There are so many Yellowstone summer activities! It’s been our backyard for almost three decades and we are still finding new ways to experience the park in summer. You might only have a few days in Yellowstone, so I want to make sure you have the best time exploring Yellowstone in summer, and the most meaningful experience possible.
In this blog post, we will explore the Yellowstone National Park must-see attractions and activities that make it a top destination drawing visitors like you from around the world.
I recommend you start on the Planning Your Trip page for an overview of all the things you need to consider for your Yellowstone vacation. Then, once you decide what your top priorities are, head over to the Where To Stay in Yellowstone page to lock down lodging (trust me, lodging reservations are the most critical part of your trip!).
For winter activities, be sure to see my post about Things To Do in Yellowstone in Winter – it’s totally different than the summer activities listed below. You may even want to consider joining me on my Women’s Yellowstone Winter Hygge Trip.
Yellowstone in Summer
You’ll find more than the top 30 must-see things to do in Yellowstone in the sections below:
- Best geysers in Yellowstone
- Where to watch wildlife (and what animals to expect to see)
- Hiking trails for kids, families, and adventurers
- Must-see waterfalls and canyons
- Roaring Mountain, Obsidian Cliff, and petrified trees
- Yellowstone Park tours
- Camping in Yellowstone
- Indigenous Cultural Events
- Where to swim in Yellowstone
- Fishing in Yellowstone
- Horseback riding, biking, boating, and more!
Here’s a Table of Contents so you can jump around:
- 1 Yellowstone in Summer
- 2 Best Geysers in Yellowstone
- 3 Watch Wildlife
- 4 Best Yellowstone Hiking Trails
- 5 Yellowstone’s Canyons and Waterfalls
- 6 Hear A Mountain Roar
- 7 See the Glass Mountain
- 8 Petrified Trees
- 9 Best Yellowstone Park Tours
- 10 Go Camping in Yellowstone
- 11 Attend Indigenous Cultural Events
- 12 Swim in Yellowstone
- 13 Fishing in Yellowstone
- 14 Horseback Riding in Yellowstone
- 15 Chow Down at a Western Chuckwagon Dinner in Yellowstone
- 16 Ride a Bike in Yellowstone
- 17 Take a Scenic Cruise or Rent a Boat at Yellowstone Lake
- 18 Attend a Ranger Program and Find a Visitor Center
- 19 Backpacking in Yellowstone
- 20 What to Do Outside of Yellowstone
- 21 FAQs About Yellowstone in Summer
- 22 More Tips for Visiting Yellowstone
Best Geysers in Yellowstone
If you want to see the best geysers in Yellowstone – and hot springs, fumaroles, and mud pots, too – you don’t have to look very far. How many geysers are in Yellowstone? There are more than 10,000 hydrothermal features in Yellowstone and more than 500 are geysers!
You can’t see them all, so here are the must-see geyser basins.
Map of the Best Geysers in Yellowstone
Discover the stunning travertine terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs. These terraces, formed by the flow of hot water, are ever-changing and create a unique, surreal landscape.
Norris Geyser Basin
Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest and most dynamic thermal area in the park. Witness the unpredictable geysers, steaming vents, and colorful hot springs on two loop trails – the longer Back Basin and Porcelain Basin. This is where you will find the biggest geyser in Yellowstone – Steamboat Geyser – but it is very erratic and unpredictable, so it is unlikely you will see it erupt.
Between Norris and Lower Geyser Basins, Monument Geyser and Artist Paintpots are worth a stop if you have time.
Lower Geyser Basin
The Lower Geyser Basin is the largest geyser basin in Yellowstone, covering 11 square miles. Immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of bubbling geysers and simmering pools in the Fountain Paint Pots area and along Firehole Lake Drive.
Grand Prismatic Spring (Midway Geyser Basin)
Grand Prismatic Hot Spring is the one you always see from above in photos. This stunning hot spring boasts vibrant, rainbow-colored waters and is one of the largest in the world. The best views of Grand Prismatic are from the nearby Fairy Falls Trail rather than the boardwalk that surrounds it. While parking is easiest in the morning, there can be a lot of steam, which obstructs your view of the hot spring.
