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Park Itineraries

10 Best Things to Do in Yellowstone and Beyond

Here's your bucket list to visiting America's first national park.

Be sure to hit one, or all, of the top 10 things to do and see in Yellowstone country. There’s Old Faithful, grizzly bears and gray wolves, rodeos and powwows, horseback riding, rafting and so much more.

1. Watch Geysers Erupt and See Giant, Colorful Hot Springs

Aerial view of Grand Prismatic Hot Spring in Yellowstone
Aerial view of Grand Prismatic Hot Spring in Yellowstone Photo: NPS/Jim Peaco

Yellowstone is the largest active geyser field in the world and is home to the most famous geyser, Old Faithful. There are also hundreds of colorful hot springs and pools such as the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring, pictured above, which is larger than a football field and the third largest spring in the world. Want to escape the crowds? Walk past Old Faithful in the Upper Geyser Basin.

2. See Wild Animals in their Natural Habitat

Grizzly bear sow and cubs near Roaring Mountain in Yellowstone
Grizzly bear sow and cubs near Roaring Mountain in Yellowstone Photo: NPS/Eric Johnston

Yellowstone National Park is home to more wild animals than almost anywhere else in the U.S., but it is not a zoo. Visitors are likely to see a number of animals in Yellowstone freely roaming the landscape in their natural habitat. Animals you might see include grizzly bears, gray wolves, the world’s largest wild bison herd, bald and golden eagles, trumpeter swans, moose and more. While there are wild animals throughout the park, Lamar Valley is a fantastic places to stop at one of the pull-offs and get out of your car with your binoculars to see wolves, bears and more.

Outside of Yellowstone, to the south and the northeast of the park, you can also see herds of wild horses.

3. Experience the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Photo by Gloria Wadzinski

View the pink and yellow canyon walls that form the sides of three glorious waterfalls. The place is so inspiring that an overlook of the Lower Falls is called Artist’s Point. Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is located north of Lake Yellowstone.

4. Take a Hike in Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks

Day hikers on a trail through arrowleaf balsamroot flowers in Yellowstone.
Day hikers on a trail through arrowleaf balsamroot flowers in Yellowstone. Photo: NPS/Jacob W Frank

To explore Yellowstone’s wild side, get off the beaten path and onto the park’s 1,300-mile trail system. Some of the most popular hikes are Fairy Falls, Mount Washburn, Avalanche Peak and Mystic Falls. Can’t decide on a trail? Read Which Trail Should I Hike and Top 4 Trails for Hiking With Kids articles.

In neighboring Grand Teton National Park, some popular hikes include lake trails such as Jenny Lake, Phelps Lake or family-friendly Taggart Lake. Or head for the mountains on these trails to Cascade Canyon and Table Mountain.

5. Go Rafting and Paddling

Rafting with Lewis & Clark Expeditions on the Snake River
Photo courtesy of Lewis & Clark Expeditions

Take a paddling trip near lakeside geysers, or raft down one of the nearby rivers. There are rafting trips available near all the entrances to the park. To help you choose, we’ve compiled a Top 5 rafting rivers list.

6. Go Camping

Norris Campground Tent Site in Yellowstone National Park
Photo by NPS

One of the best ways to experience the Yellowstone region is by spending a night or more under the stars. You can stay at one of the many campsites inside the park, at a nearby campground outside the park or camp in the backcountry. Read our tips for RVers.

7. Stay or Dine at a Historic Hotel

Yellowstone's Old Faithful Inn at night
Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Inn at night (Photo: Grant Ordelheide)

On the roads to Yellowstone and in the park itself, there are wonderfully unique hotels full of history, one-of-a-kind furnishings and art and breakfasts that are often home-cooked. Plus, you can actually meet other guests and share stories in the lobbies, bars and lawns of these hotels. Historic hotels inside Yellowstone include the classic Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, the rustic yet sophisticated Old Faithful Inn and the waterfront Lake Yellowstone Hotel. These hotels have elegant dining rooms serving fare from steaks to vegetarian.

8. Live the Cowboy Life

Horseback riding through Yellowstone.
Horseback riding through Yellowstone. (Photo: Ondrus courtesy of Paradise Adventure Company)

Yellowstone is smack in the middle of cowboy country so don your boots and hat and go with it. Explore Yellowstone on horseback and ride past wildlife, valleys, and rivers or eat at an Old West cookout. In nearby towns, watch a rodeo, attend an Old West gun fight, stay at a guest ranch or learn about a famous, real-life cowboy at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyo.

9. Hunt for Rocks, Fossils and Dinosaurs

A petrified tree in northern Yellowstone.
A petrified tree in northern Yellowstone. Photo by Ben Wadzinski

The Yellowstone area has many paleontological sites – from dinosaur and fossil museums to petroglyphs and pictographs on rock walls. Inside Yellowstone you will find basalt columns formed by lava and a petrified forest.

10. Immerse Yourself in Native American Culture

Shoshone native dancing at a Pow Wow
Photo courtesy of Wind River Hotel and Casino

There are several Native American reservations nearby Yellowstone. On the Wind River Reservation, you can watch dancers every Tuesday evening at Wind River Casino and Hotel in Riverton, Wyo. You can also visit Sacajawea’s gravesite, explore the church and museum at St. Stephen’s Mission or try your luck at gaming.

Don’t miss seeing wild horses and learning about their role in Native American life at the Wind River Wild Horse Sanctuary in Lander, Wyo.

While in Cody, Wyo., near the East Entrance to Yellowstone,  stop to see the Plains Indian Museum, one of five museums at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. Buffalo Bill Center of the West is a Smithsoniam-affiliate, and your ticket is good for two days. With incredible museums, plus a chuck wagon dinner and trail rides, the center is one of those places you’ll be happy you spent two days at.

 


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Pssst. Want to receive a printed insider’s guide to Yellowstone, where to stay and what to do? Order our free stunning Yellowstone Trip Planner filled with an inspiring itinerary, gorgeous photographs and everything you need to plan your dream vacation.

Do you have a park map? You’ll receive a free park map when you enter the park or you can download one now. But if you’d like to plan your trip with a detailed topographic map, consider purchasing a Trails Illustrated map of Yellowstone on REI.com that includes hiking trails, iconic sights and more.

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