Yellowstone National Park might be one of the most famous landmarks in all of the US, even for those living in other countries. It is popular in film and popular culture and is often revered for its incredible natural beauty, wildlife, and size. Even the Hollywood film 2012 paid some homage to it as a family destination (before the world ended, that is.)
The park is spread out across a few territories. Most of it is found in Wyoming, although Montana and Idaho can also claim to be host to at least part of it. Yellowstone is well known as a volcanic area (more on that later), and also known for its several springs, like its most famous, Old Faithful.
But that’s just the general rundown. The most interesting facts about Yellowstone National Park are to be found if you dig a little deeper. Let’s explore 21 of the more fascinating facts about this national and world treasure.
21 Interesting Facts about Yellowstone National Park
Table of Contents
- 21 Interesting Facts about Yellowstone National Park
- 1. Yellowstone was the World’s First Official National Park
- 2. Yellowstone National Park is Big… Very Big
- 3. Despite its Size, There Are Only Five Entrances to the Park
- The West Entrance
- The North Entrance
- The South Entrance
- The Northeast Entrance
- The East Entrance
- 4. Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho Share Hosting Duties
- 5. Yellowstone is Home to a Huge Array of Animals
- 6. At Least Two Yellowstone Animal Species Under Threat
- 7. Bison Herds Are Amazing to Encounter
- 8. Yellowstone Elk Habits Are Unusual
- 9. It has a Rich Archeological History
- 10. There are Almost a Thousand Miles of Hikeable Trails
- 11. Hot Springs and Terraces
- 12. Old Faithful isn’t Technically That Faithful, Either
- 13. The World’s Tallest Geyser is Also in Yellowstone
- 14. It is a Very Active Earthquake Area
- 15. There is an Abundance of Waterfalls and Waterways
- 16. The Yellowstone River is the Longest in the US Without a Dam
- 17. There’s a Grand Canyon in Yellowstone
- 18. There’s Also an Impressive Lake
- 19. Some Invasive Species Pose a Threat to the Ecosystem
- 20. The Supervolcano Under the Park
- 21. Yellowstone May Hold Some Interesting Scientific Secrets
- Final Thoughts on Yellowstone National Park Facts
It seems like a bit of a Ripley’s Believe it or Not fact, but Yellowstone National Park was actually the very first official national park in the world to be certified by a government. At least, that’s according to most known official records.
Then-president Ulysses S. Grant signed the document into law in March 1872, a few years after the end of the Civil War. Back then, large parts of the territory were open land, inhabited by Native American peoples.
The two million acres covered by the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act sought to protect the wilderness from development and keep a semblance of the unspoiled natural beauty of the US.
Today, Yellowstone covers around 3500 square miles. It is technically more extensive than the combined territories of Delaware and Rhode Island.
Side note: Yellowstone isn’t the biggest national park in the world. That would be in Greenland. Put it this way: If Northeast Greenland National Park were a country, it would be the 31st largest in the world, at 375 000 square miles.
Despite its size, the entrance to the park is surprisingly limited, at least in the sense of how to get into the park area the best way. There are five key entrances, each with its own particular advantages, depending on what you’d like to see in the park.
This is the way to get to geyser city. Most casual visitors make a point of seeing the geysers of Yellowstone, and the excellent geyser base is most accessible from here.
Not surprisingly, this is the busiest “commercial” entrance to Yellowstone, with many shops, people, and restaurants. West Yellowstone is the town closest to the entrance and is usually full of visitors.
Access the park from Gardiner, Montana. It may be the easiest route if you’re coming from the west coast. It’s also the only way to get to the northeastern edge of the park in wintertime.
The unique appeal of the South Entrance is the proximity of Grand Teton National Park. You can actually plan a trip to visit both parks, should you use the entrance to Yellowstone. Plan a stopover in Jackson, Wyoming while you’re here.
If you’re into spotting wildlife – especially the majestic bears and wolves, you want to try this end of the park. Your last stops before entering the park here are Silver Gate and Cooke City, Montana.
Are you going to the lake? Yellowstone Lake is one of the major attractions for visitors, and the east entrance is how to get there. Also, close by you’ll find Old Faithful geyser and the West Thumb Geyser Basin.
Something of interest for the kids and historians – your last stop before the park on this route is Cody, Wyoming. This is a town that the legendary Buffalo Bill founded.
As you may have figured out by now, Yellowstone stretches over three different states. One of the most interesting facts about Yellowstone National Park is that most of the park is in Wyoming (about 96%), while 3% sits within Montana and the remaining 1% in Idaho.
The entire park was established to preserve nature, and that it did. Yellowstone has a huge variety of wildlife species. It has the highest density of animals in the entire lower 48 continental United States.
It is estimated to be home to 285 species of birds and at least 1150 native species of plants. That’s not counting the alien species found since – more on that later.
Sadly, a couple of Yellowstone’s most popular inhabitants may be under threat. Canada Lynxes are very rare – so consider yourself lucky if you do see one. They do still exist in Yellowstone, though, and we all hope they continue to do so for many generations to come.
Grizzly bears have been on the list for 40 years. There’s a major debate going on as to whether their numbers are sufficiently recovered for them to be removed from the list. But it still seems quite sad that they should be under threat at all.
