Best things to do in Yellowstone

30 Yellowstone Activities You Can’t Miss In 2023

With over 2.2 million acres of land, Yellowstone is one of the largest national parks in the United States. Full of dramatic scenery, biodiversity, and wildlife, it’s one of the most popular national parks in the country. After visiting this national park for the first time, I made a list of some of the most amazing Yellowstone activities, and I hope it helps you to see some of the most scenic views of this national park.

1. Lewis Lake

Located  near Yellowstone’s south entrance, Lewis Lake is a popular spot for boating, camping, and kayaking. It’s also a popular starting point to Yellowstone’s Shoshone Lake that is considered one of the largest backcountry lakes in the United States.

Keep in mind that if you want to bring your boat here, you have to get a special permit.

Besides being a gateway to water sports, Lewis Lake is also home to a campground, which is far less busy than Yellowstone’s hotels and campgrounds in places such as Norris or the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

2. West Thumb

West Thumb is an often-overlooked part of the park near the scenic Yellowstone Lake with geothermal features. Home to the West Thumb Geyser Basin, it is the largest geyser basin on the shores of Yellowstone Lake with stunning features such as the Abyss Pool. While many visitors start their trip to Yellowstone with a visit to Old Faithful, I recommend starting your Yellowstone trip at West Thumb.

This area is a perfect alternative to the touristy Old Faithful, and if you arrive early, you can have most of the boardwalk around the basin to yourself.

PRO TIP: To arrive early, stay at the Lewis Lake Campground, Grand Village Campground, or Grant Village Lodge.

3. Lone Star Geyser

One of Yellowstone’s hidden secrets, Lone Star Geyser erupts about every 3 hours and can shoot up as high as 45 feet! The trail to Lone Star Geyser is about 5.3 miles and is suitable for hikers of all levels since it’s mostly flat.

The trailhead to Lone Star is near the Kepler Cascades parking lot, and it is about 3.5 miles south of the Old Faithful intersection on Grand Loop Road.

4. Old Faithful

Watching the Old Faithful is one of the most popular Yellowstone activities.

Located in the Upper Geyser Basin, Old Faithful erupts every hour at relatively predictable times (give or take 10-15 minutes). And you can even see the time of the next eruption on a screen at the nearby visitor center. Arrive at Old Faithful before 8 a.m. when the area in front of the geyser is still uncrowded.

There are over 300 geysers (hot springs that erupt from time to time) in Yellowstone. Most of them are in big geyser basins such as Lower, Midway, Upper, and Lower geyser basins, Norris Geyser Basin, West Thumb, Heart, and Shoshone Lakes.

5. Upper Geyser Basin

After watching Old Faithful erupt, head to the Upper Geyser Basin, home to the largest concentration of active geysers in the world! When you walk around, you will see geysers, hot springs, and fumaroles.

You can also find plaques with estimated eruption times of some geysers that are posted by the park’s rangers.

Begin your trip at the Old Faithful Visitor Center, and take your time to see some of the most spectacular geysers erupt at a moment’s notice. While it requires time and patience, it’s truly worth it! Set aside at least 2-3 hours for your walk around Upper Geyser Basin.

6. Black Sand Basin

Black San Basin is a smaller part of the Upper Geyser Basin. Black Sand Basin is 0.4 miles north of the Old Faithful Junction. It got its name after volcanic black sands in the area. The main features are the colored hot pools and gorgeous geysers.

7. Biscuit Basin

Located 2 miles north of Old Faithful, Biscuit Basin offers a small collection of thermal features such as geysers and hot springs. Biscuit Basin is part of the Upper Geyser Basin, this area got its quirky name because of the geologic formations. Biscuit-looking deposits once populated the edges of Sapphire crater but disappeared after the earthquake caused the crater to erupt in 1959.

8. Midway Geyser Basin

The main feature of the Midway Geyser Basin is the Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in the United States. Midway Geyser Basin sits between Upper and Lower Geyser Basins in Yellowstone, and although it doesn’t offer as many features as the two other basins, it remains one of the busiest areas of Yellowstone thanks to Excelsior Geyser Crater, Grand Prismatic Spring, and Firehole River – some of the best things to do In Yellowstone.

To reach Midway Geyser Basin, drive about 6 miles north from Old Faithful Interchange to the Madison section of the Grand Loop Road.

9. Fairly Falls

Fairly Falls is the tallest front-country waterfall in Yellowstone that drops down from an astonishing 220 feet! The 3.2 mile-hike to the waterfall can be accessed via two trailheads. The most popular one begins near the bridge across the Firehole River and goes along the Fountain Freight Road for about 1 mile. Continue straight after passing the trail that goes up to the Grand Prismatic Overlook, and make a left turn when you arrive at the junction with the Fairy Falls Trail.

Make sure to bring plenty of water with you as the hike could take you up to a few hours.

