6 Must-See Sights for Non-Hikers in Yellowstone National Park
Considering a Yellowstone Trip?
I visited Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming with my family many years ago when I was only 7 or 8 years old, so in 2009, I decided to go back to the area as an adult since I had only very vague memories of that long-ago trip.
As I shared my experiences with others, I found that, unlike me, not all people wish to spend several days there enjoying the sights. They aren't hikers, campers, or horseback riders. They just want to spend a day passing through to get a "flavor" of the landscape and then pass on to the things that hold more interest for them.
So in this article, I thought I would share what I consider to be the top sights in this unique park. This is my Yellowstone travel must-see list. I will try to eliminate sights that include swimming in a "Firehole" or hiking a few miles! In fact, all of these sights can easily be reached from the main scenic loop road.
I'll start this tour of the highlights entering the park from the east entrance where you'll glimpse Yellowstone Lake along the way and then head north along the scenic loop and around to the west and then southward.
1. Yellowstone Lake
There are numerous smaller lakes at Yellowstone that are worthy of a sigh, but Yellowstone Lake—particularly at the Fishing Bridge—really caught my imagination. It was a placid, deep blue surrounded by Lodgepole pines and mountains. Wildflowers blanketed the area, the sun was bright, and the air cool and fragrant. I was in a dream.
Reaching this portion of the lake is simple if you come in from the east entrance. It's just east of the juncture of the east entrance road and the main scenic loop. Just park your car and walk to the water's edge a few yards away.
The photo below doesn't do it justice, but seeing it in person is believing.
2. Hayden Valley
Hayden Valley is a very simple sightseeing destination. It's an area, not a site, so you don't have to even stop the car. However, it's best if you travel in late summer, August for instance, when the bison and elk are in rut. In my experience, bison are gathered in Hayden Valley during this time and are often near or on the road. You may well experience stopped traffic in the area due to this, but it presents the perfect photo opportunity.
Note: Care should be taken to give the animals the right of way and to anticipate their presence in the road. You shouldn't approach them too closely either. They are known to gore visitors. The shot below was taken from my car window, without zoom, immediately as this Bison crossed in front of me.
3. The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Ok, we've probably all seen pictures of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. It is as deep as 1,200 feet and has steep walls of yellow, gold, brown, black, and pink. It's craggy, rocky, and has the winding Yellowstone River far below. Here visitors can view both the Upper and Lower Falls. The Lower Falls is the larger of the two.
If you refuse to hike, then you can take the North Rim drive and stop at the various overlooks and walk only a few yards to view the Canyon and Lower Falls in all their splendor.
The other option is to take the road down the North Rim Drive and take the short walk to the Upper Falls Viewpoint and Artist Point for a more distant look at the Lower Falls.
If you choose to hike a bit, and I tell you it's worth it, take the North Rim's trail to the Brink of the Lower Falls. It's very steep but will let you stand at the brink and enjoy the rushing river, the power, the spray, the rainbow as the water descends, and the surrounding canyon walls.
4. Mammoth Hot Springs
Your Yellowstone travel must, of course, include plenty of geothermal features; that's what this park is about.
As hot springs go, this one is mammoth, hence the name. Just a few yards from the parking lot, you can see the hot springs and the travertine/limestone sediment they deposit each day. The terraced hot springs are always growing. It's said that the Mammoth Hot Springs deposits 2 tons of sediment each day!
It is located on the northwestern edge of the scenic loop. I photographed a corner of it, but it was raining off and on the day I was there so colors in the photograph are muted.
5. The Porcelain Basin
The Porcelain Basin is toward the west side of the scenic driving loop. It features hot springs, mud pots, fumaroles (steam vents), and geysers as well. Visitors can walk a matter of yards to the basin and view it in its vastness. Steam rises across the entire basin. Once you enter the basin you can walk along the boardwalk to experience each of the features up close and feel the temperature change as you move along.
I wouldn't say it's beautiful, but it is weird and wonderful in its own way. It was raining the day I was there, so the colors are muted in the photograph, but you can see that it's a very unique environment.
6. Midway Geyser Basin and Grand Prismatic Spring
Yes, we all know that Yellowstone has a variety of hydrothermal features—you know, geysers and other steaming, smelly things that bubble. However, you can't appreciate how beautiful some of them are until you are standing in front of them, or among them.
The Grand Prismatic Spring is another recommended site to include in your Yellowstone travel plans. It was shrouded in fog when I was there early one morning. Add with the steam that it normally creates, it was a very other-worldly environment. The photo below might scare you off as it looks like something from a horror movie, but believe me—the slow-moving fog and the turquoise, orange, and white colors were phenomenal.
Optional Sites in Yellowstone
Old Faithful is located in the Upper Geyser Basin on the southwest side of the scenic loop. The many geysers in the area are easy to view and impressive as they erupt, but I suppose for many people who've either seen them on TV/video or who have lived with man-made fountains all of their lives, this might not be as unusual of a sight as one might imagine. However, most of us can't imagine visiting Yellowstone without seeing Old Faithful, so I would recommend it if time allows. Below is a photo of Old Faithful ending its eruption and another nearby Geyser beginning.
If time allows, you can also circle around to the West Thumb area (also pictured below) where you can find springs and so forth right along the edge of the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake. Definitely a pretty site on a sunny day and a great way to wind up your quick tour of Yellowstone National Park.
Finding the Things You Want to See
Of course, being able to find what you are looking for is the first step in enjoying Yellowstone. You can find their official map on the National Park Service website. I find the "brochure map" the easiest to read and follow. You can select it by toggling to Brochure Map in the upper left corner of the map. Once there, you should be able to locate my must-see sights easily.
© 2010 Christine Mulberry