When it comes to Yellowstone National Park, most people think of wide open spaces, geysers and wildlife, which is both accurate and awesome. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find an amazing ecosystem and a rich history found only in this park.
Get these fun facts and more. Stop by one of the many museums in and around Yellowstone for more information, but for now, here are 15 Yellowstone National Park interesting facts to wet your appetite.
#1 – The First National Park
Yellowstone National Park was North America’s first national park. On March 1, 1872, Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th president of the United States, signed the bill to protect this important land. The park was established by Congress and President Grant in 1872. Most of Yellowstone (96%) is in Wyoming, but parts extend into Montana and Idaho. The park is larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined. Its elevation ranges from 5,282 feet to 11,358 feet (at Eagle Peak.) About 80% of the park is forested.
#2 – Yes, It’s a Volcano
The largest super volcano in the United States, the Yellowstone Caldera, is a 30 by 45 mile oval. Although it’s an active volcano, it last erupted more than 640,000 years ago. You may have heard that the Yellowstone Caldera is overdue for a cataclysmic eruption, but don’t worry: the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory has officially issued a statement after an in-depth study of the caldera, saying “Contrary to some media reports, Yellowstone is not ‘overdue’ for a super eruption.” The Yellowstone Caldera is known as a “supervolcano.” Its eruptions helped form the Snake River Plain. Molten lava is believed to exist perhaps as little as two miles below the surface. Its most recent three eruptions were 2.1 million years ago, 1.3 million years ago, and 640,000 years ago. Do the math – we may be due for another eruption sometime soon? Who knows?
#3 – That’s a Lot of Butterflies & Animals
There are 134 species of butterflies in Yellowstone National Park; some are so rare they are only found in the Yellowstone ecosystem.
Butterflies aside, Yellowstone is also home to:
67 species of mammals, including: seven species of native ungulates (such as elk, bison, deer, and antelope) and two species of bears, as well as:
- 300 species of birds
- 16 species of fish
- 5 species of amphibians
- 6 species of reptiles
- 2 threatened species: Canada lynx and grizzly bears
#4 – Talk about Temperature Swings
Yellowstone’s temperature highs and lows can go from burning hot to freezing cold. The record low temperature in the park is -66ºF (–54ºC) in 1933 (West Entrance, Riverside Station). The record high is 99ºF (37ºC) in 2002 (Mammoth). That’s pretty remarkable when you think about it. Most people are familiar with Old Faithful, the geyser that shoots out scalding water every 90 minutes or so. But the park has around 10,000 thermal features, including about 500 geysers, as well as hot springs and mud pots.
#5 – Roosevelt Arch at the Entrance
Roosevelt Arch, the monumental entrance, is named after President Theodore Roosevelt, who was one of the nation’s leading conservationists. Roosevelt placed the cornerstone for the arch while vacationing in Yellowstone.
#6 – Plenty of Grizzly and Black Bears
Considered rare in Grand Teton just 25 years ago, grizzlies have regained a stronghold in the park. Their rapid expansion into formerly occupied habitat mirrored population recovery around the Yellowstone ecosystem, and they now help shape ecological processes in the area much as they did for thousands of years. This relatively recent resurgence in the park has presented a few novel challenges to managing the human-wildlife interface. While the park has plenty of grizzly and black bears, no visitor to Yellowstone has been killed by a bear since 1986. But there were two widely-reported incidents last year where campers just outside the park’s borders were killed by bears. Visitors’ spot bears all the time, and generally, the animals keep their distance from humans. Wyoming officials claim there are more than 1,000 grizzlies in the park – too many, they say, and they’re trying to get the authority to cut the population.
#7 – Park’s Largest Geyser
That distinction belongs to Steamboat Geyser, which can shoot water as high as 300 feet, more than 100 feet higher than Old Faithful. Steamboat Geyser’s eruptions are unpredictable, though. Since 1991, it has erupted only eight times, and the amount of time between eruptions has varied from 30 days to nine years. The iconic Old Faithful geyser erupts on average every 92 minutes. Though the most reliable, it’s not the tallest. Steamboat Geyser, in Norris Geyser Basin (also in Yellowstone), is the world’s tallest active geyser. Its major eruptions shoot water more than 300 feet into the air.
