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Your Guide to the Yellowstone Regions

At nearly 3,500 square miles, Yellowstone National Park can be a little overwhelming for tourists visiting for the first time who don’t know where to begin.

To help you plan the perfect Yellowstone trip, we’ve broken down the four main regions of the park and everything to see within them.

Exploring the 4 Yellowstone Regions

Yellowstone National Park can be divided into four main regions which can be broken down into eight areas: Tower-Roosevelt and the Northeast; Canyon Village; Fishing Bridge, Lake Village and Bridge Bay; Madison and West Yellowstone;  Norris Geyser Basin; Old Faithful; Mammoth Hot Springs and the North;  and West Thumb, Grant, and the South.

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West

The western area of Yellowstone National Park typically holds the most landmarks and attractions. If you only have a few days and don’t have time to visit all of the parks, most travel guides recommend focusing your trip on the western side.

Here, you’ll find iconic destinations like Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Hot Spring.

Closest entrance to the western region

Tips for visiting the western region

  • The west is generally considered to be the area between Norris or Madison and Old Faithful.
  • You will pass multiple thermal sites when heading south to Old Faithful through the west.

Top Landmarks in the Western Region

Old Faithful

old faithful

Old Faithful is located in the Upper Geyser Basin. The active geyser erupts every 79 minutes on average, and you can either watch the eruption from the boardwalk in front of the geyser or from the observation point, which is a 45-minute hike from the boardwalk.

If you’d like to watch the eruption from the boardwalk, keep in mind that this is one of the busiest destinations in the park, particularly in summer.

Arrive early in the morning to avoid the crowds, and secure your place on the boardwalk as soon as you arrive at the geyser, regardless of how long you have to wait for the next eruption.

You can find out when the next eruption is due at the visitor center. You can also view the eruption from the observation deck at the Old Faithful Inn.

Along with Old Faithful, there are around 150 other geothermal sites to visit in the Upper Geyser Basin, including Grand Geyser and Castle Geyser.

Grand Prismatic Spring

Grand Prismatic Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin is one of Yellowstone’s most famous sights, and worth seeing, even if you only have two days in the park.

Due to the spring’s immense popularity, it can be notoriously difficult to get a car park here, so allow plenty of time. You can view the spring from the boardwalk or a viewing platform, which is a half-hour hike away.

The spring is famous for its kaleidoscope of colors, which stem from the bacteria thriving in the boiling water. Safety is incredibly important at the Grand Prismatic Spring, and it’s vital to stay on the marked boardwalk when walking through the area.

Avoid visiting Grand Prismatic Spring in the morning, as it tends to be covered by a mist that doesn’t clear up until later in the day.

Norris Geyser Basin

norris geyser basin

Norris Geyser Basin is the largest thermal site in the park, and also tends to be the most active. Here, you’ll find attractions such as the Porcelain Basin and the Back Basin, both of which can be accessed from the Visitor Center located off the Grand Loop Road.

One of the most impressive sights in the Norris Geyser Basin is the Steamboat Geyser, which is located along the back Trail Loop.

You can’t time the eruptions of the Steamboat Geyser, but there tend to be fewer crowds here than at Old Faithful.

Gibbon Geyser Basin

gibbon geyser basin

Gibbon Geyser Basin is located a few miles south of Norris Geyser Basin and boasts the iconic Artists Paint Pots.

These springs, geysers, and mud pots are named after the range of colors they display, and can be viewed by following a short and easy half-mile trail through the basin.

North

The northern area of Yellowstone National Park tends to be a little quieter than the western side but still boasts a few destinations that are definitely worth seeing.

The northern section is where you’ll find sites like Mammoth Hot Springs and the famous Roosevelt Entrance Arch.

Closest entrance to the northern region

Tips for visiting the northern region

  • The north is generally considered the area between Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower Falls.
  • The road that runs between them, US Rt 212, is the only road in Yellowstone National Park that is open for the entire year.
  • If you want to spot wolves in the winter, this area is the best place in the park to do so.

Top Landmarks in the Northern Region

Mammoth Hot Springs

mammoth hot springs

Mammoth Hot Springs is the only top sight in Yellowstone National Park that is located north of the Madison to Canyon road. The springs bubble with thermal water that sometimes takes on a rainbow color, depending on the hot water flow.

The hot springs are categorized into the Upper and Lower Terraces, both of which have parking lots. You can view the Lower Terraces from the boardwalk, while you can take your car along Upper Terrace Drive.

Given that the hot springs attract large crowds, it’s a good idea to visit as early as possible, or later in the afternoon, to avoid mobs of people.

Roosevelt Arch

the roosevelt arch

The iconic arch at the North Entrance of the park is worth visiting if you’re going to be in the northern region. The arch was dedicated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903 and presents one of the best photo opportunities in the park.

The arch hosts a picnic area which makes for a great pit stop. There are also restroom facilities here.

