Check off all of these Yellowstone bucket list items on a trip to America’s own super volcano.

yellowstone hiker in meadow

Courtesy of NPS/Neal Herbert

Please note that in the brief period of time between writing and publishing this article, Yellowstone experienced extreme flooding, briefly closing the park. But Yellowstone has bounced back quickly. While the north and northeast entrances are still closed as of mid-July, fully 93 percent of the park’s roadways are open. Before you go, check with the park’s website to see if the gate you wish to enter by is open, and that the parts you plan to see are accessible.

Yellowstone is the oldest national park in the country. Its sprawling forests are beautiful, but the real draw is the hot springs. While driving through the park, there will be steam coming up from the ground almost everywhere you look. These colorful hot springs are rare across the continent yet abundant through Yellowstone. They’re filled with “microorganisms that thrive in hot temperatures” according to the National Park Service, and there are trillions of these microorganisms grouped together that appear as masses of color. 

That’s because Yellowstone is a super volcano. The magma below the park is close to the surface, creating the hot springs above. There have been unknowing visitors who have jumped into these geothermal features, which are at a temperature of about 198°F. Don’t be one of these people; it doesn’t end well. However, there are places in the park where you can enjoy the heat from the magma so close under your feet.

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Not interested in enjoying Mother Nature’s hot tub? Not only is it a geologic wonder, but Yellowstone is also full of stunning views, waterfalls, and beautiful lakes. You’ll see fields of bison and sometimes even get into a traffic jam because they’re crossing. Climb down to beautiful falls to see an incredible force of nature right before your eyes. 

Here are all the things to do when in the park to get the most out of your visit. Soak in all the science while enjoying some of the West’s most stunning views and unique animals at the same time.

See the Grand Prismatic Spring

Grand Prismatic Spring, Midway Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park

Ignacio Palacios/Getty

Start your day off with a 1.5-mile out-and-back trail to see the spring from above. To do this hike, use a map to get to Grand Prismatic Overlook Trail. You have to start a little bit past the main parking lot for the spring. Park 1 mile south of Midway Geyser Basin at the Fairy Falls Parking Lot. The parking is very limited, so you may be in for an extra walk if you park on the street.

You can also see the hot spring from up close by walking along a boardwalk, where you’ll pass multiple hot springs as you make your way to the Grand Prismatic. It is beautiful, with all different colors.

There are crowds, as this is one of the main attractions of the park. Try to get here early otherwise you’ll be surrounded by lots of people and you’ll have a much harder time finding parking.

Kayak on Yellowstone Lake

guide holding paddles lake sunset Yellowstone
Kayak on Yellowstone Lake

Ashley Dunne

According to the National Park Service, Yellowstone Lake is the largest in the park at 136 square miles. The best part? You can rent kayaks on the lake! Kayak across it to see the landscape and beauty of Yellowstone from a different point of view.

Sitting at 7,733 feet, Yellowstone Lake is the largest high-elevation lake in North America. Because of this, the water is always very cold, which is why a kayak is a better way to enjoy it than a swim.

The geology of the lake is fascinating, as there are underwater geysers, hot springs, and fumaroles. There is a spot in the lake that was recorded by NPS at 252°F! That’s a massive contrast to the hypothermic conditions of the rest of the lake.

Stop and Watch the Bison

bison in the range gold
Bison in Yellowstone

Courtesy of NPS/Neal Herbert

Bison move in herds and are very stubborn animals. Sometimes you’ll get stuck in traffic jams on the roads in Yellowstone when a bison will plant itself in the middle and not move for an hour.

By the end of your trip, you will have likely seen hundreds of bison. When you see a herd, pull over to the side of the road to take a good look, but don’t get too close because they’re still wild animals. NPS advises you to stay at least 25 yards from bison at all times. They can run three times faster than humans and have injured more people in the park than any other animal. Safety aside, they’re very beautiful and unique-looking animals and stopping to take in their massive features is well worth it.

Hike to See the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Yellowstone waterfall
Lower Yellowstone Falls

Ashley Dunne

The North Rim Trail is a 6.4-mile, out-and-back trail that takes you along the north edge of Yellowstone’s very own Grand Canyon. You get amazing views of Lower Falls and once you reach Inspiration Point, amazing views of the canyon itself.

This is a must-see as the waterfall is spectacular and there are many rainbows in the canyon on sunny days.

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