Yellowstone is the country’s oldest (and most famous) national park — it’s also one of the most unique places on earth! There are so many things to do in Yellowstone, you’ll never run out of fun activities for every member of your group.
My name is Ash, and I’m a former park ranger. I’ve grown up visiting this national park, and I’m excited to share the best things to do in Yellowstone with you.
This article includes information on family activities, hiking, biking, winter activities, and so much more.
Keep reading (or if you want to fast-forward, click on the links below) to find the perfect activities for your specific interests!
The Top 10 Things To Do in Yellowstone
When you visit Yellowstone for the first time, you want to be sure to see all of the highlights! Combat your fear of missing out with this list of the top things to do in the park.
If you make it through this top ten list, you can relax knowing that you’ve had a well-rounded, complete tour of Yellowstone!
When you are ready for more detailed information on the top things to do, including driving directions and trip planning help, click over to this list of things you can’t miss on your first visit to Yellowstone.
Old Faithful is the most famous spot in Yellowstone! This spectacular geyser shoots water 150 feet into the air every 90 minutes or so. The fact that it erupts on such a predictable schedule is fascinating, especially in a place where things are ever-changing.
Seeing Old Faithful is something that you need to do at least once in your lifetime. Enjoying this experience with people from all over the world is unforgettable!
As soon as you step out of your car here, you’ll experience a smell that is quintessentially Yellowstone! Mud Volcano is one of the smelliest parts of the park due to all of the sulfur in the water, and it’s a hard smell to forget.
Mud Volcano has a series of short boardwalks that you can use to explore this area that sputters, roars, bubbles, and hisses. It’s one of the most active and exciting thermal areas in Yellowstone!
Uncle Tom’s Trail
Uncle Tom’s Trail is a historic trail in the Canyon area of Yellowstone that dates back to the late 1800s. This 0.6-mile trail dips down below the rim of the canyon on a remarkable staircase that leads to a beautiful overlook of the 308-foot Lower Falls.
To discover more bubbling and spewing geyser and pools, take a walk along the boardwalks of Geyser Hill. This area is right behind Old Faithful, and you’ll get to see even more of the unique features of Yellowstone from up here.
I love to walk around Geyser Hill, over to Grand Geyser, down to Castle Geyser, and over to Morning Glory Pool. This area of the park can keep you occupied for hours, and it’s always a different experience each time!
If you’re looking for the iconic view of the Lower Falls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, you’ll get it at Artist Point. This viewpoint provides sweeping views of the canyon and the rushing river below. And if you look around, you’ll notice that there are a lot of yellow stones in this part of Yellowstone — the canyon walls are a bright shade of yellow in the right lighting!
The Lamar Valley is located in the remote northeast corner of the park, and it is hands-down the best place to go if you’re hoping to see a lot of wildlife. If you’re lucky, you can see buffalo, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, elk, grizzly bears, and wolves while driving and hiking in this area!
BEAR SAFETY 101
You may encounter both grizzly bears and black bears while exploring Yellowstone National Park. Learn how to prevent an encounter, what to do if you see a bear, and where to get bear spray so that you can be confident on the trail!
Grand Prismatic Spring
Grand Prismatic is a massive hot spring with vibrant colors spreading from it like the sun’s rays. It looks like a beautiful painting, so it’s hard to imagine that this is all Mother Nature’s doing. The best way to see Grand Prismatic is by hiking — either on the boardwalks that surround it at the Midway Geyser Basin or on the overlook trail that provides a birds-eye view.
Norris Geyser Basin
The Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest part of Yellowstone, which results in beautiful pastel-colored hot pools. A walk around the Porcelain Basin will take you to the colorful part of Norris. Steamboat Geyser, the world’s tallest geyser that shoots water 300 feet into the sky, is located here as well along the Back Basin Trail. This geyser isn’t predictable, but it has been erupting more frequently over the past couple of years!
Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs is a very historic part of Yellowstone and there’s a lot to see and do. Learn the history of the park by visiting the Roosevelt Arch and Fort Yellowstone while you’re here, then head over to the terraces. The Mammoth Terraces are beautiful white shelves of rock created by the hot water that runs down the hillside.
