Thanks to the Yellowstone River, tourists to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone have three spectacular sights in the Lower, Upper and Crystal Falls. Each was formed by the river’s flow over “progressively softer, less resistant rock,” explains the park’s website.
Way back in 1870, a member of the Washburn party, Mr. N.P. Langford described the Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone in this way: “A grander scene than the lower cataract of the Yellowstone was never witnessed by mortal eyes.” That’s a more poetic way to say that the Lower Falls are a must-stop spot on any tour of Yellowstone National Park.
At 308 feet, the Lower Falls is the tallest waterfall in the park. In terms of height alone, it’s more than twice the size of Niagara Falls. The amount of water flowing over the falls varies greatly depending on the season. At peak runoff times in the spring, 63,500 gal/sec flow over the falls, whereas at lower runoff times in the fall, the flow diminishes to 5,000 gal/sec.
You can see them up close by visiting the platform at the Brink of the Lower Falls. Other spots to catch a glimpse of the falls include Red Rock Point, Artist Point, Brink of the Lower Falls Trail, Uncle Tom's Trail, and at various points along the South Rim Trail.
Build in 1898 by “Uncle” Tom Richardson, Uncle Tom's Trail was originally used as a destination picnic path. Richardson led visitors on tours through 1903, taking them across the river upstream from what is today the Chittenden Bridge and then leading them along what was then a rough trail to the base of the Lower Falls where they picnicked. Today, the path has been reworked to meet current standards, but it remains a strenuous hike, dropping 500 feet (and then rising 500 feet on the return trip).
Although the Upper Falls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is significantly smaller than their lower counterpart, they’re just as breathtaking. Standing on the platform at the Brink of the Upper Falls, this 109-foot cascade of surging water will look every bit as powerful as it is.
Uncle Tom’s trail also provides stunning views of the Upper Falls.
A third, lesser known, falls, called Crystal Falls, is located between the upper and lower falls. It was created by the outfall of Cascade Creek into the canyon. This falls can be seen from the South Rim Trail a little east of the Uncle Tom’s area.