Yellowstone National Park Travel Guide

Yellowstone National Park is a U.S. National Park located in the states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Yellowstone is the first and oldest national park in the world and covers 3,470 square miles (8,980 km²), mostly in the northwest corner of Wyoming. The park is famous for its various geysers, hot springs, and other geothermal features and is home to grizzly bears and wolves, and free-ranging herds of bison and elk. It is the core of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, one of the largest intact temperate zone ecosystems remaining on the planet.

The park was named for the yellow rocks seen in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone—a deep gash in the Yellowstone Plateau that was formed by floods during previous ice ages and by river erosion from the Yellowstone River.

Yellowstone is one of the most popular national parks in the United States. The park is unique in that it features multiple natural wonders all in the same park.

Geysers, hot springs, a grand canyon, forests, wilderness, wildlife and even a large lake can all be found inside the park. Due to the park's diversity of features, the list of activities for visitors is nearly endless. From backpacking to mountaineering, from kayaking to fishing, from sightseeing to watching bison, moose, and elk wandering into the parking lot of the visitor centers, most visitors enjoy a memorable experience in nature.

Due to the geothermal activities of the park, the odor of sulfur is common in certain areas of the park. Visitors with respiratory difficulties should consult their doctors before visiting.

Wildfires are a relatively common occurrence in the park, due to the dry summer climate. A series of wildfires burned out of control in 1988, destroying significant forested portions of the park, though none of the major tourist areas were affected. Some areas have only recently recovered fully from the blaze.

Park officials advise visitors not to approach dangerous animals and to stay on designated safe trails to avoid falling into boiling liquids and inhaling toxic gas. In 2004, five bison were discovered dead from an apparent inhalation of toxic geothermal gases.

Lodging for visitors exist at 11 locations within park boundaries. There is a clear view of Old Faithful Geyser at the park's Old Faithful Inn. Lodges range from hotel to cabin accommodations. There also are 11 campgrounds and one hard-sided recreational vehicle park.

The park itself is surrounded by other protected lands (including Grand Teton National Park and Custer National Forest) and beautiful drives (such as the Beartooth Highway). Nearby communities include West Yellowstone, Montana; Cody, Wyoming; Red Lodge, Montana; Ashton, Idaho; and Gardiner, Montana.

Yellowstone is widely considered to be the finest wildlife habitat in the lower 48 states. Animals found in the park include the majestic American bison (buffalo), grizzly bear, black bear, elk, moose, mule deer, pronghorn, wolverine, bighorn sheep and mountain lion (puma).

The relatively large bison populations that exist in the park are a concern for ranchers who fear that the bison can transmit bovine diseases to their domesticated cousins. In fact, about half of Yellowstone's bison have been exposed to brucellosis, a bacterial disease that came to North America with European cattle and may cause cattle to miscarry. The disease has little effect on park bison and no reported case of transmission from wild bison to a visitor or to domestic livestock has ever been filed. But since the possibility of contagion still exists, the State of Montana believes its "brucellosis-free" status may be jeopardized if bison are in proximity to cattle. Elk also carry the disease, but this popular game species is not considered a threat to livestock.

To combat the perceived threat, National Park personnel regularly harass bison herds back into the park when they venture outside of park borders. Animal rights activists state that is a cruel practice and that the possibility for disease transmission is not as great as some ranchers maintain. Ecologists also point out that the bison are just traveling to seasonal grazing areas that lie within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem that have been converted to cattle grazing (most of these areas are also within United States National Forests).

A controversial recent decision by park authorities is the recent reintroduction of wolves into the park's ecosystem. For many years the wolves were hunted and harassed until they become locally extinct in the 1930s. The smaller cousin of the wolf, the coyote, then became the park's top predator. However, the coyote is not able to bring down any large animal in the park and the result of this lack of a top predator on these populations was a marked increase in lame and sick megafauna. Since the reintroduction of wolves in the late 1990s this trend has started to reverse. However, there is still fear among surrounding cattle ranchers and other livestock ranchers that the wolves will venture out of the park and prey on the much-easier-to-kill domesticated animals. In fact this happens occasionally, but the ranchers are compensated for their losses whenever they can prove that Yellowstone wolves were the cause of the livestock loss. The ranchers contend that it is difficult to prove that coyotes or wild dogs were the responsible parties. However, the endangered species status of introduced wolf packs has also been controversially suspended, making it possible for ranchers to shoot and kill wolves that come close to their herds.

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