The Black-Footed Ferret was considered extinct up until the 1980s. One day, a rancher’s dog brought one home, a revelation for scientists. They remain endangered, though a small population does exist in Yellowstone.
Another great Yellopwsone attraction is the Gray Wolf. While their status is considerably better than the grizzlies, they are still endangered in some states. Thankfully, Wyoming feels they are doing well enough to be off the immediate danger list.
Pika are rodent-shaped mammals currently on the edge of being classified endangered. The biggest threat to them is climate change, as they are susceptible to temperature.
The largest bison herd in the world is located in Yellowstone. It is estimated to be around 5000 strong. That may not be impressive when you consider that millions of buffalo and bison once roamed these lands. But the herd is impressive to see nonetheless.
Sadly, some of the bison have to be periodically culled to control disease. The bison get their measure of revenge, though, causing huge traffic jams on Yellowstone’s roads.
There’s something unique about the herd of elk in Yellowstone. They don’t migrate. That means people can see them all year round. Apparently, they like it here.
There’s a lot of history in Yellowstone. Research indicates that humans may have already been active 11 000 years ago. There are hundreds of archeological sites and findings within the park. Several of these have been submitted to the National Register of Historic Places.
Want to hike Yellowstone? Go for it. There are 900 miles and 300 trails to choose from. You can do multiple-day hikes, easier one-day walks, and even enjoy 15 miles of boardwalk. The park has several wheelchair-accessible and paved walks, too. Everyone can enjoy the beauty of this wonderful park.
The most famous geyser in Yellowstone is Old Faithful. But it’s far from being the only one here. Visit Mammoth Hot Springs for an idea of what the geothermal effect means for Yellowstone. The Boardwalks mentioned above include walks around the hot springs, and you can visit the old Fort Yellowstone from here.
The legend surrounding the Old Faithful is that it’s a reliable and very predictable geyser. It is, to some degree, but the intervals between sprouts aren’t particularly consistent. What is known is that it erupts an average of 20 times per day, lasting around one to 1.5 minutes.
On average, it reaches 130 feet in height but has been known to reach as much as 180 feet. Intervals between eruptions range significantly between 60 and 110 minutes. The mathematical average sits around 74 minutes.
Old Faithful isn’t the tallest geyser, not even in Yellowstone. That claim belongs to the Grand geyser, which can reach nearly 300 feet. The most consistent in terms of height is Steamboat, hitting 200 feet regularly.
If you feel unsteady on your feet while in Yellowstone, it may be an earthquake. But don’t worry, humans can’t even feel the vast majority of quakes in Yellowstone. It is a very seismically active region, though, experiencing between 700 and 3000 little shakes every year.
The area sits on top of a fault line. The vibrations are caused by water and magma moving below the surface.
The water system that flows through the Yellowstone National park is an immense network of rivers that flow almost across the entire country. It is considered a vital national resource and is officially part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
There are reportedly almost 600 lakes and ponds within the Yellowstone water system. In addition, count up to 1000 streams and rivers. That’s a lot of water.
Speaking of rivers, The Yellowstone River runs 692 miles, officially the longest in the US that does not have a dam constructed on it. Officially, the longest river in the US overall is The Missouri at an impressive 2,341 miles.
The famous Grand Canyon is in Arizona. But you may be surprised to learn that it isn’t the only Grand Canyon. Yellowstone National Park has its very own Grand Canyon.
The 1000-foot canyon stretches for about 20 miles and was caused by erosion from the Yellowstone River. The most spectacular view is from Artist Point – well worth making an effort to see.
Yellowstone Lake was mentioned earlier but is worth an extra look. It is the largest high-elevation lake in the US and on the North American continent. Even at 20 miles long and boasting 140+ miles of shoreline, it’s amazing to think that it still freezes over every winter.
As mentioned, a few of Yellowstone’s wildlife species are endangered. But the park is also victim to invasive species, some of which threaten the delicately balanced ecosystem.
One example is a parasite that affects fish – trout in particular. Myxobolus cerebralis is an unwelcome guest in the Yellowstone waterways. The New Zealand and Red-Rimmed Melania Snails are also threatening the vegetation, as they reproduce in large amounts, strangling the native species for resources.
Geologists have long spoken about the supervolcano that resides under Yellowstone. It is a huge caldera that last erupted some 640 000 years ago. Scientists estimate that an eruption would affect a 1000 mile radius with ash and could have long-term devastating effects on the global climate.
There’s a lot to discover in Yellowstone, even for scientists. Many of the microorganisms hold promise for scientific research, possibly providing medicines or scientific breakthroughs in environmental projects. It is, after all, a vast ecosystem.
Hopefully, these 21 interesting facts about Yellowstone national park have piqued your interest in visiting it. If you have been before, hopefully, you’ve also learned something extra about it.
What needs to be appreciated is the importance of preserving not only a place like Yellowstone but the great adventure that is nature in general. What could be more breathtaking than to see the grizzlies and brown bears of Yellowstone in their own environment?
Perhaps your thing is taking a walk through the trails and pines of the forest? It’s all here. And winter or summer, there are charms to behold that will be hard to beat anywhere else.
Have you been to Yellowstone National Park? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you.