Yellowstone National Park, opened in 1872, is the oldest National Park in the world. For the most part, it is located in the state of Wyoming, but it also partly stretches into the neighboring states of Montana and Idaho. The nearby town of Jackson, Wyoming, is a popular spot for tourists to start from to explore Yellowstone, The town is located south of the National Parks in the northwestern corner of the state. It can be reached via Highway 26.
The National Park contains a wide range of different landscapes - from lakes to forests to mountains, these offer an abundance of opportunities for various leisure activities and those are being used by more than three million annual visitors. The Lewis & Clark expedition in 1805, some of these sceneries had been discovered and described, but back then, the area had been so far away from the regions where people had settled that it should take a few decades until Yellowstone became accessible for the general public. In addition, many of the tales about geysers and warm springs simply had not been believed at the East Coast. Around 1870, further expeditions to explore the area were launched. The reports resulting from one of those excursions, the one led by F.V. Hayden, finally convinced people in Washington and President Ulysees S. Grant from the need to preserve that area and to found the National Park. It was initially put under the supervision of the US Army. Their Fort Yellowstone, built in 1886, today houses the National Park’s administrative offices.
Many of the visitors to the Park come to see the many facets of these unique landscapes. Five percent of the Park’s area are covered by water. That includes the Yellowstone River, which has formed the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, a gorge with a depth of 275 meters and surrounded by yellowish rocks as well as some of the almost 300 waterfalls within the National Park. It also includes Yellowstone Lake, the lake with the highest altitude in America. It has a depth of up to 120 meters. Apart from the water, woods and grass prairie dominate the scenery, which is also stamped by the peaks contained in a section of the Rocky Mountains, of which Eagle Peak is the highest with an altitude of 3462 meters.
The main attractions of Yellowstone National Park are primarily its geysers and hot springs. The most famous of the geysers is without doubt Old Faithful. It is said that one can set the watch after its eruption frequency. That is not entirely true, but with an average waiting time of 90 minutes between eruptions, Old Faithful proves its name to be adequate. In each eruption, up to 32,000 liters of water, heated up to 120°C below the surface, are being shot up to 55 meters high. Because of the frequency of this performance, most visitors come to this spot in the Park. There are accommodation options available in this area. But as far as the height of the eruptions is concerned, Old Faithful is surpassed by the world’s largest geyser. Steamboat Geyser can shoot water up into heights of up to 130 meters. However, that act isn’t as predictable - there can be a few days between eruptions or years. In total, 300 geysers, that’s two thirds of all geysers in the world, are located in Yellowstone Park. Their activity is impacted by thousands of small earthquakes each year, but those are very rarely perceptible for humans.
The National Park preserves more than 1,700 plant species and a wide range of animal species. Of these, the bison are particularly famous, of which some 4,000 live within the Park’s boundaries. They share thier habitat with some 30,000 wapitis, elk, coyotes and about 500 black bears and a few hundred grizzly bears. Special attention is given to the wolves that have been reintroduced to the area from 1995 on and have meanwhile established themselves here again, thanks to careful monitoring and the wolves’ rediscovery of their natural instinct to hunt for bison. Apart from the mammals, the National Park is also home to many amphibians, a few snake species, fish and birds.
Yellowstone National Park is well prepared for visitors of all kinds and maintains numerous overnight stay options on the perimeter, including lodges, inns and campgrounds. Each of the nine Visitor Centers informs visitors about the guided tours and educational programs that are being offered, as well as about the other offerings available, including guided snowmobile tours in the winter. Having entered the Park through one of the five entrances, there are some 500 kilometers of paved roads, some of which are not accessible in the winter. Only one entrance - the one in the North near the town of Gardiner in Montana - is open year-round. The roads are leading visitors to all of the important points of the Park, all other points can be accessed via an extensive network of signed hiking trails. The area that contains the geysers - the most popular section - is mostly located between the Western and Southern entrance. If you are travelling in late fall or in winter, be sure to check road conditions in advance.