The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

[Yellowstone National Park, WY]

Did you know that there is a Grand Canyon in Yellowstone? I didn’t either. Everyone seems to associate Yellowstone with Old Faithful, so I was surprised to find out that there is a canyon in here.


The 20-mile Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is 1000 ft deep and 3/4 mile wide. Trails and roads flank both sides of the canyon. Trails and overlooks allow access to the 109-foot Upper Falls and 308-foot Lower Falls (tallest in the park), and a couple of platforms even allow you to get up-close to the top of each. The hot springs still active here have deposited varying amounts of iron compounds into the lava rock. Steam vents and geysers can still be seen in the canyon walls. Here are some pictures from the varioius overlooks and viewpoints.

The most fascinating parts of our tour of the South and North Rim today were the platforms that brought us to the brink of both waterfalls. The Brink of the Upper Falls was quite impressive.

Brink of Upper Falls

Brink of Upper Falls

The Brink of Lower Falls was incredible not only due to the height and volume of the falls but also because we could feel the power of the water underfoot. There was so much water splashing at the bottom that a giant rainbow was on view.


We visited Canyon Village for lunch. We also stopped by the Visitor Center there to check on the weather for the next few days, since we are planning a hike to Mt Washburn and want to make sure we don’t do this on a day for which thunderstorms are forecast. Down the road, we noticed a sign for horseback riding, so we went in and found ourselves booked for a one-hour horseback trail ride tomorrow.

With a few hours still left before dinner, we went back to the hydrothermal area to visit Norris Basin. Norris is the hottest, oldest and most vigorous. There are two basins here – Back Basin and Porcelain Basin. We focused on Porcelain Basin. Here, we enjoyed Whirligig Geyser, which spills into a runoff full of orange iron oxide and green thermophiles. Even more impressive was Porcelain Spring. Hot water brings sinter to the surface, creating a “sinter sheet”. Because sinter can accumulate over a geyser or spring and block it, this area is the fastest changing in the park – the hot water simply finds another weak spot to blow through.

We had been seeing license plates from all across the US and Canada on this trip, and in the Norris Basin parking lot I finally decided to write down all the ones we’ve seen, just like Laura did when she traveled through this park with her parents and brother in an RV when she was 9 years old. Just from that one parking lot, we saw license plates from 33 states and 3 Canadian provinces. Wow. It’s a testament to how popular this park is!

As we were leaving Norris Basin to go back to our hotel, we could tell that yet another storm was coming. We got to our hotel with plenty of time to spare before dinner, so we enjoyed the lobby of our hotel – the Lake Yellowstone Hotel – and watched the rain and thunder from the picture windows. A piano player added nice ambiance. The Lake Yellowstone hotel might just be the nicest one in the park. Staying here is definitely a splurge for both of us, but we are enjoying the proximity to all the attractions in a park this size and being immersed in this beautiful land is worth it.

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We dined on bison and lobster tail in the dining room of the hotel. We were chatting about how good the people-watching is around here – there are many large families, it seems, and a lot of foreigners. I commented that I hadn’t seen too many single people here – meaning, people traveling with friends rather than couples or families. Laura said that she’d noticed us getting glances from time to time, and she thought people probably assume we are gay – what with everyone here being a big family or a couple, and my short hair. Not even a minute later, our waitress came to check on us and asked “How is everything good here for the Balabanova’s?” We just about died laughing. Balabanova’s out! 🙂

6 Comments on “The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

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