15 Things You Might Not Know About Yellowstone National Park

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Celebrated for its flora, fauna, geological structures, and sprawling landscapes, Yellowstone National Park is undoubtedly one of the country’s greatest centers of natural beauty. But there's more to this park than Old Faithful—and here are 15 highlights of the park, which was established on this day in 1872. 

1. Yellowstone is the world's second oldest national park.

The official date of establishment of Yellowstone National Park was March 1, 1872, making it the first park of its kind to earn the designation in North America. While Yellowstone is sometimes heralded as the oldest national park on earth, it is 96 years younger than Mongolia’s Bogd Khan Uul.

2. Half of the world's geothermal features are located in Yellowstone.

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One of the park’s most popular attractions is its collection of geothermal features, an umbrella term that includes geysers, hot springs, fumaroles, mudpots, and travertine terraces. With tens of thousands of such phenomena, Yellowstone is home to more than half of the world’s supply of geothermal features and approximately 75 percent of the world’s geysers. The park has an estimated 1283 geysers spread across nine geyser basins.

3. Nobody believed early witnesses of the gEysers.

John Colter, a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, spent the winter of 1807 and 1808 on a solo journey through the wilderness of what is now Wyoming. Colter tried to share stories of what he had seen, but details of his travels describing a land of “fire and brimstone” were widely rebuffed as delusions. Almost 50 years later, independent explorer Jim Bridger returned from Yellowstone with accounts of boiling springs and waters sprouting from the ground—his reports met the same skepticism that dogged Colter. 

4. THE LARGEST GEYSER IN THE WORLD LIVES IN YELLOWSTONE (AND IT’S NOT THE ONE YOU’RE THINKING OF).

Old Faithful, located in the Upper Geyser Basin, may be the most famous geyser on the planet, and for good reason: The punctual, easily calculated intervals between eruptions have earned it global celebration. But Old Faithful’s cousin in the Norris Geyser Basin trumps it in terms of sheer size. The Steamboat Geyser, which is capable of producing 300-foot-high eruptions of water, is the tallest active geyser on the planet.

5. THE PARK MAY BE FATAL TO BISON. 

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After more than a century of benign activity, in 2004 the geysers of the Norris Geyser Basin earned a toxic reputation when their emissions were deemed responsible for killing five roaming bison. Park scientists determined that a meteorological anomaly provoked an unusually high—and ultimately fatal—concentration of the basin’s fumes at ground level. Prior to this grisly moment, the last major mass gas fatality was in 1899, when several grizzly bears suffered a similar fate.

6. THAT SAID, THE BISON POPULATION REMAINS INTACT. 

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The Yellowstone grounds house America’s oldest and largest natural herd of bison. 

7. INITIALLY, THE U.S. ARMY WAS STATIONED AT YELLOWSTONE.

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In 1882, avowed nature lover and Civil War hero General Philip Sheridan led an expedition that took him to Yellowstone. While Sheridan was duly impressed with the park’s aesthetic wonder, he was aghast at the presence of monopolist organizations running amok throughout the territory at the expense of the land. After Congress stripped away funding for Yellowstone, he dispatched Captain Moses Harris, a Union soldier who had served under Sheridan and who shared his ecological ideologies, to lead troops to Yellowstone, protecting it against commercial poaching, the spread of wildfire, and maladies of all kinds. The armed forces stood guard over the park until 1918, when the establishment of the National Park Service usurped the military’s involvement with Yellowstone. The rangers that took the soldiers’ positions were known as “spread eagle men.” 

8. THE TERRITORY BOASTS THE LARGEST SUPERVOLCANO IN THE U.S.

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The contiguous United States has more than its share of supervolcanoes—that is, volcanoes capable of producing more than 240 cubic miles of ejecta per eruption—with noteworthy examples living in California and New Mexico. But outweighing the pair is the Yellowstone Caldera: 45 miles long, 34 miles wide, and with a main magma chamber several times the size of the Grand Canyon. Though considered an active supervolcano, the caldera’s last eruption was 640,000 years ago.

9. YELLOWSTONE EXPERIENCES THOUSANDS OF EARTHQUAKES EVERY YEAR.

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A typical year sees between 1000 and 3000 earthquakes hit Yellowstone National Park. In January 2010, for instance, the park sustained 250 quakes in just two days. However, the vast majority of these tremors are so gentle they go completely unnoticed by human visitors.

10. ONE RARE AND MYSTERIOUS FLOWER ONLY GROWS IN YELLOWSTONE. 

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Nowhere in the world but in the lakeshores of Yellowstone National Park does the (aptly named) Yellowstone Sand Verbena grow. What’s particularly strange about the anomaly is that its genetic makeup would suggest that it’s suited to warmer climates. 

