By Eric Peterson
America's first national park is just as alluring as it was when John Colter of the Lewis and Clark expedition first spied it in 1807. Colter's descriptions of spewing geysers and boiling mud were unlike anything the public had ever heard of, and modern visitors have the same reaction to Yellowstone's volatile geology. Most travelers settle for seeing Old Faithful and maybe visiting Yellowstone's own Grand Canyon -- not venturing far enough to see its extensive geyser basins up close. It's an otherworldly journey worth making while you're in Wyoming.
Things to Do
Thermal features steam, bubble, boil and hiss throughout Yellowstone National Park, but the granddaddy of attractions is Old Faithful, a geyser that shoots 135 feet into the air on a pretty reliable 92-minute schedule. With 1,100 miles of trails and 2.2 million acres, grab a hiking map and get away from it all. At least hike along the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, a 1000-foot deep, 24-mile long gorge carved in yellows and reds. Park rangers offer excellent and frequent nature lectures and hikes.
Don't underestimate the eight gift shops within the lodges, several clustered around Old Faithful's three hotels and more at Mammoth Hot Springs, Canyon Village, Grant Village and Yellowstone Lake. Though well stocked with imported souvenirs, the shops can also yield some unexpected finds for the discriminating shopper -- Native American-crafted jewelry, for instance. Browse the park's visitors centers for an excellent selection of books on natural history and scoop up some free maps and literature. General stores near the campgrounds are well stocked with outdoor gear and basic groceries.
Nightlife and Entertainment
A live ensemble, often a string quartet, makes music in the sunroom of the elegant 1891 Lake Yellowstone Hotel. A piano player livens things up in the map room of the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. And all the full-service restaurants have separate bars, featuring, you bet, Old Faithful Pale Ale. Drink one in the evening on Old Faithful Inn's deck overlooking you know what.
Restaurants and Dining
Campers get food and cooking supplies in Mammoth Hot Springs, Canyon Village, Grant Village and Yellowstone Lake. Inside Yellowstone, the meals at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel are the finest in the park, including lobster ravioli, bison prime rib and vegetable-stuffed trout. The food at the historic lodge Old Faithful Inn isn't the best in the park -- visitors feast on elk medallions and osso buco, among other offerings -- but the beauty of the lodge and proximity to Old Faithful make this restaurant a good choice.