As part of our road trip across the United States, we’ve been visiting the national parks and learning about what makes this country so beautiful and unique. We recently did a Yellowstone day trip as we were making our way from Washington state to Colorado. Although we wished we had more time to spend in the park, it was the perfect way to spend a day in the area.
Yellowstone National Park was the first national park in the United States, established in 1827! It covers an area of almost 3,500 square miles, and sees over 4 million visitors per year. Visitors from all over the world come for a Yellowstone vacation, to see the wildlife (bison, elk, bears, and wolves) and also observe the geothermal activities at the park (geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and steam vents).
The park itself sits on top of a supervolcano, whose last eruption occurred over 600,000 years ago. The caldera, the area that remained after the eruption, is where many of the geothermal activities occur.
You can easily spend multiple days at Yellowstone National Park, camping and hiking. If you’re planning a trip to Yellowstone, make sure you give yourself a few days. But if you only have a limited amount of time, a Yellowstone day trip is also possible.
Since we were only passing through the area, we opted to spend only a day at the park. For our Yellowstone day trip, we followed the main loop around the park, starting from the West Yellowstone Entrance, essentially circumnavigating the caldera. We were able to see many of the sights of Yellowstone taking this route.
One thing to remember when visiting Yellowstone National Park, ALWAYS be respectful of the rules of the park, regardless of whether you’re there for a day or for multiple days. The animals at the park are wild animals, so always stay a safe distance away. DO NOT approach them for selfies or feed them food. Also, the soil around the geothermal areas can often be unsafe to walk on, so always stay on the designated paths.
It’s our responsibility as visitors to Yellowstone National Park to make sure that we preserve the park for future use, even if we’re only doing a Yellowstone day trip. Following and respecting the rules of the park is very important!
For families planning a trip to Yellowstone National Park, here are seven must-see sights for a Yellowstone day trip:
Excelsior Geyser and Grand Prismatic Springs
Starting at the West Yellowstone Entrance, head south along the ring road. Your first must-see sight on your Yellowstone day trip should be Excelsior Geyser and the Grand Prismatic Springs. These are great introductions to the geothermal sights that Yellowstone has to offer, as they’re excellent examples of a geyser and hot springs. We loved the deep blue of Excelsior Geyser, and the rainbow-colored waters of Grand Prismatic Springs.
The geyser known as Old Faithful is by far the most well-known of all of Yellowstone, and it’s one that you won’t want to miss on a Yellowstone vacation. The name Old Faithful comes from the regularity with which it erupts, almost every couple of hours. This happens because there is a large reservoir that fills up below the opening of the geyser, and erupts once the pressure build up is to much. You’ll want to time your visit so that it coincides with an eruption time, so that you can avoid waiting around for an hour for the geyser to erupt.
The Continental Divide
A must see stop on your Yellowstone day trip is The Continental Divide. Running from the northern most tip of Alaska, down to the southern tip of Mexico, this invisible line divides the North American continent between the east and the west. Major rivers flow from this line into either the Pacific Ocean in the West or the Atlantic Ocean in the East. A stop at one of the two signs marking the Continental Divide is a great reminder of how vast the North American continent is.
A drive along Yellowstone Lake is a fun way to pass the afternoon on a Yellowstone day trip. The lake covers 136 square miles and has about 110 miles of shoreline. Yellowstone Lake is popular for fishing, so if you have a bit more time and are a bit of an angler, you might want to consider taking a fishing excursion.
Mud Volcano and Dragon’s Mouth Spring
A stop at the Mud Volcano during your Yellowstone day trip will give you a chance to see a different kind of geothermal activity in action: a mud pot. This occurs when surface water collects and is heated by the ground, but has no actual connection to the underground water. Instead, it heats the surrounding area and turns it into bubbling mud. It was such a sight to see the Mud Volcano, like a boiling cauldron of mud! And while you’re at it, take a look at the nearby Dragon’s Mouth Spring, a hot spring located in a cave near the Mud Volcano. We especially liked the Dragon’s Mouth Spring because the sound of the pressure explosion of water and gases in the back of a cave sound almost like a dragon breathing!
The Grand Canyon
Did you know that Yellowstone National Park has a Grand Canyon? It’s true that it’s not quite so big and grand as the actual Grand Canyon in Arizona, but it certainly has some beautiful features. Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon has gorgeous waterfalls, and stands 800 to 1,200 feet deep. It’s definitely worth a stop during your Yellowstone day trip.
Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center
No Yellowstone vacation would be complete without seeing animals. Yellowstone National Park has all kinds of large mammals, including bison and bears. During a day trip, you’re more likely to see the former rather than the latter as you drive around the park, as bears tend to be more shy. But if you do want to see some bears, head over to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, just outside of Yellowstone National Park, near the Western entrance. The center has resident grizzly bears for visitors to see and learn about. They also have wolves, although during our visit, we did not see any wolves.
We loved exploring Yellowstone National Park. Had we had more time for planning a trip to Yellowstone, we would have set aside more than just a day to explore the park. There is so much you can learn about nature, just by visiting the United States’ many National Parks. We’re lucky to have been able to visit one of the first National Parks.
Have you had a chance to visit Yellowstone National Park? Share your experiences and thoughts in the comments below!
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