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16 Absolute Best Things to Do in Yellowstone (+Map & Tips)

16 Absolute Best Things to Do in Yellowstone (+Map & Tips)

Are you planning your first trip to Yellowstone National Park and wondering what are the absolute best things to do in Yellowstone? You came to the right place!

In this post we cover all the main attractions and landmarks of Yellowstone. Places that are not to be missed in America’s oldest National Park. In addition, we also share a beautiful less known place that you have probably never heard about. It became one of our absolute favorite places in Yellowstone, so I think it deserves to be included on this best of Yellowstone list as well. You can read all about it all the way at the end of this post.

This is not a complete list of things to do in Yellowstone – it would be impossible to make one. But if you are looking for the best of the best, must-see places in Yellowstone, then this is it. Find out!

Good to know: In order to help you to make the most of your trip, we also included some practical tips for your visit, tips for where to stay, and a map indicating all the main Yellowstone attractions mentioned in this article. You can find them at the bottom of this article.

TIP: If you just want to see the main highlights of Yellowstone without having to plan anything, check out this highly-rated small-group day tour that covers all the main landmarks. If you wonder how to plan your own trip, please check our Yellowstone itinerary suggestions for any trip from 1 to 5 days.

READ ALSO: Best Hotels Near Yellowstone National Park

Best things to do in Yellowstone National Park
 

These are the very best places to see and things to do in Yellowstone National Park:

1. Grand Prismatic Spring

If there is one place that you really have to see in Yellowstone, it is the colorful Grand Prismatic Spring, the star of the Midway Geyser Basin. It is not only the largest hot spring in the United States (and the third largest in the world), but also one of the most unique natural wonders on the planet. It is also the best recognized and most photographed landmark of Yellowstone.

No matter how many times you saw the Grand Prismatic on pictures, it’s only when you stand there that you realize how large it actually is. It’s bigger than a football field and deeper than a 10-story building. 

Chances are big that your trip to Yellowstone has been inspired by all those incredibly beautiful images of the Grand Prismatic Spring photographed directly from above that you see in so many travel guides and TV documentaries…

If you come here with such high expectations, then seeing this famous landmark in real life might disappoint you a bit. No matter how much you try, you can never get the same view of the Grand Prismatic as in those famous photographs. However, Grand Prismatic Spring is still absolutely incredible and it is also just as colorful in reality as it is in the pictures. If you come here on a sunny day, the rainbow of colors will take your breath away!

Just in case you wonder, the Grand Prismatic hot spring gets its multi-color layers from different species of heat-loving bacteria that live around it. The deep center is blue, then you have green and yellow tints, followed by lots of orange on the cooler outskirts.

Needless to say that Grand Prismatic Spring is one of the most popular attractions of Yellowstone. It’s one of the few places in the park where we saw big tour busses, so no matter when you visit, expect it to be busy. 

Probably the best way to avoid the crowds is to come very early in the morning or late in the evening. However, I read that the colors of the spring are at their brightest on a sunny warm day, so we decided to go in the middle of the day.

On cooler days, but also early in the mornings and in the evening, steam can cover the spring, making it more difficult to see how colorful it really is. Colors will also be duller if you visit on a cloudy day. Still, no matter the weather or the conditions, seeing the Grand Prismatic is a must, one of the absolute best things to do in Yellowstone!

Colorful Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park in summer
Grand Prismatic Spring as we saw it
 

Practical information: Plan 1-2 hours for the visit. Park your car at the Grand Prismatic Spring parking lot at Midway Geyser Basin. Expect the parking lot to be very busy, especially if you come in the middle of the day in summer as we did. Some people just park next to the road, but I’m not sure if it’s allowed. We didn’t want to park next to the road and waited for around 20 minutes before we could enter the parking (so not too bad, considering this is the busiest area in the park).

TIP: These organized tours also visit Grand Prismatic (and other main landmarks of Yellowstone). Coming with a tour, you can visit all these places much faster because you don’t have to waste time finding a parking spot. The driver will take care of the car/minibus while you’re enjoying the scenery.

Accessibility: Midway Geyser Basin is wheelchair-accessible – it’s all boardwalks, from where you can see the Grand Prismatic Spring up-close. These boardwalks will also take you past the other main features of Midway Geyser Basin including Excelsior Geyser, Opal Pool, and Turquoise Pool. 

Interesting to know. Note that this area has no shade and it’s also very windy. In summer you may want to take sun protection, just please hold on to your hats. We saw so many sun hats in the hot spring, which is really sad, because most of them can never be retrieved and therefore pollute this unique geothermal area.

TIP: The best way to truly appreciate the size and the uniqueness of the Grand Prismatic Spring is to see it from above. Please note that drones are forbidden in Yellowstone (more info here). For the best aerial view, you can visit the recently opened Grand Prismatic Viewing Platform that is accessible via the Fairy Falls trail that opens late May. The view from here is unparalleled. It’s one of those places that you just have to see when in Yellowstone! 

Unfortunately, we haven’t done this hike as it was closed for construction when we visited. Now that the platform is open, I want to go back just to be able to see the Grand Prismatic from above!

