The 20 Best Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park

So you’ve decided to visit Yellowstone National Park, but are wondering “What is there to do in Yellowstone?”.  Well, that’s what this guide is here for. It will help you plan your trip by telling you what to do in Yellowstone Park – or at least giving you suggestions.  

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Amazing Things To Do in Yellowstone National Park
Best Things To Do in Yellowstone National Park

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If you are planning a trip to Yellowstone, you can make your planning easy and stress free with a detailed itinerary. I have created 1-, 2-, 3-, and 4-day itineraries for Yellowstone. You can choose your preferred activity level and take all the stress out of planning your trip.

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The 20 Best Things to Do: Yellowstone National Park 

Yellowstone National Park is huge – it’s larger than the state of Delaware!  With geothermal activity, waterfalls, canyons, lakes, and valleys, there is incredible variety within the park.  Which means that there are plenty of Yellowstone activities to choose from. 

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Best Things To Do in Yellowstone

Here are my top picks for the best things to do at Yellowstone: 

1. Gaze at Geysers  

Grand Geyser Yellowstone
Grand Geyser

If there’s one single thing that you must do in Yellowstone, it’s to see at least one geyser erupt. 

The most famous geyser in Yellowstone is Old Faithful in the Upper Geyser Basin. 

How often does Old Faithful erupt? The geyser is named because it faithfully erupts about 16 – 17 times per day.  Eruptions are every 60 – 110 minutes, and can be predicted pretty accurately (within about 10 minutes) by expert rangers.  Eruptions typically last 1.5 – 5 minutes and the spout can reach 100 – 180 feet high. 

Old Faithful isn’t the only geyser that erupts regularly, though. There are five predictable geysers in Upper Geyser Basin: 

Geyser How often it erupts How tall it is Low long it lasts Special features 
Old Faithful 60–100 minutes 100 – 180 feet 1.5 – 5 minutes Most famous and frequent geyser 
Grand Geyser 6 – 15 hours 200 feet 9 – 12 minutes Tallest predictable geyser 
Riverside Geyser 5.5 – 7 hours 75 feet 30 minutes Erupts into the Firehole River 
Castle Geyser 9 – 12 hours 60 – 90 feet Up to 20 minutes Castle-shaped cone 
Daisy Geyser 2 – 4 hours 75 feet 3 – 5 minutes Spout angled at 20 degrees 

Check at the Old Faithful Visitor Center for expected eruption times. 

2. Take a Hike 

Brink of the Falls Yellowstone
Brink of the Lower Yellowstone Falls

From easy strolls along boardwalks around colored hot springs to longer hikes to see wildlife in Lamar Valley, hiking the trails is one of the top Yellowstone National Park things to do.   

You can hike down below the rim of Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone to see the river plunge over the top of the Lower Yellowstone Falls; see bison and bears on the Lamar Valley Trail; soak in the incredible Grand Prismatic Spring from the overlook trail; or admire the unique travertine terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs. 

Read about these and other amazing trails in my Guide to the 21 Best Hikes in Yellowstone

3. Shoot Wildlife (with a camera!) 

Elk in Yellowstone
Elk at Mammoth Hot Springs

Yellowstone is sometimes called the “American Serengeti” because of the incredible abundance of wildlife found there. 

There is no better place to see bison, but there is so much more.  Grizzly bears and brown bears are frequently seen here, and since wolves were reintroduced into the park in 1995, there are several packs roaming Lamar and Hayden Valleys.  Elk are frequently seen in the Mammoth area.

So, it is no surprise that seeing and photographing wildlife is another of the best things to do at Yellowstone National Park. 

You will want to make sure that you have good binoculars or a spotting scope and a great camera.  Read my Guide to the Best Binoculars for the Money if you are looking to get some.  Or get my top pick right here

For even better visuals, invest in a good spotting scope. Read my Guide to the Best Spotting Scope for Wildlife Viewing if you are looking to get one.  Or get my top pick right here. 

