Quick Travel Guide •  Wyoming, USA

Yellowstone National Park: A Guide To The Best Boardwalks, Hikes and Viewpoints

Last Updated On: September 18, 2020


Did you know that Yellowstone became the world's first national park in 1872? Isn’t that just crazy? Think about that for a minute, the first National Park in the world was founded only 148 years ago. Fast forward to the present day, set in the outdoorsy and adventure rich state of Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park attracts millions of visitors every year. During our year-long road trip along the West Coast of the US, we visited so many National Parks, but I have to say that Yellowstone National Park remains one of my favorites. Its geological wonders are unmatched to anything I have ever seen before. This National Park should be at the top of everyone's bucket list when traveling to the USA. Its beauty can only be understood once experienced.  The park has something for everyone. From scenic backcountry hikes and short boardwalks leading to mud pots and fumaroles to well-maintained trails boasting colorful hot springs and erupting geysers. Or did I mention the wildlife sightings amidst picturesque landscapes? My highlight might still be the wild bison that roam throughout the park, carelessly crossing the road in slow motion or grazing in the distance amongst the open terrain. Usually, they are responsible for the mile-long traffic jams. The park has 5 different entrances: North Entrance, Northeast Entrance, South Entrance, East Entrance, and West Entrance. Most people come from the small town West Yellowstone at the west, from the Grand Tetons National Park through the South Entrance or from the North Entrance after exploring Glacier National Park. You will find below a carefully selected collection of the most photogenic sightseeing spots in Yellowstone National Park. Our recommendations will guide you throughout the entire Grand Loop starting at the North Entrance with Mammoth Hot Springs down through the astounding geyser basins and into the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Be prepared for your National Park adventure by downloading the park map here.

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Best boardwalks, hikes & viewpoints in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is the perfect place for the whole family and solo travelers alike. Choose between wooden boardwalks leading to marvelous natural wonders, short scenic day hikes, or extended backcountry hikes. IMPORTANT: Be sure to inform yourself about the current trail conditions along with recent bear activity at the Canyon Visitor Center. For all camping and backcountry hikes make sure to call the backcountry office at 307-344-2160 for trail and campsite conditions. Always pack extra food and water, and carry rain gear as well as a bear spray when venturing out into the backcountry. Nature can be unpredictable at times and you want to be prepared at all times. With that, let's dive into the good stuff!

1. Mammoth Hot Springs(30-90min hike, 1.8 miles round trip) Don’t miss out on these fascinating mineral formations. Mammoth Hot Springs boasts a loop hike that ventures through some incredible thermal features in Yellowstone National Park. The colors you will see such as orange, pink, and green are produced by living organisms in the water. The terraces are created through heat, water, limestone, and a rock fracture system through which hot water can reach the earth's surface. Most springs at Mammoth Hot Springs can be admired from the car by taking the scenic loop around the terraces. But don’t miss out on the pullouts from which you can follow a network of boardwalks through the Lower Terrace and the Upper Terrace.

I would recommend parking your car at the Lower Terrace. Start your walking tour at the 37-foot Liberty Cap, then stop at the Opal Terrace before following the boardwalk to Palette Spring, Minerva Terrace, Cleopatra Terrace, Jupiter Terrace, Main Terrace and end your Lower Terrace tour at Canary Spring. If you don't have time to visit all springs, make sure you visit Cleopatra Terrace, Canary Springs, Opal Terrace & Minerva Spring, which are the primary features of the Mammoth Hot Springs due to its size and bright orange colors.

Both terraces are interconnected but can also be accessed separately from the top or bottom parking lot.

You can either continue your tour to the Upper Terrace by foot or hop in your car and drive to the Upper Terrace parking lot. Either way, start your Upper Terrace tour at the Lower Terrace Overlook which offers great views of the Main Terrace and the surrounding mountains. Follow along the boardwalk passed Prospect Terrace, New Highland Terrace, Orange Spring Mound, Bath Lake, White Elephant Back Terrace, and Angel Terrace.

Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces

2. Lower Geyser Basin / Fountain Paint Pots(30-40min hike, 0.5 miles round trip) After exploring Mammoth Hot Springs, hop back into your car and drive south to Lower Geyser Basin & the Fountain Paint Pots. The trail is only a short 0.5mile walk along a wooden boardwalk boasting various hydrothermal features. These can be separated into two categories: Hot Springs & Geysers which show a lot of water and Mudpots & Fumaroles which show little to no water. Our favorite is the Silex Pool right at the beginning of the boardwalk on the left!

