The oldest park in the U.S. National Park system, Yellowstone was established in 1872 and it covers almost 3,500 square miles (9,000 km²). But, those dry facts don’t begin to convey the magnificence of this heavily forested, geyser-strewn land in Wyoming.
It’s no accident that nearly three million visitors enjoy the park every year. There are Grizzly bears and herds of buffalo to view. There are trout streams off the Yellowstone River the like of which can be found in few other places. Then, there are the famous geysers, over 300 in all.
The most famous of all – Old Faithful – fully deserves its name. Erupting in a two-story stream of hot water every half hour to two hours, you couldn’t set your watch by it. But you never have to wait too long to see one of nature’s wonders, either. It lasts anywhere from a minute to five minutes, so you won’t miss it if you glance away.
And how could you not look away with so many other fascinating things to see?
Along a fifty mile section of road you can visit the famed Mammoth Hot Springs, equally deserving of its name. The Terraces are among nature’s greatest gifts to park visitors. You can also enjoy the Biscuit Basin, Firehole Lake Drive and a dozen other outstanding sights. Stop at the Madison Museum in Madison Junction and learn all about the area.
In the winter it’s possible to actually ski among the geysers. You can take a ride in the snow coach to the Old Faithful Snow Lodge and then off you go. The geysers spout off below you, as indifferent to you as are the nearby buffalo.
In the summer you can switch to horseback riding. As you clomp along you’ll see some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet. The elk may not be impressed by the view, but you will be. Nothing will block your view of the Absarokas to the east or the Wind River Range to your south, either.
Wander over to Lookout Point or Inspiration Point and take a look at the river below. Above it, gliding near the orange canyon walls you can see ospreys on the wing looking for food. At a different angle you can easily make out the white caps of the Yellowstone River, dropping over 300 feet into the canyon.
You can visit Yellowstone Lake, but don’t expect to visit all of it. It has over 100 miles of shoreline. The area is flush with dozens of native species, including some that seem to be permanent fixtures, like the fishermen here. Permits required. But you might also spot one of the 600 grizzlies, a bison, or the occasional wolf.
Nearly all the over 2.2 million acres lies in Wyoming with small parts in both Montana and Idaho. The park is larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined. But those are just more dry facts. When you visit, your reaction will be anything but academic.