Where to get the best photos in this iconic national park
Yellowstone National Park
on June 5, 2017
At day’s end, the reddening sky creates a stunning backdrop to the geysers and hot springs of the Lower Geyser Basin.
With its searing geysers, rushing rivers and cool, green forests — plus bear, elk, bison and other wildlife — Yellowstone National Park is a photographer’s dream come true. But where can you get stellar photos in America’s first national park? Yellowstone’s digital communications specialist, Neal Herbert, shares some favorite Instagram-worthy spots.
For Surreal Sunrises
The West Thumb Geyser Basin near Grant Village in the southern part of the park can be especially spectacular at daybreak, when the pink and red hues of sunrise highlight steam billowing from the earth. The thermal area is on the shore of Yellowstone Lake.
For Otherworldly Sunsets
At day’s end, the reddening sky creates a stunning backdrop to the geysers and hot springs of the Lower Geyser Basin. Another prime spot is Firehole Lake Drive. The one-way secondary road loops through a landscape of hot springs and geysers.
For Abundant Wildlife
Head to Lamar Valley, between Yellowstone’s North and Northeast entrances. It’s part of a major migration corridor for pronghorn, elk and bison. And where there are ungulates, there are predators, like bear and wolves. It’s a great place year-round, but especially in April and May, when bison and elk are calving. The best time to see bear is also in April and May. As the season progresses, these animals move to higher elevations.
Remember always to maintain a safe distance when photographing wildlife. Remain 100 yards away from bears and 25 yards from other large animals. And keep in mind that it is illegal and harmful to approach, feed, handle, capture, or harass any wild animal in the park.
For a Geyser Rush
The park’s geothermal superstar, Old Faithful, gets top billing because of its predictability. (It erupts every 60 to 90 minutes.) But the unpredictability of the park’s thermal spots can be remarkable, too. Wander around the Old Faithful area (staying on marked paths, of course) and be amazed when a geyser spouts unexpectedly before your eyes.
For Architectural Standouts
The Old Faithful Inn, made of local stone and logs, is a wonder to behold both inside and out. The 327-room lodging is considered one of the world’s largest log buildings. Even if you’re not checking in, you can soak up the atmosphere in its towering lobby, dine in the restaurant or take a free walking tour of the Inn, offered daily from early May to mid-October.
For Off-the-Beaten-Path Solitude
Yellowstone has a lot of great, short trails. And if you’re up for a trek, you can leave Old Faithful behind by venturing to Lone Star Geyser. There’s a parking area and a 4.8-mile round-trip trail to hike or bike. (Take bear spray.) Another nice spot is the Beaver Ponds Trail out of Mammoth Hot Spring. The loop trail cuts through old-growth forest and passes by scenic lakes and ponds. You’ll likely spot wildlife such as grouse and marmots.
For Fellow Awe-Inspired Visitors
Just about anywhere. Old Faithful and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone are particularly popular. And there’s never a lack of visitors in July and August.
For Instagram Meet-Ups
Photography buffs visiting Yellowstone National Park can join fellow enthusiasts and National Park Service personnel via Instameets, a new program offered through September. Monthly meet-ups are on the third or fourth Friday of the month. (Visit https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/news/instameets.htm for details.) Instameets are meant to be more consciousness-raising than instructional, and are an opportunity for both casual and regular visiting photographers to mingle with park service staff and exchange tips and ideas.
Park officials also are urging visitors to take the Yellowstone Pledge (https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/yellowstonepledge.htm), which delineates best practices when in the park. Tag your photos with #YellowstonePledge for a chance to see them featured on the park’s Instagram feed. You can also tag them #ExperienceYellowstone to be featured on the Instagram feed of Yellowstone National Park Lodges.
“Our goal is to make sure people who are filming or shooting in Yellowstone set a good example for everyone else,” says Neal Herbert. For instance, the park service encourages photographers posting to social media to specify that a close-up of an animal was shot with a long lens from the safety of a vehicle — not with a cell phone at close range while on foot.
How to Explore
With nine unique lodging options, including the renowned historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel, Yellowstone National Park Lodges allows you to have the ultimate park experience. Staying in the park is the best way for visitors to experience all it has to offer, including extensive photography opportunities; once the day-visitors leave, Yellowstone remains for the in-park overnight guests alone. Yellowstone National Park Lodges also offers tours and activities guided by Certified Interpretive Guides that help create memorable experiences. For more information on lodging, tours, and vacation packages, visit yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/ or call 307-344-7311.
For a multi-day visit of Yellowstone with multiple photography opportunities, consider a tour with Austin Adventures, a leader in national park and active vacations for both families and adults. It has been recognized as one of Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Tour Operators multiple times. For more information, visit austinadventures.com or call 800-575-1540.
For more travel experiences available from Xanterra Parks & Resorts and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore/.