25 Awesome Things To Do in Yellowstone [Free, Tours & All Seasons]

Will Beck
Last Updated: March 4th, 2023

There are so many things to see and do in Yellowstone, with an endless collection of outdoor activities, museums and art galleries, historic houses and culturally significant buildings, interpretive centers, distilleries, and hot springs to check out.

It’s for this reason that visitors often have a hard time deciding what to do during their vacation here. If that sounds like you, then we’ve got you covered, with fun activities and tours that cater to all tastes and family members no matter what the season of weather.

The 25 Best Things To Do in Yellowstone

1. Old Faithful Geysers

old faithful geysers

One of the best things to do in Yellowstone National Park would be to explore its numerous thermal features. Of all the thermal features in the world, more than half are found inside this enormous park. In the Upper Geyser Basin, the Old Faithful Geyser is one of the most popular thermal features.

As its name suggests, Old Faithful has the most frequent and consistent eruptions of all geysers and this has been so for over a century. This magnificent geological feature erupts to heights of up to 184 feet, releasing tens of thousands of liters of hot water along with steam.

Besides this wonderful geyser, the Old Faithful area has tons of other thermal formations to explore. Mud pots and fumaroles, for instance, are found in this area as well. Unlike hot springs and geysers, these two features comprise less water. Fumaroles release steam and mud pots are acidic thermal features.

As you move towards the Lower Geyser Basin on the Fountain Point Pot Trailhead, you will encounter lots of fumaroles, hot springs, cone geysers, and mud pots. The interesting thing about thermal features is how they change in terms of functionality over the years. This means that for every visit you take to Yellowstone National Park, you will always have something different to experience.

The Old Faithful region is easily accessible from the West Yellowstone gate in Montana. Pass by the Old Faithful Visitor Center for directions on your visit and any other relevant information. As you view these features, be sure to stay on the boardwalks to avoid any accidents. These features are dangerous. The steam released here can be as hot as 3500F (1760C) and the water as hot as 2400 F (1150C). Therefore, it’s only best that you stay safe.

2. Yellowstone Grand Canyon

yellowstone grand canyon

The Yellowstone River runs down this large canyon from Yellowstone Falls. This feature is approximately between 0.25 and 0.75 miles long and up to 1,200 feet deep. The Lower Falls has a picturesque view from Artist Point and is one of the most photographed places in the park.

Many front country and backcountry trails allow you a view of some parts of this canyon. The Canyon Visitor Education Center is the place to pass by for detailed directions.

Some of the backcountry trails to take include the Cascade Lake Trail, which is a 2km backcountry trail from the Canyon Junction that ends at Cascade Lake. The Howard Eaton Trail covers four lakes, Cascade Lake, Grebe Lake, Wolf Lake, and ends at Ice Lake. It’s 10.7 miles long and goes through a forested region and marshy area.

Mount Washburn provides spectacular views of the Grand Canyon. The Mount Washburn Spur Trail is a 16.2-mile all-day loop that covers Washburn Mountains and Washburn Hot Springs. The shortest Mt. Washburn trail is one that begins at the Chittenden Road and stretches 5.8miles to Mount Washburn. It is, however, not recommended in September and October.

There are many more hiking trails around the Grand Canyon area, which let you experience parts of this elegant geological marvel. There are many alpine world flowers you’ll also enjoy seeing along your way. Watch out for grizzly bears, especially during fall.

3. Mammoth Hot Springs

mammoth hot springs

This has got to be the most perfectly crafted of all hot springs in Yellowstone. Water cascades down its staircase-like rocky terraces like a waterfall. Formerly, people could soak in its waters for the healing effects of its mineral components. This, however, is currently prohibited for safety purposes.

The source of the heat for this feature remains a geological mystery to date, with speculations that it may be the magma chambers in the Yellowstone Caldera, a volcano that erupted hundreds of thousands of years ago.

While at these springs, you may take a trail through its lower terraces and up its higher terraces. The ground gets steeper in some of the stair-filled areas. Driving trails are also available up these terraces. If hiking, stay in designated walking areas. You may also view wildlife such as bison, black bears, elk, and mule deer in the surrounding areas.

4. Yellowstone Lake

yellowstone lake

This magnificent lake offers scores of adventurous activities you will enjoy. There are guided boat tours offered by Yellowstone National Park Lodges and many other different companies. You can also rent boats, go kayaking, motorboat riding, or canoeing. Take fishing excursions and spend your afternoon trying to catch some trout.

The shores of Yellowstone Lake also make for good backcountry hiking places. The Pelican Creek Nature Trail is a short 0.6mile trail loop that covers the forest-filled area around the shores of the lake. This trail is good for bird watching.

