One of America’s greatest natural treasures, Yellowstone National Park was the first declared national park in the U.S. and one of the first government-protected natural areas in the world.
The enormous park covers over two million acres, most of which lies within the state of Wyoming, and with plenty of nature trails and wide open spaces, is the perfect way to enjoy the outdoors while maintaining socially distancing.
Yellowstone’s untamed land is home to canyons, rivers, mountains, and half of the world’s hydrothermal features. Five entrances provide access to nearly a hundred different hiking trailheads and hundreds of miles of park roads. Many of America’s largest animals including bears, bison, and elk can be seen, in addition to Yellowstone’s many iconic natural landmarks.
While the park may be a rugged landscape, you can find relaxation after a long day of exploring in one of the comfortable hotels and retreats in Yellowstone and the nearby vicinity. The most popular accommodation options are those found within the park.
In partnership with Hotels.com, I hope to inspire you to visit Yellowstone National Park and its surrounds by sharing the park’s most famous natural features and the wildlife you can expect to see during your visit.
But first, a note on safe travel …
Travel Guide to the Wildlife and Nature of Yellowstone National Park
National Parks within the US have recently started reopening, and Yellowstone has lead the way in establishing safe travel precautions, while still allowing access to explore the outdoors. Physical activity is one of the best ways to keep both the mind and body healthy, but it’s still incredibly important to recreate responsibly, even when in the outdoors.
With new protective barriers, a restricted capacity of high density areas, and increased cleaning of facilities, the park has done well to achieve just the right balance of allowing outdoor fun, while keeping people safe in a COVID era.
Yellowstone has been coordinating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as federal and local health authorities, and since June all park entrances have reopened.
While masks are encouraged (but not mandated) within the park itself, you’ll find that within hotels both staff and guests are required to wear them. Obviously, when you’re out exploring nature and back country there’s far more distance between you and other travelers, than when you’re all congregating in a hotel facility.
Yellowstone has also been testing all employees for COVID-19, and ensuring that those who work on the ground within the park, who come into contact with visitors, continue to test negative. These tests are due to continue throughout the summer, and Park rangers are on duty to uphold the normal rules and assist you when needed.
As travel today remains uncertain, please keep your safety and the safety of others in mind at all times. If you are comfortable traveling, please travel responsibly and within regulation as any travel is at your own risk.
If you decide to travel at this time, our recommendations are as follows:
- Wear a face mask;
- Bring hand sanitizer and wash your hands on a regular basis;
- Check official websites before your trip for the latest updates on policies, closures and status of local businesses;
- Book a hotel with free cancellation in case you need to change your plans at the last minute.
The following are the highlights of what you’ll find in Yellowstone National Park, but do also embrace the wide open spaces, and ensure you’re physically distancing – with two million acres there’s plenty of space for everyone to enjoy the park responsibly!
Yellowstone may have the biggest concentration of geysers on the planet, but one has managed to stand out from the rest to become a crowd favorite. Of the roughly 500 active geysers in Yellowstone, Old Faithful is one of the most reliable in terms of when it can be expected to erupt.
The first geyser to be named in the park, Old Faithful was discovered in the 19th century. Visitors need not wait long to witness it erupt, since it can do so upwards of 20 times each day.
On average, the eruptions take place roughly every 70 to 110 minutes and geologists have become quite accurate in creating a sort of schedule of when the geyser will go off each day.
The show involves an eruption that sees upwards of 8,000 gallons of 200 degrees Fahrenheit water being shot up to heights of between 130 and 180 feet. The performance generally lasts around 2-5 minutes and is never a disappointment.
Grand Prismatic Spring
Most likely Yellowstone’s most colorful feature is the Grand Prismatic Spring. One of the world’s largest hot springs, Grand Prismatic Spring offers up the chance to get that iconic park shot that you often see in your Instagram feed.
The spring can be viewed in one of two ways. A boardwalk allows you to walk around the 370-foot wide spring to get close-up views, while a recently constructed elevated viewing platform allows you to get an incredible aerial view of the stunning natural feature.
The center of the natural pool is always a captivating blue, while the edges change from shades of orange and red in summer to shades of green in the winter. The vivid colors are caused by multi-layer sheets of bacteria and other microorganisms.
The park’s largest body of water is Yellowstone Lake. Though while it may look like an enticing place to take a dip during the summer months, this may not be a wise decision.
The water remains frigid year-round and the icy lake only melts for a few months come June. While the high elevation lake may not be great for swimming, you can take a boat or kayak on the lake to get a different perspective of the park.
The lake’s shoreline is a great place to spot moose and you can fish for native cutthroat trout, albeit only catch-and-release. During Spring, you may have to share your fishing spot with Grizzly bears though!
A boating permit is required but can be purchased for $5-$10 depending on whether your boat is motorized. The permit is valid for seven days.
Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces
Located just south of the park’s North Entrance, the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces are a collection of hot springs and unique travertine rock formations. Visitors can access these unique natural features of the park by way of two connecting boardwalks.
The Lower Terrace Boardwalk offers the chance to see Liberty Cap Spring and the popular and very colorful Minerva Spring.
Along the Upper Terrace Boardwalk, you’ll discover landmarks like White Elephant Back Terrace, Angel Terrace, and Orange Spring Mound. Come winter, the Upper Terraces can be explored on skis or snowshoes
Hayden & Lamar Valleys
One of the main reasons people flock to Yellowstone National Park each year is to witness its abundant wildlife. Two of the best areas within the park to see animals are the Hayden and Lamar Valleys.
Running alongside the Yellowstone River, the sub-alpine valley known as Hayden Valley covers roughly 50 square miles. It is here where you are likely to see herds of bison, elk, waterfowl, and with a little luck maybe a grizzly bear.
Roads running through the Hayden Valley are open from spring to fall, offering plenty of pullouts to stop and observe the wildlife. Additionally, two hiking trails including the Hayden Valley Trail and Mary Mountain Trail can be accessed.
Unlike Hayden Valley which is located in the center of the park, Lamar Valley can be found in the northeastern corner of the park. This is one of the best spots to witness the park’s resident wolf packs along with coyotes, badgers, and pronghorn antelope.
Lamar Valley is also accessible by road year-round unlike Hayden Valley which is closed to vehicles in winter.
The Wildlife of Yellowstone
North America’s largest concentrations of large animals can be found within Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding wilderness areas. The circle of life plays out on a daily basis, giving you the chance to see predators hunt and the miracle of rebirth.
The most plentiful animals you will see include the bison and elk herds. Once reduced to just a few dozen individuals from overhunting, bison now number in the thousands within the park.
Elk are even more plentiful, with two distinct herds residing within the park’s boundaries from spring to fall each year before they migrate elsewhere for winter.
Often the most rewarding sightings for visitors are Yellowstone’s predators. Both black bears and grizzly bears coexist within the park, together numbering well over a thousand individual bears.
Once eliminated from the park, gray wolves have been reintroduced thanks to a rise in their numbers after the Endangered Species Act and other protections were put in place. There are now around ten wolf packs that roam the park.
Yellowstone is also home to some of the largest coyotes in America as well as more elusive predators which include mountain lions, lynx, and bobcats.
In order to maintain safety for both you and Yellowstone’s wildlife, you are encouraged to drive slowly to avoid collisions with wildlife and to never feed any wild animals.
There are also rules in place for how closely you are allowed to approach certain animals. Failure to maintain a safe distance could result in serious injury from animals like bears and large bison.