Lamar Valley

lamar valley

The Lamar Valley is technically located in the northeast of the park and is one of the more far-flung attractions. Unless you have a few days to explore the park in detail, or you’re coming from Cooke City, it might be worth leaving the Lamar Valley for another time.

However, if your heart is set on this destination, it does offer spectacular wildlife viewing opportunities! Among other animals, the Lamar Valley is home to bison, wolves, elk, moose, and bears.

The Lamar Valley is reachable via the Northeast Entrance Road, which you can access from the Grand Loop Road. Along the way, there are multiple pullouts where you can stop and view or photograph any wildlife that you see.

Central

Yellowstone National Park’s central area is one of the busiest sections of the park. Aside from housing several iconic landmarks, it is also a popular place to stay within the park as it gives visitors equal access to all other areas.

Some of the highlights of the central area include the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Canyon Village.

Closest entrance to the central region

You could use any entrance to get to the central region, which is located reasonably close to all entrances

Tips for visiting the central region

  • The central region is typically considered the area between Madison and Canyon Village.
  • Traveling through the central region is the quickest way to traverse the park from east to west or vice versa.
  • Canyon Village is a hotspot for accommodation and eateries.

Top Landmarks in the Central Region

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

grand canyon of the yellowstone

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is the most famous destination in the central region and one of the most iconic sights in the park.

The gorge extends for 20 miles and plummets more than 1000 feet into the Yellowstone River, making for quite an impressive sight!

You can access the overlooks for the canyon by road on both sides. There are numerous trails you can take to explore the canyon, including Brink of the Lower Falls, Point Sublime Trail, and Seven Mile Hole Trail, which is the only trail that leads to the bottom of the canyon.

The most famous viewing location is Artist’s Point, which is situated on the east side of the canyon. If you want to view the canyon from the opposite side, closer to the falls, the best location is Inspiration Point.

Canyon Village

canyon village

Canyon Village is located near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. This is a popular location for lunch and dinner, as it’s home to a restaurant, deli, cafeteria, and general store. There is also a gas station in canyon village, a general store, and a gift shop.

In Canyon Village, you will also find the Canyon Visitor Center Education Center, which features interactive educational exhibits. One of the most popular is the video re-enactment of the huge Yellowstone eruption that took place 640,000 years ago.

East

The eastern area of Yellowstone National Park, which also includes the southern section, is the quietest region.

If you are pressed for time, it might be worth focusing on other areas of the park and leaving the east for a longer trip. When visiting the east, be sure to see the West Thumb and Grant areas, and the Hayden Valley.

Closest entrance to the eastern region

  • East Entrance (Cody, WY, is the closest city)

Tips for visiting the eastern region

  • The eastern region is classified as the area between Canyon Village and West Thumb, or Grant.

Landmarks in the Eastern Region

Yellowstone Lake

yellowstone lake

Yellowstone Lake is a top destination in the park for fishing and boating and is home to a huge trout population.

Visitors can rent boats from the nearby Bridge Bay Marina or bring their own, and guided boat tours also run at the lake. Swimming is not permitted at the lake due to the cold water temperature, even in summer.

You could also hike around the lake by following one of the nearby trails, including Storm Point Nature Trail and Elephant Back Trail, which boast brilliant views of the water.

West Thumb Geyser Basin

West Thumb Geyser Basin, which is located next to Yellowstone Lake, features smaller geysers that tend to be less impressive than those you might see elsewhere in the park.

However, this is also one of the less busy destinations in the park, so it is a good option if you’d like to see some geothermal activity without all the crowds.

The basin features a simple boardwalk that allows guests to view the sights in around half an hour. Some of the top local sights to look out for include Lakeshore Geyser and the Thumb Paint Pots.

Hayden Valley

hayden valley

The Hayden Valley is Yellowstone’s premiere destination for viewing wildlife, along with the Lamar Valley. However, the Lamar Valley is considerably more remote and takes longer to reach.

If you only have a limited amount of time and are focusing mainly on the west and central regions, it makes more sense to visit the Hayden Valley.

The best time to view wildlife in the valley is around dawn or dusk. It’s important to never stop on the road to look at wildlife, and always use the designated pullouts. Keep in mind that this area receives heavy traffic and is predisposed to jams, especially when bison linger on the road.

You can get out of the car to view the wildlife, but it’s imperative to keep at least 100 feet away from bears and wolves at all times, and at least 25 feet away from other animals, including bison. It is strictly prohibited to feed or touch any animal in the park.

If you’re lucky, you may see wolves, bears, bison, elk, and more in the valley!

Yellowstone Regions – Conclusion

While some regions of Yellowstone National Park have more to offer than others, they all bring something to the table. To figure out which regions to prioritize, decide what attractions you’d like to see the most and weigh up which regions are home to the most destinations on your bucket list.

What region of Yellowstone can you not wait to visit? Let us know in the comments below!

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