When you are planning your list of things to do in Yellowstone National Park be sure to have the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone on your list! You can get out and do some hikes or plan to do the drives and just get out to walk to the overlooks.
We have visited Yellowstone multiple times and love visiting the Canyon area of Yellowstone to see the magnificent waterfall and colors!
What Is The Grand Canyon Of Yellowstone
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is a deep, narrow canyon carved out by the Yellowstone River over millions of years. The canyon walls are made of colorful rocks and minerals, ranging from bright yellows and oranges to deep reds and browns, which make for an absolutely breathtaking sight.
Where Do The Different Colors Come From?
The colors you see when looking down the canyon are a result of hydrothermal alteration. The rhyolite rock in the canyon contains various iron compounds that underwent chemical changes during the active period of the old geyser basin. Over time, exposure to the elements caused the rocks to change colors, as they oxidized and “rust.”
The colors in the canyon indicate the presence or absence of water in the different individual iron compounds, with most of the yellows being attributed to iron rather than sulfur. In essence, the canyon showcases a unique natural process of chemical alteration and oxidation of rocks, resulting in its vibrant and diverse color palette.
One of the most iconic features of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is the Lower Falls, which is a majestic waterfall that plunges more than 300 feet down into the canyon.
Map Of The Canyon Area
Here is where the Canyon Area of Yellowstone is located in the park. If you are staying outside of the park it is going to most likely take you an hour or more to get here. There is an option to stay in the Canyon area which we definitely recommend if you are able to do that.
Close Up Map Of The Canyon Area
Image Source: National Park Map
Things To Do In The Canyon Area Of Yellowstone
Below we share our list of things to do in the Grand Canyon Area of Yellowstone. From hikes to lookouts to things you don’t want to miss!
Canyon Village Visitor Center
The Canyon Village has a large Visitor Center with a museum/information area to explore. A general store (like a gas station sized grocery store), diner, cafeteria, souvenirs, Ice cream, and gas station.
We always recommend stopping at the visitor center to talk to the rangers to see what is going on in the area. They can let you know what trails or roads are closed and make great recommendations on what to do that day in the park.
The food is fine. Nothing to write home about but if you don’t have food with you and need to eat there are some good options here.
Falls Of The Yellowstone
The Falls Of The Yellowstone are comprised of two different waterfalls, known as the Upper Falls and Lower Falls, which are both located along the Yellowstone River.
The Lower Falls of the Yellowstone is the more famous of the two, and for good reason – it’s one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world! It plunges an impressive 308 feet (94 meters) down into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, creating a thundering roar and a plume of mist that can be seen from miles away. Visitors can enjoy stunning views of the Lower Falls from a variety of viewpoints, including the Lookout Point, Red Rock Point, and Uncle Tom’s Trail* (*currently closed).
The Upper Falls of the Yellowstone is equally impressive, although it’s not quite as tall as the Lower Falls. It drops a total of 109 feet (33 meters) over a series of smaller cascades, and it’s located upstream from the Lower Falls. Visitors can enjoy views of the Upper Falls from several vantage points, including the Brink of the Upper Falls and the overlook at the parking lot.
Brink Of Upper Falls
I won’t really call the brink of the upper falls a hike as it is just about .3 miles but more a walk to a viewpoint of the upper falls. To get there, turn onto the South Rim Drive. Park in the first major parking area and walk west to the Upper Falls Viewpoint.
It’s a gorgeous view of the 109-foot waterfall. From here, head up the road one mile to the next stop.
Calcite Springs is a hot spring that emerges from the ground as superheated water and steam, carrying dissolved minerals such as calcite and silica. As the water flows over the edges of the terraces and down the canyon walls, it cools and deposits the minerals, resulting in the formation of terraces with various colors and textures.
Calcite Springs can be viewed from several overlooks along the northern rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. You can see them from a short walk from a turnout on Grand Loop Road located just north of Tower Fall.
You will go on South Rim Drive all the way to the end of the road. You will come to a large parking lot – it will probably be really busy! Park and walk a short distance to the lookout area. The view of the waterfall is amazing!
