I don’t know if it’s just me, or does every American dream of visiting Yellowstone National Park at least once in their life? It’s the first National Park that was ever created (shout out to the O.G.) and is one of the most unique parks because it’s diversity in scenery and geothermal activity. Not only can you marvel at the brightly colored yellow rocks in Yellowstone Canyon, watch Old Faithful (or one of the other several hundred geysers) erupt, but you can also observe wolves, pronghorns, bears, bison, birds and more in their natural habitat. It’s a place like no other and we wanted to share the beauty of this park with you. If you’re planning a trip to Yellowstone, or wondering what the top things to do in Yellowstone are, watch the video below and get excited for the amazing trip you’re about to have!
As you saw in the video, it was our first time at Yellowstone. We were excited but also overwhelmed by the size of the park and all there was to do and see. We had no idea what the top things to do in Yellowstone were before we arrived. So rather than just share our experience in Yellowstone, we wanted to go a step further and create a guide to the top things to do in Yellowstone that will help you plan your trip. Hopefully the guide below will help you get lay of the land, a good idea of the top things to do in Yellowstone, and your “must see” items so you can make the most of your trip to Yellowstone.
Things to know before you go
There is a lot of driving involved with Yellowstone. After all it is over 2.21 million acres of national park! It can also take longer than expected to get from destination to destination within the park, largely due to animal sightings and bison traffic jams (yes bison traffic jams is 100% a thing in Yellowstone).
Yellowstone is broken up into four sections, North, East, South, and West and there are several “big destinations” throughout those areas. See the full Yellowstone Map here. Below is our guide to the top things to do in Yellowstone, broken into the geographical area of the park. We feel it’s much easier to plan your trip this way. If you are camping or staying within the park, you have the advantage of being much closer to each destination and reducing some drive time.This is a park you’ll want to visit over and over again so plan on coming back and getting to explore the areas you enjoyed most in your first visit more thoroughly. We always suggest visiting the national parks website to see if there is any important alerts or notifications prior to going. If you plan on visiting in summer there will likely be road or trail closures for repairs which will all be mentioned on their site. So here it is, our guide to the top things to do in Yellowstone!
There are two drives you can make, the North Rim and South Rim which offer several vistas and over looks. Tip: Stop at EVERY overlook you can! If you’re tight on time however, Artist Point, Lookout Point, and Inspiration Point are the highlights. The South Rim Drive was under construction when we were there so we missed out on Uncle Tom’s Trail which we heard is pretty epic views!
There are several hikes down into the canyon to give you up close views of the waterfalls (yes waterfalls is plural as there are several). The hikes are often short but steep. If you prefer to enjoy the beautiful canyon from one of the vistas, there is no hiking or steep walks involved and plenty of overlooks for you to enjoy it from. If you’re physically able or have the extra time, we suggest going the extra mile (or two or three) and getting to see Yellowstone Canyon from every possible view and that includes the trails downward. That’s how we got that incredible photo with the waterfall!
Plan to spend a decent amount of time here. Since Dennis and I took a lot of the hikes to view the waterfalls, we spent more time here than planned. It could easily take up an entire day if you really wanted it to!
go rafting down the Yellowstone river
If you’ve never gone a white water rafting trip, Yellowstone river is the place to try it out! We loved whitewater rafting down the Ocoee river in Chattanooga, TN and are sure we would have loved it here as well. Since we were tight on time and focused on doing a majority of free activities, we opted to skip the river trip this go around. When we visit again this will 100% be on our list! Just google “rafting Yellowstone river” and you will see a plethora of companies offer rafting trips with reviews and pricing.
north side of yellowstone
The east side of the park has much less geothermal activity, although there is evidence if you look closely. This part of the park is more of the traditional forest and mountain experience you would expect from national parks. On the east side you can enjoy beautiful mountains, grassy meadows, canyons, waterfalls, lakes, and rivers.
The list below is going from West to East on the North side of the park.
Mammoth Hot springs
On the far west side of the north area of the park you’ll find Mammoth Hot Springs. It’s the only major geothermal area outside of the “Yellowstone Caldera” which is the west side of the park. These formations are not only unique because of their location, but also because of how they are formed. Unlike the geysers, fumaroles, and mud pots you’ll find in the caldera, Mammoth Hot Springs is mostly made up of terraces, specifically travertine terraces. They look like a geothermal set of stairs with geothermal water gently trickling down creating a beautiful scene to behold. The travertine is a brilliant white with steam gently rolling off the into the air. As you can see from the pictures and video, this area of Yellowstone is magnificent and was a highlight of our time here.
There is an upper terrace that you can drive through, and a lower terrace that is made up of boardwalks weaving through the hot springs. Most of the lower terrace has stairs, so if you are not physically able, just do the upper terrace although you will only see a fraction of the geothermal features at Mammoth. There is limited parking so we suggest you come early or late.
Tower Roosevelt & Roosevelt Falls
Tower Roosevelt and Roosevelt falls is one of the lesser visited attractions in Yellowstone. It’s known mostly for it’s beautiful waterfall it also has several hikes, picnic areas, and lodging. Since there is simply so much to do in this Park already, this is an area that is often explored if people have more than 4 or 5 days, or are returning for a second, third, or fourth time to Yellowstone.
top things to do in yellowstone if you are short on timeIf you’re coming here you should dedicate the proper amount of time to see and do it all, but if you absolutely don’t have the time, then these would be our top things to do in Yellowstone.
- Grand Prismatic Springs (Midway Geyser Basin)
- Old Faithful (Upper Geyser Basin)
- Mammoth Hot Springs OR Yellowstone Canyon (your choice because both are breathtakingly beautiful and unique)
- If your main goal in coming to Yellowstone is to see animals, then do Hayden Valley early in the morning.
- Lamar Valley (Northeastern Part of Yellowstone)
- Hayden Valley (Eastern Part of Yellowstone)
- Grand Prismatic Springs (Midway Geyser Basin)
- Old Faithful (Upper Geyser Basin)
- Norris Geyser Basin
We are Dennis and Liz! We’re two travel loving, real estate investing, foodies exploring North America full time in a Grand Design fifth wheel toy hauler. We share our lessons learned as full time RV’ers, travel tips and tricks, and the best places to eat and see in the US with you!
After two years of full time RVing, we decided it was time to downsize and simplify. So we made it official, and sold our Grand Design Momentum 328M Toy Hauler Fifth Wheel to an amazing couple that will be making it their home!
The holidays are here and that means coming up with a gift for your full time or part time RV friend or family member. To make gift giving easier this holiday season, we put together an RV gift guide to help give you gift ideas for RVers. Take a look at our top 12 gifts all under $100!
Liz and Dennis have a blast in Salt Lake City. This city has a lot to eat, see, and do (including electric scooters)! Get a taste for what Utah’s largest city has to offer!