From the severe Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which has inspired artists for centuries, to the wide-open plains of the Lamar Valley or the dynamic Hayden Valley at the heart of the park, Yellowstone’s deep valleys are a must-see. If you’re considering a trip through one or more, here’s all you need to know as you wander.
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone showcases vividly colored rocks. But you don’t have to know how oxidizing iron casts a golden hue in order to appreciate the beauty of the canyon’s furrowed crags. The vantage from Artist Point shows powerful Lower Falls, framed by steep cliffs. Hikers with strong lungs can also take the trail to the brink of the 300-foot waterfall.
From viewpoints along the rim, spot steamy markers that call out hidden geothermal features, or take in the impressive power of the tumbling Yellowstone River below. Over time, the river has carved its way down over 1,000 feet through the rock layers to show off the sharp walls we see today.
Lamar Valley is the place for wildlife viewing. Its nickname of the American Serengeti should tell you all you need to know about the opportunities you’ll find to check animals off your Yellowstone bucket list here. It’s also one of the few roads open to public vehicle traffic in the winter, so you can drive from Mammoth to Cooke City through Lamar Valley to explore year round.
This is an optimal habitat for grizzlies, wolves, bison and moose. And it’s also home to mountain goats (though they’re not native to Yellowstone, they’re still cool to see), bighorn, and pronghorn. Bring your binoculars or spotting scope, and be ready to post up at road pullouts for viewing opportunities.
A good tip: watch for other people pulled over looking for animals, and see if you can spot what they see. Just be sure to pull off the road in designated areas only, and don’t block traffic. You don’t want to cause a traffic jam. You can also take one of several hikes in the valley to get out into the ecosystem—just be sure to bring your bear spray.
Between the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Yellowstone Lake at the center of the plateau, Hayden Valley also draws in wildlife watchers, this time along the Grand Loop Road that many visitors take to experience the park.
Like the Lamar Valley, the rolling meadows of Hayden Valley make ideal grizzly bear habitat and are a prime hangout for this keystone species. Birders should grab their binos and get excited for the winged wildlife they’ll see. Plus, if you’re heading here in the summer, Hayden Valley holds the largest rut of free-roaming bison in the world.
Hayden Valley sometimes doesn’t get as much credit as Lamar Valley for wildlife viewing, and the rolling meadows of these two wider valleys cut a different view than the cliffs of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. But really, visiting any or all is the right choice in your Yellowstone adventures.
For more trip planning inspiration and tips, check out all that Yellowstone Country has to offer.
At Yellowstone National Park Lodges, you’re invited to discover or rediscover the magic of the world’s first national park, Yellowstone. As proud stewards of the park and this truly extraordinary American wonder