Exploring Yellowstone National Park

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yellowstone national park

Year Established: 1872

Acres: 2.2 million

Annual Visitors: 4,257,177

Entrance Fee: $30

The oldest national park in the U.S., Yellowstone was established in 1872 by the U.S. Congress. The park's more than 2.2 million acres are home to nearly 300 bird species, 16 fish species, and 67 mammal species. In fact, the park boasts the largest concentration of mammals in all of the lower 48 states. 

yellowstone national park brown bear

Currently, an estimated 690 grizzly bears live in the park, in addition to wolves, mountain lions, otters, and hundreds of other animals. And thanks to technology, you don’t even have to book a trip to the park to check out some of its beautiful wildlife (but you definitely should). 

The National Park Service set up nine webcams that offer views of various areas around the park. Eight of the webcams are static, but the most popular webcam set-up offers a livestream of Old Faithful--the iconic cone geyser that has predictably erupted every hour or two since 2000--so you can catch the action right from your living room at any time of day. 

old faithful geyser yellowstone national park

Speaking of Old Faithful, the park’s geothermal and hydrothermal features are just as popular as its wildlife. If you’re not familiar with these terms, geothermal refers to "any system that transfers heat from within the Earth to its surface.,” while hydrothermal refers specifically to the transfer of heat that involves water, either in liquid or vapor forms. 

Old Faithful is definitely the park’s most popular hydrothermal feature, but it’s far from the only one. Yellowstone hosts more than 10,000 hydrothermal features, including hot springs, mudpots, fumaroles, and geysers, its more than 300 geysers amount to half of the total geysers in the world. 

yellowstone national park geyser

A big part of why the park is home to so much hydrothermal activity is due to it being situated in a region that has been, "volcanically and seismically active for tens of millions of years.” A series of historic volcanic eruptions in the area caused a built-up magma dome to collapse, leaving a giant caldera in its wake. Today, the Yellowstone Caldera spans 45 miles and is the largest volcanic system in North America. 

In part due to its volcanic activity, the region is also highly seismically active. In fact, the park experiences hundreds of small earthquakes every year. Most of the earthquakes are too small and deep to be felt by people, but a handful of large earthquakes have occurred throughout Yellowstone's history, including a deadly 1959 quake that struck just outside the northwestern corner of the park and impacted several of its hydrothermal features, including Old Faithful.

yellowstone falls yellowstone national park

In addition to its geothermal features and diverse wildlife, Yellowstone’s many attractions include a variety of scenic lakes and rivers. The park’s biggest body of water is Yellowstone Lake, which is also the highest mountain lake of its size in North America. 

Among the more majestic of the park’s attractions is Yellowstone Falls, which is composed of two large 114-308-foot waterfalls constituting the western end of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. The canyon’s walls are composed of decomposed volcanic rock and feature brilliant hues of pinks, yellows, lavenders, and white, making the canyon and its nearby waterfalls a truly beautiful sight to behold. 

Given all of these and dozens of other attractions, it’s no surprise that millions of people visit Yellowstone each year. And you can easily be one of them. The park features a dozen developed campgrounds and more than 300 backcountry campsites, so you can comfortably camp whether you’re a seasoned camper or more of a glamper. You’ll also find 15 miles of boardwalks that provide easy access to many of the park’s most popular hydrothermal features in addition to boundless trails for hiking, backpacking, and wildlife watching. 

Want to get up close and personal with Yellowstone’s attractions before you visit? Then check out National Geographic’s Yellowstone Live series, which streams videos of Yellowstone’s ecosystem and its wildlife in action. 

You can learn more about Yellowstone at yellowstonepark.com.

 

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