From everything I read, the hike up to the overlook isn’t very long or hard (1.2 miles (1.9 km) round trip). People say that the last section is a little steep and uneven, so you probably want to wear hiking shoes and definitely take some water with you.

MORE INFO: Complete Guide to Visiting the Grand Prismatic Spring

Seeing the Grand Prismatic Spring is one of the must do things in Yellowstone
View from the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook © MikeGoad via Pixabay
 

2. Old Faithful Geyser

One of Yellowstone’s most remarkable landmarks – Old Faithful Geyser – is another absolute must in the park. Most famous and the most predictable out of nearly 500 Yellowstone geysers, Old Faithful was the first one to receive a name. It was named during the 1870 Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition, which also led to the establishment of the Yellowstone National Park in 1872.

The Old Faithful geyser is still as faithful today as it was 150 years ago. It erupts in more or less regular intervals of around 90 minutes and is, therefore, one of the geysers that are easy to see in action.

Every time we were waiting for the OF, it erupted 10-15 minutes later than expected, so you need to be patient. The good news is that the eruption usually takes long enough to admire the geyser and take plenty of photos.

Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone
Old Faithful geyser is the main attraction of Yellowstone!
 

Together with the Grand Prismatic Spring, Old Faithful is one of the most popular attractions of Yellowstone. No matter what time you come, it will always be busy. On the other hand, the Upper Geyser Basin area is very big, so there is plenty of parking available and the crowds spread out. 

Interesting to know: If you want the best spot at the front row on one of the benches surrounding the Old Faithful, you may want to come at least 20-30 minutes before the predicted eruption time. However, it’s not really necessary – you can see the geyser quite well from a distance as well.

Practical information: If you are lucky to see the OF erupt just as you arrive, you can visit in just half an hour. However, I suggest that you plan at least 2-3 hours for a visit to this area (see the Upper Geyser Basin section below for more information). The Old Faithful area is huge and has all the facilities that you may need: visitors center, bathrooms, petrol station, but also shops and restaurants.

TIP: Check the predicted eruption time for Old Faithful immediately when you arrive. If it’s a long wait, explore the Upper Geyser Basin first. Otherwise, explore it after you see Old Faithful in action. In any case, don’t miss it.

MORE INFO: Complete Guide to Visiting the Old Faithful

Top things to do in Yellowstone with kids
Seeing Old Faithful is a must do in Yellowstone National Park
 

3. Upper Geyser Basin & Morning Glory Pool

Upper Geyser Basin, home to the above-mentioned Old Faithful geyser, contains around 25% of the world’s geysers. This is a beautiful area with lots of walking paths passing many geysers and thermal features.

Make sure you take some time to explore the Upper Geyser Basin beyond the Old Faithful!

While there are always lots of people at the OF, the rest of this area is so much quieter. Un-understandable, as the Upper Geyser Basin is definitely one of the best places to see in Yellowstone!

Grotto Geyser eruption in the Upper Geyser Basin, one of the best places to see in Yellowstone
Grotto Geyser doesn’t erupt very often, but once it starts, it can go on for several hours
 

There are too many features in this area to even mention them all; at the same time, some geysers might not be noteworthy when they are dormant.

I suggest you just take a walk through the Upper Geyser Basin all the way to the Morning Glory Pool. We were lucky to be there at the time when several geysers were predicted to go and saw a few of them in action. 

Our favorite spots of the Upper Geyser Basin were the Castle Geyser, Daisy Geyser, Grotto Geyser, and of course the colorful Morning Glory Pool

The best thing? We had all these places practically to ourselves. And this was in July, which is the peak season in Yellowstone. So take all those stories about how crowded Yellowstone is with a grain of salt. 20 minutes walk from the Old Faithful and there is hardly anyone around. Walk for 30-40 minutes and you are completely alone…

Morning Glory Pool - Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park
Morning Glory Pool
 

Interesting to know: Please respect nature, park rules, and don’t throw any kind of objects into the geothermal features of Yellowstone. The Morning Glory Pool is sometimes referred to as ‘The Fading Glory’, because it’s losing its beautiful colors because of all kinds of objects people have been throwing in it for years. 

Back in the ’50s, the water level was lowered by siphoning, which induced the pool to erupt. Park officials removed 112 different objects from Morning Glory, including socks, bath towels, and 76 handkerchiefs, plus thousands of coins* (*source YellowstoneNP). 

Practical information: The entire Upper Geyser Basin Loop is about 4.5 miles (7.2 km). It is wheelchair- and stroller-friendly. You don’t have to walk the entire trail and can just do parts of it. The furthest point – Morning Glory Pool – is just 1.5 miles from the Old Faithful.

TIP: At the Old Faithful Visitor Centre you can find predicted eruption times for all the (predictable) geysers of the Upper Geyser Basin. Check it out before you set on the walk – you might be lucky to catch a couple of geysers in action! 

