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There are so many things to do in Yellowstone National Park, but we narrow it down to the best Yellowstone attractions: including the best hikes in Yellowstone, the best geyser basins, and a Yellowstone itinerary that’s right for you. Here’s what to do in Yellowstone National Park.

Top 10 Things To Do in Yellowstone

On your first trip to Yellowstone, you want to make sure you don’t miss a thing, but you also don’t want to get overwhelmed by the crowds and abundance of Yellowstone Park attractions. It’s a big park and there is a lot to do. Think of this as your Yellowstone vacation planner (and if you want an in depth Yellowstone trip planner, check out my Yellowstone itineraries and vacation coaching options). Depending on how many days in Yellowstone you have scheduled, you may or may not be able to see everything on this list.

Best Time To Visit Yellowstone

Personally, I think Yellowstone in winter is magical. It’s less crowded, the big animals are down low, and the park can be explored on skis or snowshoes. In the video, I mentioned Yellowstone Expedition’s Yurt Camp at Canyon and staying at the Snow Lodge at Old Faithful in winter. You can also ski around Mammoth, Tower, and West Yellowstone.

That said, most people come in summer. The roads are open; temperatures are moderate and mostly warm. For an iconic Yellowstone vacation, you need to come in summer. Just be prepared for crowds. There are a lot of things to do in Yellowstone in July and August. You can get much farther into the backcountry on foot or horse and see the trout spawn (and the otters eat them) at Trout Lake.

Spring, after the roads open, can be really nice, but it will probably be cold and wet. You will get to see lots of baby animals, though, and that’s pretty special. We love seeing the baby bison or “red dogs” each spring and early summer.

Fall is also a great time to visit Yellowstone. The crowds thin out after Labor Day, though not nearly as much as they used to, and roads to the Yellowstone top attractions are open. The weather can be sunny or warm in autumn or it can snow.

Related: Top Things To Do in Yellowstone In Winter

Yellowstone Attractions

Norris Geyser Basin - things to do in Yellowstone National ParkNorris Geyser Basin

One of the best places to visit in Yellowstone National Park, in my opinion, is Norris Geyser Basin. It is so much mellower than the other geyser basins in the park, probably because it requires a little walking. The tallest geyser in Yellowstone (Steamboat Geyser) is there, but you are unlikely to see it erupt.

Norris Geyser Basin is very acidic. (The acidity of a thermal area depends on the rock that hot water travels through to get to the surface.) I’ve heard, but not confirmed, that the rangers there have to replace their boots more often than in other places in the park due to the acid levels in the soil eating away at their soles. However, you should be safe on your Yellowstone Park vacation since most of the walking here is on boardwalks.

Another fact that makes Norris one of the cool things to see in Yellowstone National Park is that it is so hot. The highest temperature found in any of Yellowstone’s geothermal areas in was measured here: 459°F (237°C) just 1,087 feet (326 meters) below the surface! There are very few thermal features at Norris under the boiling point (199°F at this elevation).

There are two parts of Norris Geyser Basin—Porcelain Basin and Back Basin. A ¾ mile trail takes you around Porcelain Basin and past beautiful hot springs and gurgling pools. A 1.5-mile trail loops through Back Basin and the trails can be connected.

Also, don’t miss the small museum. The Norris Geyser Basin Museum is one of the original trailside museums built in the 1920s and 30s as part of Civilian Conservation Corps projects. You can get Yellowstone information here and visit the adjacent bookstore.


Picnic in Yellowstone

One of my favorite things to see in Yellowstone is a picnic bench; that’s because it means it’s lunchtime. Actually, the reason that picnicking made the “Top Things To Do in Yellowstone” list is that most of the picnic areas are really scenic. It’s so nice to stop, relax, and just soak in Yellowstone.

If you watched our video above about what to do in Yellowstone National Park and are wondering which picnic area we ate at, it is the Virginia Cascades Picnic Area ( 47 on the Yellowstone map). It’s on the one-way road that passes Virginia Cascades. I think it’s one of the best places in Yellowstone for a picnic both because it’s lovely and because it between Norris Geyser Basin and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. It’s a great spot for a break between two popular Yellowstone sights.

Yellowstone Park Map for Picnic AreasWarm Creek (37) is my absolute favorite picnic area. It’s all the way out near the Northeast Entrance, so you need to be out that way to make it worth a stop. There are seven picnic tables set in the trees along a creek.

