Yellowstone is unlike any other place on earth. From bubbling hot springs to gushing geysers, mammoth bison to swooping osprey, the array of geological features and wildlife in America’s first national park is filled with wonders not seen anywhere else in the world.
If you have never been to Yellowstone, there is no better time to go than right now. Established in 1872, this year marks the oldest U.S. National Park’s 150th anniversary. Yellowstone covers nearly 3,500 miles of pristine land in Wyoming, and parts of Montana and Idaho.
The top activity in Yellowstone is still driving, but there are endless ways to explore the park. This summer, lace up those boots and walk deeper into the famed park. Go beyond Old Faithful and bison crossing the road to get a glimpse of something even more special.
Here are six things to do this summer in honor of Yellowstone’s 150th anniversary.
6 Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park
1. Fantastic Fly Fishing
Any day spent fly fishing is a good day, but spend a day fly fishing in Yellowstone and you will never forget it.
Yellowstone, as well as the surrounding rivers and lakes, are the stuff anglers dream about. Fishing is good from May through October in the park for beginners to experienced anglers. The largest population of cutthroat trout in North America is in Yellowstone Lake. Native mountain whitefish, cutthroat, and arctic grayling are all catch and release.
From the Firehole River to high alpine backcountry lakes and streams, there are endless waters to explore. To make the most of your time on the water consider hiring a guide like Tim Wade with North Fork Anglers. Tim and his crew are in Cody, Wyo., at the entrance to the park and have been Yellowstone and Wyoming’s premier fly fishing shop since 1984.
Wade or float the Shoshone River Drainages, or wade fish the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone for native cutthroat and rainbow trout.
2. Scenic Hikes
Most visitors to Yellowstone enjoy the views from the comfort of their cars. But the best way to see the varied landscape is by getting up close and personal by hiking.
There are more than 900 miles of pristine hiking trails waiting in the 2.2 million acres of wilderness. Hiking is also a fantastic way to escape some of the summer crowds.
There’s no need for a permit for day hikes, leading to spectacular vistas. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is a great place to hike — the Ribbon Lake Trail in this region offers a scenic 5.8-mile out-and-back trail.
3. Colorful Hot Springs
Yellowstone’s collection of hot springs, geysers, mudpots, and fumaroles make it unlike any other place on the planet.
While geysers like Old Faithful often make all the noise and get the attention, make it a point to check out the colorful hot springs that come in an array of deep colors.
Hot springs are the most common hydrothermal feature in the park. The intense colors that emanate from these deep pools of boiling water are the result of thermophiles, or microorganisms that group together and thrive in the hot waters, creating the vast deep colors.
Some of the best hot springs to check out include Grand Prismatic Springs, which is the third-largest hot spring in the world at 330 feet wide and 120 feet deep. Silex Spring offers a deep azure pool with lots of silica. And Abyss Pool is one of the deepest hot springs in the park, descending 53 feet into the earth. It’s as amazing as it sounds.
Make sure to stay on the paths and away from the hot springs when viewing them.
4. Camp Under the Stars
As historic as Yellowstone’s famed Old Faithful Inn is, it’s hard to beat sleeping under the stars. Camping in the park is a great way to experience Yellowstone — pitching a tent is one of the best ways to get in touch with the landscape.
If you can get a backcountry permit, backpacking through Yellowstone will get you even deeper into the park’s untamed countryside. With 293 designated backcountry campsites, the demand for these coveted spots is high, but this is a sure way to get away from tourists and enjoy some solitude. Just keep an eye out for bears (and follow food storage protocol!).
5. Boating Yellowstone Lake
The expansive Yellowstone Lake is a centerpiece within the vast park. Sitting 20 miles wide and 14 miles long, the lake covers 132 square miles. The lake is so large that part of it resides in the Caldera, the large depression formed by volcanic eruptions over the past 2.1 million years, and the southern half outside the Caldera.
The lake drains into the Yellowstone River at Fishing Bridge. It is spellbinding to stand on the shores of the massive body of water looking out over the blue landscape. Checking out the lake by boat offers a unique perspective and more freedom to explore this key Yellowstone feature.
Like many bodies of water in the West, Yellowstone Lake is at risk of aquatic invasive species. So, if you bring your own boat, you will need to get it inspected and get a permit to use it. There are also an array of guided trips and rentals available for visitors.
From motorized boats to kayaks, exploring Yellowstone Lake from the water is a great way to see secluded areas and remote wildlife.
6. Dinner, a Show, and a Rodeo
What’s more western than a good ol’-fashioned rodeo? East of the park sits Cody, home to the Cody Stampede Rodeo.
This is the 103rd anniversary of the Cody Stampede and the 84th anniversary of the Cody Nite Rodeo, held nightly from June through August. The Fourth of July celebration includes a sanctioned Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) event.
To maximize a night at the Rodeo, consider taking in dinner and a show at the Cody Cattle Company. The ticket includes an all-you-can-eat Chuckwagon dinner, a western music show starring Ryan Martin and the Triple C Cowboys, and admission to the rodeo. It’s entertainment the entire family can enjoy.
Bonus! Raise a Glass to Yellowstone
After a long day on the river fishing, kick back and relax with a glass of bourbon. In honor of the 150th anniversary, Bozeman Spirits created a special limited-edition 150th Anniversary Bourbon Whiskey.
Made with Rocky Mountain water from the greater Yellowstone area and aged for at least 2 years, the special release is worth a taste. Bottles are available for sale in the park, or you can sample a taste at any of the bars, hotels, or restaurants within Yellowstone.
Editor’s note: Severe storms and flooding that occurred in the park on June 12 and throughout that week are still impacting park operations. Right now, much of the north section of Yellowstone is closed.
However, the south loop of the park reopened for entry on June 22. Yellowstone NP is using an Alternate License Plate System (ALPS) to manage traffic coming into the park. Those with license plates ending in odd digits can enter on odd days; plates ending in even digits can enter on even days. Those traveling via motorcycle have been assigned entry on even days as well.