It’s actually not as easy as it sounds, because most other geysers aren’t as easy to predict as the OF. But at least you know in which direction to look if a particular geyser is expected to go soon. Also, once they start going, some of them last several hours. That gives you enough time to get somewhat closer to the erupting geyser.

MORE INFO: Upper Geyser Basin (with Printable Map & Tips)

Erupting Castle Geyser in the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone
Castle Geyser was steaming for over half an hour after the initial eruption – plenty of time to see it
 

4. Lamar Valley

One of the absolute best things to do in Yellowstone is to watch wildlife. Lamar Valley is one of the best places to see bison and other wildlife in Yellowstone. Yet it is overlooked by most tourists due to its remote location. However, if you make an effort to drive there, you will be rewarded with the most spectacular landscapes and – indeed – lots of wildlife.

Lamar Valley is loved by wild bison and it’s very likely you’ll see hundreds if not thousands of them roaming freely around the huge plains of Lamar Valley, sometimes called the Serengeti of North America. Some parts of it indeed reminded us of African landscapes…

If you are lucky, you might also spot some elk, deer, bears, coyotes, and maybe even wolves.

Lamar Valley is the best place to see wild bison in Yellowstone
Bison crossing the road in Lamar Valley
 

TIP: If you have enough time, drive all the way through the Lamar Valley and to the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone. As you drive further, the African-looking savanna gives way to the stunning mountain landscape. Spectacular scenery!

Scenic road with mountain views leading from Lamar Valley to the Northeast Entrance Gate of Yellowstone
Scenic road towards the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone
 

Practical information: Lamar Valley is located about 70 miles (100km) from the Old Faithful area. It will take you at least 2 hours just to get there (bison jams and other stops not included), so you really need to count at least half a day. We visited Lamar Valley in combination with Tower-Roosevelt and Mammoth Hot Springs area and it took us the whole day.

TIP: Visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon for best chance to see wildlife. Don’t come here if you are short on time or in a hurry – it’s really much too far for it and delays due to wildlife on the roads are very common.

Good to know: Lamar Valley can also be visited on organized multi-day trips. The advantage is that you don’t have to drive so can devote all your attention to wildlife viewing. This 2-day trip and this 4-day trip are very popular on GetYourGuide and both visit Lamar Valley. Both tours also visit Mammoth Hot Springs, Norris Geyser Basin, Grand Prismatic Spring, Old Faithful, Yellowstone Canyon, so you are sure to see all the main landmarks of Yellowstone making the best use of your time.

 
Coyote on the road in Lamar Valley in Yellowstone
Coyote on the road in Lamar Valley
 

5. Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Rated as number one place to see in Yellowstone on Trip Advisor, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River is definitely a must-see in America’s oldest National Park. The reason I only put it as number 5 of things to see in Yellowstone is because I find that the other places listed above are even more special. 

Nevertheless, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River is one of the main landmarks of Yellowstone, one that you really shouldn’t miss. In fact, it’s one of the best places of Yellowstone that I think should be included in any Yellowstone itinerary. So even if you have just one day in Yellowstone, you should make an effort to see the canyon.

Yellowstone Canyon is over 24 miles (39 km) long, up to 4,000-feet (1,2 km) wide, and some parts are 1,200-feet (365 m) deep. There are many lookouts and walking trails along both rims of the canyon.

Depending on what you want to see and how much time you have, you can spend just one hour or the whole day here. As you can imagine, most tourists only visit the main viewpoints. So – once again – it’s really easy to escape the crowds if you are willing to walk.

The main place that everyone comes to see at the Yellowstone Canyon is the Artist Point. It’s a lookout along the South Rim offering an exceptional view over the canyon and its most famous feature, the Lower Falls. Other main points of interest easily reachable by car include Inspiration Point, the Brink of the Upper Falls, and also the Lower Falls.

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone - view from Artist Point with a rainbow over the waterfall
View over the Yellowstone Canyon from the Artist Point
 

One of our favorite things to do in Yellowstone was to hike the Uncle Tom’s Trail. It’s a steep stairway descent into the canyon. More than 300 steps bring you very close to the Lower Falls.

This is a spectacular trail and great for families with active kids who like climbing stairs. However, while it’s a short hike, please note that it’s really steep and requires a serious climb. So it’s not suitable for people who have problems with their knees or a weaker heart. 

Uncle Tom's Trail Yellowstone Canyon
Hiking Uncle Tom’s Trail with more than 300 steps
 

Interesting to know: There are many hiking trails along the canyon. You can hike along both sides of the canyon – the North Rim and the South Rim – for magnificent views that are inaccessible otherwise. One of the nicest stretches is the 2,7 mile (4,3 km) Point Sublime trail. Make sure to check the official NPS website for information on which trails and viewpoints are open at the time of your visit (there have been lots of construction works in the area in recent years).

TIP: Yellowstone Canyon is another extremely popular attraction in Yellowstone. So you can expect big crowds and tour busses at all the main viewpoints. I suggest going there early in the morning and starting with the most popular lookouts first.

