The Yellowstone National Park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was distinguished as being the world’s very first national park, created in 1872. The park covers 8,983 km2 (~3,468 mi2) and the majority lies mainly in the northwest of Wyoming, with small areas extending into the neighbouring states of Montana and Idaho.
The area is situated over the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest of the supervolcanoes on this continent. This is still actively volcanic and is responsible for the large number of geysers, hot springs, mudpots and fumaroles (steam vents), one of the key reasons for which the park is protected. In this one area alone there are over 300 geysers, which account for two thirds of all those found on Earth. Most famous of these is Old Faithful, a cone geyser, the first in the park to receive a name and certainly the most predictable, erupting almost every 91 minutes.
The park also received its status for its extraordinarily wide and well preserved ecosystems where rare and endangered species thrive. With the successful reintroduction of wolf in the 1990s, virtually all species known to inhabit the region when explorers first entered it are still intact. The largest population in the region is of elk – there are thought to be over 30,000 of these – but inhabitants also include grizzly bears, the threatened lynx and mountain lions.
There are also 311 species of bird listed, half of which are thought to nest in the park. Highlights because of their rarity include bald eagles, harlequin ducks and the trumpeter swan, the largest known wildfowl.
Unsurprisingly, Yellowstone receives one of the highest visitor numbers of all of the USA’s national parks, with over 2 million visiting every year. Many visitors are drawn to the unique thermal activity in the geyser basins, which still leaves vast areas of the park remaining for hikers in search of adventure off the beaten track and there are a huge number of quiet trails to explore. Backpacking, fishing and horseback riding are all permitted with some restrictions – check before setting out. Or book a guided tour and make sure you don’t miss anything this breathtaking natural park has to offer.