West Thumb Geyser Basin
The West Thumb Geyser Basin is unique in that it sits right along the shore of Yellowstone Lake. You’ll see several colorful pools along the boardwalk that circles through the area. When you get down to the lakeshore, look for the geyser cones that stick out of the water!
For more trip-planning information (including driving directions) on each of these stops, check out this list of things you can’t miss on your first visit to Yellowstone.
How long does it take to see the top ten things in Yellowstone?
You’ll want no less than three full days of sightseeing to get through this list, but you’ll have to move fast in that amount of time! If you’re able to give yourself at least four full days, you’ll be able to see the best things in Yellowstone while avoiding the crowds and enjoying each stop to the fullest.
If you’d like more help, I have a whole article devoted to helping you figure out how many days to spend in Yellowstone.
Planning a trip to Yellowstone can be overwhelming.
How do you make a solid plan if you’ve never been to the park before? How do you keep everyone in your group excited and engaged?
You can spend hours on the internet searching for things to do, but you still won’t find the insider tips and first-hand knowledge that I’ve gained from working as a park ranger.
If you’re hoping to see the best sights without getting stuck in traffic, circling parking lots, or being surrounded by people, check out this Yellowstone Itinerary.
You will see all of the can’t-miss spots, plus get lodging and dining guides, driving directions, and insider tips!
Yellowstone has an adventure for every age and skill level! Now that we’ve covered the top 10 things to do in the park, it’s time to dig deeper into your own personal interests.
Things to Do in Yellowstone With Kids
Yellowstone has a great variety of short hikes and easy-to-get-to activities for kids. It can be a little stressful if you have young children because of the many boardwalks over the hot water, but you’ll never forget their faces when they see the mud bubble or the water shoot into the sky!
Sometimes kids can lose interest in the thermal areas of the park, especially if you’re just waiting around for something to erupt. My favorite thermal area for kids is Mud Volcano because it smells weird and literally everything is bubbling — it’s perfect for my little boys!
Other fun thermal areas for kids include the Lower Geyser Basin (the Fountain Paint Pots are super fun) and Geyser Hill (there’s always something going on up here).
If your kids get excited by waterfalls, then the Brink of the Upper Falls or the Brink of the Lower Falls Trails are great trails. It’s not very often you get to stand at the top of a waterfall and watch it thunder down the cliff!
Mystic Falls, Storm Point, Trout Lake, and the Grand Prismatic Overlook are my favorite easy hikes in the park. All of these are actual trails (not boardwalks) so if you’re hoping to hike with your kids, check out this post on the best easy hikes in Yellowstone.
Don’t forget to pick up a Jr. Ranger book at any park visitor center. These books have activities that your kids can complete to earn their very own ranger badge. This is a great way to keep them engaged and excited about Yellowstone — you’ll probably even learn something too. I know I always do!
Things to Do in Yellowstone if You Love to Hike
If you love to hike, you’ll be thrilled with Yellowstone’s longer trail options. The Mount Washburn, Avalanche Peak, Lamar River, and Fairy Falls Trails are just a few fabulous trails that show off the park’s beauty.
The Mount Washburn Trail is probably the park’s most popular dayhike. It travels to a fire tower at the top of the peak where you’ll get 360-degree views of Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon and the Dunraven Pass area. I like this trail and definitely think it’s worth hiking once, but it’s always busy and you won’t find much solitude here. The Mount Washburn Trail is 6 miles roundtrip with about 1400 feet of elevation gain.
Avalanche Peak is a good alternative (and most people would say a better hike) than the Mount Washburn Trail. From the top of Avalanche, you’ll get views of Yellowstone Lake and the Tetons on a clear day! But with a 2100-foot elevation gain in only 5 miles roundtrip, this trail is an absolute thigh burner.
The Lamar River Trail is my favorite hiking adventure through the Lamar Valley. It’s common to share the trail with a herd of buffalo (give them their space!), and the views out here near the river are just phenomenal. This is a “choose your own adventure” type trail because you can go as far as you want or connect it to another trail in the area.