We started our visit with Uncle Tom’s Trail, followed by Artist Point. We wanted to be at the Artist Point around 9.45-10 AM, as we had read that there is a good chance to see a rainbow over the waterfall at that time in summer. And so it was! In fact, we caught rainbows at both locations. Also, it was still very quiet around 10 o’clock with hardly any people around. As we made our way to the North Rim around 11 AM, it got noticeably busier.

Practical information: Plan at least an hour for one or two lookouts. I suggest to allocate half a day for the Yellowstone Canyon and explore it a bit more. Keep in mind that every stop will take you longer if you come in the middle of the day when it’s really busy. Please consult the map at the end of this post for more information on where exactly all the lookouts are located.

Hiking tip: If you want to see some of the best views of the Yellowstone Canyon, there’s a very nice guided hiking tour that takes you to some of the best places. It’s also nice to go off the beaten path with a group and a local guide since this is bear territory.

MORE INFO: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River is one of the main attractions of Yellowstone NP
The colors of Yellowstone Canyon are truly spectacular!
 

6. Hayden Valley

Probably the most popular place to see wildlife in Yellowstone, Hayden Valley attracts lots of tourists. It can get really busy here. And if bison decide to hang around on the only road that leads through the valley, chances are big that you’ll get stuck in the bison-jam for a very long time.

It seems that bison really love showing tourists who is in charge of the place. So every time you need to pass Hayden Valley, you should be prepared for bison jams that can easily delay you by an hour.

Bison jam in Hayden Valley
Bison jam in Hayden Valley
 

The good news is that, despite all the traffic, bison usually still outnumber the number of people and that most of them stay next to the roads and not on them.

Hayden Valley was our first encounter with the bison in Yellowstone and we just couldn’t believe our eyes. There were bison everywhere! Actually, before our trip to Yellowstone, I wasn’t even sure if we’d get to see any bison at all. Never could I have imagined that we’d see so many of them.

TIP: The same rule counts in Hayden Valley: come early in the morning or late in the afternoon, as the animals are more active around that time. Also, keep a safe distance from bison and stay in the car if they are nearby. This is definitely the case if you see bears; you really should stay inside the car. Remember, these are all wild animals!

Hayden Valley with thousands of wild bison is one of must see places in Yellowstone
Hayden Valley is one of the best places to see bison in Yellowstone
 

7. Mammoth Hot Springs

Another truly unique area of Yellowstone, Mammoth Hot Springs is completely different than any other place in the park. When researching best things to do in Yellowstone for our trip, I found two completely opposite opinions of whether it’s worth visiting the Mammoth Hot Springs area. We decided to give it a try and are sure glad we did.

Our experience was very positive and we really enjoyed the visit to Mammoth Springs. I find that area is so unique and so fascinating that it would be a loss not to see it when in Yellowstone. You’ll find a big variety of thermal features here, but they are very different than the ones at the Upper or the Midway Geyser Basins. 

The main highlights of Mammoth Hot Springs are Minerva Terrace, Palette Spring, Liberty Cap, and also Canary Spring.

Minerva Terrace - one of the main highlights of Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone
Mammoth Hot Springs © Holtzter via Pixabay
 

Interesting to know: Mammoth Hot Springs area consists of two parts – Mammoth Lower Terraces area at the bottom and Mammoth Upper Terraces area on the hill. The two areas are connected by boardwalks and stairs and there is also a road, Terrace Drive, that allows you to drive past it all.

Theoretically, you could just drive, make several quick stops and see it all, but in reality, it’s not feasible since the small car parking areas are congested. It’s not really necessary either, because it’s not an overly big place and it doesn’t take that long to see it all on foot.

I hiked the whole area and it took me a bit less than an hour one way. Due to the heat, my husband and kids only walked the lower trails. They then took the car up the Terrace Drive, where they picked me up. 

Snow Pond at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park
Snow Pond at Mammoth Hot Springs
 

TIP: If you are visiting this area in summer, prepare that it can get really hot. Mammoth Hot Springs area has no shade at all.

Practical information: Plan about 1- 2 hours for the visit. Mammoth Springs area has all facilities including restaurants, shops, and a petrol station. It’s just a very short drive from the sightseeing area.

MORE INFO: Mammoth Hot Springs

Upper Terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park
Upper Terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs
 

8. Old Faithful Inn

Built in 1903-1904, Old Faithful Inn is one of the oldest lodges in Yellowstone and it’s also a national historic landmark. Considered the largest log structure in the world, the interior of the OF Inn is truly impressive.

You don’t have to be a guest of the hotel in order to visit this fascinating building. Just pop inside and explore the main building.

If you are interested in the history of this unique accommodation and Yellowstone, you could even join an organized tour of the lodge. Tours are free of charge and run several times a day. You can find more information here.

Wooden interior of the Old Faithful Inn is must see in Yellowstone
Wooden interior of Old Faithful Inn
 

Interesting to know: If you are looking for a place to eat, check the Bear Pit Lounge – it’s a bit of a hidden gem of Yellowstone that not many people seem to know about. Reasonably priced food and no waiting lines (which can be huge in the main restaurant at the OF Inn).

