America's Best History ... Yellowstone

Newsflash - Steamboat Geyser erupts after 8 years.  Watch now.
Sometimes dormat for up to 50 years; sometimes erupting 29 times in one year. Amazing nature at its finest.

It was the nation's first national park over one hundred thirty years ago, starting the trend of protecting the natural and historic treasures of the United States of America that now span the nation from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans, and for many, the eldest and still the best.  Dedicated in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant, the bounteous beauty of this huge park encompasses a natural landscape that includes so many features, it almost seems superfluous to list them.   Geysers, paint pots, majestic waterfalls that dip between rocky cliffs and verdant green forests, and a collection of wildlife in such a large habitat that it almost seems endless; bison (over 3,500 of them according to the latest census), grizzly bear, wolf, moose, and elk, to name a few.  They trod over this amazing landscape, culled from a huge volcanic eruption only 640,000 years ago, beside visitors pulled from all corners of the world and all walks of life.

When you glide through one of the entrance gates of Yellowstone National Park for the first time, a sense of wonder invades your spirit.  Catch a glimpse of a large moose standing in a river below the next turn and a tingle spins up your spine.  See a mother bear trot her cubs in front of the family car, suv, or recreational vehicle and you're going to wonder why you ever thought going to the mall for shoes was part of a vacation.  And that's before you get to the parts of the park where steam hisses into the atmosphere and deposits liquid to earth in colorful hues only a magical painter could create.  Then look across the barren landscape toward a group of buffalo who thought warming themselves in the steam was just the greatest thing on the planet to do.  Later, when the day gets long and you feel a bit tired, stumble down the park roads into the construction inside Yellowstone, the historic Old Faithful Inn for example, and open the front door.  Almost impossible not to marvel at the logs of lodging pulled from these woodlands that is awe-inspiring to say the least.  You may not even want to sleep.

Yellowstone is a very large park, three thousand four hundred square miles of wilderness, (almost three times the size of the entire state of Rhode Island, bigger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined) and will take more than a couple days to see even one percent of it.  It is a geothermal panoply of more geysers and springs than are found anywhere else on earth.

How popular has Yellowstone been over the years.  Well, recreational visits have been counted since 1904 when 13,727 people came to the park.  By 1915, over 50,000 came for the first time.  In 1923, 138,352 recreational visitors found the environs of Yellowstone to their liking for the first year over 100,000, but it took only six years for that number to swell to over 200,000.  By 1940, 526,437 took in park sites, and six years after that, with a significant dip during the war years in between, over one million visitors were counted.  It took until 1965 for over two million to show up and until 1992 for 3 million (3,144,405 and still the highest year to date) to come for the first time.  Since then, just over or under 3 million recreational visitors have come to Yellowstone every year on a Yellowstone vacation. - Free Shipping on ALL orders

Yellowstone Horizon
The horizon above Yellowstone Lake, from Ansel Adams photographs 1941-2.
Falls at Yellowstone National Park

Things You Should Not Miss

1. The film, "The Challenge of Yellowstone" a twenty-five minute presentation on the history of Yellowstone and the national parks idea, at the Albright Visitor Center.

2. Take in an everning program from the Rangers at the Old Faithful Visitor Center.

3. How about taking in the wild west side of Yellowstone, with western cookouts, stagecoach rides, and even horseback trail tours.

4. Find the Fountain Paint Pots, located south of Madison on the way to Old Faithful.  It is a real treat.

5. At almost every turn it seems, trails and boardwalks dip from parking areas into the Yellowstone panorama.  Take these walks and marvel at their sites.  They include Old Faithful Geyser Loop and Mystic Falls, plus a wide variety of others.  Ask at each visitor center what the best each area has to offer.

6. On your way to the park, check out the gateway towns, including West Yellowstone, Montana, where history abounds at places like the Yellowstone Historic Center. The Yellowstone Historic Center, a ten acre complex that tells the history of the park from a distinct point of view; the tours and their historic stagecoach, train, and bus transport.

What is There Now

Visitor's Centers
Eight centers dot every corner of the park.