Old Faithful Geyser and Upper Geyser Basin
You can’t visit Yellowstone without witnessing the legendary Old Faithful erupt, it’s the most famous geyser in Yellowstone as well as the most popular geyser in Yellowstone.
It erupts scalding water and steam about every 90 minutes. Not only that, it’s just one geyser in the Upper Geyser Basin — there is a lot more to see here. Plan your Old Faithful visit here and plan your winter Old Faithful visit here.
Make sure you take some time to walk around the Upper Geyser Basin after you watch Old Faithful erupt — there are a lot of other hot springs and geysers in the area.
West Thumb Geyser Basin
Located on the shores of Yellowstone Lake, the West Thumb Geyser Basin features hot springs and geysers with the backdrop of stunning lake views. Don’t miss Abyss Pool, one of the deepest in the park. It’s a small basin, but we always think it’s worth stopping for. Plan your West Thumb visit here.
A captivating and unique geothermal area, the Mud Volcano showcases a landscape reminiscent of a lunar landscape. Explore bubbling mud pots, hissing fumaroles, and the intriguing Dragon’s Mouth Spring, where steam and water surge from a cavernous opening, creating an otherworldly atmosphere.
Yellowstone is a wildlife lover’s dream and many people come with a Yellowstone wildlife checklist to keep track of what they see. You can pick one up at one of the entrance kiosks or visitor centers. (See what else you can find in the Yellowstone Visitor Centers.)
While observing wildlife in their natural habitat is a thrilling experience, it’s crucial to maintain a respectful distance. Never approach or feed the animals, as this can disrupt their natural behaviors and create dangerous situations for both them and you.
Keep your eyes peeled for these iconic residents:
Bison: The park is home to one of the largest free-ranging bison herds in North America. You’ll often find them almost everywhere, but the Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley are prime bison spots.
Wolves: Yellowstone is one of the few places in the lower 48 states where you can spot these majestic predators. The Lamar Valley is a hotspot for wolf sightings, but they are usually a bit far from roads. Bring binoculars or a spotting scope for the best views. Other carnivores in Yellowstone National Park include coyotes, foxes, mountain lions, bobcats, badgers, and lynx.
Grizzly Bears and Black Bears: Bears are found all over the park, but I’ve had the most luck in the Lamar Valley and the northeast corner. Black bears seem to especially like the area around the Petrified Tree, Roosevelt, and Tower Falls.
Elk, Pronghorn, and Bighorn Sheep: The park is abundant with these ungulates, especially in the Mammoth Hot Springs area and the Northern Range.
Moose: Moose are elusive in Yellowstone (head to Grand Teton National Park for the best moose viewing). They are most commonly spotted in the northeast part of the park. I’ve also seen them in the Bechler River region, but you have to hike in a ways to get there.
Otters and Beavers: While you can see these aquatic mammals throughout the park – anywhere where there is a river or pond – I’ve seen otters at the Beaver Pond near Mammoth, Trout Lake in the Lamar Valley, in the Madison River east of the West Entrance, and above the Upper Falls in the Canyon area.
Little critters: Keep an eye out for marmots, pikas, chipmunks, and squirrels, as well as a whole host of bird life.
Yellowstone has regulations in place to protect its wildlife and visitors.
It is against the law to approach wildlife within 25 yards or 100 yards for bears and wolves. Violating these rules not only endangers you but can lead to hefty fines. Be mindful, respect their space, and remember that your presence in their home is a privilege.
Early morning and evenings are the best time to spot wildlife, but you’ll likely see bison and elk all day long. One of the best ways to increase your chances of seeing your dream Yellowstone National Park animals and plants is with one of the Yellowstone wildlife tours.
For your best chances to see wolves on your own, head to the Lamar Valley (or Hayden Valley) early in the morning and search for people standing near pullouts with spotting scopes and binoculars.
