CulturallyOurs Exploring Yellowstone National Park Oldest National Park In The World

Exploring The Oldest National Park In The World – Yellowstone

03.01.21
CulturallyOurs Exploring Yellowstone National Park Oldest National Park In The World

A first timer’s guide to exploring Yellowstone National Park which is considered by many as the first and hence oldest national park in the world.

Lucky for us here in the US, there is a place unlike any other right here in our own backyards. Every nature buff, wildlife enthusiast or even photographer knows that Yellowstone National Park is one of the best places to get lost wandering, exploring and photographing. No matter whether what genre of photographer you are, Yellowstone takes your breath away and you cannot help but want to spend all your time exploring the world’s first National Park.CulturallyOurs Exploring Yellowstone National Park Oldest National Park In The WorldBeing in Yellowstone is a bit like setting foot in an unreal alternate reality world. Colors, shapes, textures take on a whole new meaning. Amazing and magnificent creatures roam the land and you feel like you have taken a step into a time and place unlike any other. Here you might see geysers in vibrant shades of yellow, orange, blue and gold. River boil, mud gurgles and water erupts in tall waterspouts at regular intervals. Wolves, grizzles, black bears, bison, eagles, falcons, pronghorn and many others call this landscape home and to see them in their natural habitat is a thrill unimaginable.CulturallyOurs Exploring Yellowstone National Park Oldest National Park In The WorldBecause Yellowstone is such a huge park with so much ground to cover doing everything in a day is next to impossible. There are five different entrances to the park and hence the park is split into five different regions.

  • North Entrance – area around Mammoth Hot Springs
  • West Entrance – area around Madison
  • South Entrance – are around Grant Village
  • East Entrance – area around Fishing Bridge and Lake Village
  • North-East Entrance – area around Lamar Valley

Yellowstone’s North entrance is the only one open year around. For the best photography experience, plan on spending at least a few days in the park. In terms of things to photograph, this guide is broken up into three different genres along with the best places to visit to photograph different things in Yellowstone.

#1 Things to see in Yellowstone – Wildlife

The diversity of animals that call Yellowstone National Park is incredible. Apart from the big names like Wolves, Coyotes, Bears and Bison, an array of birds like Trumpeter swans, ospreys, falcons and smaller mammals like beavers call this place home. That means that no matter where you go you are bound to see animals – grazing around or even just chilling out by the hillside. Sometimes, especially in winter you might find animals using the road to traverse from one place to the other.CulturallyOurs Exploring Yellowstone National Park Oldest National Park In The WorldYou never know what you will find as you are driving around so one good tip is to always keep your eyes open and your camera ready to capture some incredible wildlife. This is one instance when looking for crowds is a good thing. If you see a crowd gathering, spot and say hello and ask if they have spotted anything. Many people are more than willing to share wildlife sightings since it is such a special thing.CulturallyOurs Exploring Yellowstone National Park Oldest National Park In The WorldSome of the best places to spot wildlife in Yellowstone are

#1 Mammoth Springs near the North Entrance

This is a quick drive from the northern entrance and is a beautiful area in Yellowstone with some historical structures and a small museum in the visitor center. This area is famous for elk herds and bison that frequent the place. Often times you will find elk just laying around outside the visitor center along the grass.CulturallyOurs Exploring Yellowstone National Park Oldest National Park In The WorldLook all around when you are in Yellowstone. Some animals are easily camouflaged by the landscape and easy to miss.

#2 Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Yellowstone boasts its own Grand Canyon. It is carved by the Yellowstone river and just as spectacular as the Grand Canyon in Arizona. After old faithful, this is probably one of the most popular places in the park. So be prepared for crowds no matter what time you go. There are many hiking paths around Grand Canyon so for an unique experience, get on one of the trails and you never know what you might see. This area is known for a variety of wildlife like bison, bears, elk, and big horn sheep.

#3 Hayden Valley

In the canyon area, Hayden valley is a wildlife hot spot. The lush valley of meadow and marsh is the best place to observe wildlife. Hayden valley is home to huge herds of large bison, moose and elk. This makes it prime feeding grounds for grizzly bears and wolves. Bears are often seen in spring and early summer when they feed on newborn bison calves and elk calves. You might even see trumpeter swans and bald eagles in the valley. Trumpeter swans are huge and can often be seen swimming in Hayden Valley and the area around Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.CulturallyOurs Exploring Yellowstone National Park Oldest National Park In The WorldHayden Valley is a hot spot for many herds of bison and elk.