The Avalanche Peak Trail is a long trail that elevates as high as 2,100 feet. Be sure to follow the existing trail paths on this particular hike to keep safe. At the highest point of the trail, you get the best views of mountain peaks around the park.

The Elephant Back Mountain Trail is a 3.5-mile trail that allows you the best views of Yellowstone Lake from a distance. At 1.5 miles, it elevates up 800 feet along the forested shores of the lake. Be sure to watch out for grizzly bears on these trails and keep safe.

The Mud Volcano Trail explores the Yellowstone Caldera, which Yellowstone Lake is a part of. These depressions were formed as a result of volcanic eruptions that occurred 640,000 years ago, some much later.

Some of these depressions filled up with water to form lakes. Some were filled with lava flows over time and a plateau was formed. This region covers most of Yellowstone National Park. A hike around the mud volcano areas allows you amazing views, as well as a peek into the geological history of most parts of this park.

5. Grand Prismatic Spring

grand prismatic spring

This is the largest hot spring in the entire United States and the third-largest in the world. This colorful spring is the most popular in the Midway Geyser Basin, and Yellowstone as a whole. On your adventure itinerary, it should be listed as the thing to do in Yellowstone without fail.

It’s probably the picture that got you yearning to come to this park, as it’s the most photographed area in Yellowstone. This is mostly owing to its vibrant colors. Just like the Mammoth Hot Springs, the colors result from the living microorganisms that thrive in high heat on its outer surface.

Take a paved trail or follow boardwalks around the springs to get its magnificent view. Being very popular, the spring is mostly crowded. Parking spaces are limited and they fill up fast. Being early may help avoid the crowd, although you may miss out on the best views. The Grand Prismatic Overlook Trail is a short trail to an elevated region where you can view the spring from a distance.

6. Biking Park Roads and Trails

biking park roads and trails

Most roads around the park allow biking activities. There are also designated biking trails that you can enjoy riding on around the park. Mountain bikers will particularly enjoy the elevated trails, some of which go up to 8,860 feet. The park also allows e-bike riding to be carried out within set rules.

The Yellowstone National Park Lodges at Old Faithful offers bike rentals. Some of the biking trails you might enjoy are the Bunsen Peak Loop Bike Trail and Old Gardiner Road Bike Trail in the Mammoth Hot Springs area. The Lone Star Geyser Trail and Old Faithful Lower General Store are located in the Old Faithful area. There is also Riverside Bike Trail in West Yellowstone and many more.

While riding on the park roads, in order to be safe, you need to beware of motorists as they give little regard to bikers. The roads also get heavy traffic depending on the seasons you visit. Riding backcountry trails and boardwalks is prohibited and as a biker, you need to stick to designated trails only. The services in between roads and trails are far apart, hence carrying supplies such as food and water on your biking excursion is highly recommended.

7. Hayden and Lamar Valley

hayden and lamar valley

Are you a wildlife lover or photographer? If so, then these two valleys are most suitable for your hobby. Lamar Valley is known for its wolves. They come out of their dens towards the end of spring into winter and hang out in packs. Winter guided tour drives are the most suitable way to watch these amazing animals in their natural habitats. Wildlife watching is suitable seasonally in these two valleys.

During spring in Lamar Valley, it’s a bison and pronghorn calving season and you can watch them and their little calves. Black bears and wolf puppies can also be spotted during this season. The best animals to watch out for in summer are the bighorn sheep in Lamar Valley and Bison in both Lamar and Hayden Valley.

The bears move to elevated areas during summer because of the heat and they become less visible. They come back in spring, both the black bears and grizzly bears. Raptors migrate to Hayden Valley in the fall, which makes it convenient for bird watching.

Besides wildlife, these valleys also offer beautiful views of landscapes, Yellowstone River, Lamar River, and many more creeks. The best times to watch wildlife are during the early mornings and in the evenings. The Hayden Valley is centrally located in the park. Lamar Valley is easily accessible through the North-Eastern entrance from Cooke City.

8. Bird-watching and Photography

bird-watching and photography

Another interesting, less vigorous thing to do in Yellowstone is bird watching. The best places to watch birds from are near water bodies and in marshy areas. Also look out for trees, treetops, and elevated areas as birds love to perch in such places. They’re mostly visible early to mid-morning and in the evening as they go back to their habitats.

Birds migrate into Hayden Valley in the fall. The raptors, for example, are a common bird species that fly into this valley during this season. This makes Hayden Valley a suitable place for bird-watching, especially water birds such as tundra swans and ducks, and prey birds such as hawks.

You can also catch sight of different birds throughout the park. Bird migration into the park is also common in spring. During winter, birds move away from the park and into other winter regions.

