How to Visit Yellowstone National ParkYellowstone National Park has five entrances: Gardiner, Mont. (north); West Yellowstone, Mont. (west); Jackson Hole via Grand Teton National Park (about 60 miles south); Cody (about 53 miles east); and Cooke City, Mont. (northeast).
The first national park, Yellowstone was established by an act of Congress in 1872. The region took its name from the dramatic gold-hued cliffs lining the river canyon, known by the Minnetaree Native Americans as mi tse a-da-zi (Yellow Rock River).
Though its mountain forests and meadows are beautiful in their own right, Yellowstone is unique for its geysers, hot springs, mud pools and fumaroles—the largest concentration of geothermal features in the world. The park sits atop one of the largest active volcanoes on earth, a “hot spot” that last erupted some 640,000 years ago, carving out a caldera 30 miles wide and 45 miles long. Heated by this vast subterranean magma chamber, the Yellowstone valley continues to steam and vent.
Fountains of scalding water burst high into the air from some geysers, while others bubble and spit in murky depths. Hot springs gleam in shades of emerald green and blue. Algae and bacteria withstand boiling temperatures to create these vivid colors; vigorous steam vents emit uncanny sounds and smells.
Miles of boardwalks, paved trails and driving loops allow visitors to come within close proximity of these active volcanic formations. Despite their cool colors, mineral springs are boiling hot, and the solid-looking crusts around geyser formations can be remarkably fragile—keep a close watch over children while in these areas, and be sure to stay on boardwalks or formal paths.
In addition to its geologic wonders, Yellowstone National Park is also one of the most successful wildlife sanctuaries in the world. Grizzly and black bears can be sighted occasionally in the backcountry and sometimes from park roadways (a traffic situation known as a “bear jam”). The park also has several thousand elk; many mule deer, pronghorn antelopes and moose; bands of bighorn sheep; and about 4,600 bison. Gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone 1995-97, and several packs now roam the park and surrounding areas; the wolf population is estimated to be between 80 and 110.
Yellowstone National Park, WY
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