Yellowstone National Park has an allure that’s hard to put into words.
From the fact that it’s home to half of the world’s geysers – including, of course, Old Faithful — to its wildlife ranging from bison and moose to black bears and bighorn sheep, to traverse this park is to uncover a new wonder around every corner.
Sure, Yellowstone is popular: It was the 12th most-visited national park in 2021. But that’s for good reason. After all, Yellowstone was the first national park in the United States and is considered by many to be the first national park in the world.
As the park this year celebrates the 150th anniversary of its establishment, many people have it on their radar. Want to go? Here are 4 reasons to plan a visit.
The geothermal features
Yellowstone has the most active, diverse and intact collections of combined geothermal features found anywhere, with more than 10,000 hydrothermal sites and half the world’s active geysers. Among the highlights of our visit last summer were excursions to the Norris Geyser Basin, which is the hottest geyser basin in the park; Grand Prismatic, which is Yellowstone’s largest hot spring and delights with its rainbow of colors; and Old Faithful, which is arguably the most famous geyser in the world.
We woke early to beat the crowds at Old Faithful, which offers predicable eruptions every 1.5 hours that last for approximately 1-5 minutes and reach heights of about 130 feet. The excitement among visitors who crowded the benches at 8 a.m. was palpable as we waited for Old Faithful to awake, only to be rewarded with the most magnificent display of heat, water and steam we could have imagined.
When it comes to wildlife, you can find it all during a visit to Yellowstone, which is home to one of the largest elk herds in North America; the largest free-roaming wild herd of bison in the United States; and one of the few grizzly populations in the contiguous United States. You can even experience rare sightings of wolverine and lynx.
We found morning hikes and afternoon drives to be an ideal way to spot the animals as they were out and about. In terms of hikes, I highly recommend the challenging but rewarding hike to Lower Yellowstone Falls, where the firsthand views of the crashing waterfall were awe-inspiring.
The opportunity to unplug
We booked a relatively last-minute stay at Grant Village Lodge, which is located directly on the shores of Yellowstone Lake. One thing you should know, particularly if you’re traveling with kids, is that both WiFi and cell service throughout the park are extremely spotty. Even in areas that were supposed to have it, including our lodge, it was unreliable. That, combined with the fact that there was no TV in our room, was jarring to the kids at first.
However, once we surrendered to the fact that we would be unplugging, we were able to fully enjoy the wonders of the park, from a viewing of sunrise over Yellowstone Lake to a picnic lunch and games of Uno after a visit to The Museum of the Yellowstone.
Side note: If you’re traveling with kids, don’t miss the Junior Ranger program, a self-guided program that allows them to complete tasks as they learn about the park and leave with their very own ranger badge.
Even with all of the natural beauty and all of the incredible wildlife, perhaps my favorite thing about Yellowstone National Park was the people we met along the way. Yellowstone has a magic that draws people back again and again, as though there is a magnet hidden among all its other features that pulls you to it after your initial visit.
Take, for example, Pam, who greeted us when we checked into Grant Village Lodge. She worked at the park from 1970-72 and met her husband there, then had returned, at age 70, for another summer. She admitted dorm life had been a transition but said being back at the park had been amazing and was positively giddy about driving out to Old Faithful that night to see the full moon with her new friends on staff. From offering us use of her personal cell phone when ours didn’t have reception to creating a handwritten list of can’t-miss Yellowstone experiences, she set a friendly and reverent tone for our trip that we would encounter repeatedly among park staff.
If You Go
There are multiple flights available from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which is about an hour from Yellowstone National Park.
A variety of lodging and camping options are available throughout the park. We loved Grant Village Lodge for its lakeside views and its easy access to Old Faithful.
If you’re looking for a discount on admission, buy a National Parks Pass, or go on a day when admission is free to the park, such as Aug. 4, the anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act, or Sept. 24, National Public Lands Day.