The Scenic Drives of Yellowstone
In Yellowstone, there are two main scenic drives to take, the Lower Loop and the Upper Loop. The Lower Loop highlights include the Upper Geyser Basin with its famous Old Faithful Geyser, Lower Geyser Basin, Firehole River, Gibbon River and Falls, Monument Geyser Basin, Lower and Upper Falls, Yellowstone River, Mud Volcano and West Thumb Geyser Basin. In the summer, each segment of the Lower Loop (Old Faithful to Madison, for example) takes about 45 minutes to drive. In addition to the driving time, you should set aside time for visiting the attractions. Wildlife is abundant in this area, especially elk and bison. Occasionally a bison on the road can cause quite a delay as visitors stop to look at this magnificent animal from the safety of their vehicles.
The Upper Loop in Yellowstone National Park features beautiful scenery, exciting wildlife and spectacular hydrothermal features. While Mammoth Hot Springs may be the highlight of the trip for many visitors, other Northern Loop attractions include the Norris Geyser Basin, Blacktail Plateau Drive, the Petrified Tree, Roosevelt Lodge, Undine Falls, Tower Fall, and Lower and Upper Falls. Look for wildlife such as elk and bison, especially early in the morning and in the evening. In the summer, each segment of the Upper Loop (Mammoth Hot Springs to Tower-Roosevelt, for example) takes about 45 minutes to drive. In addition to the driving time, you should set aside time for visiting the attractions. Yellowstone is fun to visit with the family. If you are looking for a quick honeymoon idea in the summer, you can be sure that the magnificent scenery of Yellowstone will help you create a lifetime of memories.
1. South Entrance Offers a Dramatic Way into Yellowstone National Park
The South Entrance is located at an elevation of 6,886 feet (2,099 m). Grand Teton National Park lies to the south. Upon entering Yellowstone, visitors are greeted by dramatic vistas along the Lewis River canyon and the Pitchstone Plateau. The road from the South Entrance to West Thumb passes by Lewis Falls and Lewis Lake, offering scenic views along the way. To safely enjoy the views, take advantage of the scenic turnouts along the way. In the summer traffic often comes to a stop as drivers stop in the middle of the road to observe park wildlife: elk, moose and bison. The 22-mile road from South Entrance to Grant Village and West Thumb leads to the spectacular West Thumb Geyser Basin. Moose Falls is located near the South Entrance, just inside Yellowstone National Park. The waterfall is so close to the main park road that you can see it from your car. Upon entering Yellowstone, you will immediately spot Lewis River and then Moose Falls.
2. Scenic Views along Lewis River in Yellowstone
The 30-mile Lewis River rises in southern part of Yellowstone National Park and flows into Snake River. Lewis River is popular for fly-fishing and wildlife watching. Since it runs along the southern end of the road between South Entrance and West Thumb, many Yellowstone park visitors get to enjoy scenic views along the road. Lewis Lake, also a popular fishing spot, is the third largest lake in Yellowstone. Lewis Falls near the lake feature a 29-foot drop and can be seen from the road.
3. The Upper Geyser Basin is Home to the Old Faithful and Other Spectacular Geysers
Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park is home to the majority of the world's active geysers. Every visitor to Yellowstone stops for a glimpse of the Old Faithful, one of the most famous geysers in the world. Attractions in the Upper Geyser Basin are connected with an elaborate system of boardwalks which lead visitors near colorful pools and geysers at a safe distance.
After watching the Old Faithful erupt, continue on the boardwalk across Firehole River up Geyser Hill where you can admire Anemone Geyser, Beehive Geyser, Lion Group and the Heart Spring. After Geyser Hill, the path leads through the Castle-Grand Area which received its name after two prominent geysers: Castle Geyser and Grand Geyser. The boardwalk continues to the Giant-Grotto Area, Morning Glory-Riverside Area and ends up at Biscuit Basin.
4. Biscuit Basin
Biscuit Basin was originally named for biscuit-like deposits around the Sapphire Pool, which were blown away by the pool's eruption in 1959. Biscuit Basin features attractions such as Mustard Spring and Jewel Geyser which erupts every 7-10 minutes. The Old Faithful area is about one hour on foot from Biscuit Basin. Along the way, you can admire numerous active and dormant geysers and pools.
5. Gibbon River and Falls
Along the main park road from Madison to Norris, Yellowstone park visitors can admire scenic views of Gibbon River and Gibbon Falls. One can often spot bison and elk in this area. Sometimes a massive bison decides to walk on the main road, stopping traffic in both directions as excited tourists take pictures of the fabulous animal from the safety of their vehicles.
Bald eagles, osprey, sandhill cranes and coyotes are also often seen in the area. If you have time, there are several hiking trails. Visit the visitor station at Madison Junction for more information. Gibbon River is a popular fishing spot, featuring wild rainbow trout and brown trout. The river below Gibbon Falls is restricted to fly fishing only.
6. Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs is one of the most active areas of Yellowstone National Park with daily-changing features. The dominant rock in this area is limestone, while rhyolite dominates in the rest of Yellowstone. Limestone is an essential ingredient in the formation of terraces. Hot water with dissolved carbon dioxide makes a solution of weak carbonic acid. The acid dissolves calcium carbonate, the primary mineral in limestone. The calcium carbonate is then deposited to form terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs.
Observe the colors at Mammoth Hot Springs, which are created by thermophiles (heat-loving microorganisms). The Mammoth Hot Springs are composed of the upper loop, accessible by car, and the lower loop, only accessible on foot. If you are visiting in the summer, be prepared for heat in this area because of hot springs. There is virtually no shade on the Lower Terraces boardwalk and limited shade on the Upper Terraces, so wear plenty of sunscreen and a hat. Some of the must-see attractions include Minerva Terrace, Palette Spring and Liberty Cap.
