Yellowstone Points of Interest

Upper and Lower Geyser Basin
Yellowstone, as a whole, possesses close to 60 percent of the world's geysers. The Upper Geyser Basin is home to the largest numbers of this fragile feature found in the park. Within one square mile there are at least 150 of these hydrothermal wonders. Of this remarkable number, only five major geysers are predicted regularly by the naturalist staff. They are Castle, Grand, Daisy, Riverside, and Old Faithful. There are many frequent, smaller geysers to be seen and marveled at in this basin as well as numerous hot springs and one recently developed mudpot (if it lasts).

The Lower Geyser Basin can be viewed by foot along the boardwalk trail at Fountain Paint Pots and by car along the three mile Firehole Lake Drive. The latter is a one-way drive where you will find the sixth geyser predicted by the Old Faithful staff: Great Fountain. Its splashy eruptions send jets of diamond droplets bursting 100-200 feet in the air, while waves of water cascade down the raised terraces..

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is the primary geologic feature in the Canyon District. It is roughly 20 miles long, measured from the Upper Falls to the Tower Fall area. Depth is 800 to 1,200 ft.; width is 1,500 to 4,000 ft. The canyon as we know it today is a very recent geologic feature. The present canyon is no more than 10,000 to 14,000 years old, although there has probably been a canyon in this location for a much longer period. The exact sequence of events in the formation of the canyon is not well understood, as there has been little field work done in the area. The few studies that are available are thought to be inaccurate. We do know that the canyon was formed by erosion rather than by glaciation. A more complete explanation can be found in the Geological Overview section. The geologic story of the canyon, its historical significance as a barrier to travel, its significance as destination/attraction, and its appearance in Native American lore and in the accounts of early explorers are all important interpretive points. The "ooh-ahh" factor is also important: its beauty and grandeur, its significance as a feature to be preserved, and the development of the national park idea.

Yellowstone Lake
The park's largest lake is Yellowstone Lake. This "matchless mountain lake" was probably seen by John Colter on his famous winter trip of discovery in 1807-1808. Before that, Native Americans surely camped on its shores every summer. Although it is unlikely that Native Americans lived here, many arrowheads, spearheads, and other artifacts have been found near the lake. Figuratively, if one could pour all the water out of Yellowstone Lake, what would be found on the bottom is similar to what is found on land in Yellowstone; geysers, hot springs, and deep canyons. Underwater geysers, hot springs, and fumaroles were found at West Thumb and Mary and Sedge Bays. The hottest spot in the lake was found at Mary Bay where the temperature was recorded at 252° F (122° C). Hollow pipes, or chimneys of silica, several feet in height, were found rising up from the lake bottom at Mary Bay. It is thought that these are the old plumbing systems of now dormant geysers.

Highlights of the area

  • Old Faithful
  • Upper Geyser Basin
  • Lower Geyser Basin
  • West Thumb
  • Mud Volcanos
  • Madison Junction
  • Roosevelt Tower
  • Mamoth
  • Yellowstone Lake
  • Canyon and Falls area
  • Grant Village, West Thumb
  • Madison Junction
  • Norris

The Yellowston Park Area

Yellowstone National Park spans an area of 3,468 square miles, comprising lakes, canyons, rivers and mountain ranges. Yellowstone Lake is one of the largest high-altitude lakes in North America and is centered over the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest supervolcano on the continent. The caldera is considered an active volcano; it has erupted with tremendous force several times in the last two million years. Half of the world's geothermal features are in Yellowstone, fueled by this ongoing volcanism. Lava flows and rocks from volcanic eruptions cover most of the land area of Yellowstone. The park is the centerpiece of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the largest remaining, nearly intact ecosystem in the Earth's northern temperate zone.

Places to Visit in the Canyon and Nearby

Old Faithful Area

Also known as the Upper Geyser Basin. The largest concentration of geysers in the world is in the Upper Geyser Basin.

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Canyon Area

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is the first large canyon on the Yellowstone River downstream from Yellowstone Falls in Yellowstone National Park. The canyon is up to 900 feet deep and a half mile wide.

Yellowstone Lake Area

With a surface area of 132 square miles, Yellowstone Lake is the largest lake at high elevation in North America at 7,733 ft. above sea level. It is roughly 20 miles long and 14 miles wide with 141 miles of shoreline. It is frozen nearly half the year.

Mammoth Hot Springs
Near Fort Yellowstone is a large hill of travertine that has been created over thousands of years as hot water from the spring cooled and deposited calcium carbonate (over two tons flows into Mammoth each day in a solution). Although these springs lie outside the caldera boundary, their energy has been attributed to the same magmatic system that fuels other Yellowstone geothermal areas.

Yellowstone Falls

As the Yellowstone river flows north from Yellowstone Lake, it leaves the Hayden Valley and plunges first over Upper Yellowstone Falls and then a quarter mile (400 m) downstream over Lower Yellowstone Falls, at which point it then enters the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which is up to 1,000 feet (304 m) deep. The lower falls descend from the 590,000 year old Canyon Rhyolite lava flow. The lower falls of the Yellowstone is still the largest volume major waterfall in the Rocky Mountains.

Old Faithful

Judge, then, what must have been our astonishment, as we entered the basin at mid-afternoon of our second day's travel, to see in the clear sunlight, at no great distance, an immense volume of clear, sparkling water projected into the air to the height of one hundred and twenty-five feet. "Geysers! geysers!" exclaimed one of our company, and, spurring our jaded horses, we soon gathered around this wonderful phenomenon. It was indeed a perfect geyser. The aperture through which the jet was projected was an irregular oval, three feet by seven in diameter. The margin of sinter was curiously piled up, and the exterior crust was filled with little hollows full of water, in which were small globules of sediment, some having gathered around bits of wood and other nuclei. This geyser is elevated thirty feet above the level of the surrounding plain, and the crater rises five or six feet above the mound. It spouted at regular intervals nine times during our stay, the columns of boiling water being thrown from ninety to one hundred and twenty-five feet at each discharge, which lasted from fifteen to twenty minutes. We gave it the name of "Old Faithful." – Nathaniel P. Langford, 1871