I lived in Yellowstone for 4 months in the summer/fall of 2016, and it was the best summer of my life…
I loved everything about it, and I realized that there was so much to do there, but most people always did the same stuff. I wrote this post to highlight some popular places that I think are a bit overrated, and some amazing places in the park that are not traveled as often as others (at least based on my time there).
There are 3 really “popular” things to see if you’re a tourist in YNP.
#1 Old Faithful
Old Faithful is definitely the most visited area of the park, hands down, no competition. Don’t get me wrong. Geysers are really cool. I studied geology in school, so seeing geysers in real life is awesome, however, it isn’t even close to the top of the list of really crazy and/or beautiful things to see in the park.
#2 Lake Yellowstone
Lake is most likely second to Old Faithful in full day tourism. The lake is legitimately very beautiful, but most people don’t ever see it from the best spots. The view from the top of any of the mountains around it is not very often seen. Most people just see it from the ground, which pales in comparison to the top of Avalanche peak. Lake is pretty crowded near on the shore, so I don’t recommend spending an entire day there, there are better uses of your time.
#3 The Grand Prismatic Spring
The Prismatic is one of the most captivating blasts of color that your eyes will ever experience. Most people want to see this if they are in the park. It is cool, but the boardwalk that goes around it doesn’t do it justice, and I was only able to stay for a few minutes before I got a little bored and annoyed by all of the people.
Honestly, tourist spots are just that, for tourists. If you really like popular landmarks, well known locations, and a lot of people, that is fine, everyone is different. I am just not in love with every single “must see” that is in a guidebook. I love raw nature, pure beauty, and untouched serenity. That is why I chose these next 3 places to focus on in this post.
#1 Lamar valley
Lamar valley is a really cool place. It is about an hour or so east of Mammoth hot springs, which is the location that you come into when you enter through the north entrance of the park.
It is not one specific spot, but the entire area that just screams nature.
The first time that I went there we had to pull the car over so a herd of bison could walk down the road. There were probably about 100 of them, and they took their sweet time getting by us. There were a few that walked right up to the side of the car and just looked at us, with every ability to smash the window/door in and gore us all to death, but they just stared for a minute and moved on.
That is how it is in the park. Instead of the wild being a commodity on the outskirts, here, the “civilized” world is a visitor at the mercy of mother nature.
#2 Boiling river at night
This spot is kind of both overrated and underrated at the same time. The boiling river is located about half way between Mammoth Hot springs and the north entrance to the park in Gardiner, Montana (about 3 miles from both). It is a portion of the Yellowstone river that has a flowing hot spring running into it from the side, and the entire portion of the river near the spring is as hot as a hot tub, but it’s also a river.
The bad part is that it is open sun up to sun down and it is always crowded. Very touristy and not my taste, however, when the sun goes down, it is a different story. While it is technically illegal to go down into at night, that is the only time that I would recommend going.
At night, no people are there, the hot water feels even better in contrast with the cool air, and it is dark.
Being a few miles away from the nearest settlements makes it very dark (especially because those areas don’t put off a lot of light in the first place), and the reason that it being very dark is great is because of the view.
I have never seen more stars anywhere than when I laid in that river at night. With such little light pollution, it is absolutely breath taking. This spot (at night time) is one of the most beautiful places in the park.
#3 Electric peak
Electric peak is honestly my personal favorite place in the park. This hike is one of the more difficult ones that you can do in the park. This mountain is, I believe, the 6th tallest peak in altitude in the park. It is the tallest of the surrounding peaks in the north west area of the park. To get to the trail you have to drive south from Mammoth (or north from Norris, it’s about half way in between) and there is a small parking pullout.
The trail just to get to the base of the mountain is about 9 miles, and then you have to actually climb the mountain.
I spent about 11 hours one day doing the entire thing by myself (because none of my friends had that day off). The change in scenery and climate is breathtaking. You go from valley full of elk to steep mountainside in a blizzard rather quick.
And every second is both riotous and serene at the same time.
When you get to the top, you just have to sit down and stare all around you. There is nothing more humbling, horrifying, and beautiful than what you feel on top. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to experience true unadulterated power and helplessness at the same time.
The park entire park is breathtaking, and even the “over-crowded” spots are still pretty awesome. I just want to encourage you to see the things not often seen. I think every person should see the park in his/her life.
I hope you have enjoyed this list!
-Drew, the kind nomad
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