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top five guide: yellowstone national park

Updated: Oct 5, 2023

Yellowstone National Park Road

Yellowstone National Park is one of America's most iconic natural wonders. Set atop a volcanic hot spot, this sprawling, 3,500 square mile wilderness reserve is home to veritably otherworldly scenery that includes bubbling springs, dramatic canyons, lush valleys, and roaming wildlife.

Established in the late 1800s, Yellowstone is celebrated as the first official US National Park and (arguably) remains to be our most magnificent National Park to this day. Few places on earth can match its varied landscapes and geological treasures, and it is in every way an ideal bucket list destination for outdoors enthusiasts and "glampers" alike.

Many National Parks can be easily traversed in the span of one day, but that is not true of mighty Yellowstone. One could easily spend a week in the park without repeating any of the same hikes or activities. In that spirit, to help you along on your own itinerary, here are my top must-see places within Yellowstone.

here are five things you have to see in YELLOWSTONE:

Grand Prismatic Spring Yellowstone National Park

1: grand prismatic spring

You can see rivers and canyons and mountains and wildlife in many places across America (and the world, for that matter). But I challenge you to find something akin to Grand Prismatic Spring. The shimmering rainbow-hued waters of this geologic wonder truly feels of another planet. It is the largest spring in the US and the third largest in the world, and easily my favorite feature in Yellowstone National Park.

Bison Wildlife Spotting Lamar Valley Yellowstone National Park

2: lamar valley

The best place to spot some of Yellowstone's iconic wildlife is in Lamar Valley. Take a (slow) drive through the valley at dawn or dusk for the best odds of spotting bison, elk, coyotes, wolves, grizzly bears, badgers, pronghorn, moose, bighorn sheep, and more. To help you along your search, I suggest buying a pair of binoculars or going with a tour guide. During our visit in July, we found bison, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep easiest to spot.

Blue Spring Yellowstone National Park

3: norris geyser/artist paint pots

These geothermal areas offer easy and accessible boardwalk hikes around some of the most fascinating geysers and springs in the park. Though many of the bubbling springs are a very inviting shade of turquoise, leave your swimsuit in the car as the inhospitable waters are near-boiling. Norris Geyser Basin is notably home to Steamboat, the world's largest active geyser. Don't count on seeing an eruption, however, as they are quite unpredictable and the last major eruption was in 1991. Not to worry as there are other, more...faithful...geysers you will see.

Upper Falls Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park Waterfall Viewpoint

4: upper falls of grand canyon

Nope, not that Grand Canyon. Yellowstone has its own prominent canyon that's more than worth a visit. One of the best ways to experience this vast area is by taking a short hike from Uncle Tom's Trail over to the Upper Falls viewpoint. The falls themselves are over one hundred feet tall and offer a majestic backdrop for a photo op.

Old Faithful Geyser Yellowstone National Park

5: old faithful

Perhaps the most well-known and most-visited landmark within Yellowstone is Old Faithful. This geyser has been more reliable than a Toyota Camry, erupting every 44 minutes to two hours since 2000. There isn't much to see outside of the geyser here, so I suggest timing your visit just before the eruption to avoid too much idle sitting around. Check their Twitter (X) account for updates on estimated eruption times.

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