Top Five reasons to Visit Yellowstone Now
When people think of Yellowstone, the image is usually of Old Faithful. Though that might be the greatest single attraction, there is such a diversity of attractions and landscapes in the world’s oldest national park that it is hard to pick a favourite. In fact, in a survey of Park visitors, “geysers and other thermal features” ranked third amongst at least five different themes that draw visitors to Yellowstone National Park. Taken together, the five make the Park amongst the visited natural attractions on Earth.
But the time to visit is now. Human visitation that has increased by 40% over the last ten years, is putting increasing pressure on the physical attractions and decreasing the enjoyment of those who visit the Park. Measures to introduce management strategies and reduce visitor opportunities are in the plans.
Here are the five natural attractions that compel you to experience this magical place at least once in a lifetime. And encourage you not to wait!
First and foremost is simply the incredible natural scenery of Yellowstone. There are at least 45 named waterfalls within the Park, including Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls, Tower Falls, Mystic Falls and Crystal Falls, many of which are just a short walk from your vehicle. There’s also the “Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone,” below Lower Yellowstone Falls, a 24-mile (39 km.) long erosion that reaches a depth of 1200 ft (365m). Then there’s the river itself, the longest undammed river in the continental United States. Add to that a variety of grand mountain peaks, forested slopes and sweeping grasslands, and a kaleidoscope of thermal features, and the juxtaposition of features creates a smorgasbord of picturesque scenes.
Beartooth Highway, with over twenty majestic peaks over 3650 m., alpine lakes, glacially carved cirques and vibrant wildflowers is perhaps the most breath-taking of the scenic drives, but numerous others also beckon the curious traveller.
A concerted effort to return the Park to the natural state it was in before massive human impact has reclaimed, for the wildlife, the dominance they once enjoyed. More than 4500 bison now roam free in the Park, the result of a few dozen transplanted there a century ago to save them from extinction. Wolves were reintroduced in 1995, helping the Park reach the full complement of wildlife species that inhabited the area before the arrival of Europeans.
Additionally, more than 700 grizzly bears roam free in the region of the Yellowstone Park, though not necessarily respecting Park boundaries; massive numbers of elk make the Park their summer range; and deer, black bears, moose and the elusive cougars roam free. Otter, beaver and numerous species of fish inhabit the waters, all within easy viewing of their human admirers.
Today, the opportunity to view wildlife in their natural settings is the second biggest reason visitors come to Yellowstone. Fortunate visitors can, at times, watch wolves tracking bison. And do so safely.
Geysers and other geologic hotspots
Yellowstone’s biodiversity and, in fact, all of its major features are the direct or indirect result of millions of years of broiling of a subterranean hotspot that reaches the Earth’s surface through fissures in its
crust. The most direct evidence, though, are the geysers and other geologic hotspots that are on open display, with their kaleidoscope of colours and forms. At least 500 geysers, by far the largest concentration in the world, are present. Old Faithful gets most of the attention, but many others, with their varieties of forms, are within easy access of the public roads.
In contrast to the spectacular outbursts of the geysers, Mammoth Hot Springs represents an other-worldly landscape, with a complex of hot springs amid travertine terraces produced by the continuously trickling flow. Grand Prismatic Spring, one of the largest hot springs in the world, delights with its palette of colours. Then there are the continuously oozing, gurgling mud pots (fumaroles) scattered throughout the Park, the most delightful being along the Fountain Paint Pot Nature Trail, easily accessible along the major Park road loop.
Many visitors appreciate Yellowstone for its tranquility. “Hearing the sounds of nature,” and “experiencing the peacefulness of nature,” were cited by visitors as prime reasons for coming to the Park.
“It’s oddly quiet here,” wrote an author in Wander magazine, who said her many years of camping had not prepared her “for the gorgeousness that comes with being in the heart of the country’s greatest wilderness.” She added: “If you want to get away from it all (with all including your cell phone, your emails, and your TiVo list), then this is where you want to go.”1
What better way to do this than through camping? At least sixteen campgrounds exist within the Park, plus several just outside it, with all levels of facilities. Blogger Ash wrote: “The campgrounds in Yellowstone surprised me. SHOCKED me actually! Amid all of the crowds and traffic jams along the Park roads, a sanctuary exists within these campgrounds . . . What could be better than sleeping under the stars and hearing the crunch of branches from a buffalo wandering through your camp, the rush of a nearby waterfall, or wolves howling in the distance?
Experiencing the wild
To a degree, it may sum up all of the above, but many visitors say they are attracted to the Park simply to experience a piece of Planet Earth that still represents the “wild.” As a writer in National Geographic put it: “Yellowstone is a wild place, constrained imperfectly with human-imposed limits. It’s a wild place that we have embraced, surrounded, riddled with roads and hotels and souvenir shops, but not tamed, not conquered—a place we treasure because it still represents wildness.”3. Visitors from around the world are experiencing that reality.
Can Yellowstone accommodate 4.1 million visitors a year and still remain wild? So far, apparently, it can, in part because of its size. But will that last much longer? The time to investigate is sooner than later.
West Adventures camps its way through Yellowstone National Park on its Western Kaleidoscope: Landscapes and Lights of the American West trip.
1. Andrea Verbin, “Find Tranquility in Yellowstone National Park,” Wander magazine, October, 2012.
2. Ash, “All about Camping in Yellowstone National Park,” Dirt in my Shoes blog, October 14, 2017.
3. David Quammen, “Yellowstone: America’s Wild Idea,” National Geographic, May, 2016.