Yellowstone National Park is known for being extraordinary, and its attractions like Old Faithful and the Grand Tetons are on most expats’ bucket lists. Yet, there is so much more to see at the most visited national park in the United States.
At 3,741 square miles, the park covers more area than Rhode Island or Delaware. It also sits on top of one of the most powerful dormant volcanoes in the world, which explains the park’s unique geothermal activity.
Given its size and geological stature, there’s actually a lot more to do and see in Yellowstone than staying at a resort in Jackson Hole and driving from attraction to attraction. In fact, if you look past what you’ll find in a guidebook, you’ll likely find Yellowstone to be one of your favorite places on Earth.
All it’s going to take is a willingness to break away from the lines of tourists to discover one of the most incredible places on Earth.
Take it from a local
You won’t find any subdivisions in Yellowstone National Park, but there are plenty of people who live within its confines who aren’t park rangers. Especially during summer months, Yellowstone is flooded with seasonal workers looking to spend their free time exploring one of nature’s wonders. These people quickly learn what there is to see and do in Yellowstone — behind the common attractions.
“One thing that I recommend while you’re in Yellowstone is to hike a trail — to get off the boardwalks,” says Wesley Bremer, who spent a summer as a line cook in the park.
The boardwalks serve tourists crowding around popular sites like Old Faithful and Mammoth Hot Springs to keep them in safe areas. But there are actually 1,300 miles of hiking trails throughout Yellowstone that take you away from crowded tourist areas and into other stunningly beautiful places in the park. “You have to hike at least one trail,” Wes advises.
While this may seem like obvious advice, most that visit Yellowstone spend their time in the car or waiting in line, which isn’t a great way to explore the United States’ first national park.
To be clear, Bremer doesn’t advise people to enter restricted or unsanctioned areas of the park. People are often fined or put in danger by going where they shouldn’t. Yellowstone boasts hundreds of marked trails, and his advice is that you pick one and take the time to enjoy your hike.
The park actually gets its name from the yellow walls lining Yellowstone Canyon. While it’s worthwhile to see the park’s namesake, what’s really impressive about the canyon is its waterfalls.
In the canyon, the most breathtaking waterfalls are Lower Falls, which is just east of Canyon Village. The 308-foot waterfall is the biggest in Yellowstone National Park.
The sheer size of the waterfall allows it to be seen from far away, and each vantage point provides a new way to experience its power and beauty.
Just up the canyon is Upper Falls, which isn’t quite as magnificent as Lower Falls, but it’s spectacular, nonetheless.
Need to try
Yellowstone’s geothermal activity is a major part of what makes the park so unique. The chaos going on below the surface creates the wonders above. Old Faithful is the most well-known example, but Mammoth Hot Springs is another. As spectacular as both of these are, they are far too hot to bathe in.
During an eruption, Old Faithful can be as hot as 204 degrees Fahrenheit, while the water at Mammoth Hot Springs is about 170 degrees.
If you’re looking for hot water you can actually touch, Yellowstone’s most famous hot place to swim is the Boiling River. The water there is tolerable, because a natural hot spring enters part of a cool river, creating a soothing temperature. Other hot springs are located throughout the park, but make sure you ask a ranger before you try bathing in any of them. At certain times of the year, the hot springs can be dangerous due to high and fast water or rising temperatures.
Plenty of hot springs are also located just outside the park, such as in Thermopolis, Wyoming.
Know before you go
This may seem like a no-brainer, but anyone who visits Yellowstone National Park needs to be cognizant of the animals that inhabit it.
Over the past several decades, rangers, conservationists, and the state have made a commendable effort to revitalize the grizzly bear population — an animal that was on the endangered species list not that long ago. Because of this, people are more likely to encounter one of these precious yet ferocious creatures. That’s why, when going for a hike in Yellowstone, it’s best to travel in threes, since bears are much less likely to attack a large group.
Bison and moose, animals that people typically don’t fear, may appear docile and congenial, but in reality, they can be aggressive. When you enter Yellowstone, you will receive a packet that contains many flyers advising you to stay away from them. Heed this warning, and stay safe.
Make the most of your experience
Yellowstone National Park may be the most inspiring place in the United States to experience the relationship between man and nature.
Bremer, who was a cook at the lodge near Lake Yellowstone, says that it was the most peaceful place to visit in the park.
“It’s a treat to walk up to such a beautiful view,” Bremer says. “It’s a place where nature meets civilization, and there is harmony. We had a small encampment and the lake, mountains, and woods right there with us.”
In all actuality, Yellowstone consists of miles and miles of incredible views, but they’ll only truly take your breath away if you take the time to be with them without any outside noise. No judgment if you snap dozens of pictures during your trip, but consider putting your phone down to truly experience the awe of the park.
Whether hiking, bathing in hot springs, or admiring the scenery is what you’re looking forward to most, experiencing Yellowstone National Park and its natural wonders should be on everyone’s bucket list.