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America’s first national park is world renowned for its wildlife and as one of the most active areas of hydrothermal activity on the planet. If you’re fortunate enough to be going, don’t miss these top things to do in Yellowstone National Park.
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While Yellowstone is filled with fascinating attractions, Old Faithful may top them all. This not-to-be-missed iconic landmark erupts about every 70 minutes on average as one of the world’s most predictable geysers. It skyrockets water up to 135 feet into the sky in the Upper Geyser Basin, which is home to some 150 geysers within just a one-square-mile area. Faithful was the first geyser in the park to receive a name and is located near the Old Faithful Inn, part of the Old Faithful Historic District.
Next to Old Faithful, Yellowstone is most famous for its wildlife. The park is considered by many to be the very best place for wildlife viewing in the continental U.S., with just some of the 60+ type of mammals that live here including bison, gray wolves, grizzly bears and elk. Visitors can join experts in animal-tracking, biology and photography to get a first-rate look at its creatures, but simply driving through, you’re likely to see a number of bison which often stand right in the middle of the road, halting traffic. On the main road between Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower-Roosevelt take the detour down an unpaved Blacktail Plateau Drive that’s especially rich with wildlife, including pronghorn antelope, mule deer, elk and bison.
With a name like the Grand Prismatic Spring, this natural wonder has a lot to live up to, and it surely does with its incredibly striking rainbow hue of colors. First discovered in the early 19th-century, the intense blue pool is surrounded by rings of color that range from red to green. The otherworldly effect is the result of varieties of pigmented bacteria and microbes that thrive in the warm, mineral abundant waters surrounding the hot spring. One of America’s most beautiful sights be sure to look and not touch as the boiling heat melts anything it touches including skin.
Yellowstone’s very own Grand Canyon was formed over thousands of years by erosion caused by wind, water and other natural forces. One of the park’s most popular places to hike, , particular Artist and Lookout Points, the canyon is roughly 20 miles long and nearly a mile wide. Just as remarkable as its terra-cotta hued cliff walls is its river, which is the longest undammed river in the nation, meandering for more than 600 miles through Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota. At the visitor center in Canyon Village, about a mile northwest of the North Rim Trail, you can learn more about the canyon and the surrounding area in addition to picking up souvenirs.
If you like watching beautiful sunsets, be sure to head to the Great Fountain Geyser, located in the Lower Geyser Basin about nine miles north of the Old Faithful area, to enjoy one of the most spectacular you’ll ever see. The geyser is known for its impressive eruptions on Firehole Lake Drive, shooting over 200 feet high in series of bursts that are spaced several minutes apart. At the visitor center you can get the current eruption predictions – just keep in mind that most viewers leave after the first set of bursts which last for about 10 minutes Stick around and you may be able to enjoy the subsequent bursts all to yourself.
One of the most geologically active areas of the park is Mammoth Hot Springs, and its features change daily. While you won’t witness dramatic eruptions, it’s well-worth visiting to observe the myriad of hues that are created by heat-loving microorganisms known as thermophiles. The dominant rock here is limestone, an essential ingredient in the formation of the terraces – the hot water with dissolved carbon dioxide creates a solution of weak carbonic acid which dissolves the primarily mineral in limestone, calcium carbonate. The calcium carbonate is then deposited, forming the terraces.
Yellowstone Lake sits in the heart of the West Thumb area and is North America’s largest freshwater lake about 7,000 feet in elevation. first visited by Lewis and Clark scout John Colter in the early 19th-century, it’s since become a popular place for boaters and anglers during the warmer months of the year. In the winter, wildlife like grizzly bears and bison often flock to the shallow areas along its southern shores where the water doesn’t freeze, thanks to the geothermic activity taking place beneath the surface. The best panoramic views can be enjoyed by taking a scenic drive around the lake. When the weather cooperates enjoy a picnic at water’s edge. If you want to stick around aahile, stay at Lake Yellowstone Hotel, a National Historic Landmark that overlooks the lake.