Landscapes of Yellowstone National Park

Mountains, valleys, lakes, rivers, geysers, and canyons

West Entrance
South Entrance

Our first view of Yellowstone was the one that you see above. Coming from the green grass and warm sunshine of Grand Teton National Park just further south, my husband and I were nervous at this change in the landscape. Though perhaps our nervousness was also caused by two nights of sleeping in our tent with lows around 30 degrees.

People are not joking when they say Yellowstone during spring is still winter.

But what we learned, hey remember we live in Ohio, is that naturally when you go over a mountain pass and a change in elevation, there’s typically more snow.

We were thrilled when we made it further north and witnessed the melting snow around Yellowstone Lake and Hayden Valley.

Hayden Valley and Yellowstone Lake

Night sky at Madison Junction campground

For this trip I rented a lens for my camera that would be able to capture the stars. The campground in Yellowstone wasn’t as dark as the campground we were at a few days prior in Grand Teton. I was able to take a clear shot of the Milky Way when we were in Grand Teton National Park.

Even with the little extra light, it was absolutely breathtaking. I teared up every time that I saw the stars.

West Thumb Geyser Basin

The first geyser we smelled, I mean saw, were those in the West Thumb Geyser Basin. Many of them were a deep aqua blue and others were muddy, both contrasted the colder Yellowstone Lake.

West Thumb Geyser Basin and Yellowstone Lake

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

The outlook for the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone was filled with tourists like us. But once we ventured onto the straight-up-a-mountain-the-whole-time hiking path — complete with a ‘Be Bear Aware’ warning at the entrance — we were welcomed with quieter views of the majestic canyon.

Though it’s colder visiting in late May, we could only imagine how much harder it would be to get away from the crowds in July. Last year, in May there were 340,447 visitors, while in July there were 907,207 visitors.

— Data from National Park Service Visitation Statistics

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Old Faithful Geyser

A trip to Yellowstone isn’t complete without visiting Old Faithful. We were there quite a few minutes early so we headed into the cafe nearby and snacked on a pretzel and some iced coffee. Our expectations of Old Faithful were low. How impressive could it be?

20 minutes later, the geyser started to spit up. We thought, “That’s it?”

5 minutes later, the water spout grew.

Then finally the water spout shot so high I could barely catch it in the frame of my camera. The video I was recording began with us vocalizing our misgivings on how miraculous this geyser would be and ended with us being amazed.

Ultimately, Old Faithful showed us up and we finally understood the hype surrounding it.

Want to wait and watch it live? Check out this live stream provided by the National Park Service.

Grand Prismatic Spring

Ultimately of all the geysers we visited — West Thumb, Mud Volcano, Old Faithful — the Grand Prismatic Spring was the one that stole my heart. It’s the third largest hot spring in the world and it’s just brimming with color, hence its name.

The unfortunate thing is that we saw it on a chilly day, so the steam rising in the air made it harder to see the geyser clearly. But what we did see in full clarity, which was just oddly beautiful, was the bacteria on the crust surrounding the water hole of the geyser. There, the bacteria turned the ground orange and made a pattern that looked like the wind has blown sand in the desert.

Did I mention too that this geyser was one of the few to not smell like sulfuric rotten eggs?

Thankfully we did not visit Yellowstone during forest fire season. We did see many paths that previous fires had taken and the results were eerie. The photo on the left shows the new growth in the forest, while the photo on the right shows the impact of a more recent fire with the wood still charred.

Forest fires, though scary to us, are vital for one type of pinecone that lodgepole pines produce called serotinous cones. Lodgepole pines, make up nearly 80% of the park’s forests, according to the National Park Service. Serotinous cones will not release their seeds until the resin sealing them melts, requiring a temperature of at least 113°F.

Read more about the ecological consequences of fire

Our last day we left through the west entrance and I’ll admit I got teary-eyed, just as I had when staring up at the stars.

Yellowstone National Park was brimming with beautiful mountains, valleys, lakes, rivers, geysers, canyons and it was unlike anything we had seen before.

One of our favorite parts of Yellowstone were the animals we saw. I’ll be posting about all the animals we encountered soon, so keep a lookout.

Stay beautiful Yellowstone.