The picnic areas all have picnic tables, most have vault toilets, a few have fire grates, but only Madison Junction (2) has potable water. More on Yellowstone National Park picnic areas on the Park Service website.

Related: Yellowstone Camping and Yellowstone Campgrounds Review


what to do in Yellowstone - see Lower Falls of the Yellowstone at CanyonGrand Canyon of the Yellowstone

A Yellowstone “must see” that’s right up there with Old Faithful is the Yellowstone Canyon. Start with a visit to the Canyon Visitor Education Center to get a lay of the land. In addition to learning about the geology of Yellowstone, and specifically the Canyon area, they can tell where to go to see the Yellowstone points of interest at Canyon.

I wrote about my favorite places in Canyon here.

If you get to the east side of the park when you are visiting Yellowstone National Park, you’ll want to allot a few hours to the Canyon area. The Yellowstone River cuts through the canyon creating two waterfalls and exposing colorful, thermally altered canyon walls. Take time to see both the North Rim and the South Rim.

On the north side, the Brink of Lower Falls is a Yellowstone National Park “must see,” if you can handle the short, steep walk. On the south side, don’t miss Artist Point. It will be nuts with people, but still worth that view. We also like to take the 2-mile walk to Ribbon Lake, which leaves from Artist Point. It is remarkably uncrowded.

Related: What To Pack For Your Yellowstone Vacation


Yellowstone map (relief) at Fishing Bridge Visitor CenterYellowstone Visitor Centers

To get maps and learn more about what to see in Yellowstone, stop by one of the visitor centers. This is also the place to learn about Yellowstone National Park activities and the Junior Ranger program. The rangers at the desk can make sure you see the best of Yellowstone.

Visitor Centers enrich your Yellowstone Park trip in another way—education. Each center has a different theme.

Albright Visitor Center (Mammoth Hot Springs)

Park and trip-planning information, exhibits on the park’s history and wildlife, ranger programs, a bookstore, a backcountry office, restrooms, and free Wi-Fi.

Hours and Seasons: Open daily, year-round, with extended hours during the summer season.

Canyon Visitor Education Center

Explore Yellowstone’s supervolcano and geology. Information, bookstore, and vending are available during open hours, while restrooms are available 24 hours a day.

Hours and Seasons: Open daily late spring through mid-fall, with extended hours during the summer season.

Fishing Bridge Visitor Center & Trailside Museum

See vintage exhibits about the park’s birds and other wildlife, and Yellowstone Lake’s geology.

Hours and Seasons: Open daily, late May through early September.

Grant Visitor Center

Delve into the extraordinary impact of the park’s historic fires of 1988.

Hours and Seasons: Open daily, late May through early October.

Madison Information Station & Trailside Museum

This facility provides park orientation information and a partner-run bookstore.

Hours and Seasons: Open daily, late May through early October.

Museum of the National Park Ranger (Norris Area)

Explore the history of the park ranger profession and visit with retired rangers.

Hours and Seasons: Open daily, late May through late September.

Norris Geyser Basin Museum & Information Station

This facility provides exhibits about the hydrothermal features of Yellowstone, a partner-run bookstore, and general park information.

Hours and Seasons: Open daily, late May through early October.

Old Faithful Visitor Education Center

Dynamic exhibits about hydrothermal features. Geyser eruption predictions are calculated during visitor center hours. Interactive kids’ exhibits, bookstore, bathrooms.

Hours and Seasons: Open daily throughout the year, with two month-long closed periods in the fall (mid-November through mid-December) and spring (mid-March through mid-April).

West Thumb Information Station

Pique your curiosity before exploring the adjacent geyser basin on the shore of Yellowstone Lake.

Hours and Seasons: Open daily, late May through early October.

West Yellowstone Visitor Information Center (NPS Desk)

General park information, passes. permits, and brochures available at the NPS desk located inside the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce building.

Hours and Seasons: Open daily, late April through early November, and open daily during the winter, mid-December through mid-March.

