Yellowstone National Park holds a special place as America's first National Park, and it's abundance of hot springs and hydrothermal features, wildlife, great fishing and incredible scenery make it an unforgettable vacation destination. Below, you'll find a number of our favorite suggestions for fun things to do while visiting Yellowstone; just pull ideas from the Full Day, Half Day, Under 1 Hour and Evening Entertainment sections to create your own Yellowstone vacation.
With almost a dozen campsites and a number of hotels, lodges and cabins inside Yellowstone National Park and even more campgrounds and other lodging services just outside the Park, there's a huge variety of places to stay, with everything from backcountry campsites to top-notch hotels. Be sure to plan ahead though, as the summer months in Yellowstone can be busy and lodging fills quickly.
While you can make do without a car during your vacation, due to Yellowstone's sheer size and the convenience of having a vehicle, we recommend either bringing your own car or renting one at one of the local rental agencies. You'll appreciate the freedom and flexibility that having a car brings, and the scenic drives in Yellowstone really shouldn't be missed (just take a look at what our first itinerary suggestion is).
Full Day Suggestions
If you have at least a couple days to tour Yellowstone National Park, do yourself a favor and spend one of the first few days on a scenic drive through the Park and the Greater Yellowstone area. The mountains, rivers, canyons, wetlands, wildlife and more that Yellowstone contains simply can't be fully seen on foot, and there are a number of spectacular drives to choose from. If you're not sure where to start, the Grand Loop Road is always popular.
Each year, countless people come to Yellowstone National Park to fish the beautiful rivers, streams and lakes for native cutthroat trout, grayling and whitefish, as well as the brook, brown, lake and rainbow trout populations that have been introduced to the area. The amount of waterways in the area can be somewhat intimidating, so don't be hesitant to enlist the services of a local guide. If you decide to venture out on your own, here's a suggested list of places to start.
Visit the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Considered by many to be one of the most stunning areas of Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone should be seen by everyone who comes to Yellowstone. Be sure to spend time at the Upper and Lower Falls, and Hayden Valley is, according to the National Park Website, “one of the best places in the park to view a wide variety of wildlife.”
Tour the Hydrothermal Features
From Old Faithful to Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park is known first and foremost for its hydrothermal features. Children and adults alike will be amazed at the power and marvel of the geysers, mud pots, hot springs, mud volcanoes and more. With the variety and quantity of features, you'll have no problem spending a whole day exploring the Norris Area (highlights include the Artist Paint Pots and Monument Geyser Basin), Old Faithful (take the short walk to Fairy Falls after seeing Old Faithful), West Thumb Geyser Basin (The .5 mile West Thumb Geyser Basin Loop tours just some of the features in this area) and more.
Putting wildlife viewing up as an optional activity in Yellowstone National Park may be a bit of a stretch – once you're here, you won't really have any choice but to see wildlife. That said, depending on the season, there are parts of the Park that have more wildlife viewing opportunities than others. Check in with one of the Visitor Centers for up-to-date info on wildlife viewing or sign up for a sightseeing tour.
Hiking and Backpacking
The 1,100 miles of trails in Yellowstone National Park explore geysers and hot springs, climb mountains, follow rivers, descend into Yellowstone's Grand Canyon and provide access to all the beautiful areas of this incredible wilderness. Whether you want to spend your day doing shorter hikes that tour geothermal hotspots (check out Old Faithful, the Artist Paint Pots and Monument Geyser Basin), take a few days to backpack away from the crowds (try the Heart Lake Loop) or something in between (the Canyon area has a number of longer day hikes), Yellowstone's hiking trails have a bit of it all. Check out the Park's hiking website for some more trail suggestions.
Spend Some Time on the Lake
Take a break from geysers and driving and spend a day on Yellowstone Lake. America's largest high-altitude lake provides a beautiful setting for boating, fishing, playing in the water and hiking.
Join a Ranger Program
Yellowstone National Park's rangers lead free interpretive programs that range from short strolls to long hikes to evening campfire talks. Join them for one of these free programs and learn a bit more about the natural history of this remarkable area. Check in at one of the Visitor Centers for a current schedule.
Take a Bike Tour
With the surrounding mountains, rivers and wildlife, Yellowstone National Park has some truly beautiful road biking. While spring is the ideal time to come ride (when most roads are still car-free), a warm summer afternoon spent biking the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway or following the old railroad bed along the Yellowstone River is always a winner. Browse through Biking & Bike Tours for more information on rentals, routes and commercial bike tours. There are also a few biking trails within the park (try Old Faithful to Black Sand Basin).
Go for a Horseback Riding Tour
One of Yellowstone National Park's most popular recreational activities is horseback riding, whether it's a short, guided afternoon ride or a multi-day trek through some of Yellowstone's backcountry wilderness.
Boating on Yellowstone Lake
During the warm summer months, Yellowstone Lake is a popular place to find visitors floating serenely on the Lake while fishing, paddling canoes across the lake and exploring the inlets in kayaks. Boat rentals and tours are available at Yellowstone Lake marinas.
While whitewater rafting within Yellowstone National Park isn't allowed, the abundant waterways just outside the Park provide countless opportunities for all types of whitewater adventures, with everything from mellow scenic floats to full-on whitewater experiences. Visit our Yellowstone Whitewater page for more info on guides and possible trips.
Under 1 Hour Suggestions
Visit Old Faithful
Yellowstone National Park's single most iconic feature is the famous Old Faithful geyser, whose predictable (maybe even faithful?) eruptions spout hot water and steam 150 feet into the air. While you're in the area, a number of other geysers and geothermal features are nearby, waiting to be seen.
Tour a Visitor Center
With eight different Visitor Centers located throughout Yellowstone National Park, you're almost never too far from one, and they all have their own signature highlights, including exhibits and programs that highlight wildlife, natural history, geology, the history of fire in the Park, the history of Park Rangers and more. Don't miss the new Old Faithful Visitor Education Center. There's even the Junior Ranger Station, specially designed for younger visitors. For more information on the Visitor Centers and operating hours, visit the Park's website.
Visit a Museum
While most people don't come to Yellowstone National Park for the museums, there are a number of top-notch museums just outside of the Park, including the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, the International Fly Fishing Museum and the Museum of the Yellowstone. If you only have an hour or so, or if it happens to be a rainy day, skim through the Park's list of nearby museums and have at it.
Stars Over Yellowstone
Join Park Rangers for an evening of gazing at the stars, hearing stories and more, telescopes provided free of charge. Check at your closest Visitor Center for times and locations.
Listen as Yellowstone's Park Rangers share stories, photographs and more around a cozy campfire. Campfires usually begin between 9 and 9:30; check at a Visitor Center for exact times and locations.
Enjoy Fine Dining
Just because you're enjoying nature doesn't mean you have to abandon all the finer things in life. Yellowstone National Park has a variety of dining options, everything from quick snacks to fine dining with scenic views.
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