(Here’s how to choose the best binoculars for Yellowstone and the best camera for Yellowstone to capture wildlife shots.)
Best Yellowstone Hiking Trails
Choosing the best Yellowstone hiking trails depends on what you want to see and what activity level you are looking for. You can hike in Yellowstone no matter your skill level.
These Yellowstone trails day hikes are easy to moderate.
See my 20 Family-Friendly Hikes in Yellowstone e-book for more hiking ideas.
Fairy Falls Trail: A relatively easy trail leading to a stunning waterfall (with an overlook of Grand Prismatic Geyser along the way). It’s great for families.
Mount Washburn Trail: For a moderately challenging hike, tackle the Mount Washburn Trail to enjoy panoramic views from the summit.
Here are a few more hiking options for you:
- Five Yellowstone Hikes
- Beaver Ponds Loop (Mammoth)
- Backpacking the Yellowstone River Trail (Northern part of Yellowstone)
- Hike to Natural Bridge (Bridge Bay Marina on Yellowstone Lake)
- Hike to Elephant Back Mountain (Lake Area)
Yellowstone’s Canyons and Waterfalls
You have asked me, “Are there canyons in Yellowstone? Does Yellowstone National Park have waterfalls?” The answer is a resounding “yes!”
Thanks to geology, the canyons and waterfalls are in the same places!
The park’s canyons and waterfalls provide picturesque beauty. Make sure to visit:
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
What famous canyon can be found in Yellowstone? This one! The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. (Not to be confused with that other Grand Canyon in Arizona, which is formally known as the Grand Canyon of the Colorado.)
Where is the famous waterfall in Yellowstone? It’s the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The famous view is from Artist’s Point.
I think every visit to Yellowstone needs time to marvel at the majestic canyon, complete with the Upper and Lower Falls. Artist Point offers incredible views. Hike to the brink or simply admire the Upper and Lower Falls from various viewpoints along the canyon rim.
Other Canyons in Yellowstone
Located in the northern part of the park, Undine Falls is a hidden gem. A short stop along the road will reward you with a view of this enchanting, 60-foot waterfall.
Nestled in the Tower-Roosevelt area, Tower Falls is easily accessible, and a very short walk takes you to a viewpoint where you can admire the 132-foot waterfall as it plunges into a deep canyon surrounded by rocky pinnacles. There is a general store at Tower Falls for souvenirs, drinks, or our favorite — ice cream.
Along the Firehole River just east of the Old Faithful area, Kepler Cascades offers a serene and photogenic setting. The cascading waters flow gracefully over colorful terraces. This is also the trailhead to Lone Star Geyser, which is an easy bike ride or stroll to a backcountry geyser.
Hear A Mountain Roar
It’s not as loud as it used to be, but Roaring Mountain is worth a quick stop. The mountainside is a large, acidic thermal area (solfatara) that contains many steam vents (fumaroles). In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the number, size, and power of the fumaroles was much greater than today and the roaring could be heard from miles away.
You’ll find an interpretive sign, and the site is wheelchair accessible at the Roaring Mountain pullout, about 0.5 miles north of Norris Geyser Basin.
See the Glass Mountain
The Obsidian Cliff, much like Roaring Mountain, was more impressive in the past, but while it’s not much to look at, its history is significant.
The obsidian from the cliff of basalt columns was used by indigenous people for projectile points and cutting instruments. Obsidian was first quarried from this cliff for toolmaking more than 11,000 years ago. It is the United States’ most widely dispersed source of obsidian by hunter-gatherers. It is found along trade routes from western Canada to Ohio.
Obsidian Cliff is the primary source of obsidian in a large concentration of Midwestern sites, including about 90% of obsidian found in Hopewell mortuary sites in the Ohio River Valley (about 1,850–1,750 years ago).
Obsidian Cliff was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1996 and is located on the Grand Loop Road between Mammoth and Norris. The kiosk at Obsidian Cliff, constructed in 1931, was the first wayside exhibit in a US national park.
*Remember, it is illegal to remove any features from the park, including obsidian.
