Where to See Forever: Most Scenic Spots in Yellowstone
With 466 miles of roads (310 miles of which are paved), winding through and around its wildlife-rich 2.2 million acres of mountains, valleys, and geologic wonders, Yellowstone National Park has almost infinite opportunities for vistas that are as grand as they are accessible. There is something new and wondrous around almost every bend and over every rise. Still, some lookout spots are more remarkable and Insta-worthy than others.
To help find some of the best, we have enlisted the help of Yellowstone National Park Lodges employees Sarah Bierschwale and Kelly Burns, both of whom are avid park explorers. While all the choices might not have names, all of them allow you to safely pull off the road, park, soak in the scenery, and snap some memorable photos. Some of these require no walking at all; others require minimal walking (but none more than a half-mile).
Reason to Go: To see the park’s tallest waterfall and the deep canyon carved by the Yellowstone River.
Scenic Lookout: Lookout Point off the one-way North Rim Road has gorgeous views of the 308-foot-tall Lower Falls of the Yellowstone, the tallest waterfall in the park and the start of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Secluded Nearby Spot: Perhaps no viewpoint does justice to the immensity of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, the 20-mile-long canyon cut between 800 and 1,200 feet deep by the Yellowstone River, but if any overlook does, it’s the aptly named Inspiration Point. A little farther down the North Rim Road from Lookout Point, Inspiration Point has a .15-mile-walk down 13 steps out onto a promontory that hangs about 1,000 feet above the canyon floor offering panoramic views up and down the canyon.
Best Time to Go: These are both popular spots; to avoid crowds visit before 10 a.m. or after 5 p.m. Late afternoon brings the best light.
BRIDGE BAY MARINA
Reason to Go: To snap sunrise and sunset photos of the largest high-altitude lake in the country.
Scenic Lookout: It’s worth getting up early to catch a sunrise from Yellowstone Lake’s western shore. There are numerous pullouts off the Grand Loop Road, but some of the best are on either side of Bridge Bay Marina. From here, you look east to the lake and the sun rising behind it. On windless days, the lake reflects the sunrise, which pours its golden light onto the glistening water.
Secluded Nearby Spot: “A one-mile road climbs up to Lake Butte Overlook above Yellowstone Lake,” says Kelly Burns, Yellowstone National Park Lodges’ Recruitment Marketing Specialist. “It is a favorite sunset spot and, on a clear day, the Teton Mountains can be seen off in the distance.” The Lake Butte Overlook Road is off the East Entrance Road just before the latter leaves the lakeshore to head up Sylvan Pass.
Best Time to Go: For the most dramatic photos, hit the western shore at sunrise and the Lake Butte Overlook at sunset.
TOWER FALL OVERLOOK
Reason to Go: To see the view that inspired the creation of Yellowstone National Park.
Scenic Lookout: Although not as tall as Lower Falls, “Tower Fall is an impressive ‘towering’ waterfall,” says Sarah Bierschwale, Yellowstone National Park Lodges’ Marketing Manager. Photographed by William Henry Jackson and painted by Thomas Moran during the 1871 Hayden Survey that led to the creation of the country’s first national park, Tower Falls drops 132 feet through eroded volcanic pinnacles just before Tower Creek joins the Yellowstone River. It was the dramatic beauty seen from the Tower Falls Overlook in the northeastern part of the park, 2.2 miles south of Tower Junction, that convinced Congress to create the park. The viewpoint is a .10-mile walk from the parking lot.
Secluded Nearby Spot: Calcite Springs marks the downstream end of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Bierschwale says the Calcite Springs Overlook, perched on a bluff at the narrowest part of the canyon, “offers a bird’s eye view of the Yellowstone River and part of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.” This overlook is just north of Tower Falls on the Grand Loop Road.
Best Time to Go: You have the best chance of avoiding crowds before 10 a.m. and after 5 p.m. Note that through 2021 the part of the Grand Loop Road between Canyon Junction and Tower-Roosevelt remains closed due to road construction. The only access to the Tower area is via the roads from Cooke City or Mammoth.
THE LAMAR VALLEY
Reason to Go: Enjoy the park’s wildlife, as remarkable as its thermal features.
Scenic Lookout: The Lamar Valley, between Tower Junction and the park’s northeast entrance (Cooke City), is often called “America’s Serengeti” for the amount and diversity of wildlife you can see there. The area is home to wolves, grizzly bears, moose, elk, pronghorn, bison, and non-native mountain goats, among other species. Since wildlife move around, there’s no one viewing spot here that is better than the others; it all depends on where the wildlife are. But you’ll rarely be disappointed.
Secluded Nearby Spot: At the eastern end of the Lamar Valley, the Soda Butte Creek/Lamar River Trailhead “gives a closer glimpse of the impressive Absaroka Mountains,” Bierschwale says. While you don’t have to hike to enjoy views of the “Abbies” and Soda Butte Creek, if you feel like hoofing it, four trails start here: the Specimen Ridge Trail, Lamar River Trail, Cache Creek Trail, and Miller Creek Trail.
Best Time to Go: Much of park’s wildlife are at their most active in the morning and at dusk. If it’s moose that you most want to see, go early in the morning; they’re very heat sensitive.
GREAT FOUNTAIN GEYSER
Reason to Go: To get a great photo of a geyser.
Scenic Lookout: “Take a detour on Firehole Lake Drive and maybe you will get lucky and see Great Fountain Geyser erupt,” Bierschwale says. “It’s a stunning geyser with terraced pools that can reflect the sunrise and sunset.” Great Fountain Geyser is a fountain-type geyser — it erupts through a pool of water in a series of bursts — and is the only feature in the Lower Geyser Basin that the park makes predictions for; it erupts every nine to 15 hours. An average eruption lasts for about one hour and is about 75 feet tall. Keep your camera at the ready.
Secluded Nearby Spot: “Farther down Firehole Lake Drive than Great Fountain Geyser, stop at Steady Geyser, which erupts constantly,” Bierschwale says. A short boardwalk loops around it and the surrounding algae flats.
Best Time to Go: Sunrise and sunset have the best light; avoid crowds by coming before 10 a.m. or after 5 p.m.
Written by: Dina Mishev
Dina Mishev is a freelance writer based in Jackson Hole, Wyo.
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