11. SOME OF THE MOST PRIMITIVE BACTERIA ON THE PLANET LIVE IN THE PARK. 

Another rare species that calls Yellowstone its home can be found thriving amid the gaseous emissions of the park’s hot springs. A particular strain of microbe, among the most primitive of any extant species, feeds off the area’s plentiful carbon dioxide and hydrogen resources.

12. THE U.S. GOVERNMENT ERADICATED, AND THEN RESTORED, YELLOWSTONE’S WOLF POPULATION.

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In the 1910s, Congress grew nervous about Yellowstone’s hunting wolves. Fearing that the predatory prowess of the park’s lupine population would result in an extinction of the local elk and other ungulates, Congress funded a systematic killing of any and all wolves inhabiting the area. Between 1914 and 1926, the act resulted in the elimination of 136 wolves, rendering Yellowstone virtually free of its apex predator. Unfortunately, Congress hadn’t prepared for the hike in prevalence of sick and lame animals, formerly the easiest targets for preying wolves. 

Forty years later, the government began to have a change of heart. Congress met with biologists concerned about the threat of elk overpopulation, discussing the merits in reintroducing wolves into their former habitat. The debate ended in 1995 when the government began transporting gray wolf packs to the Yellowstone grounds. Data collected in 2005 reflected a healthy recovery of the wolf population in and around the Yellowstone area.

13. YELLOWSTONE IS THE SUBJECT OF A LEGAL ANOMALY. 

All Yellowstone National Park territory falls under the legal jurisdiction of the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming. However, only 96 percent of Yellowstone falls within Wyoming state lines; the remaining four percent is split between Montanan and Idahoan land. This makes Wyoming’s the only district court to oversee land in more than one state. 

14. THE PARK HAS ITS OWN JUDICIAL SYSTEM. 

The previous point is more than just legal trivia. While Yellowstone offers a treasure trove of spectacles that any visitor should make a point to see, the park’s jail isn’t a must-see destination. As of 2006, Yellowstone boasts its own justice system, which includes a courtroom, presiding judge, and four holding cells. Furthermore, major crimes that occur on park grounds fall under the legal jurisdiction of one specifically assigned FBI Agent.

15. THE PARK IS HOME TO THE MOST REMOTE LOCATION IN THE CONTIGUOUS UNITED STATES.

Thirty-two miles separates any road, residence, or establishment from the ironically named Thorofare area, which earns it designation as the most isolated location in all of continental America. While hikers and campers are welcome to explore the grounds, which traverse both Yellowstone National Park and the Teton Wilderness, visitors are forbidden from tarnishing its rustic beauty with electrical devices or automobiles. The only way to get there is by horseback or, if you’ve got the energy, your own two feet.

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14

Amazon

Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140

Amazon

Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48

Amazon

Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30

Amazon

The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19

Amazon

Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25

Amazon

This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70

Amazon

Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120

Amazon

What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24

Amazon

Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14

Amazon

Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

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The 10 Most Visited National Parks in 2019

Josiah Weiss, Unsplash
Josiah Weiss, Unsplash

The U.S. National Park System comprises more than 400 sites, 62 of which are national parks. Within the parks, visitors can explore forests, deserts, volcanoes, and more. But even with the diversity the National Park System has to offer, many visitors find themselves going to the same iconic parks year after year. To see the most-visited national parks in 2019, check out the list below.

This list comes from recreational visitation data gathered by the National Park Service. It doesn't include national monuments, parkways, or similar units—just the sites with the official "national park" designation.

The Great Smoky Mountains tops the list with roughly 12.5 million visits last year. Stretching across five counties in North Carolina and Tennessee, it's less than a day's drive away for one-third of the U.S. population. The accessibility plus the free admission and gorgeous mountain scenery help make it the country's most popular national park.

It's followed by Arizona's Grand Canyon National Park, which saw 5.97 million visits in 2019 to witness its world-famous views. Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park takes third place with 4.7 million visits, and Utah's Zion National Park takes fourth with 4.5 million. Read on for the full top 10.

The National Park Service was established just over a century ago, and it's amassed a fascinating history. Here are some more facts about the United States's national parks.

  1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  2. Grand Canyon National Park
  3. Rocky Mountain National Park
  4. Zion National Park
  5. Yosemite National Park
  6. Yellowstone National Park
  7. Acadia National Park
  8. Grand Teton National Park
  9. Olympic National Park
  10. Glacier National Park