About Yellowstone

Behold the Beauty of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

A geological marvel that captivates visitors with its sheer beauty and wonder, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is nestled within the breathtaking expanse of the iconic Yellowstone National Park. Carved by the Yellowstone River over millennia, this canyon boasts vivid colors, towering cliffs, and powerful waterfalls. As one of the most notorious and visited landmarks in the park, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is an essential stop for any traveler, offering unforgettable vistas and a profound connection to the natural world.

The canyon stretches approximately 24 miles long, reaching depths of up to 1,200 feet. Its striking yellow, red, and orange hues come from the hydrothermal alteration of volcanic rocks, creating a palette that transforms under different lighting conditions. This natural masterpiece is home to the famous Upper and Lower Falls, which cascade spectacularly into the canyon, providing some of the most photographed scenes in the park.

North Entrance Road and sign

Getting to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Accessing the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is relatively straightforward. Each of the park’s five main entrances offers a unique journey to the Canyon Village area.

From the North Entrance: Gardiner, MT

  • Enter the park through the North Entrance at Gardiner.
  • Drive south on US-89 (Grand Loop Road), past Mammoth Hot Springs and Norris Geyser Basin, for approximately 50 miles.
  • Follow signs to Canyon Village.

From the Northeast Entrance: Cooke City, MT

  • Enter the park through the Northeast Entrance in Cooke City.
  • Follow US-212/Beartooth Highway (Northeast Entrance Road) west for about 29 miles to Tower Junction.
  • At Tower Junction, turn left and follow the Grand Loop Road south to Canyon Village.

From the East Entrance: Cody, WY

  • Enter the park through the East Entrance in Cody.
  • Drive west on US-14/16/20 (East Entrance Road) for about 27 miles to Fishing Bridge Junction.
  • Merge onto Grand Loop Road heading north, passing through Fishing Bridge and Hayden Valley to Canyon Village.

From the South Entrance: Jackson, WY

  • Enter the park through the South Entrance in Jackson.
  • Follow US-89/US-191/US-287 (South Entrance Road) north through the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway.
  • Continue on Grand Loop Road heading north.
  • Pass through West Thumb and Grant Village, then continue to Canyon Village.

From the West Entrance: West Yellowstone, MT

  • Enter the park through the West Entrance in West Yellowstone.
  • Drive east on US-20/US-191/US-287 (West Entrance Road) for about 14 miles to Madison Junction. 
  • At Madison Junction, turn left (north) and drive to Norris Geyser Basin.
  • From Norris Junction, continue for about 12 miles to Canyon Village.

Artist Point wooden bench with a view of Lower Falls

The Upper and Lower Falls

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is famed for its two major waterfalls:

Upper Falls

The Upper Falls is a stunning 109-foot drop that showcases the raw power of the Yellowstone River. A short hike from the Canyon Village takes you to several viewpoints, including the Brink of the Upper Falls, where you can witness the water's thunderous plunge close-up.

Lower Falls

The Lower Falls is the tallest waterfall in the park at 308 feet. It is nearly twice the height of Niagara Falls and can be viewed from multiple vantage points such as Artist Point, Lookout Point, and the Brink of the Lower Falls. The sight of the river cascading into the canyon, framed by the multicolored rock walls, is unforgettable.

Frozen Lower Falls from Lookout Point

Seasonal Changes

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone offers a different experience each season:

Spring

In spring, melting snow swells the Yellowstone River, making the waterfalls especially powerful and the surrounding foliage lush and green. This is an excellent time for wildlife watching as animals emerge from their winter habitats.

Summer

Summer is the most popular time to visit, with warm temperatures and clear skies offering ideal conditions for hiking and photography. The vibrant colors of the canyon are at their peak, and the trails are fully accessible.

Fall

Fall brings cooler temperatures and a quieter atmosphere as the summer crowds thin out. The canyon’s colors deepen, and the surrounding forest provides a picturesque backdrop as it transforms into a tapestry of reds, oranges, and yellows.

Winter

In winter, the canyon takes on a serene beauty as snow blankets the landscape, and the waterfalls partially freeze. While some areas may be inaccessible due to snow, guided snowshoe or snowmobile tours offer a unique way to explore this winter wonderland.

Bald Eagle perched along the Yellowstone River

Wildlife of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is part of a rich ecosystem that supports a diverse range of wildlife. Within Canyon Village, you’re likely to spot: 

  • Bison: Often seen grazing in the meadows near the canyon.
  • Elk: Commonly found in the area, especially during the fall rutting season.
  • Bears: Both grizzly and black bears inhabit the region, with sightings more frequent in spring and early summer.
  • Birds of Prey: Eagles and hawks soar above the canyon, taking advantage of the thermal updrafts.
  • Wolves: Although more elusive, wolves roam the park and are sometimes spotted near the canyon.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone by Thomas Moran, 1871

Historical and Cultural Significance

Dating back to 1400 to 1700 CE, ancestors to contemporary Blackfeet, Cayuse, Coeur d'Alene Nez, Shoshone, and Perce, among others, long revered this land. Long before Yellowstone became a national park, the land served as sacred ground for Native American tribes. In the 19th century, with colonial expansion, the canyon’s vivid colors and awe-inspiring landscapes captivated early explorers and, eventually, artists. Most notably, Thomas Moran’s illustrations and paintings of Yellowstone helped persuade Congress to establish the land as the first national park in 1872. Today, the canyon continues to symbolize the untouched wilderness that Yellowstone National Park was created to preserve.

Upper Falls from Upper Falls Viewpoint

Why the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is a Bucket-List Destination

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is undeniably one of the park's most iconic and cherished sights. Its sheer beauty, coupled with the powerful waterfalls and rich history, makes it a transformative experience and impactful destination that should be on everyone’s bucket list. 

Don’t miss the chance to witness this natural masterpiece firsthand. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is not just a place to visit—it's a destination that resonates with the soul, leaving an indelible mark on all who behold its grandeur. Make sure it’s on your travel itinerary; it’s an adventure you won’t forget.

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