If you’re serious about seeing wildlife, a great option is to go with a local naturalist guide.  Book an all-day tour with a private guide who will know all the best spots to have the greatest likelihood of seeing and photographing wildlife.  Tours are not cheap, but worth it if you want to maximize your chances of getting that perfect shot! 


4. Kayak Around Yellowstone Lake 

Kayak Yellowstone

One of the truly unique things to do in Yellowstone is to kayak around Yellowstone Lake.  The lake, the largest high altitude (above 7,000 feet) lake in North America, is part of the youngest volcanic caldera in the area.  

Paddling around the lake is easy one of the top things to do at Yellowstone Lake and a great way to get out on the water and see the thermal features around the lake.  You can see several geothermal features that are only accessible from the lake, and on clear days, you can see geothermal activity at the bottom of the lake through the crystal-clear water. 

There are several options: 

A half-day kayak trip with an experienced naturalist guide.  Paddle past the West Thumb Geyser Basin and Potts Geyser Basin. 


If you’d rather more flexibility than a group tour offers, one of the most special things to do Yellowstone Lake is to take a private kayak tour.  By booking a private tour, you can have a flexible departure time and choose how much time you want to be on the water.  You can spend anywhere from 1-6 hours in the kayak, and enjoy a gourmet picnic lunch. 


For something a little different, take a 3-hour paddling tour around West Geyser Basin at twilight.  Enjoy the Golden Hour, which is a photographer’s dream, and end your day with an adventure of a lifetime. 


Would you prefer to not go with a guide?  You can also take your own kayak.  You will need to get a permit.  To save space and weight, an inflatable kayak is super convenient.  Check out my Guide to The Best Inflatable Kayaks if you’re looking to get one. Or get my top pick here

5. Take a Scenic Lake Cruise 

Stevenson Island Yellowstone Lake cruise
Stevenson Island, Yellowstone Lake

If you’d like to enjoy the lake, but would prefer a more relaxing activity, then one of the top things to do in Yellowstone Park for you is to take a scenic cruise on Lake Yellowstone.

One-hour scenic cruises leave from Bridge Bay Marina and take you out and around Stevenson Island and past the wreck of the SS E.C. Waters.  The cruise has the added advantage of a narration about the area’s history and environment.  Keep your eyes peeled for bison, elk and bears on the lakeshore.  

Tours operate mid-June to early September.  You can get all the details and book here

There is also a backcountry boat shuttle service if you plan some remote backcountry hiking on the other side of the lake. 

6. Rent a Boat 

Yellowstone Lake Cruise
Yellowstone Lake

Since several of the top things to do in Yellowstone National Park center around the lake, another option is to rent your own boat.  That way you aren’t limited to a tour or cruise and can venture further than a kayak.   

You can rent a boat for 1 – 8 hours between mid-June and early September.  Motorboats are rented on a first come/first served basis at Bridge Bay Marina only. Read more information about boat rentals here

7. Go Fishing 

Fishing is another of the best things to do.  Yellowstone National Park has an abundance of the native Yellowstone Cutthroat, native Fine Spotted Snake River Cutthroat, Rainbow Trout, and Brown Trout.  There are several rivers you can fish in, including Snake, Firehole, Madison, Yellowstone, and Gibbon Rivers.  

Fishing is generally permitted between Memorial Day and the first Sunday in November.  You will need a Yellowstone fishing permit, which you can get online here.  

Unless you are familiar with the area, a great option – and way to get familiar with the local fishing – is to go on a guided tour.  

A half-day four-hour fishing trip to a river nearest where you are staying is a great option. A professional guide will take you to the best places and teach you about the local waters, ecology, history, etc. 


If you’re staying in Jackson, another option is a full-day trip to Lewis Lake in the southern part of the national park.  Enjoy fly fishing, spin cast fishing or streamer fishing for trout. 


8. Go Horseback Riding 

Horseback Riding yellowstone

Another of the cool things to do in Yellowstone National Park is to go horseback riding.  The best horseback riding in Yellowstone are the guided trips offered at both the Roosevelt and Canyon areas of the park.  There are one- and two-hour trips at both locations. 

