Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first national park, is a natural wonder with geysers, mud pots, diverse landscapes, wildlife, and magnificent colors! There is a great deal to see, and I have broken down my top 10 must-see destinations within the park. NOTE: This list excludes attractions from Canyon Village – Lake Village road as it was closed. It will reopen May 2022
When to Visit
The weather in Yellowstone can be quite extreme throughout the year. Temperatures can drop as low as -40 F during the Winter season, which starts in September/October, and Summer months offer comfortable weathers but unexpected rain and snowstorms. Summer is the most popular season since all the roads are open, but navigating through a crowded park may not be ideal. I recommend visiting late May or early September to avoid large crowds and road closures.
Yellowstone 10 Must-See Destinations
*The attractions are listed starting from the South Entrance going clockwise for convenience.
- West Thumb Geyser Basin
Among all the hydrothermal areas in Yellowstone, West Thumb Geyser Basin differs from all other basins since it is on the edge of Yellowstone Lake, the largest body of water in Yellowstone. This causes some of the hot springs to be completely or partially submerged by freshwater. The area also includes pools and mud pots. You will see some great formations here including Abyss Pool, Black Pool, and Fishing Cone.
- Old Faithful Geyser
Not much of a surprise, but Old Faithful Geyser, which is the park’s most famous attraction, is a must-see destination for a few reasons: one being that its eruptions are highly predictable, earning it its ‘faithful’ title, two being that it’s magnificent to watch, and three it’s conveniently located in the upper geyser basin that is home to a lot of other geysers, pools, fumaroles, and mud pots. The geyser eruptions range from every 35 to 120 min. and lasts for 1 1/2 to 5 min. It shoots water up to 90-180 feet.
Travel notes: There is a large boardwalk surrounding the geyser and plenty of seats for visitors. The area becomes crowded during each eruption, but the view can be seen from anywhere of the surrounding area so you don’t necessarily need to be up close to the geyser. There is a hotel building with a gift shop, cafeteria-style restaurant, and public restrooms. This building offers the geyser predictions for six main geysers throughout the park, including Old Faithful. There is also a visitor center. The parking lot is close to the geyser and accessible by wheelchair.
- Upper Geyser Basin
The Upper Geyser Basin, Yellowstone’s largest geyser basin, is home to many magnificent hots springs, pools, and geysers as well as Old Faithful. Many bison roam around the area, especially on cold days, to stay warm near the hot springs. My favorite spots are Morning Glory Pool and Grotto Geyser. Morning Glory Pool has been renamed to Fading Glory Pool due to it’s loss of blue color from years of visitors throwing trash into it. It is still magnificent to look at, but please don’t throw anything into any of the pools!
Grand Prismatic Spring at Midway Geyser Basin. Grand Prismatic Springs is Yellowstone’s largest thermal spring and it is a treat for the eyes. The spring is rainbow-colored, hence the name grand prismatic, thanks to the microbes and differing water temperatures surrounding the middle of the pool. The pool is piping hot, with the hottest in the blue portion, and the water cools off the further it is from the middle. Unfortunately, I went on a cold, gloomy day where the colors could not be seen well. There is also the Excelsior Geyser, Turquoise Pool, and Opal Pool that are worth seeing in the Midway Geyser.
- Artist Paint Pots
This was one of my favorite destinations with geysers, vents, and mud pots to be seen on a partly wooded 0.6 mi. loop trail with some elevation. The features are not as “spectacular” as other popular spots, but the hike is enjoyable and the overlook of the mountains and geyser basin is beautiful. The fresh snow made the walk quite enjoyable and the view is spectacular.
- Norris Geyser Basin
Norris Geyser Basin is Yellowstone’s oldest and hottest thermal area with small and large pools constantly emitting steam. The overlook at the entrance is one of the most magnificent views ever: unique colors from microbes and a LOT of steam blowing whichever way the wind is blowing. The main area, Porcelain Basin, offers a walk around many pools, vents, and mud pots on a 0.7 mi. boardwalk loop trail. The trail also branches off to Nuphar Lake on the side and is composed of spring water and melted snow.
- Mammoth Hot Springs
The Mammoth Hot Springs area is composed of unique travertine terraces that are naturally pale white and colored brown and yellow by microbes in water from the geothermal springs. The hot springs area is spread out, with each formation having its own unique appearance. The area offers a variety of rock textures and colors, and it is all accessible by a boardwalk. This was one of my favorite spots as well!
Travel notes: The area is expansive and can all be accessed by foot, but you will need a good 2-3 hours to see it all as the boardwalk covers 1.75 mi. with elevation and there is additional walking to the visitor center area. This area is at the end of the hot springs area, near the North entrance, that also includes the Historic Fort Yellowstone, and other buildings. Parking near Mammoth Hot Springs is limited. You can find additional parking at the visitor center. If you choose not to walk up the steps of the boardwalk, you may drive to the upper terraces.
- Roosevelt Arch
9. Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
The Grand Canyon in Yellowstone is a 24 mile long canyon with the Yellowstone River running through it. The impressive Yellowstone Falls, upper and lower falls, can be seen here with plenty of hiking trails that allow closer access to the falls.The canyon is colored with typical beige and green, but also includes pastel pink and yellow mineral stains from former geysers and vents in the area. The area is breathtaking and certainly worth a 3-4 hour stop!
- Mud Volcano at Hayden Valley Geyser Basin
Mud Volcano is another geyser area with mud pots, pools, and vents. The most impressive attraction here is Dragon’s Mouth Spring (picture to the right), which is a caved-in hole, with roaring waters, and hot steam. There is a short 0.6 mi. loop trail of boardwalks that allows you to see larger mud pots with bubbling and boiling mud. The colors here are not as spectacular as those shown previously in other geyser basins, but it’s quite fun to look at pits of bubbling mud and hear the roaring sounds they make.
This concludes my list of 10 must-see destinations in Yellowstone National Park! I had a difficult time coming up with the list since the entire park is stunning. A trip to Yellowstone usually takes up the bulk of tourists’ itineraries, but in some occasions, some people only have 1 day in the park. If that is the case, I would recommend entering from the South, and visiting the major attractions around that area: West Thumb Geyser Basin, Old Faithful, West Thumb Geyser Basin, and Grand Prismatic Springs.