    * North
- Albright Visitor Center at Mammoth Hot Springs.  Five miles south of the North Entrance to the park, this center is open year round from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with extended hours during the peak season from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  Films and exhibits on Native American history, the mountain men, and the park service are included.
    * Center - Canyon Visitor Center
- Located in the Canyon Village complex, this visitor center is open seasonally and includes exhibits on the American bison.
    * East - Fishing Bridge Visitor Center
- Near the East Entrance Road, the center is housed in a 1931 building which is a National Historic Landmark and includes exhibits on birds and other wildlife.
    * Madison Information Center
-  Fourteen miles inside the west entrance near Madison Junction.
    * Western Center
- Old Faithful Visitor Center - Located sixteen miles south of Madison Junction, and a couple hundred yards from Old Faithful Geyser.  There are exhibits and ranger guided walks.
    * South Center
- West Thumb Information Center - On the shore of Yellowstone Lake twenty-two miles north of the south entrance.
    * West
- West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce Public Lands Desk - In West Yellowstone, this center includes ranger led activities during both day and evening.

The Museum of the National Park Ranger -
Located only one mile from Norris Junction, twenty-eight miles from the west entrance and twenty-six miles from the north entrance, this museum includs a 25 minute movie, "An American Legacy", as well as exhibits.
Norris Geyser Basin Museum - Built in 1929, the museum includes exhibits on geothermal geology and is located off Grand Loop Road near Norris Junction.

Old Faithful, Yellowstone National ParkBison in Yellowstone National Park

Lodging and Camping

For many, part of the beauty of a Yellowstone visit is staying inside the park itself.  Lodging can be reserved many places, including towns outside such a West Yellowstone, Montana, which are treats in themselves, but the range of places to stay inside the park are many and give the visitor just that much more time to witness the spectacular beauty that the park includes at every corner.  One thing to keep in mind, however, is that these lodges are busy much of the year and it is best to reserve a room well in advance.  They can be reserved through and are located in various parts of the park.  They range in price from a primitive cabin for two at $60 to nearly $200.  There are many camping options as well, with the earliest open from early May and going into the beginning of October.  There are sites for all types of campers, from primitive back country possibilities to the place for your RV.

Lodging in Yellowstone
    * Canyon Lodges (Canyon Lodge, Cascade Lodge, and Dunraven Lodge)
    * Canyon Frontier/Pioneer Cabins
    * Canyon Western Cabins
    * Grant Village (22 miles from the South Entrance)
    * Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Cabins
    * Lake Lodge Cabins
    * Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins
    * Old Faithful Inn
    * Old Faithful Lodge Cabins
    * Old Faithful Snow Lodge (Open in Winter)
    * Roosevelt Lodge Cabins

Camping in Yellowstone
    * Bridge Bay Campground
    * Canyon Campground
    * Fishing Bridge RV Park (RV & Campers only) - 27 miles from the East Entrance.
    * Grant Village Campground
    * Indian Creek Campground (no reservations)
    * Lewis Lake Campground (no reservations)
    * Madison Campground
    * Mammoth Campground (no reservations)
    * Norris Campground (no rservations)
    * Pebble Creek Campground (no reservations)
    * Slough Creek Campground (no reservations
    * Tower Fall Campground (no reservations)

Yellowstone Links

Yellowstone National Park
Xanterra - Yellowstone Lodging Reservations
All Yellowstone Park

Nearby Attractions

Bridger-Teton National Forest
Buffalo Bill Historical Center
Caribou-Targhee National Forest
Gallatin National Forest
Grand Teton National Park
Shoshone National Forest
East Yellowstone, Wyoming
Gardiner, Montana
Silver Lake/Cooke City, Wyoming
West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce
West Yellowstone Montana Travel Guide
Yellowstone Historic Center

Yellowstone Then and Now

Old Faithful archive photo

Yellowstone Then

Old Faithful Geyser - The most famous of the geysers in the park, Old Faithful erupts punctually, now at 80 minute intervals.  Spraying water and steam one hundred and eighty feet in the air, each show last from one to five minutes and is well worth the wait.  Old Faithful's timetable has changed over the years, the most recent being in 1998 when an earthquake added four minutes to the span.  Thirty years ago, the time span between eruptions was even shorter, at about sixty-five minutes.  What the eruption time was in 1872, the first year of the park's existence and shown in the photograph above from one of Hayden's surveys, is anyone's guess.
Old Faithful Inn - The massive sixty-five foot ceiling engulfs the rustic lobby of this inn that was built in the winter of 1903-4  and now contains 327 guest rooms.  The Inn was financed by the Northern Pacific Railway at a cost of $140,000 for construction.  It was designed by Robert C. Reamer, whose other works in national park architecture included the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and the Grand Canyon Hotel.  The inn overlooks the Old Faithful Geyser basin.