The petrified trees of Yellowstone were most likely alive about 50 million years ago, when mammals were first appearing on the planet and the local climate was warmer and wetter than it is today.
The Petrified Tree is a weird exhibit, in my opinion. It’s looks like a tree stump and surrounded by a black, iron fence. But, if you know the history – that it is a Redwood tree from tens of millions of years ago, that’s pretty interesting. You’ll find it on a signed spur road 1.3 miles west of Tower Junction.
However, there are better ways to see petrified trees in Yellowstone. The Petrified Trees of Specimen Ridge day hike starts in a pullout 4.5 miles from Tower Junction toward the North East Entrance and just before the Lamar River Bridge. There is an unmarked, unmaintained trail that leads to the top of Specimen Ridge in about 1.5 miles each way. (Do not confuse this with the Specimen Ridge Trail. More details.
How did these trees get this way? First they were afraid, then they were petrified.
*Remember, it is illegal to remove any features from the park, including petrified wood.
Best Yellowstone 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 ensure 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.
What is the best way to tour Yellowstone Park?
I recommend joining a wildlife-watching tour (or photography or natural history…) for at least part of one day. This will give you an orientation and a deeper understanding of Yellowstone. Then use the park map and tour around yourself the rest of the time.
Is a Yellowstone guided tour worth it?
I think so! You can learn so much more, and ask every question you can think of, on a guided tour of Yellowstone.
Does Yellowstone National Park offer tours?
In a way, yes! Through the many Ranger Programs offered at Yellowstone, you can get a mini tour of a particular area. Ask about Ranger Programs in any visitor center or check the park newspaper.
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 a private tour, there is something out there for you.
Read more: Why You Should Hire a Guide in Yellowstone
If you want to see all of the main sights of Yellowstone without doing any planning, one of these highly-rated tours might be for you!
Go Camping in Yellowstone
Get back to nature by camping in Yellowstone. Options range from primitive backcountry camping to developed campgrounds. Be sure to plan and reserve ahead.
Attend Indigenous Cultural Events
The Park Service is making an effort to recognize the Tribes who have lived in and traveled through Yellowstone for long before the U.S. Army claimed it.
You can see some of the Indigenous Cultural Events on the Park Service website.
The Nez Perce (Nimíipuu or Nee-Me-Poo) National Historic Trail runs through Yellowstone on its route from Wallowa Lake, Oregon, to the Bear Paw Battlefield near Chinook, Montana. In 1887, a band of 800 men, women, and children—plus almost 2,000 horses—left their homeland in what is now Oregon and Idaho pursued by the US Army. Settlers were moving into their homeland and the US Government was trying to force them onto a reservation. At Big Hole, Montana, many of their group, including women and children, were killed in a battle with the Army. The remainder of the group continued fleeing, and entered Yellowstone National Park on August 23. Download auto tours for the whole trail here and read about the Nez Perce flight in Yellowstone here.
Swim in Yellowstone
You can swim in Yellowstone, but the options are pretty limited. As for swimming in a hot spring in Yellowstone… not really.
Swimming in Yellowstone Hot Springs
You used to be able to soak in the Boiling River, but since the 2022 flood, it has been closed.
You can swim in the Firehole River. The Firehole Swim Area is located on the Firehole River, two miles south of Madison Junction on Firehole Canyon Drive. It’s usually closed until mid-summer or later due to high runoff and strong currents. In my opinion, it’s not very warm anyway.
There are commercial hot springs just outside of Yellowstone’s North Entrance that I highly recommend.
Swimming in Yellowstone’s Lakes and Rivers
There are not very many places where swimming is allowed in Yellowstone, simply because the geothermal activity is dangerous, currents in most rivers are very strong, and the water temperature is frigid.
If you are looking for a polar bear plunge-type of experience, you can wade into Yellowstone Lake, Lewis Lake, Shoshone Lake, and a few other lakes and ponds. Be careful, it is easy to quickly get hypothermic.