Fairy Falls is a popular waterfall near Grand Prismatic Spring, but it takes a little work to get there. The trail is 5.4 miles roundtrip, but it’s mostly flat. It’s a popular trail so you’ll still see other people, but because of the distance, it’s not completely overrun with crowds. I recommend continuing on the trail past the waterfall to see Imperial and Spray Geysers.
If you’re up for a huge adventure, The Thorofare is a bucket list backpacking route in Yellowstone. You can plan things on your own or hire a guide if needed.
And of course, Grand Teton National Park is just a short drive from Yellowstone and it has some of the best high alpine hiking trails in any national park!
Do you love to have a plan?
Get the inside scoop for your upcoming vacation —> this itinerary is the most detailed, epic, and easy-to-follow guide to the park!
Things to Do in Yellowstone if You Don’t Want to Hike
If hiking isn’t something you’re able to do or wanting to do in Yellowstone, you can still see a lot of the park! Walking along the boardwalks, signing up for a guided activity/tour, or taking a scenic drive are some great alternative options for your time here.
You can easily see what makes Yellowstone so special without having to walk or hike very far. Old Faithful, Artist Point, Mammoth Hot Springs, and Mud Volcano require very little walking to see something cool.
If you like the idea of a guided tour, you can catch one from any of the park’s many lodges, and there are lots of options depending on what you’re hoping to do. Horseback riding, boat tours, fishing tours, and wildlife tours are just a few options.
Yellowstone is gorgeous, and there are many beautiful views to be seen from your car. Some of my favorite scenic drives in or near the park are:
- The Beartooth Highway (spectacular mountain views just outside the park’s Northeast Entrance)
- Firehole Lake Drive (see geysers from your car)
- Mammoth Hot Springs to Cooke City (enjoy wildlife viewing from your car in Lamar Valley)
- Canyon Village to Tower Fall (dramatic mountain views)
- West Thumb to Fishing Bridge (gorgeous views of Yellowstone Lake)
Winter Activities in Yellowstone
Winter in Yellowstone is absolutely magical — just wait until you see the steamy geysers in the snow! If you like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or snowmobiling, you’ll love the winter months in this park.
The most amazing thing to do in Yellowstone during the winter is to take a snowmobile or snowcoach tour into the park. You can see the interior areas (even though the roads are closed to vehicles) and even stay at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge overnight!
Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are also very popular winter activities in Yellowstone, and you’ll find many groomed trails in the park. If you’d like to spend some time out in the snow, you can rent gear at Mammoth Hot Springs or bring your own.
During the winter, all of the park roads are closed to vehicles except for the road between Gardiner and Cooke City in the north part of the park. This road travels through the Lamar Valley, and winter is the best time of the year to see the valley’s famous wolves. It’s a can’t-miss experience!
Things to Do in Yellowstone if You Love Ranger Programs
Participating in ranger programs can greatly enhance your experience in Yellowstone. You’ll learn interesting facts, meet other travelers, and connect with someone who loves the park and knows it well! Yellowstone has phenomenal ranger programs, including wildlife talks, guided walks, and campfire programs.
Evening programs are held nightly at the campground amphitheaters. These programs can range in topics, and you’re guaranteed to learn something interesting. Stop in at the visitor center to see the schedule and topics available while you’re there.
Daytime ranger programs include wildlife talks, geyser walks around popular thermal areas, and even a guided boat cruise on Yellowstone Lake. Be sure to pick up a Jr. Ranger book for your kids — there are special programs just for them as well!
Wheelchair-Friendly Things to Do in Yellowstone
You’ll be able to enjoy many of the best sights if you’re visiting Yellowstone in a wheelchair. Many of the park’s boardwalks and viewpoints are accessible!
Several of the best wheelchair-friendly trails in the area are the Mud Volcano Lower Loop, Morning Glory Pool Trail, and the North Rim Trail. But that’s not all — you can find out more about each of these trails and four other trails I also recommend in this article.