TIP: Don’t miss the outside terrace with adjacent bar and views over the Old Faithful geyser. It’s located on the 1st floor, just above the main entrance.

Practical information: If you want to stay at the OF Inn and are traveling in high season, you’ll have to book your stay 12-18 months in advance.

MORE INFO: Guide to Yellowstone Accommodations

The Old Faithful Inn is one of the historic landmarks of Yellowstone
The Old Faithful Inn is a really impressive building
 

9. Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone Lake is the largest high elevation (7,000 ft+) lake in North America. It freezes over completely every winter and even in summer the water temperature is too low to swim in it. 

Therefore, the lake is best explored by boat: you can join a guided scenic boat tour, rent a boat, go fishing, or kayaking. Here you can book a kayak tour on Yellowstone Lake and here you can book a private fishing tour.

There are also many hiking trails that lead to the shores of the lake; we hiked to Storm Point and it was so beautiful! 

Yellowstone Lake is one of the best places you have to see in Yellowstone, but if you’re short on time, you can just make a quick stop here.

Fishing Cone geyser on Yellowstone Lake
Fishing Cone Geyser on Yellowstone Lake
 

Interesting to know: The historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel built in 1891 is the oldest lodge in Yellowstone. You don’t have to stay here in order to visit it, but if you want to stay here in high season, you’ll have to book more than a year in advance.

TIP: The hotel has a nice upscale restaurant, but if you just want lake views and good food at reasonable prices, you better check the Lake Lodge Cafeteria. 

Practical information: It’s difficult to say how much time you need to see the Yellowstone Lake area. You can spend just an hour or half a day, but you can also stay here the whole day or even longer. If you are short on time, take a scenic boat trip (1 hour) and spend some time at the Lake Hotel. Make sure to also visit the West Thumb Geyser Basin (see below). It really depends on your interests and on how much time you have in Yellowstone.

Historic Yellowstone Lake Hotel and a scenic boat tour on the Yellowstone Lake
Historic Yellowstone Lake Hotel © skeeze via Pixabay
 

10. West Thumb Geyser Basin

One of the smallest geothermal areas of Yellowstone, West Thumb Geyser Basin, is not to be missed!

Located on the western side of the Yellowstone Lake, West Thumb Geyser Basin offers a good view of the lake and has some interesting thermal features, including some that are in the lake itself.

The West Thumb Geyser Basin Trail is an easy wheelchair-accessible short walk (0,6 miles – 1,1 km) that takes about half an hour. It follows the lakeshore and passes several thermal features, including Abyss Pool, Yellowstone’s deepest hydrothermal pool. If you feel like walking just a bit more, there are two hiking trails nearby – Duck Lake and Lake Overlook.

West Thumb Geyser Basin and Yellowstone Lake
West Thumb Geyser Basin and Yellowstone Lake
 

Interesting to know: Bison, elk and bears are frequently seen in this area as well. But it’s unlikely to run into them during the day – for that you should come early in the morning or around sunset.

TIP: If you arrive in Yellowstone through the South Entrance, it’s likely that West Thumb Geyser Basin will be your first introduction to Yellowstone. I can’t imagine a better way to start your trip in Yellowstone – it will take your breath away! However, if you come here after you have seen the more impressive Upper and the Midway Geyser Basins, you might be a bit disappointed.

Practical information: Count 30 minutes to an hour for the West Thumb Geyser Basin trail loop with stops at its major features.

Colorful geothermal lake of West Thumb Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park
Colorful geothermal features of West Thumb Geyser Basin
 

11. Norris Geyser Basin

Of all the best things you can do in Yellowstone, I wouldn’t put Norris Geyser Basin as the first priority. However, it’s still one of the best places of Yellowstone. So if you have enough time to also cover all the other Yellowstone attractions mentioned above, don’t miss it.

Ideally, you come here before you have seen the Upper and the Midway Geyser Basins. Norris Geyser Basin isn’t as impressive as the other two, so if you see it first, you’ll appreciate it more. But if you first visit the other places, you might be somewhat disappointed.

The hottest geyser basin of Yellowstone, Norris Geyser Basin is comprised of two sections – Porcelain Basin and the Back Basin.

Porcelain Basin has a very barren landscape with lots of steaming vents, spouting geysers (small ones), bubbling and boiling geothermal features, and quite a few turquoise blue hot springs. You can explore the whole area on boardwalks: the main loop is about half a mile (800 m) long, the whole Porcelain Basin trail is 1,1 miles (1,7 km) long. Please note that this area has no shade and can get really warm in summer.

Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone
Porcelain Basin at Norris Geyser Basin
 

Back Basin couldn’t be more different from the adjacent Porcelain Basin! It’s located in a pine forest with plenty of shade and also some amazing hydrothermal features. The star of this area is the largest active geyser in the world, Steamboat Geyser. Its last major eruption dates from 1991, but you can usually see it in action spitting water up to 40ft. The entire Back Basin trail is 1,75 miles (2,8 km) and is therefore much less visited by tourists than the Porcelain Basin that doesn’t require that much walking.

