10 Places You Must See in Yellowstone National Park

With over 3,500 square miles to cover, it is hard to see all of Yellowstone National Park. Planning a trip to Yellowstone and researching things to see in the park can get a little overwhelming. To help, I’ve shared what we learned on our trip and the top places that you must see in Yellowstone, whether you are visiting for just a day or have more time to spend.

Everyone has heard of Old Faithful, but what about Upper Geyser Basin? Did you know that there are actually 500 active geysers, 290 waterfalls, and 10,000 thermal features?

And did you know that Yellowstone has its very own “Grand Canyon”? Did you know that Lamar Valley is the best place to find wildlife in Yellowstone? Feeling overwhelmed yet? Let me tell you the things that you can’t miss if you have limited time in Yellowstone National Park. You can easily fit all of this into a 3-day Yellowstone itinerary.

10 Things you Must See in Yellowstone

If you have limited time in Yellowstone National Park, you can’t see everything. Start with these top 10 things you must see in Yellowstone National Park. I’ve included each of these sites on a map so that you can get a visual of where everything is located:

This map was created with Google MyMaps.

West Thumb Geyser Basin

West Thumb Geyser basin

This is one of my favorite areas in Yellowstone. It isn’t as crowded as some of the other geyser basins and it is combined with gorgeous views of Yellowstone Lake.

The Abyss Pool may only be 53 feet deep, but it does seem like it could go on forever. I also found the Fishing Cone pretty fascinating. This is where here early visitors used to fish in the lake and then cook the fish in the hot water of the hot spring, right in the same spot!

West Thumb Geyser Basin is a perfect introduction to Yellowstone if you are entering from the south from Grand Teton National Park.

Artist Point

Must see in Yellowstone - Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

You can either drive and park near the lookout, or you can hike the South Rim Trail along the Yellowstone River to get to Artist Point. From here, you can look up the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone to see a beautiful view of Lower Falls (one of the best waterfalls in the USA.)

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

The view from Artist Point is beautiful, but for better views of the 20-mile-long Canyon and the Upper Falls, try a hike along the South Rim Trail or the slightly more precarious North Rim Trail.

Hayden Valley

Bison in Hayden Valley

Hayden Valley is located between Canyon Village and Fishing Bridge is the prime area for bison viewing and you may also spot eagles, bears, and even coyotes or wolves.

Tower Fall

Must see in Yellowstone Tower Falls

In the Tower-Roosevelt area, the 132-foot Tower Fall is definitely worth a stop. It doesn’t take long to visit as there is just a short walk out to an overlook of the falls. However, it is one stop that is often overlooked.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs Yellowstone

The travertine terraces in Mammoth Hot Springs are beautiful and unique and really worth a visit.

But you should also plan on having dinner in the town of Mammoth when the elk come to graze in the town square.

Roosevelt Arch

Must see in Yellowstone Roosevelt Arch

If you are staying up by Mammoth Hot Springs, it is really worth a drive up to the North Entrance to see the historic Roosevelt Arch.

This is the first major entrance to the park and you can just imagine the horse-drawn carriages that used to pass under the famously-inscribed words “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

You will also often find pronghorn up by the North Entrance. If you plan to stop here for dinner, just keep in mind that options are pretty limited.

Grand Prismatic Spring

Grand Prismatic Spring Yellowstone

One of the most photographed spots in the park, Grand Prismatic Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin is worth the hype…but it is also really crowded so be prepared (and be sure to check out my Yellowstone tips.)

The crowds can really detract from the experience, as there is a narrow boardwalk around the spring. Therefore it is best to go early or late in the day when the crowds are lighter. 

Old Faithful

Must do in Yellowstone Old Faithful

Another crowded spot, but still a must-do in Yellowstone, is the Old Faithful geyser. Old Faithful erupts every 51 to 120 minutes and shoots up about 106 to 180 feet, lasting 1.5 to 5 minutes.

Luckily, there is plenty of space along the rail to wait for the eruption. You can even walk around to the back of the geyser to see the view from the other side. Just keep in mind that the Park Ranger talks will be up front near the Visitor Center.

After you see Old Faithful erupt, check out the historic Old Faithful Inn. This is a great spot for lunch.

Norris Geyser Basin

Norris Geyser Basin Yellowstone

You will get your fill of geothermal features including small geysers (unless you get lucky with a major eruption at Steamboat Geyser), hot springs, and mud pots.

Just don’t plan on visiting more than one geyser basin in a day as it can get very repetitive.

These are my favorite things to see in Yellowstone National Park if you just have a couple of days. If you have more time, you can spend time enjoying the hiking trails, making early morning wildlife viewing trips, and maybe even enjoying some horseback riding or other activities.

If you need help planning your Yellowstone Itinerary, my friend Bryanna has a great Yellowstone Guide with 57 pages of stop-by-stop instructions, daily guides, dining recommendations, and insider tips.

While you are in the area, you should also spend a few days in Grand Teton National Park (see this ultimate Grand Teton National Park guide.)