It is called Artist Point because it is a famous location for artists to come paint pictures of the waterfall. You will probably recognize it from a painting or image you have seen in a magazine or hanging on the wall somewhere. It is a gorgeous view of a pastel yellow, pink, and orange canyon with a waterfall right in the middle!
The best time to visit (to avoid the crowds) is before 10AM. A bonus of going early is that on most days, between 9:30 and 10AM, there is a rainbow over the falls.
It’s absolutely gorgeous. You may also want to check out Inspiration Point which you can access from the same trailhead.
Uncle Tom’s Trail – CLOSED
This trail is closed and as of now there are no plans to reopen it.
As you drive back to the main road on the South Rim Drive you will come to the parking lot of Uncle Tom’s Point Trail. This is no easy hike but you should do it. It is really cool and the views on the way down and at the bottom are amazing.
You hike down a short path and then take 300 stairs down to the lookout. It is a little scary going down because the stairs are grated so you can see right through them! It is also really cool and has a lot of great views.
Obviously the way down isn’t too bad *BUT* the way up is a challenge unless you are in great shape – then it will be no problem! Craig and I walked back up the 300 stairs with kids on our backs in the Ergo so it is totally doable! There are spots you can stop for a breather if you need to.
Brink Of The Lower Falls Hike
This roughly paved trail is just over a half-mile out and back and takes you down about 300 feet in elevation loss. It’s a steep trail and can be slippery at times so take your time.
You can learn more about the brink of the lower falls hike here.
South and North Rim Trails
We didn’t hike either of the Rim Trails. But we heard that they are beautiful and that you should check it out. Both trails provide you with spectacular views.
Check this out to learn more about the South Rim Trail and see what people have to say about it! This is definitely on our list to do when we get back to Yellowstone.
Here is more info on the North Rim Trail. Both of these would be awesome for exploring the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone!
North Rim Drive
The North Rim Drive spans approximately 21 miles (34 kilometers) and is a one-way loop road that starts from the Canyon Village area and follows the northern rim of the canyon, offering multiple viewpoints along the way.
Some of the notable viewpoints along the North Rim Drive include Inspiration Point, Grand View, Lookout Point, and Brink of the Upper Falls. These viewpoints offer stunning panoramas of the canyon, showcasing its towering cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and unique geological formations.
Hike Mount Washburn
The Mount Washburn hike is an AMAZING hike that takes you 3 miles up to the top of the mountain. When you reach the top you will be at over 10,000 feet! The coolest part about it is there is a lookout tower at the top. You can go inside and use the telescope to look out over Yellowstone and they have a handful of images that show you what you are looking at in each direction.
We parked at the Dunraven Pass/Mount Washburn trailhead. If you want a shorter option you can start the hike off of chittenden road and it is just 4.5 miles.
It is a 1400 foot elevation gain so be prepared! And always be sure to have your bear spray when you are hiking in Yellowstone. We didn’t see a bear but we did need our bear spray (luckily we didn’t have to use it – but we did get it out) when we hiked the trail!
When we did this hike our kids were little (there were 10 of us 4 adults and 6 kids 8 and under)! If you plan to do the hike with kids here are our Tips For Hiking With Kids.
There you have it! The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone should be on everyone’s list when you visit Yellowstone. Check out more of our Yellowstone posts below. You won’t want to miss the epic views, hikes, geysers and hot springs!
More on Yellowstone:
Yellowstone Packing List: 17 Things You Will Want To Bring
Mount Washburn Hike in Yellowstone with Kids!
Planning Your Trip To Yellowstone: 15 Things To Know
18 Top Things To Do In Yellowstone National Park
11+ Fun Things To Do around Tower Roosevelt in Yellowstone
8 Kid Friendly Activities by Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park
8 Things You Don’t Want To Miss In Mammoth Hot Springs
11 Reasons To Visit Fishing Bridge Yellowstone
Yellowstone Camping: Your Complete Guide To A Perfect Spot
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8 thoughts on “Grand Canyon Of Yellowstone: 6 Best Things To Do!”
Great post! We’re planning to go there next year so I’m going to have to refer back to all your posts before we go. Looking forward to seeing you at the rally!
Can’t wait to see you guys at the Rally! It looks like you are having a great time too!
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