9 Things You Didn’t Know About Yellowstone National Park

yellowstone header

I’m excited to announce that my Featured Travel Destination for June is Yellowstone National Park, one of my favorite places in the U.S.

If you’re a national park junkie, you may already know much of this trivia about Yellowstone. For the rest of us, here are some fun facts about YNP!

1 Yellowstone was the world’s first national park
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 Yellowstone is home to half of the world’s geothermal features
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 mudpots.

Yellowstone hot springs

3 Old Faithful was once used as a laundromat
In the 1880s, members of the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition discovered that clothes placed inside the crater became totally clean once ejected by Old Faithful. They found that linen and cotton washed just fine, but wool clothes were shredded by the geyser.

4 Old Faithful is not the 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.

5 Yellowstone is home to the most remote spot in the lower 48 states
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. If that sounds like an awesome place to visit, you may want to read this.

yellowstone bear warning

6 No one has been killed by a bear inside Yellowstone since 1986
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. UPDATE: This is tragically no longer the case.

7 The strongest Yellowstone earthquake in recorded history came in 1959
With all the crazy geological features and the instability of the land underneath Yellowstone, you’d think there would be powerful quakes 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.

8 Yellowstone has a supervolcano
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!

grand canyon yellowstone

9 Yellowstone has a Grand Canyon
Creatively titled “The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone,” this waterfall was carved by the Yellowstone River and reaches up to a half-mile in width. This is one of nearly 300 waterfalls inside Yellowstone National Park.

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About Scott Shetler

Scott is a Chicago-based journalist and blogger who seeks out quirky sights and awesome destinations throughout North America and beyond.

43 comments on “9 Things You Didn’t Know About Yellowstone National Park

  1. Yellowstone is one of my favorite parks! It is truly beautiful and if you haven’t been, you need to go.

    Growing up we went to Yellowstone almost every year! A couple years ago we took the family and returned. Still amazing.

    We used to go to the dump at night to watch the Grizzlies 🙂 I don’t think they let you do that anymore.

    If you want to learn more about the earthquake not too far away is an information center. It is truly amazing to see the damage that is still visible.

    I didn’t know about the laundromat! Guess it would work.

    Thanks for this post. It allowed me to remember great times!
    Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista recently posted..Mystery Picture Take 2!

    • Thanks Jeremy. The media called last year’s bear attacks “yellowstone attacks” so that led to the confusion.

  2. Yellowstone is one of the top places I want to visit in the US. And I actually did know Yellowstone has a super volcano. I think it was part of a movie plot…. can’t think of the movie though, and it’s going to drive me crazy. I remember it having famous people in it.

  3. The Grizzly bears are the main reason why I always tell people I won’t go there, but no killings in the park since 1986 is a good track record. I heard about that supervolcano before, a bit scary if it explodes. But nothing you can do about it anyway.
    Tijmen recently posted..3 Unforgettable Festivals in Mali

    • The grizzlies are only a threat if you wander into the backcountry or hike trails into the woods, so it’s pretty safe.

  4. I feel a little silly that I didn’t know a couple of these since I don’t live that far away- 8hours… but that waterfall picture… Want to see that!

  5. Very interesting facts! I have yet to visit Yellowstone, but would love to. I had no idea that it had 1/2 the world’s geothermals. Also glad that you included the bear fact, since bears are not nearly as dangerous as everyone things they are, provided you use a little common sense.
    Laurel recently posted..Things to Do in Winchester

  6. Most of the waterfalls are apparently in the backcountry, so if you camp there, perhaps you’ll run across a bunch.

  7. thankyou Scott for highlighting why camping at Yellowstone should be on everyone’s bucket list. I fell in love with Yellowstone back in ’98 when i drove my RV there from the Adirondacks with my 3 kids (all under age 8). People told me I was crazy but we had the trip of a lifetime..

    Ya know when people correct a post — it really annoys me — and I’ve never done this before, but I thought you might like to know … you mention the ‘mudspots’ … it’s prob. a typo .. they’re actually ‘mudpots’ and the colorful ones, stained reddish or pink from iron compounds, are called ‘paintpots’.
    … and the whole supervolcano thing, well, most scientists describe Yellowstone not having a super volcano, but that Yellowstone IS a super volcano… and the Park sits atop 3 overlapping calderas (see USGS). Most of the Yellowstone Caldera is within an area measuring 34 miles x 45 miles — the vast majority of the park lies inside the Yellowstone Caldera…Island Park and Henry’s Fork are the overlapping calderas. So the whole 2012 super eruption is not science fiction, as you point out…
    I hope i’m not coming off as the arrogant poster — I just love this place and can’t help but share the info with you.. thanks

  8. A couple of clarifications for your points here. First, the Hebgen Lake Earthquake you reference in 1959 was NOT located inside the park. It was several miles to the west, forming the present day Quake Lake. The earthquake did cause considerable damage inside the park, including to the Old Faithful Inn, as well as the landslides you referenced. But, again, the quake itself was not centered in the park.

    Second, what is your source for the claim that Old Faithful was used as a “laundromat?” There are a variety of features in the park that have histories of being used in the manner you describe (such as Handkerchief Pool, and Chinese Spring, which is located right behind Old Faithful), but I am not aware of any record of the OF geyser being used in such a manner.

  9. I VISITED YELLOWSTONE IN JULY 1951 AS AN ELEVEN YEAR OLD BOY WITH MY FAMILY. PEOPLE WERE FEEDING THE BEARS WITH SLICES OF WHITE BREAD ALONG THE ROAD WE WERE TRAVELING, MY DAD WAS ONE OF THEM. HE KEPT WALKING BACKWARDS TOWARDS OUR CAR AS THE BEAR WAS APPROACHING HIM, HE FINALLY HAD TO GET BACK IN THE CAR WITH THE WINDOWS UP AS THE BEAR WAS JUST OUTSIDE IN A STANDING POSITION BEGGING FOR MORE!

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