America’s Preeminent Wildlife Preserve
Founded in 1872, America’s (and the world’s) oldest national park is best known for its geothermal features – remnants of its tumultuous volcanic past that Rudyard Kipling described as “the uplands of Hell.” Visitors flock to the Upper Geyser Basin in the southern half of the park to see 150 geysers, which together with the park’s 10,000 bubbling mud pools, hissing fumaroles, and steaming hot springs act as pressure valves, releasing the heat and steam below.
Yellowstone has 300 geysers total (about half of all the geysers in the world), but of them all Old Faithful is the superstar, sending a spray up to 184 feet into the air every 68 to 98 minutes. It’s the world’s most famous geyser, synonymous with Yellowstone in the minds of people everywhere.
The Old Faithful Inn was built on this site in 1904 and is still the largest log building in existence. Its creature-comforts-in-the-midst- of-utter-wilderness style set the fashion for all the great lodges of the national park system.
Unless you’ve booked a year in advance, it’s not likely that you’ll find room at this rustic, landmark inn, but at least peek in to see its awesome six-story lobby and massive four-sided fireplace and chimney made from 500 tons of volcanic rock. The restaurant’s food is not remarkable, but the nearly face-to-face views of Old Faithful are. Among the park’s nine properties, the more elegant Hotel on Lake Yellowstone is the oldest, completed in 1891.
Geothermal curiosities aren’t the only thing Yellowstone has to offer: The second largest of America’s national parks outside of Alaska, its natural diversity and abundant wildlife are some of the greatest on earth. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River provides some of the park’s most breathtaking views.
Twenty-four miles long and up to 1,200 feet deep, it begins with the dramatic Lower Falls, which cascade 308 feet (nearly twice as high as Niagara Falls) into the river below. Bear and bison roam the Hayden Valley, the park’s largest meadowland, alongside the 25,000 elk, 1,000 moose, and 148 bird species that call the 2.2-million-acre park home. Bald eagles soar overhead, and even the gray Rocky Mountain wolf – which the park did its best to eradicate in the 1930s – has returned, reintroduced in 1995.
Ninety-nine percent of the park’s visitors never stray more than 3 miles from the road into the wilderness, and thus miss out on 1,200 miles of hiking trails and some of the most pristine wilderness in America. However, if you lack the time and/or inclination to hike, the figure-eight, 142-mile Grand Loop tour can’t be beat, linking up with each of the park’s five entrances and coming within sight of most major attractions.