Most viewpoints and trailheads in the park have handicapped parking stalls and ramps. The official Yellowstone website has detailed information about each area of the park and its accessibility.
Things to Do in Yellowstone With Your Dog
Due to some very dangerous conditions, Yellowstone is one of the least dog-friendly national parks in the country. The boiling thermal areas and large mammals like bears and wolves are especially perilous for your furry friends.
For more information on things to do with your dog in Yellowstone National Park, check out this detailed article: Is Yellowstone Dog-Friendly?
High Adventure Activities in Yellowstone
If you’re looking for something to get your adrenaline going, consider snowmobiling, horseback riding, fishing, or whitewater rafting at Yellowstone.
Snowmobiling is extremely popular during the winter season. You can follow the interior roads of the park (which are closed to all private vehicles) to see Old Faithful or Canyon Village in the snow! Snowcoach tours are also available.
Horseback riding is another popular way to experience the Yellowstone area. Guided trail rides leave from the park and surrounding areas daily during the summer, and it’s a great way to see the beautiful Wyoming wilderness.
Yellowstone is world-renowned for its fly fishing! This isn’t exactly a high adventure activity, but this is a great place to relax on the shores of a river and soak in the scenery as you fish.
Whitewater rafting is a thrill, and it’s a popular activity just outside of the park’s North Entrance. You can raft the beautiful Yellowstone River from here, and if you’re feeling extra adventurous, there’s even the option to add in ziplining.
Things to Do in Yellowstone if You Love to Bike
If you love to bike, you’ll find many specific biking trail options in Yellowstone. Check out the trails to Lone Star Geyser, Natural Bridge, or Mount Washburn for some epic biking!
Lone Star Geyser is a 5-mile roundtrip bike trail that travels through the forest to a predictable 45-foot geyser. Lone Star has a major eruption about every 3 hours, with small eruptions in between.
Natural Bridge is a 2.5-mile roundtrip bike trail that travels to a natural rock arch. It’s mostly flat, but some hiking is required at the end where bikes can’t navigate the switchbacks.
Mount Washburn is probably the park’s most popular dayhike, but you can actually bike this trail if you start at the Chittenden Road Trailhead. You’ll gain about 1500 feet of elevation during this 5-mile ride, so it’s best for more experienced riders.
There are many more bike trail options throughout the park — you won’t run out of fun biking adventures here! For more information on all the available trails, regulations, and rentals, click here.
Things to Do Near Yellowstone
The area around Yellowstone could keep you busy for a lifetime! If you’re hoping to see another national park, Grand Teton is just down the road. Other places that might pique your interest include the Beartooth Highway, Cody, Big Sky, or Island Park.
Most people combine Yellowstone and Grand Teton in the same trip because they are only separated by an 8-mile road! Grand Teton National Park is a fabulous mountain park with incredible hiking trails, easy-to-get-to viewpoints, and a fun wild west history.
The Beartooth Highway is often referred to as “the most beautiful drive in America”. This road is just outside of the park’s Northeast Entrance, and it travels through the craggy mountains up to nearly 11,000 feet above sea level.
Cody, Wyoming is a small town about an hour outside of the park’s East Entrance. While I don’t recommend staying here as a base for your Yellowstone adventures, I do think it’s worth a visit if you love the Old West!
Big Sky, Montana is a famous ski resort area, but you can find fun activities here year-round. Island Park, Idaho is popular for lake activities, fishing, and snowmobiling. Both of these towns are located outside of the park’s West Entrance.
More Yellowstone Trip Planning Information
Yellowstone Itinerary — a detailed hour-by-hour sightseeing schedule.
How to Get to Yellowstone — the best airports and roads in the area.
How Many Days Should I Spend in Yellowstone? — itinerary ideas.
The Best Time to Visit — what to expect during each month of the year.
Weather, Hours, and Closures — important weather info and common closures.
Where Should I Stay? — the best options in and around the park.
All About Camping — learn about the park’s campgrounds and how to get a site.
12 Things You Can’t Miss on Your First Visit to Yellowstone — the top spots
The Best Easy Hikes — the perfect trails for kids, wheelchairs, and beginners.
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