to several amazing geysers, such as Steamboat Geyser. Be sure to do both loops while visiting.
10. Steamboat Geyser
Steamboat Geyser is located in the Norris Geyser Basin and is famous for being the tallest active geyser in the world. When it erupts, it can get as tall as 350 feet and cause destruction to the surrounding forest, even reaching the cars parked in the parking lot. The major eruptions of Steamboat are unpredictable. For a ballpark estimate on how often it erupts, it erupted 48 times in both 2019 and 2020, but is erupting at a slower pace in 2021. Although you’re unlikely to see a major eruption, be sure to view it to see the wake of destruction that surrounds it and one of the more frequent minor eruptions.
11. Fountain Paint Pots
You will explore the Fountain Paint Pots by a quick and flat boardwalk trail. If you’re lucky, you may see Fountain Geyser erupting. This geyser gets as high as 60 feet and has a long eruption time, it’s fascinating to watch up close. Also along the trail, you’ll see the Fountain Paint Pot, a spring with watery pink mud that consistently bubbles at the surface.
12. Artist’s Paintpots Trail
You’ll reach the Artist Paintpots area after a quick half mile walk through a Lodgepole forest. After passing some colorful hot springs, walk up the small hill to see the multicolored mud pots. The consistency may depend on recent rainfall, but you will likely see a thick pool of mud bubbling and gurgling. It looks like paint as the mud pops and splatters around the area.
13. Upper Geyser Basin
The Upper Geyser Basin is an area of geysers and hot springs just north of Old Faithful. This area contains the largest concentration of geysers in the world. There are several interesting geysers and hot springs in this area that are worth exploring. The trail is a mix of both boardwalks and paved trails. If you walk the entire loop along with the Observation Point Loop (where you’ll have a great view of Old Faithful), it will be about 5 miles.
14. Mammoth Hot Springs - Lower Terrace Boardwalk
Mammoth Hot Springs is a unique feature in the northern part of the park made up of travertine terraces. These features can vary between seasons, so you never know exactly what you’ll see. Acidic water carves through limestone and creates terraces of white, chalky minerals. The lower terrace area has a boardwalk with some steps throughout. One notable feature is the Liberty Cap, a 37 foot tall hot spring cone that stands on its own.
15. Mammoth Hot Springs - Upper Terraces
You can drive or walk via boardwalk between the Upper and Lower Terrace of Mammoth Hot Springs. The Upper Terrace of Mammoth Hot Springs includes a small parking area and a one way loop drive past several more features. Be sure to park and take a quick walk to see the impressive Orange Spring Mound, an accurately named feature of orange minerals built up into a cone. Then continue on the loop drive where you’ll pass a few more features and might spot some elk.
16. Mud Volcano
Mud Volcano is a 0.6 mile loop trail made up of pavement and boardwalks. It is located deep into the park between the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Yellowstone Lake. One of the most interesting features here is the Dragon’s Mouth. Steam spews out of a mouth-like cave as waves crash against the cave walls and create a roaring sound. The mysterious mud features found in this area are some of the most acidic in Yellowstone.
17. Sulphur Cauldron
Across the street from Mud Volcano, make a quick stop to see Sulphur Cauldron. This area has a pH balance that is similar to a car battery acid or stomach fluid. There is even a thermal feature eating through the pavement in the parking lot here. This is a quick stop that you can gaze over from a sidewalk next to the road.
18. West Thumb Geyser Basin
West Thumb Geyser Basin is unique in that it is right on the banks of Lake Yellowstone. The trail here is a mile on a boardwalk and will take you past several geysers and hot springs. Most notable is the Fishing Cone, a cone shaped hot spring located in the lake. In the late 1800’s, fishermen would stand on the cone while fishing in the lake, and then cook them inside of the spring. Depending on the water level, the cone shape may not be visible.
19. Biscuit Basin
Biscuit Basin is a small geyser area known for its gem-like pools. You have the opportunity to see geysers that go off quite often, such as Jewel Geyser and Avoca Springs. In addition to the geyser, Sapphire Pool is a beautiful pool colored deep blue. The Biscuit Basin area is a 0.7 mile loop on boardwalks. You can also walk between here and Old Faithful while exploring the Upper Geyser Basin.
The next five things to do are notable geysers that you should try to see if the times work out. In addition to checking at the visitor center, you can check predicted eruption times at geysertimes.org.
20. Grand Geyser
The Grand Geyser is located in the Upper Geyser Basin and erupts about every 6-7 hours. This geyser can be even taller than Old Faithful, reaching heights of 200 feet. You can check for the predicted times of this geyser at the Old Faithful Visitor Center.
