The Untamed Yellowstone River

The Yellowstone River above the Upper Falls

The Yellowstone River above the Upper Falls

The Yellowstone River winds its way through Yellowstone National Park, including sections with crashing waterfalls and areas of calm, lazy flow. As the only undammed river in the lower 48 states, it courses 692 miles through Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota.

Where Does the Yellowstone River Begin and End?

Bison crossing the Yellowstone River. Photo NPS

Bison crossing the Yellowstone River. Photo NPS

The Yellowstone River begins on the slopes of Yount Peak in the Absaroka Range of Wyoming. It then flows through Yellowstone National Park, streaming in and out of Yellowstone Lake, and drops 422 feet into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The river runs out of the park in Gardiner, Montana, working its way eastward out of Montana and into North Dakota, where it eventually joins the Missouri River.

The Waterfalls of the Yellowstone River

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Photo by Gloria Wadzinski

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. Photo by Gloria Wadzinski

The three most dramatic waterfalls along the Yellowstone River occur in Yellowstone National Park. Once the river leaves Yellowstone Lake, it plunges 109 feet at the Upper Falls and then another 308 feet at the spectacular Lower Falls down into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Upon leaving the canyon, the river cascades down another 132 feet at Tower Falls.

History of the Yellowstone River

Although Native Americans had already been using the Yellowstone River, which they knew as the Elk River, for a long time, people of European descent first explored it in 1806. That year, the Lewis and Clark Expedition made its way back from the Pacific Northwest, and Lieutenant William Clark led a group down the Yellowstone River.

Over the years, other famous names like John Colter, Jim Bridger and Jed Smith also explored the waters of the Yellowstone using bull boats, pirogues and hollowed-out logs. Colter partnered with fur trader Manuel Lisa to establish the first trading post on the river in 1807.