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NPS Passport: Yellowstone National Park

NPS Passport: Yellowstone National Park

The United States has 63 national parks, which are congressionally designated protected areas operated by the National Park Service. National parks are renowned for their natural beauty, unique geological features, diverse ecosystems, and recreational opportunities. Equity Estates residences enjoy close proximity to over a dozen national parks.


Spanning almost 3,500 miles across northwestern Wyoming and into Montana and Idaho, Yellowstone is one of the country’s largest national parks. It’s also the oldest, established in 1872. Though best known for its abundance of colorful hot springs and massive geysers, as well as roaming herds of bison and nearly 900 miles of hiking trails, it’s also home to hundreds of spectacular waterfalls, over 2,000 documented archeological sites, and the largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48 states. Grizzlies, wolves, elk, and moose (along with 300 bird species, 16 types of fish, and other wildlife) can be found within the park.

Yellowstone’s West Entrance is located a short and scenic one-hour drive south of the Equity Estates’ homes in Big Sky and offers a Visitor Information Center, popular hiking trails, and multiple riverside picnic tables. It’s also the closest entrance to some of the park’s main attractions: Fairy Falls, Midway Geyser Basin, Firehole Canyon, and Old Faithful.

Stop by the Madison Information Station (designated a National Historic Landmark in 1982), a few miles inside the park for ranger programs, park info, fishing permits, and souvenirs. Explore the hands-on exhibits, learn more about Yellowstone’s hydrothermal features, and sign up for a guided hike at the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center. Have lunch at one of the seasonal restaurants in the Old Faithful Inn or Old Faithful Lodge. Or pack a picnic to enjoy pre- or post-hike at any of the park’s convenient picnic areas. Just make sure to keep all food and garbage secured when not in use, and never feed the animals—even birds and squirrels.

Though the most popular months to visit are June–August, Yellowstone has something to offer in every season. Spring and fall bring cooler temperatures and also fewer park services, but the smaller crowds, quiet trails, and dynamic scenery—from gold and red foliage to fresh green buds and fields of wildflowers—make off-season visits unforgettable. Winter guests get a different Yellowstone experience, with stunning snowy landscapes, steaming geysers, and plenty of cold-weather outdoor activities, though it’s important to note that many in-park roads and facilities are closed during those months, and some attractions can only be accessed by over-snow travel.

Whenever you visit, be prepared for unpredictable weather. Summer highs can exceed 70°F, only to drop 20 or more degrees if thunderstorms roll through. It can snow in Yellowstone in just about any month, and winter lows often drop below 0°F, especially at night. Bring a range of clothing options, including a jacket and rain gear, even for short day trips.

What the park is best known for:

Yellowstone is best known for its abundance of geysers and hot springs. In fact, there are more located within the park than any other place on earth. The most famous, of course, is Old Faithful, Yellowstone’s main attraction. As the park’s most predictable geyser, it erupts about every 90 minutes year-round, shooting thousands of gallons of steaming water over 100 feet into the air for several minutes each time—a spectacular display of hydrothermal geologic force that’s thrilling to see in person, whether you watch from the boardwalk viewing area, the visitor center, or Old Faithful Inn.

Top three things to do in the park:

Explore the Thermal Basins

Because Yellowstone’s geysers and hot springs are the park’s biggest draw, it’s hard to imagine spending a day there without visiting at least a few of them.

Old Faithful is a must-do for any Yellowstone day trip, but other hydrothermal wonders are equally impressive and worth making time for. The Grand Prismatic Spring at Midway Geyser Basin, for example, is a breathtakingly large—and colorful—hot spring that spans over 300 feet in diameter. With multi-colored bands of bright yellow, orange, and green ringing deep blue water in the center, it’s easy to see why it’s the most photographed feature in the park.

Yellowstone’s hydrothermal attractions are wildly dynamic and ever-changing throughout the day and throughout the seasons, making for interesting viewing for each visit (or revisit).

Go Hiking

Hiking and exploring along Yellowstone’s vast network of trails is an incredible way to experience the park, whether you choose to take a ranger-led day hike or head out on your own. And with 2.2 million acres of wilderness and a wide range of landscapes and terrain to choose from, there’s a perfect hike for just about every interest and skill level.

On the western side of the park, Harlequin Lake Trail takes you on a gentle, one-mile, out-and-back hike through a beautiful pine forest that opens to a shallow, marshy lake and views of nearby hills. Another easy—though longer—trail is the Fairy Falls route, a popular 4.8-mile path with two trailheads that take you through a young pine forest to one of the park’s most spectacular waterfalls, an extended trail to Imperial and Spray geysers, and an incline trail to the Grand Prismatic overlook.

For a more challenging hike, consider the 8.5-mile Mystic Falls and Geyser Basin Loop trail through fire-burned forest, along the Little Firehole River to a gorgeous 70-foot waterfall and amazing views of the Upper Geyser Basin. Or the 8.6-mile Howard Eaton Trail near Old Faithful with burned-hill and spruce forest terrain, several hydrothermal areas, potential bear and bison sightings, and a view of the Lone Star Geyser.

When hiking, be sure to come prepared. Bottled water, sunscreen, bug spray, good shoes, a light jacket, and bear spray are key, while binoculars and a camera are good to have on hand for wildlife spotting and capturing Yellowstone memories. Just be sure to keep your distance from any animals you come across during your outing.

Ski or Snowmobile in Winter

In winter, you can enjoy a snow-covered Yellowstone on skis or snowshoes, with groomed and skier-tracked cross-country trails, wild backcountry terrain with views of steaming geysers and hot springs, and unplowed roads open and ready for exploring. Lessons and equipment rentals are available throughout the season at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, and ski shuttles can take you out to interior trails that may be harder to access.

One of the most exciting ways to play in the park during colder months, though, is to sign up for a guided snowmobile tour. Several tour companies are authorized to operate in Yellowstone, each offering half-day treks and other excursions to some of the most popular parts of the park—Madison Junction, Fountain Paint Pot, Old Faithful, and more.

Take in the snow-blanketed beauty of Yellowstone in winter, stop for photos and wildlife sightings, learn more about the park from your experienced guides, and enjoy the thrill of cold-weather adventuring in the great outdoors.

About the Equity Estates home:

Our spacious Lone Mountain, Big Sky residence is a ski-in/ski-out gem, perched on the slopes of Big Sky Resort at the base of Lone Mountain. Nestled within an exclusive new development, convenient to local restaurants, shops, and bars, the five-bedroom home features a mountain-chic décor, large gourmet kitchen, large media room, kid-friendly bunk room, ample outdoor space with a private hot tub, and much more.

Our contemporary Moonlight Basin I home is located slope side, within the tall pines of the exclusive Moonlight Basin community. With five bedrooms, a spacious layout boasting modern finishes, expansive decks that offer miles of valley views, and access to the community’s 60,000 square foot private clubhouse, it’s the perfect residence for a luxurious Big Sky vacation.

Similar to the other Moonlight Basin home, our Moonlight Basin II property is a slope side beauty boasting a spacious, contemporary design and modern finishes. Five bedrooms and six full baths, a gourmet kitchen, large deck with stunning views and an outdoor hot tub, along with investor access to the community’s 60,000 square foot private clubhouse, make it an idyllic Big Sky vacation home.