21. Castle Geyser
Castle Geyser is another geyser in the Upper Geyser Basin that tends to erupt every 12-14 hours and is named for its castle-like shape. It is the largest cone geyser in the area and reaches heights of 90 feet.
22. Daisy Geyser
Daisy Geyser, also located in the Upper Geyser Basin, tends to erupt every 2-3 hours and gets as tall as 120 feet. The geyser is unique because it erupts at a 70 degree angle and is one of the most predictable geysers.
23. Riverside Geyser
Riverside Geyser is located in the Upper Geyser Basin right next to the Firehole River. It erupts every 6-7 hours and is about 75 feet tall. While erupting, it arches over the river at an angle and can span the width of the river.
24. Great Fountain Geyser
Great Fountain Geyser is located on the Firehole Lake Dr and erupts every 9-12 hours. The geyser is very impressive when it erupts, reaching heights of 200 feet. There are cascading pools around the geyser that reflect the light beautifully, especially at sunrise or sunset.
25. Roaring Mountain
Roaring Mountain is a quick roadside stop where you’ll see steam coming out fumaroles on the side of a rock face. If you listen closely, you may hear a hissing noise. Fumaroles are the hottest of the thermal features in Yellowstone and are therefore constantly creating steam that escapes through vents.
26. Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone - Artist’s Point
Artist’s Point provides a stunning view of the Lower Falls, a massive waterfall that flows through the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. It is a short walk from the parking lot and is named Artist’s Point after the incredible paintings that were made of the Lower Falls before photography was common.
27. Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone - Upper Falls View from the South Rim
To see the Brink of the Upper Falls, you’ll park and then descend 600 feet through a series of switchbacks on a paved trail. This is an excellent experience to get right up next to the powerful and magnificent waterfall. Be prepared for a steep climb as you climb back up.
28. Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone - Brink of the Lower Falls
To see the Brink of the Lower Falls, you’ll park and then descend 600 feet through a series of switchbacks on a paved trail. This is an excellent experience to get right up next to the powerful and magnificent waterfall. Be prepared for a steep climb as you climb back up.
29. Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone - Lookout Point
Lookout Point provides the best view of the Lower Falls from the North Rim of the canyon. From this parking lot, you can also descend about 275 feet to Red Rock Point, where you’ll get an even better view of the waterfall. The rocks on either side of the waterfall have a beautiful reddish hue from the presence of iron oxides.
30. Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone - Grand View
Grand View is a viewpoint of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone where the river is the focal point. You can see the Yellowstone River snake back and forth deep in the canyon. On a sunny day, the canyon is beautiful shades of red, pink and orange. The overlook is a short walk from your car.
31. Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone - Inspiration Point
Inspiration Point is the final place to stop when visiting the South Rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. This overlook provides a view of the river-carved canyon looking in both directions. As you gaze to the east, you’ll notice more trees covering the walls of the canyon. Halfway down the road to Inspiration Point, there is a trailhead where you can hike to a viewpoint of Silver Cord Cascade falls (a skinny waterfall that is actually the tallest waterfall in the park) and continue on the Seven Mile Hole Trail to hike down into the Grand Canyon.
32. Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone - Brink of the Upper Falls
The Brink of the Upper Falls is an easy 0.3 mile trail that will bring you right above the Upper Falls. It’s a beautiful viewpoint to see the powerful water gushing down the bend of the river. If you’re lucky, you can see a rainbow over the falls here.
33. Yellowstone Lake
Yellowstone Lake is the largest high elevation lake (above 7,000 feet) in North America. At the bottom of the lake, there are underwater geysers, canyons and hot springs, much like the rest of the park. There are several different viewpoints of the lake that you can see from your car, or you can explore the lake by boat. Swimming is not recommended because the water temperature averages 41°F.
34. LeHardy Rapids
The LeHardy Rapids are a series of rapids located on the Yellowstone River just north of Yellowstone Lake. You can take a short boardwalk trail from the parking lot to get a closer look. These rapids are special because they mark a likely location where the next eruption of the Yellowstone Super Volcano would occur. The area has risen and fallen 3 feet over the past few decades, indicating magma movement below the earth.
35. Gibbon Falls
Gibbon Falls is a quick stop nearby the Artist’s Paintpots Trail. This waterfall is 84 feet tall and creates a beautiful ribbon effect as water flows over the drop. There is plenty of space to spread out and take in the view of this waterfall.
36. Sheepeater Cliff
Sheepeater Cliff is not far from Mammoth Hot Springs and is a quick detour off of the Grand Loop Road. The cliff is made up of columnar basalt and resembles the look of a beehive. The area is a popular place to spot marmots and there is a nice 1 mile river trail that begins at the cliff.