Carry your binoculars and spend your time observing and identifying these beautiful creatures. Take pictures of them, and while you’re at it, don’t forget to enjoy the sweet melodies from songbirds. Even as you go about bird watching and photography, it’s advisable to do it from a distance. This way, the birds are peaceful and you get to enjoy even more time watching them.

9. Old Faithful Inn

old faithful inn

One place to spend your days upon visiting Yellowstone is in this historic inn. Old Faithful Inn is located close to the Old Faithful Geysers. One up to spending your nights at their lodges is that you get amazing views into the park, including views of the geyser.

This inn has existed for centuries. The rooms perfectly combine Old Yellowstone and New Yellowstone, with modern furnishing in an antique setting. There are different options for the type of room to pick, depending on your preference. The inn also offers guided tours around some parts of Yellowstone Park such as the Firehole Basin.

Old Faithful Restaurant has amazing cuisine as well. Yellowstone is a huge park, so you will definitely need lots of food on your walks to replenish your energy! The Old Faithful Bear Paw Deli offers takeout services for foods such as sandwiches, salads, and snacks. This is suitable for those opting to carry food with them on their trip.

The Old Faithful cafeteria offers both lunch and dinner. They also have a bakeshop for freshly made pastries which make for great breakfast or snack choices. Their Geyser Grill also offers take-out chicken, burgers, sandwiches, and more.

10. Roosevelt Lodge

roosevelt lodge

These rustic cabins were built in the 1920s and are located near Yellowstone Tower Fall. They offer guided horseback ride tours and stagecoach carriage tours. They are a great place to spend your nights if you’re set for multi-day tours around the park.

The cabins don’t have as many provisions but are comfortable and simple. Their Roughrider Cabins are fit for those looking to “rough it”. They have communal bathrooms and showers nearby.

The Roosevelt Old West Dinner Cookout is one you do not want to miss. They’re done the old western way, with open campfires and grills. The result is premium beef steak, baked beans, cornbread muffins, coleslaw, potato salad, brewed coffee, and a night of cowboy fun. Take that ride to Pleasant Valley and experience the cookout of a lifetime.

Free Things To Do in Yellowstone

11. Firehole Canyon Scenic Drive

Take this short two-mile drive off the Grand Loop Road towards Madison Junction. Along the way, you’ll see the Firehole River flowing right down from the Firehole Falls and a swimming area. There is a parking space along the road where you can make a stop and take in these wonderful views. You could also take a swim in the swimming area, although it’s important to note that it’s not very safe.

12. Artist Point Trail

It’s a 0.2-mile trail to a viewpoint for the Grand Canyon. The highlight of this trail is the views from the Lower Falls, which is one of Great Canyon’s popular features. Once in the park, you don’t need to pay any extra fees for this trail.

13. Firehole Lake Drive

It’s a three-mile loop from Old Faithful towards Madison. Along the way, you will see some geysers and hot springs as you drive.

14. The Old Faithful Visitor Center

Enjoy the geological and scientific exhibits, Yellowstone history, films and get educated on Yellowstone Park. Get the resources and guidance you need as well as information about the Old Faithful region.

The Best Tours in Yellowstone

15. 2-Day Guided Tour with Lunches: An exhaustive tour to both Upper and Lower Yellowstone Park.

16. Yellowstone Day Tour Including Entrance Fee: A full-day guided trip around Yellowstone National Park.

17. Small-Group Yellowstone Tour with Picnic Lunch: Small group guided tour around the park with stopovers at the park’s major highlights.

18. Grand Teton & Yellowstone 2-Day 1-Night Tour: Overnight tour to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.

19. Grand Teton & Yellowstone: 4-Day Nature Tour with Lodging: A 3 to 4-day exhaustive adventure around the Yellowstone National Park.

20. West Yellowstone Park Tour with Local Guide: Guided tour around Yellowstone National Park’s popular places.

21. Full-Day Yellowstone Lower Loop Tour: A guided tour along the Lower Loop of Yellowstone National Park.

22. Private Lewis Lake Fishing Trip from Jackson: Fishing tour on Yellowstone National Park’s Lewis Lake.

23. 4-Day Grand Teton and Yellowstone Winter Tour: Guided winter tour on Yellowstone National Park.

24. Yellowstone National Park 5-Day Wolf Tour: A tour to view Yellowstone gray wolf and witness the geysers in winter.

25. Self-Driving Audio Guided Tour: An audio-guided tour around Yellowstone National Park.

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About The Author

Will Beck

Will is a true digital nomad, taking his work on the road at every opportunity. His first love is coffee, with travel a close 2nd. He loves nothing more than hitting the road in his self-build campervan and visiting off-the-beaten-path places, away from popular tourist destinations.

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