Its national parks have been called ‘the best idea America ever had’ – and it’s an idea that took hold in the wondrous pocket planet that is Yellowstone. In this short extract from an article originally written by Tim Moore, Lonely Planet Traveller takes you to the world’s first and still most magnificent national park.
1. Boiling River
Halfway between the towns of Gardiner and Mammoth, a hot spring named Boiling River flows into the Gardiner River, causing hot and cold water to mix in pools along the river’s edge. One of the few places where you can swim in the park – though not in spring due to hazardous high water – it’s also a good place to spot elk, pronghorn and bighorn sheep.
The Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel has a range of accommodation, from elegant rooms in the main building to budget cabins out the back. Its menu includes the likes of bison meatballs with mashed potato, and trout tacos (yellowstonenationalparklodges.com).
2. Norris Geyser Basin
Formed around 100,000 BC, the Norris Geyser Basin is America’s oldest continuously active geothermal area and the hottest geyser basin in the park. It’s also home to the Steamboat – the world’s tallest active geyser. Daily tours of the basin depart from the small Norris Museum, which has exhibits on the geology of the area (admission free; nps.gov/yell).
3. Old Faithful
Although it’s not the tallest geyser in the park, Old Faithful erupts the most frequently (roughly every 90 minutes, for between 90 seconds and five minutes) and as such is Yellowstone’s most famous geyser. As well as watching an eruption close up, it’s worth viewing the spectacle from a distance – follow the trail up to Observation Point a short walk away.
Located next to the eponymous geyser, the Old Faithful Inn is a Yellowstone landmark that was completed around the turn of the century – the Old House rooms are the most atmospheric, with creaking floorboards and woodpanelled walls. Book ahead (yellowstonenationalparklodges.com).
4. Grand Prismatic Spring
Five miles north of Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest spring in the US, and the third-largest in the world. It also has a credible claim to be the most surreal sight in Yellowstone, with deep-blue waters surrounded by rainbow-coloured rings of algae. Boardwalk trails lead around the misty fringes of the pool.
Dating back to 1891, The Lake Yellowstone Hotel is the oldest building in the national park – originally a clapboarded barn-like structure, it is now a grand, pale-yellow edifice with Neoclassical columns and Juliet balconies, set by Yellowstone Lake (yellowstonenationalparklodges.com).
5. Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
One of the park’s blockbuster attractions, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is a 24-mile-long chasm carved out by the Yellowstone River. The 2½-mile North Rim Trail connects some of the most impressive landscapes to be seen in the canyon – deep red in places due to rocks oxidising – with views of the waterfalls along the river (nps.gov/yell).
6. The Lamar Valley
The Lamar Valley, located entirely within Yellowstone, is one of the park’s best places to spot wildlife – the stretch between the Lamar River Trailhead and the Lamar Canyon in particular is a favourite haunt of wolf packs. The Yellowstone Association offers wolf-tracking excursions in the park (yellowstoneassociation.org).