Fountain-Geyser, Fountain Paint Pots
Silex Pool, Fountain Paint Pots
Celestine Pool, Fountain Paint Pots

3. Midway Geyser Basin(20 - 35min hike, 0.8 miles round trip) Midway Geyser Basin, just like the name impies, sits “midway” between the Upper and Lower Geyser Basin. It is home to the incredible Grand Prismatic Spring, one of the most photographed thermal features in the entire park and the world's third-biggest hot spring. Along the same 0.8mile walk around the boardwalk, you can also find the vibrant blue colored Excelsior Geyser. The brilliant colors found within the geyser are called Thermophiles and change the color depending on the temperature. How cool is that! Once you reach the Grand Prismatic Spring, you will find strong oranges, reds, and browns surrounding the deep blue Prismatic spring. Did you know that the spring is deeper than a 10 story building!?

The magnificent Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in North America

Park your car at the designated parking lot for Midway Geyser Basin and cross over the Firehole River on a wooden bridge. Walk up a short slope past the runoff from Excelsior Geyer and take a minute to admire its glory. Follow the boardwalk to the famous Grand Prismatic Spring before continuing to the Opal Pool. The last stop before returning to the parking lot is going to be the Turquoise Pool.

Excelsior Geyser Crater, Midway Geyser Basin
Excelsior Geyser Crater, Midway Geyser Basin

The Midway Geyser Basin is one of my favorite stops in all of Yellowstone because the boardwalks allow you to get up within a few feet to the breathtaking thermal features and offer great picture opportunities at almost any time of the day. However, I would still recommend getting here either early in the morning or later in the day to avoid the tour bus crowds. Keep in mind that cooler days and early mornings often cover the springs with a layer of thick steam. Some may find this annoying, but it fascinated me, watching the steam reveal different sections of the incredibly brilliant colored hot springs.

Whatever you do, don’t miss out on seeing the Grand Prismatic Spring from above. For the best aerial view, make your way to the Grand Prismatic viewing platform.

To reach the viewing platform, park your car at the Fairy Falls trailhead, which is only a mile south of the Midway Geyser Basin. The Grand Prismatic Spring overlook can be reached in less than 0.5miles. The trail then continues onto Fairy Falls as well as the Spray and Imperial geysers, for those interested in turning this into a 2-3h hike roundtrip. This is one of our all-time favorite hikes due to its breathtaking aerial views of the Grand Prismatic Spring and Excelsior Geyser as well as the possibility to visit two additional geysers ( Imperial & Spray Geyser). Click here for more detailed directions on how to reach the Fairy Falls trailhead as well as as the Grand Prismatic Spring overlook.

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Grand Prismatic Spring, Midway Geyser Basin
Grand Prismatic Spring, Midway Geyser Basin

4. Biscuit Basin(15min hike, 0.6 miles round trip) Biscuit Basin features a small but picturesque group of thermal features. Follow the wooden bridge over the Firehole River and take the short 0.6mile loop around a great collection of hydrothermal springs. The Black Diamond Pool, Avoca Spring, and Sapphire Pool are our personal favorites.

Black Diamond, Biscuit Basin
Sapphire Pool, Biscuit Basin
Sapphire Pool, Biscuit Basin
Avoca Spring, Biscuit Basin

5. Black Sand Basin(20min hike, 0.5 miles round trip) Before you reach Upper Geyser Basin, famous for the Old Faithful Geyser, there will be a turnoff to go to Black Sand Basin. The hydrothermal features are often overlooked since everyone is so eager to head to the Old Faithful, but stopping here is highly recommended! This short and sweet 0.5mile long boardwalk trail, mostly known for the colorful thermophiles found in Emerald Pool, will lead you past Spouter Geyser and Sunset Lake. There is one more pool you don't want to miss that is not along the trail. Opalescent Pool is one of our favorites in the whole park and it is located right as you drive into the parking lot, surrounded by bleached pine trees. Just wait until you see this in person! Black Sand Basin can also easily be reached on foot from Old Faithful should you decide to be extra active today.