Where to Find Wildlife in Yellowstone

There are two things that people come to Yellowstone to see..geysers and wildlife. So you may be thinking, “where can I find wildlife in Yellowstone?” After all, Yellowstone National Park does cover nearly 3,500 square miles. I’d be surprised if you came home from your Yellowstone vacation without seeing at least a bison. But if you want to increase your chances of finding the more elusive bears, keep reading.

The first thing you need to remember when you visit Yellowstone is that this isn’t a zoo. The animals aren’t kept in pens or enclosures. They don’t perform. They don’t “come out” during the day and “go in” at night.

They are wild animals. They hunt, they breed, some live, and some die. The whole point of our National Parks is to preserve the ecosystems that support a wide range of life in their natural habitat. When we are lucky we get to visit and appreciate this landscape and the life it supports.

So with that said, it is obviously a bit hard to predict where to find wildlife in Yellowstone. Your best bet is going to be to stop into one of the visitor centers and talk to the Park Rangers about what they are seeing that day, where the herds are, and what has been spotted recently.

Many of these animals are creatures of habit and tend to show up in the following places.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs elk

Elk are a very common sight in Mammoth Springs. As we drove into town on the evening of our second day in Yellowstone, at first I assumed that these massive creatures on the village green must be sculptures…until they moved. Apparently, it is common knowledge the elk come into town to graze on the grass and park rangers are stationed about to keep aggressive tourists from getting too close. Trust me, you do NOT want to get on the wrong end of one of these racks.

If you are staying in Yellowstone for a few days, I’d recommend at least one night in the Mammoth Springs area. It is just too cool to look out your hotel window and see giant elk having their dinner.

Roosevelt Arch North Entrance

Pronghorn in North Yellowstone

At the northern entrance to the park near the town of Gardiner, keep your eyes down low and look for pronghorn antelope resting in the grasses.

Northern Loop

Bison in North Yellowstone

This Northern section of the park loop between Tower-Roosevelt and Mammoth Hot Springs is much quieter, without the tour busses and traffic jams you may encounter further south. Driving through in the late afternoon, we didn’t see a car for miles but we saw herd after herd of bison.

We didn’t get up as close as we did in Hayden Valley, but there is something special about seeing the hillside dotted with bison. You can almost imagine it when giant herds roamed the plains.


Elk in Yellowstone

Another common area for spotting elk would be just off the road near Madison, on your way to or from West Yellowstone.

Hayden Valley

Bison in Yellowstone

This area is famous for its wildlife and it isn’t uncommon to encounter a bison jam. This is one traffic jam you probably won’t mind because it is pretty darn cool to watch a big old buffalo saunter down the road (although driving behind it may not be as fun.) All throughout this area we saw bison just munching away just off the road.

We also spotted a bald eagle and even a black bear meandering across the hillside.

LeHardys Rapids

This may be more of a gamble and also where it pays to check with the rangers to see what the habits of some of the park’s creatures have been in recent days. We were just driving along when we saw a ton of cars in a small parking lot near LeHardys Rapids.

Looking at the map, I couldn’t imagine what was over there. Then we saw photographers lined up by the river with gigantic zoom lenses. That is when I knew that whatever was there, it was not only interesting, it had been hanging out there for a while. We found a spot and wandered down, only to encounter some people excitedly coming up the path and talking about a grizzly bear.

Grizzly bear Yellowstone with kids

When I saw what they were talking about, at first I couldn’t believe it was a grizzly – it was so dark but it was also SO BIG. Luckily it was on the other side of the river and heartedly engaged in chowing down on a dead bison, paying no attention to the show of a lifetime it was providing to its audience. A ranger was there keeping a close eye on things and also educating people about the bear and its habits.

Yes, it was a grizzly (a dark one) and it had been coming back to this spot for a few afternoons to feed on this bison. In fact, the day before, two grizzlies had a squabble over it (now that would be a scene from the nature channel.) The one we were watching must have won but you could also see the scratches on its muzzle from many a bear fight in the past.

This was definitely a lucky find and honestly the highlight of our whole trip. Everyone agreed it was something that would never be forgotten. And all because we had our eyes peeled.

Wildlife Tips

  • Ask the rangers where the wildlife has been most active
  • Go searching for wildlife early in the morning or closer to dusk. Just keep in mind that driving in Yellowstone at night can be harrowing. You have to contend with narrow, winding roads and you could very well come around the corner to a bison in the middle of the road.
  • If you see a bunch of cars pulled over, pull over too and ask questions later. Usually it means someone has spotted something.
  • Bring binoculars. If you do spot something from a distance, it will be even more exciting if you can get a close-up. The same goes for zoom lenses.
  • Hike with bear spray. We all want to see a bear. From the car. Or a safe distance. Don’t take any chances when you are hiking, especially in the backcountry or on less-popular trails. Just stop and purchase some bear spray in the visitor center if this is your plan and always hike in pairs or groups.


Must see places in Yellowstone National Park


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