Interesting to know: Norris Geyser Basin is one of those areas of Yellowstone that are constantly changing, so you never know what you’ll find. 

TIP: Be prepared to walk – this area is huge, but it’s really interesting! In summer, make sure you take plenty of water and sun protection.

Practical information: Count at least 1-2 hours for a short visit. If you want to see it all, it will take you half a day. This area is also a popular stop for the tour busses and the car parking can get full really quickly, so prepare to wait or try to arrive at the less popular times.

Back Basin at Norris Geyser Basin, one of the best places to see in Yellowstone
Back Basin
 

12. Yellowstone Grand Loop Road

Grand Loop is the main road of Yellowstone National Park. Driving this scenic road is one of the best things to do in Yellowstone.

If you look at the map of Yellowstone, you’ll see that its main roads form an 8-shape that connects all the must see places of Yellowstone.

If you take the time to drive the entire scenic loop, you’ll pass all of the main Yellowstone attractions, except the Lamar Valley. 

Basalt Columns along Yellowstone's Grand Loop Road near the Tower Falls area
Basalt Columns along Yellowstone’s Grand Loop Road near the Tower Falls area
 

The Grand Loop is about 142 miles long (230 km) and, depending on the traffic, takes anywhere from 4 to 8 hours to complete. However, I would never advise to drive the whole scenic loop of Yellowstone in just a day. There is so much to see along the way!

If you visit all the best places of Yellowstone mentioned in this article, then you’ll automatically cover the entire Grand Loop Road and more. However, to do it properly, you’ll need 3-4 days.

TIP: If you are short on time and have just one day, I suggest you drive the Lower Loop and stop at the main landmarks. If you have at least two days in Yellowstone, you could attempt the entire Grand Loop with just a few stops at the major Yellowstone attractions. Please see our Yellowstone itinerary suggestions for more information. 

Beautiful scenery along Yellowstone Grand Loop Road
Beautiful scenery along Yellowstone’s Grand Loop
 

*** Now that we covered all the main things to do in Yellowstone, I also want to mention a few other places that you should also try to see in Yellowstone. These are not the main attractions of Yellowstone National Park, but they are each well worth visiting, especially if you have more time and want to explore Yellowstone a bit deeper. Read on! ***

13. Mount Washburn

Hiking to the top of Mount Washburn is considered one of the best things to do in Yellowstone. The views from the 10,243 feet (3,1 km) top are incredible and if you are lucky you might run into some bighorn sheep or even bears (make sure you carry a bear spray if hiking in more remote areas of Yellowstone!). Visiting Mount Washburn requires a strenuous hike that takes about 2-3 hours one way, so it is definitely not for everyone.

Interesting to know:  If you are up for this hike, you should know that there are two trails leading to the top. (1) The main hiking trail starts at the Dunraven Pass. It’s about 3,2 miles  (5,2 km)one way and offers better views along the entire route, but it is also more challenging. (2) The second option is the Chittenden Road Trail that follows a wide service road to the top of Mount Washburn. It’s 2,5 miles (4 km) one way and is easier to hike, but the views along this route aren’t that impressive.

TIP: Carry lots of water and a picnic. Make sure you also have a jacket as it can get really windy and cold on top. Arrive early as car parking areas at both trailheads are not very big. Also, afternoon storms are common in summer, and you don’t want to be on top in the storm.

Practical information: The trail is only open from June to September and even in summer can have some snow on it. Important update! Because of the road construction, this area will not be accessible in 2021.

Dunraven Pass at Mount Washburn in Yellowstone National Park
Dunraven Pass at Mount Washburn
 

14. Tower Fall

One of the most beautiful waterfalls of Yellowstone National Park, Tower Fall is worth a short stop. While the Yellowstone National Park website says it’s one of the best places to see in Yellowstone, they forget to mention that you cannot see the waterfall in all its glory anymore.

Interesting to know:  Due to severe erosion, the path leading to the bottom of the waterfall has been closed for years. So you can no longer hike to the waterfall and can only see it from the Tower Fall overlook. Which is definitely nice to see, I won’t argue that, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to come here. You can still walk a part of the trail to see Tower Creek flow into the Yellowstone River, but it’s not the most impressive place of Yellowstone and the climb back up is quite steep, so it’s up to you to decide if it’s worth it. We found this short hike somewhat disappointing.

TIP: You can best visit Tower Fall on your way to Lamar Valley or in combination with Mount Washburn, which is also in the same area. Walking to the lookout will only take a few minutes of your time.

Practical information: Tower Fall viewpoint is just 100 yards (100 m) from the car parking area. Count 10-15 minutes for a visit.

Tower Fall is one of the main Yellowstone attractions
Tower Fall as seen from the viewing platform near Tower General Store
 

15. Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center

Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center is a great place to see grizzly bears and wolfs in a safe environment. Some animals come from Yellowstone, the others – from as far as Alaska. All the animals who live here are unable to survive in the wild. This center gives them a second chance, while at the same time providing an educational experience to Yellowstone visitors.

