By Christine Gianas Weinheimer YELLOWSTONE FOREVER
Yellowstone National Park’s impressive collection of geysers and hot springs sets it apart from all other parks. But despite Old Faithful Geyser’s status as Yellowstone’s most famous feature—or perhaps because of it—many first-time visitors are unexpectedly astounded by the dramatic beauty of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.
The massive, 1,000-foot-deep canyon dazzles visitors with panoramic vistas of multi-hued rock walls and majestic waterfalls. Roughly 20 miles long, the canyon varies in width from 1,500 to 4,000 feet. Several miles of trails connect 10 primary overlooks that afford breathtaking views from both sides of the canyon.
With a diverse selection of walking and hiking trails, and learning opportunities for the whole family, it’s easy to spend an entire day in this extraordinary area of the park. Here’s how to get the most out of your day at the canyon.
Take a Hike
The best way to experience the canyon’s charm is to hike one of the many trails along the canyon rims, from short jaunts to all-day treks. Here are a few of our favorites:
Point Sublime trail (easy):
After visiting the Artist Point overlook, follow the South Rim Trail beyond Artist Point to this less-traveled path, which meanders along the canyon rim.
Distance: 1.3 miles from Artist Point to Point Sublime
Brink of the Lower Falls trail (moderate):
Descend 600 feet on a steep trail to get an up-close and personal view of the Lower Falls.
Distance: 0.7 miles, round-trip
Seven Mile Hole trail (strenuous):
You’ll want to commit a whole day to this trail—the only one that leads to the canyon bottom.
Distance: 10.2 miles, round-trip
View the canyon and falls
While some views of the canyon and falls are only accessible by trail, you can still get to the following overlooks by car and a short walk from the parking lots on paved, accessible walkways.
Brink of the Upper Falls: Access this viewing area just off Grand Loop Road south of Canyon Junction, between the entrances to North and South Rim drives.
From North Rim Drive: View the Lower Falls from Lookout Point, Grand View, and Inspiration Point. Both waterfalls are visible from Brink of the Lower Falls. From South Rim Drive: See the Upper Falls from two viewpoints at Uncle Tom’s Point. View the Lower Falls at Artist Point.
Several of the canyon overlooks and trails, originally built in the 1930s, are being rehabilitated with support from Yellowstone Forever, the official nonprofit partner of Yellowstone National Park.
Have fun learning
Discover the geology, wildlife, and history of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone through one of many opportunities provided by the National Park Service.
Interactive and multimedia exhibits at the Canyon Visitor Education Center, funded by Yellowstone Forever, explore a fascinating park feature: the Yellowstone supervolcano. Relax and watch the 20-minute film Land to Life, or browse a variety of educational items in the Yellowstone Forever Park store.
Several free, ranger-led walks and talks also occur throughout the day. For families with children, the self-guided Junior Ranger and Young Scientist programs are offered for a nominal fee at the Canyon Visitor Education Center. Check the park newspaper for schedules and program details.
Be an early bird
Because of the canyon’s popularity, plan to arrive as early in the day as possible. You’ll not only avoid the peak crowds, but you’ll also be rewarded with ideal lighting for photographing the canyon. Before heading out, check the park newspaper or website or inquire at any park visitor center about trail closures, construction updates, and current road conditions.
Yellowstone Forever is the official nonprofit partner of Yellowstone National Park. Learn more at yellowstone.org.