White vapor rises from bubbling rainbow-hued hot springs in Yellowstone, the first national park established in the United States.
Waterfalls plunge over sheer cliffs while powerful geysers shoot plumes of fluid and steam hundreds of feet into the air. Here are four nature marvels to visit in this historic park that covers 2.2 million acres of majestic mountains and verdant valleys in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
Old Faithful Geyser
One of Yellowstone’s classic attractions, Old Faithful is a geyser whose name comes from its regular eruptions that last from 90 seconds to five minutes. The mighty geyser expels 3,700-8,400 gallons of water per eruption, sending a towering column of smoke and liquid soaring into the air. A pale pillar sandwiched between emerald trees and windswept prairies, Old Faithful’s creamy steam explodes over 90 feet into the sky, rising to touch the snow-white clouds above.
Once you’ve seen Old Faithful erupt, take a walk around the geyser and soak in the beauty of Firehole River, where a gushing torrent of foam cascades over charcoal rocks. After exploring the geyser and river, head to Old Faithful Inn, a chocolate-brown chalet whose rustic exterior conceals comfortable suites featuring mini-refrigerators and snug sitting rooms. There is no internet or television access at the Inn, so plan to be off the grid while on your trip.
Fiery yellow rings surround deep blue pools at Yellowstone’s colorful Mammoth Hot Springs. Wispy steam rises from these spectacular natural reservoirs of boiling, mineral-rich water laden with dissolved calcium carbonate. The ethereal vapor hovering over the thermal water softens the azure liquid, dulling its vibrancy in a haze of smoke.
Soak in a natural sauna at Boiling River, a steaming spa just 1.8 miles from Mammoth Hot Springs. Chilly water from the Gardner River blends with the Boiling River hot spring, creating a confluence with ideal swimming temperatures. When in the water, take care not to submerge your head underwater or breathe in thermal steam to avoid harmful organisms in the springs. Boiling River is currently closed until further notice due to seasonal runoff but will likely reopen in mid-July.
Mystic Falls Trail
Whitewater thunders down the steep mountainside at Mystic Falls, a rushing cascade whose frothing lather splashes into a roiling pool 70 feet below. The Falls are stunning from a distance but particularly striking up close where you can take in the beauty of emerald trees standing guard over the silky stream of satin tumbling from the cataract’s source. In autumn, the canyon surrounding the Falls explodes with color as bright yellow and orange wildflowers streak the landscape.
Take a 2.4-mile trail to the Falls, where a surging torrent of foam crashes over dark gray stones. The moderate hike begins at Biscuit Basin Trailhead and winds through the forest alongside a babbling creek. If you include the Upper Geyser Basin overlook on your hike, plan for a 3.4-mile roundtrip trek with an elevation gain of about 750 feet. Pack some water and snacks to eat on your hike and slather on some mosquito repellent so the bugs don’t eat you!
Lake Yellowstone Hotel
The bright yellow paint that coats the Lake Yellowstone Hotel is a cheerful contrast to the surrounding woods, making the resort pop with color in the midst of dusty green trees. Relax in a Presidential Suite with a view of the forever-blue Lake Yellowstone whose azure surface is touched only by the reflection of puffy white clouds. After gazing at the lake’s beauty from afar, experience its wonder up close when you hop on an 18-foot motorboat from Yellowstone’s Bridge Bay Marina Boat Rentals. Enjoy a one-hour jaunt or eight-hour excursion in one of the marina’s outboard powerboats for $62 per hour.
Travel back in time to the 1800s via one of Yellowstone’s Wild West Adventures, rugged tours that give you a taste of life as a pioneer. Take a two-hour horseback ride along the rim of the Cascade Canyon or bounce over sagebrush flats on the hourlong Roosevelt Ride. If riding in a horse-drawn carriage is more your style, rumble over dirt trails on the classic Stagecoach Adventure. Bring your day to a close with an Old West Dinner Cookout under the stars, where you will take a 30-minute horseback or wagon ride to the cookout site and wash down steak and baked beans with a cup of strong coffee brewed over an open campfire.
As of this writing, all entrances to Yellowstone are currently closed due to flooding and mudslides. Check the National Park website for updated information.