#8 – U. S. Geological Survey
Yellowstone National Park, the oldest of the areas set aside as part of the national park system, lies amidst the Rocky Mountains in northwestern Wyoming and adjacent parts of Montana and Idaho. Embracing large, diverse, and complex geologic features, the park is in an area that is critical to the interpretation of many significant regional geologic problems. In order to provide basic data bearing on these problems, the U.S. Geological Survey in 1965 initiated a broad program of comprehensive geologic and geophysical investigations within the park. This program was carried out with the cooperation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which supported the gathering of geologic information needed in testing and in interpreting results from various remote sensing devices.
#9 – Yellowstone Earthquake in Recorded History in 1959
With all the crazy geological features and the instability of the land underneath Yellowstone, you’d think there would be powerful earthquakes there all the time. Indeed, there are more than 2,000 a year. But the strongest was the 1959 quake in the Montana portion of the park that registered between a 7.3 and 7.5 on the Richter scale. It destroyed roads, created new geysers and was said to cause a landslide that killed 28 people. There are 1,000-3,000 earthquakes annually in Yellowstone, but most are too small to feel. The earthquakes help maintain the hydro-thermal activity in the geysers and springs by keeping the conduits providing hot water from becoming sealed with mineral deposits.
#10 – Most Remote Spot, Mammals in the Lower 48
Yellowstone’s wildlife is abundant and diverse with an estimated 300 species of birds, 16 types of fish and 67 species of mammals — the largest number of mammal species in the contiguous United States. The list of mammals includes grizzly bears, wolves, lynx, fox, moose and elk. But remember, no matter how cool the animals are, you shouldn’t approach them. Park rules state that you must stay at least 100 yards from bears and wolves and at least 25 yards from other large animals. As reported in a book by Tim Cahill, the southeast corner of the park is home to the Thorofare Ranger Station, the most remote occupied dwelling in the lower 48 states. It’s more than 32 miles from any other road or dwelling. A park ranger travels by horse to reach this station. It sounds like an awesome place to visit… if you’re not a people person!
#11 – All the Way to the Gulf of Mexico
Yellowstone River is the longest, undammed river in the United States. It spans 672 miles and first flows into the Missouri River and eventually the Gulf of Mexico. Fishing Bridge is the outlet of Yellowstone Lake. It empties via the Yellowstone River down to the Missouri, and on to the Mississippi and Gulf of Mexico. This is also the center of the hot spot! Study of seismic waves show that the plume of hot, soft rock is centered here. There is magma about 10,000 feet below the ground surface.
#12 – The Largest Natural Lake
Yellowstone Lake is the biggest natural lake at a high elevation (above 7,000 ft) in North America: 132 miles of surface area and 140 miles of shoreline at 7,732 feet above sea level. It is also home to the largest population of wild cutthroat trout in North America.
#13 – Record Numbers
Yellowstone National Park has been seeing resurgence in popularity lately. 2016 exceeded visitation records with 4,257,177 people coming to the park. We will see if this record is broken in years to come.
Yellowstone National Park is an iconic destination that offers sights, sounds, and experiences all against the backdrop of a unique ecosystem and rich history.
#14 – Yellowstone has its own Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon isn’t just in Arizona — there’s also the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Created by erosion from the Yellowstone River, the canyon is more than 1,000 feet deep, 1,500-4,000 feet wide and roughly 20 miles long — it also provides endless views. One of the most photographed views in Yellowstone is the canyon from Artist Point, and we can definitely see why!
#15 – “Share the road” at Yellowstone National Park
Beyond its geysers, Yellowstone is world-renowned for its bison herds. It’s the only place in the U.S. where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times. Rush hour here is a little different with bison often causing traffic jams — nicknamed bison jams — as cars wait for the animals to cross the road.