Horseback rides are also available to the Old West Dinner Cookout at Roosevelt (see below). 

Read more details about these short guided horseback riding trips here

There are also horse-, mule- and even llama-based guided stock trips available in Yellowstone.  Check the list of licensed outfitters to get more details. 

9. Ride in a Stage Coach  

Stagecoach yellowstone

One of the best family things to do in Yellowstone National Park is to ride in a stage coach.  It’s something the whole family can easily enjoy. 

Live out your wild west fantasies with a partial day ride in a replica stagecoach from the Roosevelt corrals.  There are several trips daily from early June to early September.  

10. Tuck into a Western Cookout 

Western Cookout Yellowstone

Wyoming is the classic Wild, Wild West, so right on the top of your list of fun things to do in Yellowstone National Park should be to enjoy a classic western cookout. 

Take a covered wagon (45 minutes) or ride a horse (one or two hours) from the Roosevelt corrals out into Pleasant Valley.  Listen to cowboys telling tall tales over a campfire-brewed coffee before tucking into good old-fashioned western fare.   

Departures are mid- to late-afternoon to time your arrival at the campsite for an early dinner.  Check their website for times and to make reservations. 

11. Have a Drink While Watching Old Faithful 

Old faithful Yellowstone

Something you must do at Yellowstone National Park is to sit on the second-floor balcony of the Old Faithful Inn and enjoy a cocktail, beer or coffee while watching Old Faithful erupt.  There are great views of the geyser from the upper balcony of the Inn, one of the true classic national park lodges.   

Get there about half an hour before the predicted eruption time to get a prime viewing position.  It can get crowded during peak times during the day, but if you stay in or near the inn, it is less crowded earlier or later in the day. 

12. Photograph a Rainbow 

Yellowstone Falls Rainbow

Something else for your Yellowstone to do list? Photograph a rainbow!   You may not find a pot of gold at the end, but you’ll have a photo that’s pure gold.  

You may have seen a classic shot of Lower Yellowstone Falls with a beautiful rainbow in the mist at the bottom of the falls.  This is a regular occurrence. If you’re at Artist Point between 9:30AM and 10:00AM, on a clear day, you should see the rainbow. 

I have timed my detailed itineraries to be at Artist Point at exactly this moment so that you can get this photo!  Check out my detailed Yellowstone Itineraries (1-, 2-, 3- and 4-day itineraries).

13. Ride a Bike 

bicycle yellowstone

Another of the best things in Yellowstone that few people do is to go cycling!  

You can rent bicycles at Old Faithful Snow Lodge by the hour, half-day or full-day.  There are several popular routes to choose from, including: 

  • Easy (3 miles): Morning Glory  
  • Easy (4 miles): Biscuit Basin 
  • Moderate (9 miles): Lone Star Geyser 
  • Difficult (21 miles): Fountain Flats Trail 

Another fun option is to take an e-bike tour.  There is a half-day tour in the backcountry of the northern section of the park that goes around Bunsen Peak, across Swan Lake Flats, and through Golden Gate Canyon.  There are good chances of seeing wildlife and you get to see a part of the park that few people visit.   Although it’s an e-bike, the terrain is quite rough, so this does require stamina.   


If you’re looking to buy an e-bike, check out e-bikes on REI here.

14. Soak in Boiling River 

Boiling River soak yellowstone

One of the most fun things to do at Yellowstone is to swim and soak in Boiling River.  The thermal Boiling River flows into the cold Gardner River just north of Mammoth Hot Springs in the north west corner of the park.  There is a designated area in the confluence that, despite the name, is perfect for soaking and swimming.  This is great fun for the whole family. 

Hours are typically: 

Early July – September 15: 6:00AM – 8:00PM 
September 15 – late April/ early May: 7:00AM – 6:00PM 
Late April/ early May – early July: Closed due to high water levels from the snow melt 

Some things to note: Parking is limited; bathing suits are required; food and drink are not permitted; soap, shampoo and conditioner are also not permitted. 

There is one other designated swimming area in Yellowstone in the (cold) Firehole River. 