History of Yellowstone National Park Itself - Congress approved the creation of the park on March 1, 1872, but it was the photographs and work of several expeditions, the last in 1871 by Ferdinand Hayden and renowned photographer William H. Jackson that convinced Congress that this geothermal anomoly just had to be protected.  Pictured center, the horizon above Yellowstone Lake, from Ansel Adams photographs 1941-2; far right above, the Great Falls of the Yellowstone, from one of Hayden's expeditions, circa 1878.

Nez Perce Indian Trail 1877 - On August 23, 1877, seven hundred Indians from the Nez Perce tribe entered Yellowstone National Park as they fled the six hundred man Army troops of General Howard, who was attempting to round the Nez Perce onto reservation land after they had left the Wallowa Valley in June.  After battling at Big Hole, their flight through Yellowstone included the killing and capture of several by the Nez Perce, before they headed north toward Canada and capture by General Nelson Miles.  All told, the Nez Perce flight to avoid capture had taken them 1,700 miles.

Mammoth Hot Springs - This heralded historic attraction drew visitors to an early commerical attraction due to its mineral waters and later became home to Fort Yellowstone, whose buildings housed the U.S. Army cavalry from 1891 to 1918.  They had been sent there in 1886 to safeguard the park from developers, souvenir hunters, and opportunists.  These buildings are now historic attractions themselves.

Yellowstone Now

Pink Cone Geyser, Yellowstone

Today's Nature
- The colors that erupt from the paint pots and geysers almost seem as if they are from another planet.  At Clepsydra (photo below), the "water clock" geyser, it erupts continuously into a pool of yellow and green.  For those with a more traditional natural bent, the spectacular Lower Yellowstone Falls (center top of page) spills into verdant green valleys and visitors can often walk out onto an overlook just a few feet from the rushing waters.  Near the grand Old Faithful Inn, the most famous natural attraction of them all at Yellowstone National Park, Old Faithful Geyser (right) is still around, now erupting every eighty minutes to the delight of millions of tourists every year.  (Photo above) Pink Cone Geyser at sunset in Yellowstone National Park.

Clepsydra Geyser, Yellowstone National Park

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Visitor Statistics

National Park
3,188,030 visitors

#21 Most Visited National Park Unit

Park Size

National Park
2,219,789 acres

Source: NPS, 2013 Visitor Statistics; Visitor Rank among 369 units.

Yellowstone National Park Entrance Fees

Private Vehicle
$25 for 7 days

Individual Walk/Bike
$12 for 7 days

$20 for 7 days


Fees subject to change without notice.

Yellowstone Weather

70-80 degrees during the day, but can drop to below freezing at night in the high country.  Common afternoon thunderstoms.

Snowfall is abundant,
averaging 150 inches per year.  Temperatures are usually between zero and 20 degrees during the day and substantially lower at night.

Old Faithful Inn, circa 1905

Old Faithful Inn, circa 1905

Yellowstone Transportation and Tours

- No public transportation is available inside the park.

Tours - Xanterra, the park concessionaire, runs three summer season bus tours; the Lower Loop Tour, the Upper Loop Tour, and the Grand Loop Tour (full day).  Various bus tours also operate from the towns on the outskirts of the park.  There are also tours on a lake cruiser to consider for those of you who like to relax as you view nature skimming by you.

Protecting Yellowstone

Protecting Yellowstone National Park can come in many forms.  First, pay heed to the warnings and instructions of park rangers and the National Park Service to insure that your visit in safe and wonderful.  Second, please obey the rules about protecting the park.

If you wish to help even more in that regard ... join the Yellowstone Park Foundation, whose mission is to protect and preserve this beautiful landscape.

Protecting Yourself

To be safe while camping, be sure to have camper insurance while visiting Yellowstone or other parks and campsites.

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