10. Lower Geyser Basin

Lower Geyser Basin is the largest basin in Yellowstone and is famous for an array of geothermal features such as the Fountain Paint Pot and Great Fountain Geyser. Take a walk along the Fountain Paint Pot Trail to see colorful hot springs, steaming fumaroles, and some of the coolest mud pots in the entire Yellowstone.

As with the rest of Yellowstone, make sure to stay on the boardwalk, as the temperature of many of these springs is close to boiling.

Other notable features include Celestine Pool, Great Fountain Geyser, Clepsydra Geyser, Jet Geyser, and Great Fountain Geyser that erupts over 200 feet in a group of bursts.

11. Fountain Flat Drive

Fountain Flat Drive is a perfect getaway from the busy areas of Yellowstone. This is a great option if you are going to visit Yellowstone during the peak season (from July through August).

While this 4.3-mile trail might be less scenic than other areas of Yellowstone, it offers lake views and several trails (including Fountain Freight Road) that are suitable for all hiking levels. Visitors often choose this place for mountain biking, hiking, and picnicking at the Nez Perce Picnic Area.

Fountain Flat Drive is about 5.5 miles south of Madison Junction and 10.5 miles north of the Old Faithful Village.

12. Gibbon Falls

Gibbon Falls is a waterfall on the Gibbon River between Norris Geyser Basin and Madison Junction. This impressive waterfall drops about 84 feet and is an excellent stop along the way if you drive through the park.

13. Monument Geyser Basin

If you want to venture into a less visited area of Yellowstone, take a 2.8-mile round-trip hike to Monument Geyser Basin, an active hydrothermal area perched above Gibbon Meadows. 

While this is an easily accessible area, it remains under the radar, with few visitors coming here. Make sure to bring enough water and wear good hiking shoes as it’s a bit of a steep climb. This little trail will show you a different side of Yellowstone as there are no boardwalks or facilities nearby.

14. Norris Geyser Basin

Comprised of The Black Basin and the Porcelain Basin, Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest area of Yellowstone.

While the Black Basin is in the wooded area punctured by the wooden boardwalk, the Porcelain Basin doesn’t have any vegetation and is made up of hot acidic pools created by the water flowing from the many thermal features in the area. Norris Geyser Basin is also home to the biggest active volcano in the world, Steamboat Geyser that can reach up to 380, feet but hasn’t erupted since 1991.

As with other popular areas of Yellowstone such as Old Faithful or Grand Prismatic Spring, make sure to arrive at Norris Geyser Basin early to avoid crowds. I recommend beginning between 7 and 8 a.m. This way, you will have enough time before the area starts getting busy.

Check out Yellowstone West Gate Hotel in West Yellowstone near Norris Geyser Basin.

15. Artists Paint Pots

Artists Paintpots is a group of about 50 springs, geysers, and mud pots about 3 miles south of Norris Geyser Basin that is part of Gibbon Geyser Basin, a less known basin of Yellowstone that also boasts impressive thermal features.

A short walk through the area will take you along the trail lined with gorgeous lodgepole pines and bring you to the top of the hill from which you will be able to see the impressive thermal features dotting the rolling hillsides.

16. Roaring Mountain

Named after the many fumaroles (holes where hot boiling water produces steam that escapes to the outside through the opening) along its side, Roaring Mountain is north of Norris Geyser Basin, and it can be accessed from the main road. Unfortunately, the mountain doesn’t make any roaring sounds anymore (that gave her the name), but you can still hear it hiss.

17. Mount Washburn

Hiking is one of the most fun Yellowstone activities. One of the best places for hiking is Mount Washburn that offers incredible panoramic views, and you can even see the Grand Canyon Canyon of the Yellowstone and the Grand Teton Mountains in the distance. To summit the mountain, you need between 3 to 5 hours on average.

The trail is 6 miles long in both directions and is about 4.5 miles north of Canyon Junction. It begins at the parking lot at Dunraven Pass.

18. Dunraven Pass

Dunraven Pass is the highest elevation road in Yellowstone with an altitude of 8,878 feet above sea level. It’s one of the first places to close in Yellowstone (in October) because it can get snow very early in the fall season (and it’s not uncommon for it to get snow even in summer). The pass reopens as late as May or June and offers a real treat to visitors who are not afraid to brave the sharp turns along this mountainous road.

19. Washburn Hot Springs Overlook

Washburn Hot Springs is a group of mud pots with highly concentrated acid that can be seen from Washburn Hot Springs Overlook. The hot springs can be accessed via the Washburn Spur Trail, which is considered a difficult trail suitable for more experienced hikers.

20. Boiling River Hot Spring

Located near the north entrance of the Yellowstone National Park near the Montana border, Boiling River Hot Spring is the hot spring entering the Gardener River and producing a blend of hot and cold water. This natural wonder created an equivalent of a hot tub that attracts many park visitors.

It’s a perfect place to soak and after a day of hiking and is a great final stop after you explore the Mammoth Hot Springs on the north side of Yellowstone.