37. Golden Gate Canyon
The Golden Gate Canyon is located just south of Mammoth Hot Springs and named for the golden glow of light on the canyon walls. While driving through this area, you can see Rustic Falls from a quick overlook and will drive past impressive boulders. Between Rustic Falls and Mammoth Hot Springs, there is a tiny loop road off the Grand Loop where you can drive right through a boulder field created from a rockslide from Terrace Mountain. The road is unmarked so pay close attention or use the GyPSy Guide tour for guidance.
38. Petrified Tree
Near Roosevelt Lodge and Tower Junction, you can take a quick paved trail to see a petrified tree that is 50 million years old. I saw a black bear (from a safe distance) right off of this trail!
39. Lamar Valley
Lamar Valley is a scenic area located at the north end of the park. There is so much wildlife here and it tends to be less crowded than other areas of the park. You may see bears, gray wolves, pronghorn, bald eagles and other animals. There are several viewpoints and pull offs along the way. One interesting place to stop is at the Soda Butte, a unique rock formation.
40. Hayden Valley
The journey through Hayden Valley is a beautiful scenic drive between Yellowstone Lake and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. It is common to see bison, elk and other wildlife here. There are several pull outs along the way where you can get a better look. Be sure to always keep a wide distance from wildlife.
41. Firehole Lake Drive
Firehole Lake Drive is a one way 3 mile road with several geysers and hot springs along the road. You’ll drive past Great Fountain Geyser, White Dome Geyser, Pink Cone Geyser and hot springs along the way.
42. Firehole Canyon Road
Firehole Canyon Road is a one way, two mile side road with a waterfall, river views and chances to spot wildlife. Firehole Falls is a 40 foot tall waterfall that is beautiful for a quick stop. Firehole River is sometimes available for swimming but is currently closed as of June 2021.
43. Osprey Falls
If you are an experienced hiker, the hike to Osprey Falls is highly rewarding. The trail totals 8.3 miles with a total of 1,811 elevation gain. You will reach an impressively beautiful waterfall after scrambling down a steep and rocky path.
44. Fairy Falls and Imperial Geyser
Fairy Falls is a spectacular 200 foot tall waterfall located 2.7 miles from the parking lot. You will begin this hike at the same point of the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook but go past the viewpoint. Another 0.6 miles past the waterfall, you’ll reach the impressive Imperial Geyser, which erupts vigorously. It can either erupt seconds or a couple hours apart. The total round trip hike to see both features is 6.7 miles.
45. Bunsen Peak
The hike to Bunsen Peak is 4.4 miles round trip with 1,282 feet in elevation gain. You will ascend up switchbacks and see amazing views of the Golden Gate Canyon along the way. At the top, there is a radio tower and a log book for hikers. This is a wonderful hike near the Mammoth Hot Springs Area.
46. Hellroaring River Suspension Bridge
The Hellroaring River Suspension Bridge can be reached by a 1 mile hike descending about 600 feet. The bridge was built in 1935 to give hikers and horses access to Hellroaring Creek, which is a popular place for fishing. The hike has beautiful views of the river and a lush hillside full of wildflowers. Be sure to carry bug spray and plenty of water. After reaching the creek and the bridge, you can continue on the trail or turn back.
47. The Hoodoos
The Hoodoos are a 5.4 mile trail near the Mammoth Hot Springs Area. The hike begins in a forest and then descends into a large field of boulders. There is a total of 813 feet of elevation gain.
48. Old Faithful Inn Lobby
Be sure to walk into the lobby of Old Faithful Inn and see the historic log cabin construction. This national historic landmark was built in 1903 and is the largest log structure in the world. There is an impressive stone fireplace and several stories of logs as you look up from the lobby.
49. Roosevelt Arch
Enter through the North Entrance of the park and drive through the massive Roosevelt Arch. The arch stands 50 feet tall, was built in the early 1900’s and symbolizes a gateway to the national parks.
50. Map Room at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel
The Map Room inside of the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel is worth a quick stop to grab a coffee. There is a giant United States map on the wall made up of 15 different types of wood from nine countries. The map represents how the United States existed in 1936. Inside the map room, there is a cafe with coffee and drinks, and tables that include checker boards. See if you find which state capital is labeled incorrectly on the map!
51. Mammoth Historic District
The Mammoth Historic District is home to Fort Yellowstone, where the military was stationed to protect the park when it was first established. You can take a self guided tour and see cavalry barracks, a chapel, officers’ quarters and more.
52. Take a photos with a Yellowstone National Park Sign
Yellowstone has five entrances and no matter which you arrive from, it’s always fun to take a photo with the sign as you enter the park.
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