15 Must-Do Yellowstone Experiences for the Park’s 150th Anniversary

Photo: Jussi Grznar/Tandemstock

Celebrate America’s first national park with this highlights planner.

Yellowstone’s 150th anniversary is cause for celebration—but it’s also important to acknowledge that U.S. politicians carved the park from land that was already inhabited. For 10,000 years before the park’s establishment, Native American tribes lived in and traveled through the area. Indigenous people were displaced by the establishment of Yellowstone, and that’s something we shouldn’t forget. Today, 49 tribes have connections to Yellowstone, and you can hear from them at some of the events below.    

To commemorate the anniversary, Yellowstone has events planned throughout 2022. The celebration will strive to be inclusive and reflective, recognizing the complex history that created this beloved park. In honor of the big event, we’ve put together 15 essential Yellowstone experiences to add to your bucket list. You won’t fit them all in a single visit—but that’s all the more reason to keep coming back.

1. Celebrate and reflect on 150 years.

Yellowstone is planning a series of events starting in March 2022 that’s open to visitors near and far. To name just a few: On March 1, the Wind River Inter-Tribal Virtual Gathering will honor the land’s Indigenous inhabitants and examine their connection to the park’s past and present. In May, the University of Wyoming will hold a symposium with speakers and panels focused on Yellowstone. In June, the Wind River Inter-Tribal Gathering brings together 49 tribes to look to Yellowstone’s future. More celebrations will be added throughout the year; check the park’s website for the latest. 

2. Spot the Yellowstone big five.

Yellowstone’s charismatic megafauna draw plenty of visitors to the park. And while there are no guarantees—they’re wild animals, after all—you have a good chance of spotting at least one of the park’s more exciting residents. Remember: Keep a safe distance (approaching on foot within 100 yards of bears or wolves, or within 25 yards of other wildlife is prohibited).

Look for wolves in the Lamar Valley at dawn and dusk. Bison frequent open meadows and plains throughout the park, particularly near the Madison River and in the Lamar and Hayden Valleys. These are also great places to spot elk, as are the open fields near Mammoth Hot Springs. Black bears can be seen throughout the park in woodlands and near water, though they’re tougher to spot. Similarly, grizzly bears roam most of the park. Though it’s thrilling to spot one, remember that grizzlies, like all wildlife, can be dangerous. Take bear safety precautions by carrying bear spray, hiking in groups, and making noise along the trail to avoid surprising a bear.

3. Watch a geyser.

You’re at Yellowstone—don’t miss Old Faithful. But there are many other geysers worth watching here (some with a fraction of the crowds you’ll see at the park’s marquee eruption). The park provides predicted eruption times for five other geysers—like Great Fountain Geyser in Lower Geyser Basin which boasts a 100- to 200-foot spray—but you might also get lucky and catch one of the hundreds of other geysers in action, too.

4. Check out other thermal features.

Yellowstone’s geysers may get all the attention, but the park’s fumaroles (steam vents), hot springs, and mud pots are equally fascinating. Stroll Norris Geyser Basin for great examples of fumaroles, gaze at bubbling mud at Fountain Paint Pots, and don’t miss Grand Prismatic Spring for a hot pool in all its polychrome glory.

5. Gaze into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

This plunging chasm near the center of the park features two stunning waterfalls: 109-foot Upper Falls and 308-foot Lower Falls. See them on a hike along the North or South Rim Trails, or descend into the canyon on Uncle Tom’s Trail.

6. Enjoy a soak.

While most of Yellowstone’s thermal features are far too hot for bathing, there are a few spots in the park for a natural hot-spring dip. The Boiling River near Mammoth Hot Springs is a popular one, though it’s currently closed. The Bechler River area in the park’s southwest corner hosts backcountry springs, too.

7. Take a hike. 

You don’t really see Yellowstone until you step off the road and onto a trail. With 900-plus miles to choose from, the park has something for everyone. For a backpacking trip through geothermal highlights, try the 20-mile hike on the Lone Star Trail to Shoshone Geyser Basin. 

8. Climb a mountain.

Yellowstone’s highest points top 11,000 feet (and the views are even better than you expect). Mt. Washburn, at 10,259 feet, is a popular summit with a fire lookout at the top, and the short-yet-very-steep Avalanche Peak is a great challenge for fit hikers.

9. Get out on a boat.

Paddling and touring options range from quiet canoe and kayak routes to scenic rides run by a concessionaire across enormous Yellowstone Lake. Quiet Lewis Lake, on the park’s south side, connects experienced paddlers to the beautiful backcountry of Shoshone Lake via the Lewis River. (Permits are required for personal watercraft.)

10. Visit Old Faithful Inn.

Built during 1903 and 1904, this iconic lodge is absolutely packed with character. Even if you don’t spend the night, it’s well worth a visit to see its “parkitecture” style up close. The front rooftop patio is an excellent vantage point for watching Old Faithful erupt, and the hotel dining room offers elegant meals.

11. Go fishing.

Anglers love Yellowstone’s many waterways, from the world-famous Madison River to the clear, cold waters of Lake Yellowstone. Fishing options abound; be sure to check regulations and grab a permit before you get started.

12. Go skiing.

Yellowstone becomes an entirely different place in winter, and one of the best ways to explore it is on cross-country skis. The park grooms a network of trails in the Mammoth area every winter, and skiing among the geysers in Upper Geyser Basin is an unforgettable experience. On the west side, check out the backcountry Riverside Ski Trail, which skirts the Madison River. 

13. See a petrified tree.

In the northern part of the park, ancient mudslides spurred by volcanic activity buried—and preserved—many trees. You can see one at the Petrified Tree pullout (alas, you can’t actually touch it), and inspect others up close on Specimen Ridge.

14. Attend a ranger program.

Yellowstone’s rangers possess a wealth of knowledge about the park’s wildlife, plant life, geology, ecology, and human history. You’ll typically find a variety of ranger programs running in most of the park’s developed areas; check the park newspaper and/or visitor center bulletin boards for schedules starting summer 2022.

15. Sleep under the stars.

Visiting Yellowstone for the day is great, but staying overnight is even better. You’ll have a front-row seat to sunsets and sunrises, stargazing, and better wildlife-spotting opportunities, to name just a few advantages. The park has 12 campgrounds in different regions throughout the park, and all now offer reservations. For an even wilder experience, get a backcountry camping permit and backpack into your own private paradise for the night.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.