At the moment of writing, there are seven bears and five wolves in the Center, as well as some birds of prey and a Karelian bear dog. You can see the animals all year round. The bears at the Centre do not hibernate.

Interesting to know: Admission tickets are valid for two consecutive days. So if you are staying in West Yellowstone, you could certainly visit two times.

Practical information: Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center is located in West Yellowstone, just outside the West Entrance of the park. It’s open 365 days a year. Count 1,5-2 hours for a visit.

Grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park
Grizzly bear in Yellowstone © wschwisow via Pixabay
 

16. Boiling River

Boiling River is a real hidden gem of Yellowstone and one of our absolute favorite places in the park. It’s a natural hot tub, created at a place where a large hot spring enters the river. The hot and the cold water mixes, turning this mountain river into the best natural hot tub experience ever! Boiling River is a wonderful place to relax after a long day exploring Yellowstone’s main attractions. Don’t miss it if you are in the northern part of Yellowstone and have an hour to spare.

Interesting to know: Boiling River trail is often closed in spring due to melting snow and mud. You should check the latest information on Yellowstone website to see if it’s open.

TIP: At the car parking there are bathroom facilities where you can also change your clothes. 

Practical information: Count at least an hour for a visit, but you can easily spend half a day here as well.

MORE INFO: Guide to Visiting Boiling River

Swimming in Boiling River in Yellowstone National Park
Boiling River in Yellowstone
 

Best Things to Do in Yellowstone on the Map

In order to help you plan your trip, I created this map indicating all the main Yellowstone attractions mentioned in this post.

How to Use This Map: Use your computer mouse (or fingers) to zoom in or out. Click on the icons to get more information about each place. Click the arrow on the left top corner for the index. Click the star next to the title of the map to add this map to your Google Maps account. To view the saved map on your smartphone or PC, open Google Maps, click the menu button, and go to ‘Your Places’/’Maps’.

 

So, this is the ultimate list of all the main places to see in Yellowstone. In this post, I only focused on the best of Yellowstone, because I know that everyone visiting the park for the first time wants to make sure that they cover all the musts. This list does exactly that.

If you are wondering how to best plan your time, please check our suggested Yellowstone itinerary for any trip from 1 to 5 days. If you rather let someone else do the planning, please check our guide to the best Yellowstone tours.

TIP: If you want to see all the main landmarks of Yellowstone, but don’t feel like planning it all, I recommend this highly-rated 4 days/3 nights tour. It covers all the musts in Yellowstone! If you don’t have that much time, then consider this popular 2-day tour instead. With just a day in Yellowstone, it’s best to take this 1-day tour – it covers as much as humanly possible in a day. It will save you a lot of time not having to worry about parking, etc. so you’ll be able to make the most of your time.

Hiking: If you are looking for more great things to do in Yellowstone, I suggest you go hiking. There are so many nice short trails that will bring you to less known places in Yellowstone. I can highly recommend this Ranger’s Guide to Yellowstone Day Hikes. It features 29 hikes of all levels of difficulty, each with a detailed map and a short description.

READ ALSO: Yellowstone – Grand Teton National Parks Trip Itinerary

 

Where to Stay

We have a very comprehensive guide on the best places to stay in and near Yellowstone and also the best hotels & cabins NEAR Yellowstone, so check it out for more information.

Alternatively, if you are simply looking for the best price-quality-location option, check out lodging in West Yellowstone. It’s a small town just near the West Entrance of Yellowstone NP and it has a big range of hotels and cabins for all budgets.

TIP: Using the map below, you can compare hotels and short-term rental accommodations in West Yellowstone. Simply insert your travel dates and group size, and you’ll see the best deals for your stay. Check it out!

   
     

More information for your trip to Yellowstone:

If you found this post useful, don’t forget to bookmark it and share it with your friends. Are you on Pinterest? Pin this image!

All the main Yellowstone attractions that you really have to see
 

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Jim

Thursday 2nd of September 2021

Steamboat Geyser entered into an active phase in 2018, and has been erupting quite frequently since, about 40 some odd times each year. Last eruption was in July 2021, so it may be slowing some since it hasn't erupted since then and this has been the longest interval between eruptions for several years.

Jurga

Friday 3rd of September 2021

Thanks for the info, Jim. It must be fun to see Steamboat Geyser in action!

Doreen Ward

Tuesday 20th of July 2021

Thank you SO much for putting this together! Was great fun planning our trip to Yellowstone. We leave on Friday. Can't wait.

Jurga

Friday 23rd of July 2021

Have a great time in Yellowstone, Doreen!

Heather

Wednesday 23rd of June 2021

Hi! I have been reviewing your helpful information! I am planning a trip to Jackson Hole and Yellowstone, we are bringing our 3 teens (17, 18, & 19). We have 2 days in Jackson/Grand Tetons and 3 days in Yellowstone. Admittedly, my plan for Grand Tetons is not well constructed, I just can't find a good starting place. But here it is:

Day 1 Grand Tetons- Jenny Lake Shuttle, Hidden Falls, Inspiration Point and Grand Tetons scenic drive. Day 2: Rent Canoes at Jackson Lake, Take the kids to Snow King for the coasters, do the Bridger Gondola. Am I missing something here or a trail we should definitely hike?

