Friday, April 4, 2014

Best hikes for seeing Yellowstone's wonders

The Fairy Falls Trail passes the Grand Prismatic Spring
in Yellowstone National Park.

Try these 5 routes for geysers, wildlife, waterfalls

Among the best ways to see Yellowstone National Park’s major sights is via a day hike. Just five short trails will allow you to see each of the park’s highlights – geysers, hot springs, wildlife, waterfalls and canyons.

Old Faithful
Yellowstone’s most famous geyser erupts every 90 minutes or so, with water spewing more than 100 feet high for anywhere from 1.5 to 5 minutes. Most people see the geyser from the Old Faithful Boardwalk, so it’s a crowded path. Instead, watch it from the Observation Point Trail. There are some steep spots, but crowds are smaller, and you’ll see it from a unique vantage point.

Lamar Valley
Known as the “Serengeti of North America,” the valley contains the greatest collection of large animals in North America: bison and elk herds, grizzlies in the woods, wolf packs, black bears, and osprey and bald eagles in the skies. For the most intimate experience, hike a segment of the 5.3-mile Lamar Valley Trail (trailhead is east of Lamar Ranger Station). Dawn and dusk are the best times to see active animals.

Grand Prismatic Spring
The beautiful and oft-photographed hot spring boasts multicolored rings of algae. As the water temperature changes, so does the kind of thermophile living in it, resulting in a rainbow of colors. The prismatic spring is best seen from the 2.5-mile Fairy Falls Trail, which heads to a 197-foot waterfall and leaves from Grand Loop Road north of Old Faithful.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
The Yellowstone River carved out this fantastic canyon below the 308-foot high Lower Falls. The 3.8-mile North Rim Trail runs along the canyon’s northwest wall. Parts of the trail are paved and there’s only 250 feet of elevation change.

Bechler Basin waterfalls
Located in the park’s southwest corner, the basin boasts dozens of waterfalls. From the Bachler Ranger Station, try the 3-mile round trip Cave Falls Trail, which follows the Falls River to Bechler Falls. The hike is best done in August and September when the mosquito population is the lowest, as the bogs are drier.

Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces
These hot pools cascading over travertine terraces are a spectacular sight in the park’s northern section. The disconnected Mammoth Hot Springs boardwalks, accessible from Grand Loop Road, weaves through and around the springs for nearly 4 miles of hiking. The pools’ temperatures here can reach up to 163 degrees F.

Learn about other great national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.