Related: Get Your Kids Ready For Your Yellowstone Trip (games, books, and videos)


Yellowstone attractions - Lake YellowstoneYellowstone Lake

There are many Yellowstone highlights, but not everyone gets to Yellowstone Lake—the largest alpine lake in the United States. This is definitely one of the quieter sections of the park. Much activity centers around the Lake Yellowstone Hotel, a recently renovated, but beautiful old building on the shore of the lake. (Make reservations if you want to eat here or at any of Yellowstone’s other dining rooms.) You can also stay at the cabins at Lake Lodge Yellowstone, behind the hotel.

At Lake, you can hire a Yellowstone guide for a scenic boat tour or Yellowstone Lake fishing. There are several lovely hikes in the area. I mentioned Storm Point in the video, but other short, hikes include Natural Bridge and Elephant Back where you can see Yellowstone Lake from the top.

Also, stop at the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center and stroll or lounge in the sand behind it.


Things to see in Yellowstone - West ThumbWest Thumb Geyser Basin

One of the fun things to do in Yellowstone with kids is stop at West Thumb Geyser Basin. West Thumb is a section of Yellowstone Lake that is a caldera within the bigger Yellowstone caldera. West Thumb is home to at least nineteen major hot springs, geysers, and fumaroles.

There is a small nature center where you can learn more about this and other Lake Yellowstone sites. The boardwalk loop is an easy walk past colorful hot springs, dormant geyser cones, and has a nice view of the lake. When you are looking for things to do in Yellowstone Park that are quick (30 minutes), but have a big impact, this is one of them. Especially, if you are coming in or heading out the South Entrance and want to get out of the car for a bit after/before a big drive.

Read more about West Thumb here. 


Old Faithful GeyserOld Faithful, Yellowstone National Park

One of the best things to do in Yellowstone National Park and one of the “Yellowstone Top 10” is a visit to Old Faithful Geyser. It’s crowded and crazy, but it’s one of the reasons we have a National Park System and it’s the iconic Yellowstone attraction. I wrote a lot about visiting the geyser and the Old Faithful Lodge Yellowstone in another post, so suffice to say, it is one of the top things to do in Yellowstone National Park and you should make it happen at least once.

Read more: Planning Your Old Faithful Visit


boiling river is in Yellowstone Top 10Boiling River

One of the Yellowstone National Park attractions that has gotten very popular in the last five to ten years is the Boiling River between Mammoth Hot Springs and Gardiner, Montana. It’s one of two front country locations in the park where you can get into hot water. The other is the Firehole River, which is more warm than hot.

When you are thinking about how to visit Yellowstone, consider the Boiling River as a place to visit in fall or winter. The area is closed in spring and early summer when the Gardner River is high and floods the soaking pools. Summer is absolutely nuts, with both parking lots filled and cars parked up and down the road. I don’t know that you can even fit that many people in the soaking area.

If this is on your list of places to see in Yellowstone and you are only coming in summer, try to get there as early as possible in the morning (it’s open during daylight hours).

I write a lot more about how to visit the Boiling River in another post.


what to see in Yellowstone bearMore Top Things To See in Yellowstone

There is more to see in Yellowstone than what we covered in the video. It’s a big, diverse place. From the top of Mount Washburn to the bottom of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, from wolves and bison in the Lamar Valley to an abundance of waterfalls in the Bechler region, Yellowstone is a diverse and wonderful place.


Backpacking in Yellowstone

Some of the best things to see in Yellowstone can’t be viewed from the road or boardwalks—you have to hike a bit. Backcountry camping in Yellowstone requires a permit and you must camp in a designated site.

Some of my favorite backpacking trips in Yellowstone have been on the Bechler River Trail and the Yellowstone River Trail. Find a Yellowstone travel guide (listed below) or let me help you plan your trip.

Backpacking Resources


yellowstone wildlife tour ottersYellowstone Park Tours

Maybe the best way to see Yellowstone is with one of many Yellowstone tours. Depending on how many days to see Yellowstone you have planned, a guided tour can insure you see the best of Yellowstone.

One of my detailed Yellowstone itineraries is another way to not miss any of the things to do in Yellowstone.

The best Yellowstone Tours cover the topics and locations you want to see. There are photography tours, Yellowstone wildlife tours, general natural and park history tours, horseback riding tours, and so many more. Whether you are looking for a group tour or private tour, there is something out there for you.

When I create a custom itinerary for you through my Yellowstone Vacation Coaching, I can add a tour or two to enrich your experience.