#4 Lamar Valley

This is one of the most famous places in Yellowstone. You will likely see the most wildlife in any trip right here in Lamar valley. Known as the secluded valley, this place is quite special. It is a broad glacial valley that provides prime wildlife viewing. Wolves, coyotes, bison, elk and moose make their home among the landscape in Lamar. Be prepared to spend significant amount of time here – this area is also beautiful for landscape photography especially around sunrise and sunset.CulturallyOurs Exploring Yellowstone National Park Oldest National Park In The World Lamar Valley’s famous bison jams are quite amusing but also very serious traffic hazard. Always give these huge creatures the right of way.

Yellowstone is a huge park with over 450 miles of roadways. Distances between each of these spot is vast and take time. Plan you day and don’t expect to be able to cover more than a few places in a single day. There are several lodging options inside Yellowstone National Park. For the most efficient use of your photography time, try and find lodging inside the park to reduce your driving time.CulturallyOurs Exploring Yellowstone National Park Oldest National Park In The WorldYellowstone is one of the few places in the wild where you can actually see animals right from your car. As you can imagine, this can be a bit of a problem on the single lane roads through most of the parl. Wildlife jams is a real thing in Yellowstone. As tempting as it might be to just park your car in the middle of the road when you see an animal, it is not the smartest thing to do – for the animal as well as for others on the road with you. So if you do see an animal make sure to pull over on the shoulder and safely observe and/or photograph. If there isn’t a shoulder to pull over, drive to the nearest pullout and park. Safety of the animals and your fellow travelers is more important than a photograph. Be smart and be safe, the last thing you want is a traffic violation ticket from the Yellowstone park rangers.

Yellowstone is super special in winter where wildlife are much easier to spot thanks to lesser crowds. But it is also very cold so make sure you are well prepared for the cold and bellow zero temperatures.

#2 Things to see in Yellowstone – Geysers & Hot Springs

CulturallyOurs Exploring Yellowstone National Park Oldest National Park In The WorldAs much as you would want to spend all your time seeing wildlife in Yellowstone, there is so much more to the park. It is one of the few remaining active hydrothermal spots in the world and almost all of Yellowstone sits in an active caldera. Yellowstone has over 1000 hydrothermal features alone. They come in so many different colors and are very beautiful to see. But be aware, these thermal hot springs and geysers are also quite dangerous as the water is super hot. So please stay on designated trails and boardwalk and never walk over delicate surfaces.

Here are some of the most popular geysers in the park

#1 Grand Prismatic Spring

This deep rainbow-colored hot spring is the second largest in the world. There is a boardwalk around the spring so you can walk around and take lots of detail shots of the area around the spring. There are also a few different hikes around the area to give you a higher up, overarching view of this colorful spring.CulturallyOurs Exploring Yellowstone National Park Oldest National Park In The WorldIt is rare to find Grand Prismatic springs without any people in it. If you are able to, get there really early in the morning to see it sans people. Otherwise just embrace the crowd in your photos. That’s the reality of a popular tourist destination like Yellowstone.

#2 Yellowstone Lake

Sitting at almost 7800ft elevation, this lake is the largest natural high-altitude lake in North America. From the park’s east entrance, the road twists and turns through scenic country for almost 30 miles. The first 7 miles are quite picturesque. During summer, this stretch of road has some incredible wildflowers. It is a great spot to practice landscape photography.CulturallyOurs Exploring Yellowstone National Park Oldest National Park In The World

#3 Fire Hole Canyon Drive

If you enter the Madison-Norris area from the south via the Grand Loop road, the Fire Hole canyon drive is a great detour. The drive offers views of the Firehole falls. Near the end of this road is an unstaffed swimming hole with is quite popular in the summer.CulturallyOurs Exploring Yellowstone National Park Oldest National Park In The WorldWith countless mud pots, geysers and hot springs all around Yellowstone, you will always find something to photograph. But this is also a very fragile and dangerous environment. So stay on designated boardwalks and trails and don’t meander off.

#4 Old Faithful

Like Grand Prismatic, any Yellowstone itinerary is incomplete without Old Faithful. Old Faithful is very busy, so it’s important to get here as early as possible especially if you want to photograph the geyser erupting. Additionally, the geyser basin around Old Faithful is full of super unique springs and geysers to walk around and check out.CulturallyOurs Exploring Yellowstone National Park Oldest National Park In The WorldBe a responsible and conscientious photographer. Don’t take up more space than needed with your gear and tripod. Remember not everyone visiting Old Faithful is a professional photographer so they might not understand your need for bulk and large tripods occupying space near the viewing areas.

#5 Black Sand Basin

Black sand basin is located about a mile from Old faithful and has some smaller hot springs and geysers. It is named for its black sand which forms when hot lava cools too quickly. There are many colorful hot springs around this area to explore and photograph.

#3 Things to see in Yellowstone – Historic monuments

Being the oldest national park in the world means Yellowstone has a lot of historical significance. There are some incredible monuments in the park that are definitely worth exploring and photographing.