The Boiling River is about half a mile away from the main entrance.

21. Hayden Valley

The sprawling Hayden Valley is one of the most popular places for wildlife watching in Yellowstone.

This scenic valley is about 7 miles long, and is home to free-roaming bison, deer, and wolves. Many people come here with binoculars and folding chairs, but you don’t necessarily need to spend hours trying to spot wildlife. If you come during the evening hours before the sunset, when wild animals tend to be most active, you can easily see bison walking along the side of the road!

Make sure to keep the distance because similar to other wild animals in Yellowstone, bison can be unpredictable and dangerous.

22. Lamar Valley

Lamar Valley is a remote part in the northeast corner of Yellowstone that is popular with wildlife photographers and enthusiasts who come here to observe herds of bison, elk, and deer roaming this part of Yellowstone. Those travelers who are willing to stick around until dusk or wake up early morning can be treated to a sight of a bear or wolf.

Thanks to its remote location and tons of wide-open space, Lamar Valley feels very uncrowded compared to other areas of the park where cars and parking lots can get clogged with traffic.

If you want to visit Lamar Valley on your trip to Yellowstone, it’s a good idea to bring a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope, as many animals are hard to spot with a naked eye.

23. Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is an absolute must-see for everybody who visits Yellowstone. The multi-colored canyon is about 20 miles long and 1,200 feet deep and stretches from Upper Falls to the Tower Area.

Besides being a scenic area that continues to inspire artists, nature lovers, and adventurers, this part of the national park also has great hiking trails. Some of the best hiking trails around the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone are Uncle Tom’s Point Trail and Red Rock Points Trail. 

One of the most photographed parts of Yellowstone is Lower Falls that can be seen from many views points along the rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. I also recommend taking a hike to the lower edge of the falls for a better experience.

If you don’t have much time, you can also take North Rim Drive, a one-way road that takes to easily accessible overlooks of the canyon. There’s also a South Rim Drive will bring you to Upper Falls at Uncle Tom’s Point and of Lower Falls, and Artist Point.

24. Tower Roosevelt Area

The Tower Roosevelt Area is one of the most remote and less-visited areas of Yellowstone that offers many attractions that should be on your list. Among them are the 132-feet Tower Fall, several hikes such as Lost Lake Trail, Garnet Hill, and Hellroaring Trails, which are rated as moderate-to-strenuous. Also near Tower Roosevelt, you will find mt. Washburn Trail, perhaps on elf the most popular trails in the area.

25. Petrified Tree

One of the most famous features of Yellowstone is the petrified tree located a quarter-mile off the Grand Loop Road. The tree is a living testament to the park’s incredible geologic history as it was created during the volcanic eruptions millions of years ago when hot flowing lava quickly filled the tree creating a rocky trunk that remains until this day.

26. Mud Volcano

Located north of Lake Yellowstone and on the way to Hayden Valley, Mud Volcano is a result of the massive eruption that created the Yellowstone Caldera, home to several resurgent domes, this area has a very distinct smell of sulfur thanks to the many active features that you can see here.

Dragon’s Mount Spring is one of the most prominent sites: The steam coming out of the deep cave indeed looks like the mouth of a giant serpent! And if you drive a bit forward, you will find Sulphur Caldron, the most acidic hot springs area in the entire Yellowstone!

27. Wolf Lake

If you are looking for a quiet day hike, check out the 3,5 mile Wolf Lake trail that begins along the Grand Loop Road just under 4 miles east of Norris Junction. Also nearby you can find two other popular hikes along the Grebe River, Ice Lake, and Grebe Lake.

You have a pretty decent chance to spot wildlife along this trail and also makes for a great experience, as you will not find too many other hikers along the way. The round trip to Wolf Lake takes about 3 hours.

28. Bunsen Peak

Bunsen Peak is one of the most popular hikes in Yellowstone just south of Mammoth Hot Springs. Although the trail is only 4.5 miles, there’s a decent elevation gain, so come prepared with enough sunscreen, good hiking shoes, and plenty of water. 

Once you summit Bunsen Peak, you will be treated with 360-degree views of the park and its gems such as the Yellowstone River Valley, Swan Lake Flats, and Mammoth Hot Springs, among others.

29. Mammoth Hot Springs

One of the park’s headquarters, Mammoth Hot Springs boasts wonderful features and rich history – here you can find the buildings that date back to the time when the United States Army managed Yellowstone. To learn about the park’s extensive history, stop by the visitor’s center and check out the wildlife’s museum.

Take a walk along the terraces around the Mammoth Hot Springs where you will some of the most unique thermal areas in the entire Yellowstone that are strikingly different from other areas of the park.

30. Roosevelt Arch

If you want to learn some more of Yellowstone’s history, check out the iconic Roosevelt Arch at the north entrance to Yellowstone in Gardiner, Montana. The arch got its moniker after President Theodore Roosevelt, who was visiting the park in 1903, spoke at the special event to lay the cornerstone of the tower.