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*Clears throat, game show host voice*
Welcome back to another episode of Things to do that aren’t hiking in the national parks! Today we’re featuring Yellowstone, America’s first national park, home to Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, and more wildlife than you can imagine. We all know there’s tons of hiking in Yellowstone, but today I’m going to be sharing with you the best things to do in Yellowstone that AREN’T hiking.
While I’ll be focusing on visiting Yellowstone in the summer for this post, I did include two awesome reasons to visit Yellowstone in the winter. There may be some walking involved in a few of these activities but it’s nothing strenuous or difficult. It is actually all boardwalks which you know I love, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about today. Today it’s all about the best things to do in Yellowstone for non-hikers. And don’t forget to book a great hotel for your Yellowstone trip!
If you do decide to travel right now, please do so safely and at your own risk. Wear a mask, wash and sanitizer regularly, check any government regulations before going, and book accommodations with flexible cancellation policies, just in case.
Hotels near Yellowstone
Cody, Wyoming, Bozeman, Montana, and Jackson, Wyoming are three great gateway towns if you aren’t staying in the park or for the day before or after your arrival in the park.
Watch Old Faithful erupt
Did you even go to Yellowstone if you didn’t see Old Faithful? (Yes, you did.) This is one of the must-do things in Yellowstone no matter when you visit or how much time you have. It’s just a quick stop as long as it’s timed right and there are tons of great thermal features in the basin nearby to keep you busy if you do have to wait. Old Faithful erupts every 35-120 minutes and they usually have a countdown nearby.
Did you even go to Yellowstone if you didn’t see any wildlife? Yes. Of course. Don’t worry, I won’t start everything like this, but aside from Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and Grand Prismatic Spring, wildlife is one of the biggest draws to Yellowstone. Keep an eye out for bison jams on the road, wolves in Lamar Valley, elk, bears, coyotes, moose, and more.
Admire Mammoth Hot Springs
This is one of the walks on the list but it’s not difficult. There are stairs and some minor elevation changes though. You can admire the crystalline formations that make up the Mammoth Hot Springs which are very different than any other hot springs in the park.
See the mud pots
There are a few different mud things to see here and I missed all of them which makes me a little sad but it’s just another reason to go back! There is the Mud Volcano (short boardwalk), Artist Paint Pots (1.1-mile boardwalk and gravel trail), Weest Thumb Paint Pots (0.6-mile boardwalk) and Fountain Paint Pot (half-mile boardwalk loop). These are a fun change from the more common thermal features.
Try to catch Steamboat Geyser erupting
This is tucked away in Norris Geyser Basin and is something you’ll be very lucky to see. Between 1990 and March 2018, it only erupted 11 times. You read that right, only 11 times in almost thirty years.
Then in March 2018 it became more active and erupted 81 times between then and December 2019, which is also crazy! It will erupt anywhere from 3-21 days apart and will probably take a lot of patience and determination to see, but it’s probably (definitely) worth it.
Visit the Old Faithful Inn
Go back in time and visit the Old Faithful Inn. Consider spending a night or two here if you can snag a reservation when they open up. You’ll be in the heart of the park in of the coolest historic hotels in the parks. There is also an Old Faithful Snow Lodge that you can even stay in in the winter, which would be SO COOL.
Want to see more of the park on feet that aren’t your own? Horseback riding is perfect for that! You can either bring your own horses or do a guided trip. Whichever you do, make sure you follow the regulations and choose an outfitter that is licensed in the park.
There are tons of geyser basins to walk through in Yellowstone, that’s why it’s a park, after all. They all have boardwalks of varying lengths meandering through them making the walking nice and easy. Some of the best geyser basins in Yellowstone are Mammoth Hot Springs, Upper Geyser Basin, Lower Geyser Basin, Norris Geyser Basin, West Thumb Geyser Basin, and Midway Geyser Basin. You’ll be able to see all the different types of thermal features the park has on these boardwalks.
Take a dip in the Boiling River or Firehole
Want to do a little swimming in Yellowstone? Skip the hot springs and thermal features because that’s definitely not allowed and it’s super dangerous. You are, however, allowed to swim in the Boiling River near Mammoth Hot Springs and the Firehole swim area near Madison Junction. Water toys are prohibited and there are no lifeguards so swim at your own risk, but enjoy the water on a hot summer day.
Would it even be a trip to a national park without stargazing? Yes, of course it would, but it will make the trip that much more memorable because you’ll be under an incredibly impressive night sky surrounded by some fantastic and remote wilderness. You can easily do this if you’re camping, but can stay in the park late and check out some stars from a trailhead before heading to your hotel.
If you want to let your creative juices flow with a little guidance, a photography or painting tour is a great option for you! There are tons of companies that can offer the tours in the park (you can find them in the link above) so you’ve got plenty of options to choose from for your visit. This is also a unique way to see the park.
Most people see Yellowstone from the road or by foot, but you can also boat and paddle through the park! At least certain areas of it. If you want to get away from the crowds this is a great option. It will also give you a totally different perspective on the park. Just remember, there are no water activities (water skiing, tubing, wakeboarding, etc.) allowed in the park and not all bodies of water can be paddled or boated on.
If you want a more adventurous way to see Yellowstone in winter, consider a snowmobiling trip! This is a fun way to get back into the park, still be outside, and enjoy the park in all of its winter glory and solitude. Just make sure you go with the guides allowed to run in the park.
Do a snowcoach trip
This is probably the top of my Yellowstone bucket list because I’m so excited to see it in the winter, covered in snow. It’s a little expensive but you’ll get to see the park in a way very few people (compared to the number of summer visitors) get to: steaming and snow-covered. You’ll still have the chance to see Old Faithful, bison, wolves, and other thermal features on this visit.
Have you been to Yellowstone? What are your favorite things to do in Yellowstone that aren’t hiking? What about favorite hikes in Yellowstone?