Yellowstone National Park is more than just a national treasure. It’s also been voted one of the 7 Natural Wonders of North America.
But while millions of people from around the world make their way to the park each year, many learn about little other than its most popular geyser and the herds of bison that occasionally block traffic. Whether you already love the park or are planning your very first visit, keep reading to learn 7 things you might not know about Yellowstone.
1. Old Faithful isn’t the Park’s Biggest Geyser
Without a doubt, Old Faithful is one of Yellowstone’s most famous sights. Every year, millions of visitors make their way to the viewing platforms to wait for the eruption, which happens 17 times a day, at intervals between an hour and an hour and a half.
But while Old Faithful is the park’s most frequent geyser, it isn’t the largest one. That honor belongs to the Steamboat Geyser, a lesser-known but equally mesmerizing geothermal attraction. Located in the park’s Norris Geyser Basin, the geyser is actually the tallest in the world. During a major eruption, water will shoot more than 300 feet into the air.
The reason that Steamboat Geyser is less popular among tourists than Old Faithful is because of how sporadic and unpredictable its eruptions can be. Most of the geyser’s eruptions are relatively small, shooting water between 6 and 40 feet and lasting anywhere from 1 to 4 minutes. For many years, major eruptions were incredibly rare, sometimes with many years in between two. However, in 2019, the geyser saw its most active year on record, with 48 eruptions.
2. Yellowstone is Home to Half of All the Geothermal Features in the World
Most visitors know that Yellowstone is home to the world’s greatest concentration of geothermal features. But what many don’t realize is that it’s actually home to half of all such features in the world.
The term “geothermal features” refers to more than just geysers. It also includes hot springs and mud pots. In total, Yellowstone National Park has somewhere around 10,000 features, many of which you can see without leaving the main trails, roadways, and viewing areas.
3. Yellowstone was America’s First National Park
Yellowstone holds the distinction of the sixth most visited national park in the country, drawing more than 4 million visitors each year. However, did you know that it’s also the nation’s–and possibly the world’s–first national park?
In 1807, the first Anglo-American explorer to pass through the area, named John Colter, visited what is now Yellowstone, and brought back tales of incredible steaming geysers and bubbling hot springs. It would take almost 70 years for a government-backed exploration to take place, led by government geologist Ferdinand Hayden. Just a year after his 1871 expedition, the U.S. Congress moved to set aside more than 1.2 million acres of land for exclusive public use. In 1872, President Grant signed The Yellowstone Act, which created the nation’s first national park and officially protected the land from mining, lumber harvesting, and other destruction.
Today, it’s relatively easy to hop in a car and road trip to a national park. Even if you’re visiting from overseas, you can fly to the U.S., then rent a car, take a bus, or utilize other transportation to get to Yellowstone.
But when the park first became a tourist attraction, cars were still over a decade away from even being invented, let alone being something that the average family would own. The Wright brothers were still several decades away from their first iconic flight. There were no roads leading into the park, no hiking trails, no restrooms, and no hotels or lodges that made it easy to hop in and out of the park for a visit.
4. The Park Touches Three States
When President Grant signed the act that created Yellowstone, the 1,221,773 acres of land crossed three states, including Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Today, Yellowstone calls the same three states home, but it now covers an extra 1 million acres.
In total, Yellowstone has more landmass than Rhode Island and Delaware combined. More than 96 percent of the park is located in Wyoming. Another 3 percent is in Montana, while just 1 percent is in Idaho.
5. Evidence of Humans in the Area Dates Back More Than 11,000 Years
While the 1807 expedition by Colter helped bring the area to the attention of the government, the land has actually been in use by humans for more than 11,000 years. The earliest evidence of hunters passing through what is now the park was a Clovis-style spearhead found near what is now the park’s north entrance.
Perhaps even more incredibly, stone tools used by early Native Americans that have been linked to a quarry found in Yellowstone have been discovered as far east as Ohio!
6. Before the Park Service Took Over, the Army Ran Yellowstone
The National Park Service was established on August 25, 1916, more than 44 years after Yellowstone was first formed. National parks and monuments established prior to the formation of the Park Service were managed by various agencies, including the Department of the Interior, the Forest Service, and the War Department.
When Yellowstone was first founded, no one managed the land. But in 1888, the U.S. Army took over. Tourists had already begun to vandalize the park’s natural features, while poachers were killing wildlife within the park’s boundaries. The U.S. Army managed the Park from 1888 to 1918, when the National Park Service officially took over.
7. More than 20 Percent of the Park’s Visitors Visit in July
While Yellowstone National Park covers more than 2.2 million acres, it can still get crowded, especially around the most popular attractions and trails. With more than 20 percent of the park’s 4 million visitors making their way through the entrance gates in July, it’s the busiest month of the entire year. June and August each see around 20 percent of the year’s total visitors, meaning that 60 percent of tourists choose to visit during the summer months.
If you want to enjoy Yellowstone without the crowds, plan a visit during the late Fall, early Spring, or Winter months. While colder temps deter some guests, these months not only offer crowd-free views but are also a great chance to take in snow-covered landscapes, enjoy some winter sports, and see the park in a whole new light.
Our Winter in Wyoming Tour is the perfect choice for first-time visitors to Yellowstone and experienced travelers alike. On the first day in the park, you’ll stay warm and cozy in one of our unique snow coaches, which will take you along the park’s snow-covered roads and trails that most vehicles can’t handle this time of year. On your second-day, brave the elements for a once-in-a-lifetime experience as you take a snowmobile ride through the park. You’ll get the chance to watch Old Faithful erupt, and see the steamy vents and bubbling mud pots surrounded by a stunning snow-covered landscape.
Planning Your Next Visit to Yellowstone
Whether you’re looking for a unique winter experience in the park or prefer to wait for the popular summer months, we can help you plan the perfect visit to Yellowstone National Park. Check out our tours or contact us today to learn more about customizing your own!