1. Right next to a geyser
Yes, Yellowstone’s most famous thermal features are amazing. Yes, a photo standing alongside one of the biggies—Grand Geyser, Steamboat Geyser, Old Faithful—would surely impress your friends back home. But when geysers erupt, superheated water powered by steam can blast hundreds of feet into the air, and there’s no telling exactly in which direction it will spray.
Even if you escape a scalding, the ground in Yellowstone’s thermal areas is thin and fragile; people who have stepped off trails and boardwalks have broken through the crust into boiling pools and died.
Better idea: Keep a safe distance from geysers by sticking to the boardwalks and trails. That way, your photo will capture a better sense of the geyser’s size and power.
2. In Yellowstone Lake
Those lapping waves, that deep blue water: North American’s largest highest-altitude lake definitely makes for a refreshing backdrop. But think twice before you dive into its depths for a photo: The water temperature usually hovers between 40°F and 50°F. That’s so cold that the survival time for someone immersed in the water is only about 20 minutes, and why many people have drowned in Yellowstone Lake.
Don’t even think about jumping into the deep water—if you can’t get back in your boat easily, your clock is ticking.
3. In a hot spring
Like the sound of a natural hot tub? What about a hot tub that exceeds 200°F? A dip in that kind of water can quickly scald a person to death; even if you’re pulled right back out, third-degree burns will likely finish the job.
And just in case you need another reason to steer clear of boiling hot springs: Touching them could damage the delicate bacterial colonies that give features like Grand Prismatic Spring its beautiful colors.
4. On the edge of the canyon
What a dramatic shot: You, a thundering waterfall, the bright walls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone all around you. But this enormous canyon is more than 1,000 feet deep in places, and the cliff walls leading down to the river are sheer. It would only take one wrong step—or one bit of crumbling soil—to plummet straight down.
5. With a bison—or bear , wolf or elk…
All together now: Wildlife at Yellowstone is wild.
These large, unpredictable animals are not pets. They’re not domesticated. They can and will injure, maim, or kill you if you get too close. Sounds like common sense, but in just the summer of 2015, 5 different people were gored by bison—4 of them trying to take a selfie with one when the bison gave them its horns.
Better idea: You were lucky enough to spot one of Yellowstone’s incredible animals: Train your camera on it, not yourself! And know the rules about how far to stay away from wildlife.
6. While driving
You’re driving the Grand Loop road when you come around the corner and spot bison. You take out your camera to snap a shot of you driving amidst a huge herd. But as you’re fumbling with your camera, your car veers across the yellow line and into oncoming traffic.
Traffic-related accidents are the most common cause of injury and death in the park, according to Yellowstone officials. Drive with extra caution. The park is full of blind corners, wildlife that wander into the road and foreign drivers not accustomed to driving with the steering wheel on the left-hand side.
Better Idea: If you see wildlife, use a roadside pullout to move out of the way of traffic. Park officials ask that you stay patient and wait for the road to clear if you get stuck in a “bison jam” when bison gather in the road. At night, drive extra cautiously as wildlife often move at night.