#1 Roosevelt Arch

Located near the north entrance to the park, the Roosevelt Arch is one of the iconic features in Yellowstone. It was dedicated in 1903 by President Roosevelt as a symbol of the park. More often you will see elk meandering along the road leading through the arch.

#2 Fort Yellowstone

This fort was built by the US Calvary is the 1890s. It is topped with red roods and numerous chimneys and today house the park’s administrative staff.

#3 Old Faithful Inn

Opened in 1904, the inn has been a staple lodging option for many visitors to the park. This historic hotel is beautiful inside and outside and a great place to people watch and photograph architecture.CulturallyOurs Exploring Yellowstone National Park Oldest National Park In The WorldYellowstone has some epic sunrises and sunset no matter what time of the year you are visiting. Get there early and stay late. You will not be disappointed with the kind of images you create.

Yellowstone is one of those places that you can visit over and over again and still see something new and photograph something unique. The key to a successful photography trip to Yellowstone is patience. Yes, it is very crowded and extremely popular. But that does not mean you need to bump shoulders with hundreds of tourists and other photographers everywhere you go. Plan your days, look for alternative photography spots, arrive early and stay late, keep your gear handy and most importantly, enjoy yourself. Amazing photos are sure to follow.

While most people would love to spend days and weeks exploring each part of this huge National Park, the reality is that most people tend to spend at least three days in the park and try to get everywhere and see everything. To make the most of your Yellowstone Adventure, here is a popular itineraries for exploring Yellowstone National Park.

Three Day Yellowstone National Park Adventure In Winter

CulturallyOurs Exploring Yellowstone National Park Oldest National Park In The WorldIn winter, only the north entrance to Yellowstone is open and the only drivable road is the one between Gardiner MT to Silver Gate MT, a distance of about 55miles.

Day One: Wildlife Watching

Start your trip bright and early with a drive through the Yellowstone Northern Range and Lamar Valley which is open year-round to personal vehicles. Renowned for its wildlife, Lamar Valley offers unparalleled views and opportunities to see everything from bison to moose.

Day Two: Cross-country Skiing

Take advantage of the Nordic ski trails both in Yellowstone and in the surrounding national forest by getting on some cross-country skis. You can pick up some skis in Gardiner or at the Bear Den Ski Shop in Mammoth to pick up gear and tips on what trails are best suited to you.

Day Three: Mammoth Hot Springs Exploration

Start your day with a stop at the Albright Visitor Information Center in Mammoth Hot Springs to learn about the history of Yellowstone before exploring the Mammoth Terraces. Walk around the terraces and hot springs area and practice your winter photography. End your day with some local flavor at one of Gardiner’s cozy restaurants.

Three Day Yellowstone National Park Adventure In Spring

CulturallyOurs Exploring Yellowstone National Park Oldest National Park In The World

Day One: The Geyser Loop

From Gardiner, head south into Yellowstone past Mammoth Hot Springs, stopping at Norris and Midway geyser basins before reaching Old Faithful. After a day of exploration, head east towards Yellowstone Lake and north through Hayden Valley. If time allows, be sure to stop at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone before completing the loop back at Mammoth Hot Springs.

Day Two: Outdoor Adventure

There are many different options to explore the various trails and hikes in and around Yellowstone National Park. You can choose between rafting the Yellowstone River, ziplining through the Gallatin National Forest, or taking a horseback ride. Many companies offer a package deal so you can take on several activities in the same day.

Day Three: The Northern Range

Spend your final day in our favorite part of the park exploring the Yellowstone Northern Range and Lamar Valley. Heading east from Mammoth Hot Springs, travel along “the Serengeti of North America” for a chance to spot Yellowstone’s most famous critters. In the spring, highlights include bison calves and black bear cubs.

Three Day Yellowstone National Park Adventure In Fall

CulturallyOurs Exploring Yellowstone National Park Oldest National Park In The World

Day One: Elk rut and wildlife photography

After a leisurely breakfast, pack your camera and head out to the Yellowstone Northern Range to take in the fall foliage and abundant wildlife watching. Fall in northern Yellowstone means elk mating season is in full swing—evenings in Mammoth are often a great time to watch bull elk compete for the attention of females.

Day Two: Hiking

With temperatures cooling off, fall offers some of the best hiking of the year. If trekking in bear country intimidates you, book with one of our local guides who can provide spotting scopes, bear spray, and a picnic lunch.

Day Three: Scenic Driving

Yellowstone offers some of the county’s most dramatic scenery no matter which entrance you pick.  If you’re heading north, travel along the Yellowstone River into Paradise Valley for some truly jaw dropping scenary. If you are east, drive through Yellowstone and over the scenic Beartooth Highway which is noted among one of the best scenic drives in the world.

Related Reading

Leave your comments below