Emerald Pool, Black Sand Basin
Opalescent Pool, Black Sand Basin
Rainbow Pool, Black Sand Basin

6. The Upper Geyser Basin(1 - 4hour hike, 0.7mile to 5.2miles round trip) Before starting your exploration around the Upper Geyser make sure to pick up a map at the Old Faithful Visitor Center to learn about different geysers in the area as well as the eruption times. If you plan your exploration around the predicted geyser eruptions you might be lucky and catch a couple of geysers in action. The Upper Geyser Basin is home to some of the world's most fascinating hydrothermal features including the famous Old Faithful Geyser, Grand Geyser, Castle Geyser, Crested Pool, and Lion Geyser with the heart spring in the foreground. Remember to take your camera with you cause this is perfect for photos. While there are way too many thermal features in this area to list, there is one in particular that you shouldn’t miss out on - Morning Glory Pool. We call it the eyeball of the earth due to its vibrant and unique colors in the shape of an eye but believe when we say that pictures don't do this spring justice.

The Upper Geyser Basin boasts almost 25% of the world's geysers and is therefore the largest single concentration of hot springs in the world

Upper Geyser Basin
West Triplet Geyser, Upper Geyser Basin
Heart Spring, Upper Geyser Basin

Due to the dense number of geysers that are located near the trails and boardwalks, it is one of the most popular stops in all of Yellowstone National Park. Since most people usually stick around Old Faithful, the walk through the Upper Geyser is surprisingly quiet. If you have the time, explore the basin leisurely and take the extra time to wait for some of the geysers to erupt. It is pretty easy to spend at least half of your day at the Upper Geyser alone if you don’t keep an eye on your time. The Upper Geyser offers everything from short 0.7mile hikes to 5.2mile long hikes. Every hike should either start or end with the eruption of Old Faithful. Old Faithful is by no doubt the most famous geyser in the world and one of the biggest tourist attractions in all of Yellowstone. According to The Geyser Observation and Study Association, Old Faithful erupts every 44 to 125 minutes and lasts approximately 4 minutes shooting around 8,000 gallons of water,180 feet into the air. While I don’t think that the Old Faithful is necessarily one of the most exciting sights in the park, you should at least witness it once. There is a board at the Old Faithful Visitor Center, which forecasts the next eruption, so make sure to check that out the minute you arrive to plan your visit accordingly. If you get to the Old Faithful too early or have just missed the last eruption don’t worry, you will easily be able to fill your time visiting other sights surrounding this famous landmark. Follow the boardwalk starting just behind the Old Faithful and explore all the fascinating thermal features that Upper Geyser Basin has to offer.

Upper Geyser Basin
Riverside Geyser, Upper Geyser Basin

Riverside Geyser is also a great geyser to witness an impressive eruption. The Geyser shoots a 75-foot high column of water across the Firehole River, often accompanied by a rainbow that stretches across the river. With the right lighting conditions (most likely in the afternoon) this 20-minute long eruption is great for pictures.

Belgian Pool, Upper Geyser Basin
Depression Geyser, Upper Geyser Basin

7. Upper Geyser Basin Loop & Morning Glory(4.5miles loop or 1.5 miles straight to the Morning Glory) Starting from Old Faithful you can follow the carefully curated boardwalk system and pass a multitude of hydrothermal features. At the end of the pathway you will find the incredible Morning Glory with its intense colors of neon yellows, poison greens, and a hint of turquoise. Considering the number of stops along the way it takes about 2 hours to walk all the way from the Old Faithful to the Morning Glory Pool, but there is enough to see to last a full day especially if you wait around for certain geysers to erupt. Should you decide to skip the Upper Geyser Basin Loop and only visit the Morning Glory, then your walk can be as short as 1.5 miles roundtrip. Walk along a paved trail starting at the Old Faithful Inn, in front of the parking lot, all the way to Morning Glory. This easy and flat walk will guide you passed Castle Geyser, Daisy Geyser, and Riverside Geyser.

Morning Glory, Upper Geyser Basin

8. West Thumb Geyser Basin(20min hike 0.6 miles round trip)This fascinating hydrothermal area is located right next to Yellowstone Lake, which makes for a dramatic backdrop and truly adds to the splendor of this basin. The 0.6mile loop over dirt trails and across wooden boardwalks follows a stretch of the lake passing vibrant blue colored pools, springs, and a few geysers,

Black Pool, West Thumb Geyser

If you follow the trail clockwise you will first pass Abyss Pool. This is one of the deepest hydrothermal pools in all of Yellowstone at 50ft deep. One of my favorite pools along this trail is the Black Pool, with its dramatic bright blue color in the foreground and Yellowstone Lake in the backdrop. Fishing Cone and the Lakeshore Geyser are two features that depending on the water levels sometimes end up below the water surface, so make sure you keep an eye out for these.