The swim area is sometimes closed by the NPS.  Check their website for current opening status. 

15. Enjoy a Scenic Drive 

Bison on road yellowstone
Be prepared for Bison traffic jams

One of the absolute must do things in Yellowstone is to enjoy the drive! The main road through the park, the Grand Loop Road, forms a huge figure eight. There are also offshoots, like the Firehole Canyon Loop, and Lamar Valley.  

READ MORE: Guide to the Lamar Valley Drive

One way to get the most out of the drive is to download an audio guide. There is a great self-guided driving tour audio that you can download and then play at key spots along the main road and various offshoots like Cody and Cooke City.   


Be aware that herds of bison like to walk along the road (why not, it must be easier than walking in the wilderness!), and there is a good chance that you will find yourself in a bison traffic jam sometime during your visit, as cars stop to let the bison walk (slowly) along the road.  

READ MORE: Most Scenic Drives in Yellowstone National Park

16. Learn History  

Roosevelt Arch yellowstone

If you have the time, one of the non touristy things to do in Yellowstone is to learn about the park’s history. 

Yellowstone National Park was the first national park created not only in the United States, but in the entire world.  However, it didn’t have an easy start, and a military post was set up to help protect it.  Today, you can do a self-guided walking tour of the Fort Yellowstone Historic District in the Mammoth Hot Springs part of the park. 

Nearby is Roosevelt Arch at the North Entrance to the park, which was dedicated by President Roosevelt in 1903.  The plaque on the Arch is inscribed with a phrase from the 1872 legislation that established Yellowstone National Park: “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People.” Take a close look and you can see the arch’s cornerstone on the inside (park side) corner of the right tower. It’s engraved “Apr 24 1903.” 

17.Watch Waterfalls  

Union Falls Yellowstone
Union Falls

Yellowstone is one place you absolutely should go chasing waterfalls.  There are dozens of cascades, drops and falls in the park and seeing them is another of the top things in Yellowstone to do. 

Of course, there are the big ones like Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls that you can’t miss, but there are many others.  Some, like Gibbon Galls and Tower Fall are close to the road and easy to get to.  Others like the stunning Union Falls are only reached at the end of a hike.   

Read my Guide to the Best Waterfalls in Yellowstone to be inspired and make a list for your trip.  

If you’d like to take a guided hike to Fairy Falls, you can book one right here.  The hike to the 200-foot waterfall stops off at the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook and can continue on to Imperial Geyser.  It includes a picnic lunch in front of the falls.  

18. Peruse “Park-itecture” 

Old faithful Inn inside parkitecture example yellowstone
Inside Old faithful Inn

Parkitecture’ is the name given to the rustic style of architecture of many of the historic lodges, inns and other buildings in US national parks. It is typified by the use of natural, local materials such as logs and stones.  There are loads of examples in Yellowstone, and discovering them is one of the coolest things to do in Yellowstone.   

The most obvious examples is Old Faithful Inn. The inn, dating from 1903 – 1904, is a national historic landmark and, at seven stories tall, is the largest log structure in the world.  Spend some time in the lobby – go up to the mezzanine area and look down over the enormous stone chimney and the historic copper clock – and have a meal in the old dining room.  

Another classic example is the log Northeast Entrance Station, which dates from 1935. 

Yellowstone also has several Trailside Museums (see below) that are great examples on a smaller scale.  

19. Admire Colored Pools 

Morning Glory pool Upper Geyser Basin Yellowstone
Morning Glory

Another of my top 10 things to do in Yellowstone National Park is to look at the colored pools.  They are actually hot springs and the colors are formed by various heat-loving bacteria. 

My top picks include: 

  1. Grand Prismatic Spring.  At 370 feet across, this is the largest hot spring in the park and the third largest in the world.  It is also the most photographed geothermal feature in Yellowstone.  The hot spring is mostly a deep blue color, with bands of green, yellow and orange near the edges.  It is surrounded by orange ‘rays’ that make it look like a giant sun.  The Midway Geyser Basin boardwalk goes around one edge, but it is best seen from the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook Trail.  
  1. Morning Glory. The brilliant yellow and green deep pool is much smaller, but no less spectacular.  It’s at the far end of the boardwalk in Upper Geyser Basin. 
  1. Sapphire Pool.  The incredible blue color of this hot spring has to be seen to be believed. The pool is the jewel of the small Biscuit Basin and is not to be missed. 