7. Minerva Terrace, Palette Spring, Liberty Cap, Mound and Jupiter Terraces
Minerva Terrace is one of the best features of Mammoth Hot Springs. Minerva Terrace was named for the Roman goddess of artists. The terrace has gone through periods of inactivity during the last 100 years. Visitors approach Minerva Terrace on an elevated wooden boardwalk situated on the hill. As you advance upward on Lower Terraces, there is a beautiful view of the valley below.
The Palette Spring is created by flowing water and heat-loving bacteria which grow on the surface of the hill. The Palette Spring is located in the northern portion of Mammoth Hot Springs, towards the bottom of Lower Terraces.
The Liberty Cap is a 37-foot hot spring cone situated in the northern portion of Mammoth Hot Springs, at the bottom of Lower Terraces. The Liberty Cap was created by a hot spring which remained in one location for a long time, depositing minerals to build the cone. Today the cone is no longer active. The Liberty Cap was thought to resemble caps worn during the French Revolution and that is how it got its name in 1871.
Mound and Jupiter Terraces, situated above Minerva Terrace, have gone through periods of activity and inactivity. While the terraces have been dry since 1992, in the 1980s Jupiter Terrace experienced a heavy flow. Where the boardwalk leads past Mound Terrace, visitors can look down on Minerva Terrace and its water flow.
8. Wildlife Watching along the Blacktail Plateau Drive & The Petrified Tree
On the main Yellowstone National Park road between Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower-Roosevelt take a detour down an unpaved road called Blacktail Plateau Drive. The road is one way eastbound and begins a few miles after Udine Falls.
The Blacktail Deer Plateau is rich with wildlife, including pronghorn antelope, mule deer, elk and bison. In the summer, we saw several bison just a few feet from the Blacktail Plateau Drive. In the autumn, aspen trees turn bright gold, making this area particularly beautiful. The road is unpaved and steep in certain areas, so you won't be able to drive faster than a few miles per hour. If wildlife is on or near the road, you will have to come to a stop to not disturb the animals and enjoy the view. Expect to take about 45 minutes to an hour to complete the drive. After the Blacktail Plateau Drive, visit the Petrified Tree just down the main road towards Tower-Roosevelt.
The only remaining petrified tree in the area is placed behind a fence to protect it from vandals and collectors. There used to be two other petrified trees here, but were removed a piece at a time by past park visitors who thoughtlessly took the pieces home as souvenirs. The Petrified Tree was created during volcanic activity in Yellowstone National Park. Trees had their organic structure replaced by minerals while they were slowly buried by volcanic ash.
9. The Roosevelt Lodge and Tower Fall
The Roosevelt Lodge area is named after the former president Theodore Roosevelt who used to enjoy this area of Yellowstone during his visits to Wyoming. Roosevelt Lodge Cabins, open from June through August, can be rented starting from $52 per night. For reservations, call 307-344-7311 or visit www.travelyellowstone.com. Roosevelt Lodge Dining Room serves dishes such as baked beans and barbecued pork ribs in a rustic setting.
Made famous by idyllic paintings of Thomas Moran, Tower Fall is created by a 132-foot drop of Tower Creek near Tower-Roosevelt. Tower Fall is visible from the main Yellowstone park road between Tower-Roosevelt and Canyon Village.
10. Undine Falls and The Upper Falls
Undine Falls are located near Mammoth Hot Springs. The falls can be seen from the main park road from Mammoth Hot Springs to Tower-Roosevelt. If you are traveling eastbound from Mammoth Hot Springs to Tower-Roosevelt, drive on the one-way unpaved Blacktail Plateau Drive to observe wildlife such as pronghorn antelope, mule deer, elk and bison.
The Upper Falls is a 109-foot waterfall on the Yellowstone River located near Canyon Village in Yellowstone National Park. The Lower Falls, the tallest waterfall in the park, measuring 308 feet is located nearby.
11. The Old Faithful Inn
If you are looking for unique historic destinations, Old Faithful Inn is as much of an attraction in Yellowstone National Park as some of the most beautiful geysers and pools. An imposing building nearly 700 feet in length, the inn was constructed from massive wooden logs.
The core of Old Faithful Inn is seven stories high and features a giant fireplace, rustic balconies with rocking chairs, and a visitors center in the lobby. The central building was constructed in 1903, while the east and the west wings were added in 1913 and in 1927, respectively.
Hundreds of people pour in and out of the Old Faithful Inn lobby in the summer, as tour buses stop for a view of the Old Faithful Geyser one the world's most famous geysers situated next to the inn. The inn's main dining room with its rustic touches is also a regular stop for tours.
If you want to avoid the crowds on vacation, the best time to visit is spring and fall. In the summer, be sure to book a room well in advance. Room rates range from $96 for a double to $350 per night for a suite. For reservations, call 307-344-7311 or visit www.travelyellowstone.com.
Tours of the inn are offered at regular intervals in the summer, commencing at the giant fireplace in the lobby. Stop by the visitors center in the lobby to check on road conditions and receive geyser eruption predictions.
12. Spotting Bison in Yellowstone National Park
There are about 3,600 bison in Yellowstone and you will see many on your drive through the park. They wander around Yellowstone’s grassy areas in the summer and winter around geyser basins where they find warmth and shelter.
The largest mammals in Yellowstone National Park, bison are vegetarian. Males can weigh more than 1,800 pounds. Despite their massive size, they can move quickly and can harm people who get in their way. Despite ranger warnings, we've seen tourists get out of their car with a videocamera and approach bison too close for comfort. The best way to watch bison it through binoculars or from your car if they are near the road.