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Yellowstone National Park

Arguably the nation’s 1st and most famous national park is Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. The park owes its many strange geographical features, like geysers and boiling mud, to the fact that it was formed 640,000 years ago by a cataclysmic volcanic eruption that covered ½ of North America in ash and formed a caldera 30 miles wide and 45 miles long. Geologists now believe that eruptions like this are periodic. Depending on whom you ask, Yellowstone is either due for another eruption in 60,000 years, or is overdue by about 40,000. Given the devastation such an eruption would cause not only in the U.S. but also throughout the entire world, it might be a good idea to enjoy the park, and everything else, why you still can.

The park’s rugged, and at times alarming, beauty can be experienced in a number of ways. Biking is permitted on public roads, parking areas and designated biking routes like those on Old Gardiner Road and Blacktail Plateau Drive. Cross-country skiing on the parks unplowed road is a popular winter activity. There are some 1,200 miles of trails for hiking and backpacking, many of them found in the volatile, geyser-strewn Mammoth Country section of the park.

Outdoors adventures on the water are also available in Yellowstone National Park. The rapids of Yankee Jim Canyon on Yellowstone River are whitewater-rafting favorites. Fishing opportunities abound in the Lamas River Valley’s tributary trout streams. Yellowstone Lake in the heart of Lake Country is a massive alpine lake with the biggest inland population of Cutthroat Trout in the country. Yellowstone is famous for its geothermal activity. The Mammoth Hot Springs and the Norris Geyser Basin are located in Mammoth Country. The aptly named Geyser Country is home to 180 of the parks 250 geysers, including Old Faithful, which shoots 150 plumes of water into the air every 90 minutes or so.

The highest concentration of wildlife in the lower 48 states can be found in Yellowstone National Park. Visitors can expect to see Moose, Bison, Bighorn Sheep and the largest herd of Elk in the United States. Mighty North American predators like Black and Grizzly Bears, Wolverines, Lynx and over 100 endangered Grey Wolves hunt Yellowstone’s mountains, woods and valleys. The park is also home to rare birds like Bald Eagles, Trumpeter Swans and Whooping Cranes. Visitors should be well-mannered guests in these creatures’ home. If you’re close enough to make an animal move, then you’re too close.

There are a dozen 1st come/1st served campgrounds in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park, 7 of which are run by the NPS. These sites fill up fast. Xantera Parks & Resorts ((307) 344-7311) provide reservation-only campsites and other lodging, but plans should still be made well in advance. Backcountry camping is allowed with a permit.