Black Pool, West Thumb Geyser
Abyss Pool, West Thumb Geyser

9. Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone There are two scenic drives that offer stunning views of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone: The North Rim Drive & The South Rim Drive. Both of the drives provide several turnouts and breathtaking overlooks of the Canyon and the Upper & Lower Falls. I would recommend stopping at all of them if you have the time since each one offers different views and vantage points. However, if I had to choose between the two drives, it would most likely be the North Rim Drive. Along the drive, there is a bigger selection of overlooks that are especially beautiful during sunset. My favorite overlook along the North Rim Drive is Lookout Point. From there you can take the Red Rock Point trail that descends down into the canyon.

This image is © and courtesy of Yellowstone National Park/National Parks Service

The Best Stops along the North Rim Drive:

  • Brink of Lower Falls Trail - This short 0.5mile hike brings you right to the top of the Lower Falls, giving you the chance to get up close and personal to this powerful water source.
  • Lookout Point & Grand View - Both overlooks offer great panoramic views of the entire Lower Falls.
  • Red Rock Point - This 0.3mile trail begins at Lookout Point and descends gradually before turning into a series of stairs, another partway into the canyon providing dramatic views of the Lower Falls & Canyon.
  • Inspiration Point - This is the furthest point along the North Rim Drive and although it doesn't offer direct views of the actual waterfall it provides a nice perspective of the size of the canyon and river below.

Grand View, The North Rim Drive
Pathway to Red Rock Point, The North Rim Drive

The Best Stops along the South Rim Drive:

  • Artist Point - With only a 0.2mile walk from the South Rim Drive, it is the shortest yet most rewarding “hike” in the entire park. This is one of the best overlooks in all of Yellowstone providing uninterrupted views of the 308-foot Lower falls in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. The surreal views that make every photograph look like a painting. For closer views continue the hike through pines along the south rim, beyond the paved trail.
  • Uncle Tom’s Trail - This short but strenuous hike brings you from the top of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone to the base of the Lower Falls. This unparalleled waterfall experience will take you down 328 steps amidst the canyon. Keep your eyes open for a rainbow when walking through the falls. I personally loved walking down the rusted steel grate steps but walking them back up is an entirely different story. Park your car at Uncle Tom’s Point parking area, then look for the trailhead of Uncle Tom’s Trail. PS. Before making your way to the trail make sure to ask the visitor center to see if the steps (the coolest part of the hike) are currently accessible since they have been under construction.

10. Where to take a refreshing dip or hot soak in Yellowstone National Park There are only really two areas in the entire park, where it is legal to take a plunge. Firehole River: Just south of Madison and the West Entrance Road you will find the Grand Loop. Follow the loop until you see a turnoff for Firehole Canyon Drive. Once you pass Firehole Falls you will most likely see a bunch of cars parked on the roadside. While there is no actual parking lot at the Firehole Swimming hole, you are allowed to park on the side of the road as long as you are not blocking other cars from passing. Switch into your swim attire at the provided changing rooms and follow the wooden stairs down to a rocky beach. Don’t let the name Firehole River deceive you, the water is still pretty cold. For a less refreshing experience check out the next option below: The Boiling River. The Boiling RiverThe Boiling River is a hydrothermal feature popular for seasonal bathing. Think of it like a natural hot tub, where a hot spring enters the cold Gardner River leading to perfect bathing temperatures! The natural hot tub is located near Mammoth Hot Springs (1.7miles). Keep in mind that this site is usually closed from spring to summer, between May to July, due to high water levels leading to muddy and unsafe bathing conditions. I would suggest calling the Albright Visitor Center to check the conditions and confirm opening times. But generally speaking, the Boiling River is open from sunrise to sunset daily. To get to the Boiling River, follow Roosevelt Arch on Hwy 89/N until you reach the “45th Parallel of Latitude Halfway Between Equator and the North Pole” sign. The Boiling River parking lot can be found just a little further south of the road sign. Walk for 0.5miles upstream until you reach the soaking area.  It is important that you follow the signs carefully and don’t try to enter the river in any other areas otherwise you might risk getting seriously burned since the water temperatures are around 100 - 140 degrees. Also, make sure to come early since the parking lot fills up quickly and can only hold around 15 vehicles.

Where To See Bears, Bison & More In Yellowstone National Park | Bare Escape

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