10 Wonders of Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park holds one of the nation’s richest collections of natural wonders. With its geothermal features, abundant animals and more than 2 million acres of sprawling wilderness, Yellowstone is one of North America’s greatest assets. Here’s our guide to 10 of the park’s most iconic spots.
1. Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
This awesome canyon carved by the Yellowstone River is 20 miles long and up to 1,200 feet deep. Its most famous and widely photographed feature is Lower Falls, where the river tumbles 308 feet — twice the height of Niagara Falls — before striking the canyon floor with such force that it sends foam and mist hundreds of feet upward, dampening the rocks so constantly that bright green moss grows high above the water. As the water races on and finally stops foaming, it looks green but, in reality, it is totally clear, and the river’s color is from algae and moss.
2. Lower Geyser Basin
This area on the west side of the lower loop road is the largest geyser basin in the park. An array of geothermal features — including mud pots, geysers, hot springs and fumaroles — are found in clusters throughout the Lower Geyser Basin. The most well-known features are the White Dome and Great Fountain geysers (the latter is predictable) and the Fountain Paint Pots, whose bubbling, colorful mud has long fascinated visitors.
3. Mammoth Hot Springs
Heat, water, minerals and limestone combine to create the famous terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs, where variously colored travertine (a form of calcium carbonate) has been dissolved from the limestone beneath the ground and carried to the surface by rising springs of hot water. Although some springs and terraces die, the total flow of water at this point inside Yellowstone is surprisingly constant, as new flows spring to the surface. Minerva Terrace is one of the most striking elements here, with its uncanny likeness of an ornately carved staircase.
4. Mud Volcano
You’ll probably smell the Mud Volcano area of Yellowstone before you see it — the noxious odor is caused by sulfur, which also claims responsibility for the hissing and gurgling of the mud. Sulfuric acid in the pots eats away at the surrounding landscape, which gives the area an eerie, though truly captivating, other-worldly atmosphere.
5. Hayden Valley
The valley, between Canyon and Lake, is one of the park’s best places to observe wildlife. Out on the sagebrush flats and open meadows are good places for elk and deer, and moose will often be along the river. Buffalo graze the hillsides, although the large herds retreat to higher meadows for the summer. This is notorious grizzly country. Although the big bears are not sociable and are seldom seen, it is not advisable to hike here. The Yellowstone River spreads throughout the valley to form marshes that are frequented by waterfowl, including rare trumpeter swans.