Fishing in Yellowstone
Yellowstone offers some of the best fly fishing in the U.S. Its waters are home to the native Yellowstone cutthroat trout, making it a must-visit destination for anglers.
To fish in the park, you’ll need a valid Yellowstone National Park fishing permit, which can be obtained at various visitor centers and ranger stations within the park. These permits help fund conservation efforts and ensure the sustainable use of the park’s aquatic resources. See Yellowstone fishing regulations and get a fishing permit online here.
If you’re new to fishing or want to maximize your chances of success, consider hiring a local fishing guide. These experienced guides can take you to the best fishing spots, provide gear, and share their knowledge about the local waters and fish species.
Horseback Riding in Yellowstone
Horseback riding in Yellowstone provides a wonderful opportunity for you to connect with nature and your friends and family. You can opt for guided horseback rides that are available at a couple of locations within the park.
These rides range from short one-hour excursions to full-day adventures, suitable for riders of all skill levels. Imagine meandering through lush meadows, crossing crystal-clear streams, and witnessing wildlife in their natural habitat, all from the vantage point of a trusty steed.
Some popular horseback riding locations are Roosevelt and Canyon, both of which start from the Roosevelt Corrals. Don’t forget to make reservations in advance, as these tours can be in high demand during the busy summer season.
We think the best horseback riding in Yellowstone is with Wilderness Pack Trips. These outfitters will take you for a day ride or a multi-day backcountry horse-packing trip.
Chow Down at a Western Chuckwagon Dinner in Yellowstone
For a true taste of the Old West, consider attending a chuckwagon dinner. These fun culinary experiences harken back to the days of cowboys and pioneers, offering hearty, campfire-cooked meals under the expansive Yellowstone sky.
The Old West Dinner Cookout starts with a scenic wagon ride from Roosevelt Corrals that provides a glimpse into Yellowstone’s history and its cowboy heritage. As the sun sets, you’ll be treated to a delicious meal served buffet-style. Expect classic Western fare such as grilled meats, beans, cornbread, and fruit cobbler, all prepared in traditional fashion. Live entertainment, often featuring cowboy songs and tales, adds to the ambiance.
Make a reservation for the Old West Dinner Cookout because it does fill up.
Ride a Bike in Yellowstone
Normally, I don’t recommend riding a bike in the park as the roads are winding and narrow, and drivers aren’t really focused on bikes or pedestrians.
However, there are a couple of trails in the park where you can ride a bike. And some of the roads are open to bikes in the spring before opening to cars.
Take a Scenic Cruise or Rent a Boat at Yellowstone Lake
Yellowstone Lake, the largest high-altitude lake in North America, is a picturesque destination for those looking to relax on the water. You can experience the lake’s stunning beauty by taking a scenic cruise. These guided tours provide an opportunity to enjoy the serene surroundings, learn about the park’s history, and spot wildlife from the comfort of a boat.
If you prefer a more independent adventure consider renting a boat or kayak.
Bridge Bay Marina offers boat and kayak rentals. Exploring the lake on your terms is a great way to discover its hidden coves, islands, and geothermal features.
You can rent a boat or take a one-hour scenic tour of Yellowstone Lake from Bridge Bay Marina. Make reservations online.
Keep in mind that the water in Yellowstone Lake is cold, even during the summer, so appropriate gear and safety precautions are essential for an enjoyable experience.
The park requires all watercraft (including angler float tubes and paddle boards) to have a Yellowstone National Park Aquatic Invasive Species inspection and boat permit before launching in any Yellowstone waters.
Boating season opens on the Saturday of Memorial Day and extends through October 31 every year. See boating regulations and find aquatic invasive species inspection stations here.
Several tour companies offer kayaking and canoeing on Yellowstone and Lewis Lakes. You can bring your own boat on some lakes in Yellowstone, but must first have it inspected for aquatic invasive species. See the Park Service site for all Yellowstone boating regulations.
Attend a Ranger Program and Find a Visitor Center
You can learn more about the park’s ecology, geology, and history by participating in ranger-led programs and talks. Check the park schedule (in the newspaper handed out at the entrance kiosks) or ask at a visitor center. for details.