Yellowstone: For the figure 8 road, I followed your guidelines- broken up into sections of the road... Day 3 (southwest of the 8): West Thumb, Old Faithful, Midway Geyser Basin, Lower Geyser Basin. Day 4 (Northwest/northeast of the 8): Norris, Mammoth Hot Springs, Lamar Valley. Day 5 (Middle and southeast of the 8): Grand Canyon, Hayden Valley, Yellowstone Lake.

My biggest concern is that I my day 3 is lacking something or that we will run out of things to do on this leg. I know that as we visit different stops, there will be small hikes, but are there some other reasonable ones that I should be looking for/something with a view? I know that the kids will want to hike if it ends in a great picture!

Thanks for all the work that you have put in, it has been such a help to dive in and learn from your experiences.

Heather

Wednesday 23rd of June 2021

@Jurga, Thank you so much for your response! I realized that I said that I was worried about day 3. Actually, it is Day 5 that I cannot find much info about.

Jurga

Wednesday 23rd of June 2021

Hi Heather, I think your itinerary looks quite good. For day 1, we hiked a bit past Inspiration Point as we found that the hike to get there was to short. So we hiked a part of the longer trail into Cascade Canyon, saw moose and stunning scenery - it was nice. We didn't go that far, maybe an additional half an hour (and the same back), but we really enjoy the views. So you could potentially do that hike further. For day 2, you can find some more ideas in our guide to Jackson Hole. Rafting is very popular in that area - maybe something fun for your teens. Day 3: At the OF area, you can spend a few hours exploring all the geysers. See our guide to Upper Geyser Basin for more info. At the Grand Prismatic, you should definitely take a hike to the overlook - more info in our Grand Prismatic guide. The hike is short and starts from the Fairy Falls parking and if you are looking for a longer hike, you can actually hike to Fairy Falls as well - see here for more info. Hope this helps. Have a great trip!

Joleen Koopman

Monday 21st of June 2021

I have a trip planned for Jackson Hole and Big Sky, July 29- Aug 5. I have booked 5 nights in Jackson Hole at a VRBO and 2 nights in Big Sky. Looking for must do sights and activities. I would like to do fly fishing and and not sure if that should be an entire day or just a half, and a scenic float trip. Hiking is a must at Grand Teton Nation Park and exploring Yellowstone. Any guidance for sequence of events would be appriciated.

Jurga

Tuesday 22nd of June 2021

Hi Joleen, since you have 4 full days in Jackson, you can just make day trips like fishing or rafting in the area and it doesn't matter much in which sequence. Also Grand Teton is best visited from there. You can find some info and recommended activities in our guide to Jackson Hole and also check out this for Grand Teton. Then on your way to Big Sky, you can already see some of the highlights of southern Yellowstone, and then the rest on the next day (be sure to start VERY EARLY sine you'll have a lot of driving to do and Yellowstone will also be very busy at that time). For more details on how you could plan it, please see our 2 days in Yellowstone guide and adjust it to your accommodation. Hope this helps. Have a great trip!

Lori Deal

Wednesday 19th of May 2021

I have found your website to be very helpful. We are traveling to South Dakota, Yellowstone and Grand Teton in June. Since this was a last minute trip, I only have two days planned for Yellowstone and was using your 2 day guide as reference; however, we are staying in West Yellowstone the entire time. My goal for the first day is Old Faithful/Upper Geyser Basin, Midway Geyser Basin, and Mammoth Hot Springs. Since we have to travel back to West Yellowstone, do you think it is worth traveling to Mammoth Hot Springs and back? My second day was Grand Canyon of West Yellowstone, Hayden Valley, Yellowstone Lake/West Thumb Geyser Basin. I am wondering if we should just skip Mammoth Hot Springs altogether for this trip. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Lori Deal

Tuesday 25th of May 2021

@Jurga, Thanks so much!

Jurga

Saturday 22nd of May 2021

Hi Lori, your plan sounds quite logical to me. A lot depends on how early you start your days (go very early if you can!), how busy it is everywhere, and what you are planning to do at every place. Indeed, often, you'll enjoy your visit more if you don't try to see it all. So if skipping Mammoth Hot Springs gives you more time to explore other places in-depth, it can be worth it. On the other hand, if you don't plan on doing much hiking and just see the main landmarks, you could also get to that part of the park. Why don't you just start with the OF and Grand Prismatic, see how much time you spend there, and then decide at that moment if you want to drive all the way to Mammoth Hot Springs or maybe visit some other place closer by. Norris Basin could also be a nice one to see if you have some time left but don't want to drive all the way north. So to summarize, I'd try to start early, visit the places you want to see first, and see how you're doing in terms of timing and just decide it on the spot. If you don't go to Mammoth and have some time left, Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone might also be a nice place to see and they are usually open quite late in summer (their website doesn't show that info yet, so check in June if you think of going there). Have a great trip!

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