Only have a short amount of time in Yellowstone National Park? Don’t waste your time trying to decide where to get the best views in the world’s first national park. If you want to feel on top of the world, here are three incredible views you must see.
1. Artist Point with Views of the Lower Falls
For incredible views of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone that may just might inspire you to pick up a paintbrush, or at least take dozens of photos, go to Artist Point.
From the point, take in beautiful views of the canyon and the turquoise-colored waters of the Yellowstone River that carved it. Originally thought to be the place artist Thomas Moran stood to sketch the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, it was named Artist Point in 1883. As it turns out, Moran made sketches for his famous painting on the north rim, not at Artist Point. Even so, it has become a legendary place for millions of visitors to snap photos of this iconic Yellowstone landmark.
Artist Point is a short 1/10-of-a-mile walk along a paved trail from South Rim Drive in the Canyon Village area.
2. The Yellowstone River Cutting Through Lava Spires
Along the upper east leg of the Grand Loop Road you drive along the Yellowstone River in the Tower-Roosevelt area. Pull over at several overlooks to view the river cut through lava rock spires at Calcite Springs and fall 132 feet at Tower Fall.
A short hike up to the top of Specimen Ridge will also give you outstanding views of the Yellowstone River and Lamar Valley, which has been called America’s Serengeti because of the tremendous wildlife that live here. From the ridge, spot pronghorn antelope, bears, wolves, bison and elk, along with many types of birds. There are multiple trails up to the ridge, which extends for miles, culminating in the high point of Amethyst Mountain. A Specimen Ridge parking area is located off the Northeast Entrance Road about two miles from northeast of Tower Junction.
3. Lamar Valley in Northeast Yellowstone
One of the most incredible views in Yellowstone is along the Northeast Entrance road in the northeastern section of the park. You can literally park your car at any pull-off along the road in Lamar Valley, get out your binoculars and spend hours watching the best wildlife show in the country.
Black bears and grizzly bears roam this grassland area as do bison that often wind up causing traffic jams along the road. Elk also can be spotted, along with wolves. In fact, the first wolves reintroduced in the park between 1995-97 were released from pens here.
4. Observation Point Trail
See Old Faithful from an entirely different view point when you hike the Observation Point Trail. You'll see Old Faithful from 250 feet above it, which means you'll also be looking down at the crowds surrounding the iconic geyser (instead of being among them).
Park at the Old Faithful Village and walk counter clockwise around the Old Faithful boardwalk. When you see the sign for Geyser Hill, take a right and you'll see the trailhead after you cross Firehole River. It's .3 miles from the visitor center. From there hike up .5 of a mile of switchbacks to reach the observation point. If you turn around the return the way you came, the hike is 1.6 miles. If you continue west to Solitary Geyser, which is know for frequent eruptions, your hike will be 2.2 miles round trip. Check in at the visitor center before you go to learn if there has been bear activity in the area.
5. Grand Prismatic Overlook in Midway Geyser Basin
For years hikers to Fairy Falls, located between Midway Geyser Basin and Old Faithful, would take user-created paths to a hill that gave them an unusual, birds-eye view of the Grand Prismatic Spring, the third largest spring in the world. With mesmerizing orange, turquoise and deep blue waters, the Grand Prismatic is larger than a football field and an unforgettable sight. However, the paths to the so-called "Picture Hill" were illegal and wreaked havoc on the area.
In 2016, the park closed the Fairy Falls trailhead to do trail restoration, as well as to create an official trail to a new viewing platform for visitors to see the Grand Prismatic from above. As of July 2017, trail crews finished a new official trail that stretches for .6 mile, climbs 105 feet and brings you to a fantastic overlook of Grand Prismatic.
Because its construction is complete, visitors can use a new trail and overlook to safely gain spectacular views of the Grand Prismatic Spring and Excelsior Geyser. To alleviate traffic congestion, safety concerns, and resource impacts, the park also made a parking near the Fairy Falls Trailhead at Midway Geyser Basin. Parking is very limited at this popular destination.