America’s First National Park Remains One of the Most Popular Today
If it wasn’t for the famous Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming may not be on my radar when it comes to exploring the great expanse that is the United States.
With the island vibes of the Florida Keys, the Hollywood Hills of California, and the excitement of Las Vegas to compete with, the section of the northwest that contains Yellowstone isn’t atop my U.S. bucket list—but it definitely is on it, thanks to the photos and documentaries I’ve seen about this fascinating place.
Situated between three different states, this prized park doesn’t actually belong to Wyoming, but the state lays claim to the biggest section of it by far—96% in total. Covering an area of 3,472 square miles (2,222,080 acres), it’s also one of the largest national parks in terms of land area.
National Park Obsessed lists it as the eighth largest of all 63 National Parks in the U.S., and according to the National Park Service, it was the second most visited park in 2020. While it may not be at the very top of my personal bucket list, it was a point of interest for a whopping 3.8 million visitors just last year (and that was during a pandemic!)
So what draws millions of people to this park each year? Well, it’s unique in several ways.
It’s a trailblazer
Among the fascination with Yellowstone is its title as the very first national park in the U.S. (as well as in the world).
Regarding the park’s creation, the NPS writes, “In an era of expansion, the federal government had the foresight to set aside land deemed too valuable in natural wonders to develop.” And thank goodness they did! Other countries eventually began following suit, setting aside large chunks of land as protected areas to preserve their natural beauty and ecology, as well as for the enjoyment of the people.
The Wyoming Office of Tourism says it best:
Home to an incomparable combination of natural beauty, rugged wilderness, majestic peaks, abundant wildlife and the world’s largest concentration of geysers and thermal features, it’s no wonder Yellowstone was named America’s first national park.
Colorful hot springs that are out of this world
According to Centennial Travel, the park’s borders contain “more than 10,000 geysers, mud pots, steam vents and hot springs.”
While that’s impressive on its own, Yellowstone also contains the largest hot spring in the United States, the brilliantly colored Grand Prismatic Spring. The rainbow-like colors of this hot spring are caused by algae, and the water temperature relative to the center of the spring dictates their pigment, creating the ‘rings’ of color.
The most famous of all the park’s geysers, of course, is Old Faithful, which currently erupts around 20 times per day and is one of the other biggest attractions for tourists visiting the park.
Experience the Wild West
As the least populous state in the contiguous United States, there’s lots of wilderness to explore in Wyoming.
If you’re hoping to see one of the country’s iconic animals, you’ve come to the right place. The park and surrounding Yellowstone ecosystem is home to the largest wild herd of bison in all of the United States, as well as one of the largest elk herds in North America. Grizzlies, wolverine, and lynx are rarer, but sightings have been recorded.
The State of Wyoming's website says, “Wyoming is where the untamed spirit of the West and majestic natural beauty open your mind and invigorate your senses to release your own inner freedom and sense of adventure.”
And there’s no better place to experience freedom and adventure than in Yellowstone National Park.