Yellowstone Fun Facts: 9 Things You Didn’t Know About the National Park

Yellowstone is often considered the jewel of American national parks. The history, the scenery, the wildlife… this place has it all.

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

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 fun facts - 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. It was the world’s first heavy-duty washing machine!

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.

Between 1992 and 2014, it only erupted nine times, with the amount of time between eruptions varying from 30 days to nine years. However, in 2018, Steamboat erupted 14 times between March and August.

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. It sounds like an awesome place to visit… if you’re not a people person!

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6 Deaths from bear attacks inside Yellowstone are extremely rare

While the park has plenty of grizzly and black bears, visitors to Yellowstone are almost never killed by bears. In fact, there were no deaths from bears between 1986 and 2011. Unfortunately, in 2011 a grizzly killed a man when he surprised the bear, who was with its young.

Later in 2011, a second person was killed in a bear attack. In 2015, a solo hiker was killed. So incidents do seem to be on the rise. But the park notes that there’s still only one bear attack for every 2.7 million visits to the park.

Yellowstone visitors spot bears all the time – I saw a few on my hike to Mount Washburn – 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.

Check out my article on where to see bears in Yellowstone if you’re interested in having a bear experience. Keep your distance and stay safe!

7 The strongest Yellowstone earthquake in recorded history came in 1959

One of the more interesting Yellowstone fun facts is its recent earthquake history. 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 quakes here 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 is 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, and stopping by here to take some photos is one of the most popular things to do in Yellowstone.

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Do you have any Yellowstone fun facts to share? Leave a comment!

46 Comments

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

    1. Thanks for the earthquake clarification. As for the laundry issue, there are a handful of resources online that mention using Old Faithful to wash clothes, though I’m not sure how accurate they are. Some sources reference the 1883 book ‘The Yellowstone National Park-A Manual for Tourists’ by Henry Winser. There’s an online source with a similar story: http://www.yellowstonegate.com/2012/10/angering-old-faithful-yellowstone-park-load-of-dirty-laundry-1877/

    2. Ive got a source for geysers as laundromat (I honestly can’t figure out why you find that so incredible?) Gutenberg’s free ebooks look for # 59092, titled and author: The Story of Man In Yellowstone, by Merrill Dee Beal (pub date 1960, and in the Public Domain)
      “The offense of “soaping” geysers is said to have originated in 1885 when a Chinaman encompassed a small spring with his tent and started a laundry. When the spring became impregnated with soap there was an eruption, and up went tent, washing, and Chinaman! It is a fact that soap produces viscosity which retains heat, and as steam rises it may aid explosive action. Hence, if some visitors could have their way, the beautiful sapphire springs and geysers would be “in the suds” constantly throughout the season.[316] Such activity is strictly prohibited by the government.”

      People have stuffed all sorts of things down the geysers, why not soap?? And yes- imagine yourself in the 1800s, a world without modern conveniences like washing machines. ANY person with even half a brain would have a Eureka moment, seeing nature’s “washing machine” in action.

      Here is another copy-pasted part of that same chapter in the book, for reference:
      “Not even Old Faithful is exempt from this wantonness. It is a matter of record that one party, wishing to experiment, filled its orifice “with at least a thousand pounds of stones, trees, and stumps” and then sat down to await further developments. Another group wrote this shameless account: “We abused that spring [geyser] with everything in our power. We threw sticks into it and stones, but it was no use; nothing would rile it.”[314] Name writing in pools and geysers is particularly alluring to a certain class as nature fixes the insult indelibly so that in after years all men may read, in letters as large as a neon sign, that 252 “Sadie, Mamie, and Jack” visited the Park. “

      1. Oh- one more! Soaping of geysers, using them as laundries not limited to North America:
        “In 1901 the first open prison in New Zealand was established at Waiotapu, its object to accommodate some of the better-behaved prisoners from around the jails of the Rotorua Lakes District.

        It was a gang of those prisoners who first discovered the clearing in which the geyser is situated and that the spring could be made to erupt by adding soap, discovered when they first added soap to the hot water to wash their clothes.[1] ” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Knox_Geyser

  3. 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

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

  5. Nice new information and makes me want to do another trip soon it was a long time ago I went through the area

    Eileen

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

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

  9. Interesting facts about Yellowstone. I had heard about the two grizzly attacks last year, but I did not know they were actually outside the park.

  10. 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.

  11. This is fascinating information on Yellowstone. Just recently, I watched a show on PBS where two people were killed by bears on the same day in 69 (I think that was the year). However, I was pretty sure that a bear attacked and killed someone last year in Yellowstone.

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

  12. 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!

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