Visitor Centers are found in every village, and a few other places, in Yellowstone. Each visitor center has a different theme. You can see where they all are and what they specialize in, in my What To Do in Yellowstone With Kids post.
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.
- Bill Schneider’s Hiking Yellowstone National Park
- Yellowstone National Park Map
- Yellowstone Backcountry Office
What to Do Outside of Yellowstone
When you step outside Yellowstone’s border, there are still so many things to do. From white water rafting to visiting boutiques and art galleries, to wandering museums, you will find a plethora of activities.
- Things To Do Beyond Yellowstone’s Borders
- Things To Do in Gardiner, Livingston, and the Paradise Valley
- Summer Red Lodge Itinerary
- Playing and Staying in Cooke City and Silver Gate, Montana
- Explore the Beartooth Highway
- Visit Thermopolis. Soak in hot springs, whoosh down water slides, spy bison, dig for dinosaurs, and more.
- See the petroglyphs at Legend Rock Petroglyph Site.
- Things to do in Cody, Wyoming.
- Visit the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center.
- Things to do in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
FAQs About Yellowstone in Summer
Is Yellowstone good to visit in the summer?
Yes, summer is one of the best times to visit Yellowstone. The weather is generally mild, and many of the park’s attractions, including iconic geysers and waterfalls, are easily accessible. Wildlife is also more active during this season, offering ample opportunities for observation and photography.
What activities can visitors do at Yellowstone?
Yellowstone offers a wide range of activities for visitors, including hiking, wildlife viewing, camping, fishing, boating, and attending ranger-led programs. Additionally, exploring the park’s geothermal features, such as geysers and hot springs, is a must-see experience. Scroll up for 30+ summer things to do in Yellowstone.
How do you beat summer crowds in Yellowstone?
To beat the summer crowds in Yellowstone, consider visiting popular attractions early in the morning or later in the evening when fewer people are present. Explore the park during weekdays rather than weekends, and venture off the beaten path to discover less crowded areas. Planning your visit in the shoulder seasons of late spring or early fall can also help you avoid peak summer crowds.
Is Yellowstone or Yosemite better in the summer?
Both Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks offer incredible experiences in the summer, but the choice depends on personal preferences. Yellowstone boasts unique geothermal features and abundant wildlife, while Yosemite is renowned for its towering waterfalls and granite cliffs. Consider the type of scenery and activities that appeal to you most when making your decision.
Is Yellowstone too crowded in July?
July is one of the busiest months in Yellowstone due to the summer vacation season. The park attracts a large number of visitors, so expect crowds, especially at popular attractions. To mitigate this, plan your visit strategically, explore lesser-known areas, and be prepared for some level of congestion, particularly around iconic sites.
How many days do you need in Yellowstone?
The ideal duration for a Yellowstone visit depends on your interests and the activities you want to pursue. To fully experience the park’s highlights, a stay of at least three to five days is recommended. This allows time for wildlife viewing, hiking, and exploring the geothermal features without feeling rushed.
Can you drive through Yellowstone in the summer?
Yes, you can drive through Yellowstone in the summer. The park has a well-maintained road network that allows visitors to access key attractions by car. However, be prepared for potential traffic, especially near popular sites. Consider using the park’s shuttle system or exploring on foot in some areas to enhance your experience and minimize traffic-related challenges.
Yellowstone National Park is an absolute treasure for nature enthusiasts. Its geothermal wonders, abundant wildlife, and breathtaking landscapes make it a destination like no other. Whether you’re into hiking, camping, or simply enjoying the serenity of the great outdoors, Yellowstone offers a diverse range of activities to satisfy any adventurer’s heart.
So, plan your trip, pack your bags, and embark on a journey of wonder and discovery in this incredible natural wonderland. Yellowstone truly is a nature lover’s paradise.
More Tips for Visiting Yellowstone
- Start Here! Planning a Trip to Yellowstone