A tip for visiting Yellowstone’s hot springs

You will often see a mist formed over the top of the colored springs, especially Grand Prismatic Spring.  This is caused by the temperature difference between the hot water and the cold air.  Which means that there is usually more mist (and therefore the colored springs are less visible) early in the morning.   

As the day warms up, the temperature difference decreases, and the mist dissipates.  This is why it is better to see Grand Prismatic Spring later in the day, even though it is tempting to get there early to miss the crowds.  

If you follow my detailed Yellowstone itineraries, they have you getting to Grand Prismatic Spring at the right time of day (and include tips on how to get a parking space, etc.)  

20. Meander Around a Museum 

museum of national park ranger yellowstone
The Museum of the National Park Ranger

One of the less common activities to do in Yellowstone is to visit the museums.  Yes, there are several.   

One of the most interesting is the small Museum of the National Park Ranger.  Located at the entrance to the Norris Campground, the building, which was once a 1908 army outpost, has displays on the history of the park ranger profession.  

The most interesting aspect of visiting there, though, is that the museum is staffed by retired rangers, so you get a unique opportunity to meet and talk with them, ask questions, and hear their stories. 

Yellowstone also has three Trailside Museums.  These are rustic, open-air bungalow-style rock shelters with focused displays.  

1. Madison Trailside Museum (built 1930): Looking over a meadow near the confluence of the Gibbon and Firehole Rivers, this was originally devoted to the history of Yellowstone, but is now the Madison Information Station. 

2. Norris Geyser Basin Trailside Museum (1930): At the entrance the Norris Geyser Basin, you need to walk through it to get access to the trails. There are two rooms with displays explaining geothermal activity and life in thermal areas. 

3. Fishing Bridge Museum (built 1932): Now the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center, this has also remained a natural history museum with stuffed birds and animals on display. 

The Albright Visitor Center and Museum, housed in a 1909 former army barracks building in Mammoth Hot Springs, has displays about the wildlife and history of Yellowstone in addition to its information and permit services. 

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Best Things To Do in Yellowstone

Travel Insurance for Yellowstone   

No matter what you’ve put on your Yellowstone must do list, you should definitely get travel insurance.  This can protect you not only against medical and emergency repatriation, but can cover things like trip cancellation, loss and/ or theft of property, etc.  

A great insurance option is Travelex.  It has coverage for all you’ll need. You can swap this link for  either choose the best travel insurance plan for your trip here or get a quote right now: 

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Enjoy these Yellowstone National Park activities! 

What are your favorite Yellowstone things to do?  Are there any other activities in Yellowstone National Park not listed here?  I’d love to hear about them.  Join my private Facebook group National Parks Collectors and comment and let me know (you can also pick up extra planning tips, share your photos and stories with other national park lovers and more).  


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Best Things To Do in Yellowstone National Park
Amazing Things To Do in Yellowstone National Park

About the Author

James Ian Yosemite

James Ian is a national park, camping and hiking expert.

He has dedicated his life to travel, visiting more than 80 countries, all 7 continents and all of the main national parks in the United States. With over 35 years experience in the travel industry, James has worked on cruise ships, at resorts and hotels, and as a travel planner who’s helped hundreds of people plan successful trips to US national parks. 

Based on his experience visiting our national parks multiple times, in-depth research and expertise as a travel planner, James has published detailed itineraries for most of the major national parks in the US. These itineraries, as well as in-depth park guides, comprehensive camping and hiking gear reviews and buying guides, and helpful packing lists and gift guides will help you have your own incredible trip to US national parks without stress and hassle.

As a national park expert, James has contributed to many publications, including Time Business News, Savoteur, Best Trip, and Wired.

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