Like many other places in Yellowstone, the Firehole River is a scenic spot that lives up to its dramatic name. As it meanders north for 21 miles to join with the Madison River, the Firehole acts as a drainage basin for many of the park’s geothermal features. In collecting all of the mineral rich water, which has been naturally heated by the earth, the Firehole River can run 15 degrees warmer than surrounding rivers and lakes—with the steam that’s often emitted from the surface being one of the reasons for its name. Despite its boiling appearance, however, water temperatures are still fairly moderate at around 75°F (23.8°C), which makes it a comfortable temperature for splashing at the Firehole River swimming hole.
In 1870, when members of the Washburn Expedition happened upon this Yellowstone geyser, they noted the shape and structure of the crater resembled the tower of a castle. Today, much of that stoic castle tower has gradually dissolved and eroded, although a 90‐foot (27-meter) column of boiling water still erupts with regular frequency. On average, the Castle Geyser has an eruption cycle in the vicinity of 10‐12 hours, and eruptions will last for 20 minutes before the water changes to steam. As opposed to nearby Old Faithful, however, predicting the timing of Castle Geyser can be a little bit tougher, with the tradeoff being the Castle’s roar when the water switches to steam. For the first 15 minutes of Castle Geyser’s steam phase, visitors may experience a thunderous roar like the sound of an oncoming train, as the geyser releases its pent up energy and belches a stream of thick white steam towards the open blue sky above.
Nearly all visitors to Grand Teton National Park will stop at the Colter Bay Visitor Center, whether to pick up supplies, get trail information, or permits for camping and boating. With a nearby campground and set just minutes from the shores of stunning Lake Jackson, the Colter Bay Visitor Center is one of the park’s most popular—and busiest—areas. While here, instead of just swinging through for some maps or quickly arranging your permits, stop to read up on the park information and peruse the cultural exhibits. Most notable is the Indian Arts Museum, which houses a small collection of 35 rare, Native American artifacts. While the original collection was much larger, the lack of proper facilities at the visitor center forced its relocation, with a handful of artifacts remaining here on the land where they were originally crafted. There are free, ranger-guided talks of the display each morning and afternoon, and once a week they construct a traditional Native American teepee.
Black Sand Basin is one of the shortest walks in Yellowstone National Park—but that doesn’t mean it’s short on sights or spectacular things to see. Rather, this volcanically heated, bubbling basin is a packed with geysers and pools, from the periwinkle colored Opalescent Pool, to the Spouter Geyser which consistently erupts for up to 10 hours at a time. At Emerald Pool, where the water temperature is slightly lower than neighboring Rainbow Pool, the water casts a deep green hue of molten emeralds, whereas Rainbow Pool is slightly warmer and tinged with yellow and orange. Occasionally, depending upon eruptions, the Cliff Geyser will come to life and send water 40 feet high, although unlike Old Faithful just one mile south, the interval is irregular enough to the point you should consider yourself lucky if you see it erupt. As for how it acquired its name, Black Sand Basin is named for obsidian that’s been crushed down into the earth.
Located primarily in Wyoming, though parts of it extend into Montana and Idaho, Yellowstone is considered the first National Park in the world. Established by an act of Congress and then President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872, Yellowstone is famous for its wildlife and geothermal activity—most notably, the geyser known as 'Old Faithful.' Note: bison hurt more people in the park than bears do, so make sure to keep a safe and respectful distance from all wildlife. With approximately 3,468.4 square miles of lakes, canyons, rivers and mountain ranges, plus one of the largest high-altitude lakes in North America (Yellowstone Lake) and the largest supervolcano on the continent (Yellowstone Caldera), exploring this national gem should be a must-do on everyone’s life list.
Located only 10 miles south of Yellowstone National Park (it takes a little more than an hour to travel through the park from the southern boundary to Yellowstone, not including stops), Grand Teton National Park is a lesser-known but no-less spectacular neighbor to Yellowstone. Visitors to Grand Teton National Park can enjoy a myriad of activities including fishing, hiking, camping, climbing, boating on Jenny Lake, rafting the Snake River, or viewing wildlife like moose, elk, bald eagles, gray wolves, bison and black and grizzly bears.
Part of the National Wildlife Refuge System, the National Elk Refuge is more than just a winter habitat for Jackson Elk Herd—it’s a habitat for many different species of endangered animals and big game. The Refuge has been part of the Jackson scenery for more than 100 years, created after conflict between the elk and humans significantly depleted the elk population. Today the refuge consists of approximately 25,000 acres dedicated to elk winter range. The elk stay on the refuge for approximately six months each winter and guests have the opportunity to learn more about the herd through interactive displays and educational programs. Get up close views of the herd during a winter sleigh ride or utilize one of the several wildlife viewing areas on the refuge.
Western Wyoming, with its windswept plains, jagged mountains, and refreshing, airy solitude, exudes a classical romance that’s lost on the developed, urban US. It should only make sense then that this rustic church built in 1925, with a glass window behind the pulpit that frames the snowcapped Tetons, is one of the most scenic and popular places to get married in all of Wyoming. Here at the Chapel of the Transfiguration in Grand Teton National Park, loved ones gather to exchange blessings and vows amidst the golden plains, and ring the bell, cast in 1842, that still hangs from the ranch style bowery. Though weddings here are most popular in summer, from May through the end of September, the church is open every day of the year—provided the door isn’t blocked by snow from a recent winter snowstorm. While the church was built as a place for worship for early Wyoming pioneers, today it’ a classic photographer’s favorite inside of the National Park.