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4. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Bison on a field in Yellowstone at sunset.
Yellowstone preserves the most important bison herd in the United States.

A short trip north takes us to America’s first national park

Yellowstone is about as wild as you can get in the contiguous U.S., and it still shelters all the native species that existed in its boundaries prior to 1800. However, most visitors only see the park from their car windows. Since the park is larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined, the typical traveler just isn’t seeing that much.

Ya ya, we know this is a road trip, but it’s not a road-only trip. So if you do want to see Yellowstone’s wildlife in the wild—wolves, bison, trumpeter swans, lynx, bobcat, black and grizzly bears, moose, eagles, pikas and pronghorns (and on and on)—you’ll need to get off the tarmac and onto a dirt path.

Hiking in Yellowstone National Park

There are more than 250 hiking trails stretching 1,000-plus miles in the park. With so much trail, rest assured there’s a path and destination for every hiker and backpacker in Yellowstone.

Say you get giddy for geysers, sitting atop the largest volcanic system in North America, Yellowstone contains over 10,000 hydrothermal features including the bubbling and bulbous Mammoth Hot Springs and the clockwork-like machinations of Old Faithful.

Ready to bust out your binoculars to view bison-speckled plains? The Lamar River Valley is considered America’s Serengeti for its abundance of wildlife. Across the park, there are 300 different species of birds, 67 mammals, 16 fish, 11 reptiles and amphibians, and 1,160 plants (several of which are only found here).

Want to head deep into the backcountry to explore peaks and river valleys? You’ll find plenty of options to explore from cascading waterfalls to breathtaking overlooks, vast grasslands to the Middle Rocky Mountain range, which range from 9,000 to 11,000 feet.

The Lamar Valley Trail: A seven mile long round-trip, this is a great option for wildlife viewing, offering sightings of bison, pronghorns, wolves, bears, and more.

Fairy Falls Trail to Imperial and Spray Geysers: One of the best short hikes in the park, leading you past the best vantage point for viewing the Grand Prismatic from above, and then along a well groomed trail to the 200-foot-tall Fairy Falls.

Grand Loop Road: Not a hike, but the 142-mile main road takes you past all the park’s main features. It’s an epic drive, but expect to be caught up in at least one “bison jam.”

A journey back in time

About 7.5 hours north and nearly to Canada, takes us to our next national park.

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