Read more: Why You Should Hire a Guide in Yellowstone  


things to do in west yellowstoneThings To Do Near Yellowstone

Regardless of which direction you come from, there are so many things to do around Yellowstone. In this post – Things To Do On The Way To Yellowstone National Park—I cover the gateway towns of West Yellowstone, Montana and Cody, Wyoming, and a few towns farther afield: Park City, Utah; Idaho Falls, Idaho; Jackson, Wyoming; Livingston, Montana.

Other things to do near Yellowstone National Park include: hiking or skiing around Cooke City, Montana, with a meal at the Log Cabin Café in Silver Gate. (We love staying at the Lamar Valley Cabins in Silver Gate, right at the Northeast Entrance to the park.) Rafting on the Yellowstone River in Gardiner, Montana. Grabbing a beer in Bozeman, Montana.

West Yellowstone Things To Do

Yellowstone West Entrance may be the best entrance to Yellowstone because it reasonably close to airports, not too far off I-15, and easy access to Yellowstone attractions including Old Faithful, Canyon, and other geyser basins.

There are so many things to do in West Yellowstone, you almost don’t have to go into the park. Just kidding, of course you have to go into the park. West Yellowstone activities include a ropes course, historical museum, Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, hiking or skiing, and a self guided tour of West Yellowstone attractions.

Read more: What To Do In West Yellowstone

Want more details on planning your Yellowstone trip? Check out our guidebooks.

There are so many things to do in Yellowstone National Park, but we narrow it down to the best Yellowstone attractions: including the best hikes in Yellowstone, the best geyser basins, and a Yellowstone itinerary that’s right for you. Here's what to do in Yellowstone National Park. ............yellowstone national park vacation yellowstone national park vacation fall yellowstone national park vacation kids yellowstone national park vacation things to do yellowstone national park vacation lodges yellowstone national park vacation  camping yellowstone national park vacation road trips  yellowstone national park vacation  summer yellowstone national park vacation packing yellowstone national park vacation Tips yellowstone national park vacation Families yellowstone national park vacation Bucket lists There are so many things to do in Yellowstone National Park, but we narrow it down to the best Yellowstone attractions: including the best hikes in Yellowstone, the best geyser basins, and a Yellowstone itinerary that’s right for you. Here's what to do in Yellowstone National Park. ............yellowstone national park vacation yellowstone national park vacation fall yellowstone national park vacation kids yellowstone national park vacation things to do yellowstone national park vacation lodges yellowstone national park vacation  camping yellowstone national park vacation road trips  yellowstone national park vacation  summer yellowstone national park vacation packing yellowstone national park vacation Tips yellowstone national park vacation Families yellowstone national park vacation Bucket lists

14 Comments

  1. I’ve always wanted to go to Yellow stone. Thank you for sharing, it felt like I was there. Cute family 🙂 and those chocolate chip cookies made me hungry!

  2. Wow what a lovely way to present. Yellowstone is so iconic and it’s awesome that you live near it. Sharing a video was so much better because, well we got a real time view of how it looks rather than in photographs. The artists’a point looks brilliant and Uncle Tom’s (was it?) trail is such a cool name for a trail. The Geysers with the steam and the boardwalk – I was picturing myself being there taking loads of photos.

    • Melynda Harrison

      Thank you! Uncle Tom’s trail is really fun. It’s a whole lot of stairs, but worth it to see the Lower Falls up close and, usually, a rainbow.

  3. I have only been to Yellowstone once many years ago when I was a kid. My kids are all grown up now and I never did get to take them. Must be about time for another trip I think!

  4. Great video! I have heard so much about Yellowstone, I definitely must add it to my list. It looks like such a picturesque place.

  5. Yellowstone Park has been on my list for a long time. This is a great video to learn more about all the things you can do. I did not know it is so diverse, you can spend a whole holiday here. The video gives a great impression of what to expect.

    • Melynda Harrison

      I have been exploring Yellowstone for 20 years and still haven’t seen it all. To get a general overview of the park, at least several days is good.

  6. It is a national treasure. I love nature and would want to visit this place. It is tremendous and will spend a lot of time here probably. I will bring some snacks too. = )

  7. It seems to be a great place for outdoor activities for everyone. I love the outdoors. Thank you for this video.

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