Yellowstone Canyon

Yellowstone Canyon is one of the deepest and most impressive looking canyons in the United States. North of where the Yellowstone River flows from the largest freshwater lake in the world, the river plunges over the two thundering cascades of Yellowstone Falls and then enters the canyon itself. One of the most popular attractions of Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is a unique sight, with varicolored striations visible on the rock canyon walls, almost like a rainbow of different rust-colored shades.

Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park

Upon first seeing Yellowstone Canyon in 1869, Charles W. Cook, a member of the expedition that explored the region, was dumbfounded, writing afterward, “It seemed to me that it was five minutes before anyone spoke.” Yellowstone Canyon plunges almost 1,000 feet deep in certain places. It is a classic V-shaped canyon, which indicates that it was eroded by floods and the flow of the Yellowstone River, rather than scraped out by glaciers. The area occupied by the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was once a hotbed for geothermal activity, and geysers and volcanic heat "baked" the rock in the area, making it brittle and ripe for erosion.

Today, there are still many geysers and hot springs to be seen in the canyon. The Clear Lake area south of the canyon, for instance, is fed by hot springs. The multicolored variations in the colors of the canyon walls were also caused by geothermal activity. Chemical reactions caused by geysers and hot springs left the canyon rock filled with iron deposits, which oxidized after being exposed to the elements and formed the beautiful rust-colored rainbow we see today.

As with many attractions in Yellowstone, the best way to approach Yellowstone Canyon is by car. From there, you can access the hiking trails around the canyon. It is possible to walk the entire trail around the canyon in one grueling day, but unless you are in good physical shape, it is probably easier to do shorter hikes around specific parts of the canyon.

Don't miss Yellowstone Falls at the mouth of the canyon. As the Yellowstone River flows out from Yellowstone Lake, it flows through the Hayden Valley and over these two impressive waterfalls. The river first cascades over Upper Yellowstone Falls, which are 109 feet tall, and then plunges over the Lower Yellowstone Falls, which are 308 feet tall, about twice the height of Niagara Falls. The sight of the mighty Lower Falls as the water rushes into the Canyon is a memorable one.

It is possible to drive right up to the viewpoints that allow you to have an excellent view of both the Upper and Lower Falls. An excellent view of the entire Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone can be had at Inspiration Point, which is also accessible by car.

If you need some rest, head over to Canyon Lodge, the only hotel option in this area, and the Visitor Center near the Canyon where you can get some rest as well as more information about the canyon. There is a campground available here as well if you brought your own gear and want to go camping. Rest well, for there is a lot more to see at Yellowstone National Park!

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