Driving the South Loop Road, you will stay around 7000 to 8000 feet in elevation all day. You will have a plethora of geyser basins from which to choose for a visit, take in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the Upper and Lower Falls, drive along majestic Yellowstone Lake, cross the Continental Divide twice, and visit the most popular feature in the park - Old Faithful Geyser. Wildlife can be found most anywhere along this loop so keep a watch as you travel. The features below are listed for driving the loop in a clockwise direction from Madison Junction.
Madison to Norris
National Park Mountain
At the base of this mountain, the Gibbon and Firehole Rivers join to form the Madison River - all great fishing streams. It was at the base of this mountain that it was once believed the National Park idea originated.
Not visible from the road, it’s worth a stop to go see this falls. Here, the Gibbon River flows over the very edge of the Yellowstone Caldera!
Artist Paint Pots
If you don’t mind a bit of a walk and a steep climb, this basin is worth a visit. However, if you have only two days in the park, you might choose to pass it by. Along with vivid colors and many hot springs, you will experience the thickest, “bloopiest” mud pots on the Lower Loop Road. There is also a beautiful view from the top of the hill.
Norris Geyser Basin
An other-worldly place, this basin isn’t for non-hikers. If you have the energy, though, be sure to walk at least part of this 3-hour walk just to take in the smells. It is the hottest and most active geyser basin in the park - perhaps because three fault lines run beneath it! With two days in the park, walk Porcelain Basin one day and Back Basin the other day. Norris's Back Basin is home to the tallest, active geyser in the world - Steamboat Geyser!
Canyon to Lake Village
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
With so many viewpoints, you can visit some on the South Loop and some on the North Loop drive. On the South Rim, be sure to visit Artist Point for a view of the canyon and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone and Uncle Tom's Point for a view of the Upper Falls of the Yellowstone. On the North Rim Drive, Lookout Point has a closer view of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone, Grand View has a spectacular view of the canyon, and Inspiration Point has a view that's not for anyone with a fear of heights! The Canyon Visitor Education Center is also worth a visit at Canyon Village.
What is believed to have once been the bottom of a lake, Hayden Valley is a great place to stop, turn off your car, and look through binoculars for wildlife. Bison, elk, coyotes, wolves, and even bears can be spotted here.
Sulfur Cauldron & Mud Volcano
You will smell these before you see them! This area is full of acidic, splashing mud pots. We don’t recommend the hike up the big hill, but the short stroll near the parking lot is well worth it. Be sure to stop and listen to Dragon’s Mouth Spring.
Just downstream from where it flows out of Yellowstone Lake, this historic bridge spans the Yellowstone River. During spawning, it is possible to see Cutthroat Trout in abundance below this bridge. Just watch for traffic!
A spot for food and gifts, you will also find the oldest standing hotel in the park here - a railroad funded hotel, the Lake Yellowstone Hotel opened in 1891. There is also a medical clinic here.
Lake Village to West Thumb
The largest, freshwater lake above 7000 feet, Yellowstone Lake holds water that flows into the very river from which the park gets its name. (The headwaters is actually south of the lake.) This lake is very COLD but you can take a scenic boat ride or guided fishing trip onto the lake. The Absaroka Mountains are viewed to the East.
Bridge Bay Marina
The only established marina on Yellowstone Lake, Bridge Bay offers scenic boat tours, guided fishing trips, and dock rental for private boats. Note the bridge over the access to the lake - you probably won’t see any sail boats!
For a gorgeous view of Yellowstone Lake, stop and walk around at West Thumb. You can peer into the depths of Abyss Pool and Black Pool, watch the lake water splash around Fishing Cone, and even see some mud pots in this basin. Do watch out for elk and bison as they are frequent visitors to this basin.
A spot for food and gifts, the visitor center here also has a great exhibit on wildfires.
West Thumb to Old Faithful
Craig Pass & Isa Lake
Craig Pass is the second of two crossings of the Continental Divide on the road from West Thumb Junction to Old Faithful Village. In spring, the small lake here is full enough to drain its waters to both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
This pretty cascade starred in a beer commercial many years ago. If you are afraid of heights, you may want to pass this one by.
Upper Geyser Basin & Old Faithful Village
The home of famous Old Faithful Geyser, Beehive Geyser, Grand Geyser, and many others! You can spend an entire day in this basin and village alone. You’ll also want to go into the historic Old Faithful Inn and stop into the Visitor Education Center for a display all about geyser basins.
Old Faithful to Madison
Midway Geyser Basin
With the largest hot spring in the park, Grand Prismatic Spring, this basin is very popular. We recommend visiting early or late in the day.
Firehole Lake Drive
Take a side trip down Firehole Lake Drive to see if you can catch Great Fountain or White Dome Geysers. There is a rushing, hot cascade to the left of the road near Hot Lake.
Lower Geyser Basin
The well-known Fountain Paint Pots are here along with several large geysers and many smaller ones.
While this is a one way road in the opposite direction, we recommend it if you have time. The Firehole River flows over Firehole Falls about half way through the canyon.