Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the U.S., with more than three million people making the trek each year to check out the unparalleled natural beauty, and yes, Old Faithful, one of the hundreds of active geysers located within the nearly 3,500 square miles of protected land.
While park rangers note that most visitors come to see the "geysers, grizzlies and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone" there is a lot more to Yellowstone than water spouts and bears. In fact, as the world’s oldest national park, there’s a lot about the area that many people don’t realize.
1. Bison Aren’t As Docile As They Seem
Among the many wonders of Yellowstone, the herd of wild bison is one of the most interesting — and misunderstood. The bison of Yellowstone are the largest wild population of this endangered animal and have lived on the land here since prehistoric times. However, while they might look like gentle giants and have been known to wander into campsites, they are still dangerous and powerful animals. Despite their size, bison can run three times as fast as humans — and every year, visitors to the park are gored or otherwise seriously hurt by bison. Your best bet? Adhere to the park rangers’ instructions, and keep a safe distance from all animals you encounter in the park.
2. Don’t Plan on Sharing Selfies
While currently cellular service is only available in a few areas of the park, including Mammoth, Old Faithful, Canyon and Tower Roosevelt areas (where most visitors congregate) the range of service is expected to increase soon, as the park service has granted permission for a new cell tower to be built in additional developed areas. Still, the service is nonexistent in most of the park, especially the remote back country, making a satellite phone rental a necessity for anyone planning to head out of the more touristy areas of the park. A satellite phone will allow you to get help quickly should you have a run in with some of the local wildlife — or a hot spring.
3. There Are Hundreds of Hidden Waterfalls
Most people think of Yellowstone as wide expanses of open prairie land, but the park is also home to many streams, rivers and lakes — and waterfalls. There are nearly 300 named waterfalls and cascades throughout the park, and many of them are rarely visited. The most popular falls are Union Falls, easily accessible by day hikers (and arguably the most beautiful of Yellowstone’s waterfalls), while the most remote falls, Plateau Falls, are located a good three days’ hike from the marked trail.
4. Yellowstone Is Geologically Active
While the geysers get most of the attention when it comes to Yellowstone’s geothermal activity, the park is actually located over an active volcano. The volcano is called a caldera — the largest in the world at 45 by 30 miles — or a cauldron-shaped feature; beneath the surface of the Earth, you’ll find a reserve of molten magma that burns at more than 1,400 degrees. As a result of all of the geothermal activity, the park experiences as many as 3,000 earthquakes every year (most are undetectable by humans) — and scientists predict that the volcano will erupt again, although perhaps not for tens of thousands of years, so don’t worry about cancelling your travel plans just yet.
5. Hiking All of Yellowstone Would Take Months
Yellowstone is home to more than 1,100 miles of trails, ranging from wide groomed paths and boardwalks to rugged backcountry terrain. It would take months to explore all of Yellowstone’s trails, and the vast majority of hikers opt to embark on shorter day hikes to some of the more popular destinations. Because Yellowstone is a national park, permits are required for backcountry camping and hiking — and they can only be obtained in person and no more than 48 hours in advance of your trip. You don’t need a permit for day hikes.
6. Yellowstone Isn’t Just a Summertime Destination
Summer is by far the most popular season for Yellowstone visitors, but there is a growing contingent of visitors who are discovering all that the park has to offer during the winter months. While most of the major access roads are closed from November through April, some of the park’s biggest attractions, including Old Faithful, are accessible during the winter. Hiking through the deep snow might prove challenging, but the National Park Service maintains hundreds of miles of cross-country ski trails and a limited number of snowmobiles and snow coaches is allowed in the park each day.
Yellowstone has been recognized as an American treasure since 1868 — even before the National Park Service was established in the 1918, the U.S. Army protected the land from their For Yellowstone base near Mammoth Hot Springs. Today, it’s a must-visit for outdoor enthusiasts thanks to its abundant wildlife, unique geography and scenic vistas. Know what you’re getting into before you go, and you’ll get even more out of this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Posted by Steve Manley