Geography Facts About Yellowstone National Park

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On March 1, 1872 President Ulysses S. Grant signed the establishment of Yellowstone National Park into law. On that day, Yellowstone became the first national park in the United States.

Here are some quick and fun geography facts about Yellowstone National Park.

Naming Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park was named after the Yellowstone River which has its headwaters within the park boundary.

Location of Yellowstone National Park

Most of Yellowstone National Park is located in the state of Wyoming.

The breakdown is as follows: 96% in Wyoming, 3% in Montana, 1% in Idaho.

Yellowstone National Park Map.
Yellowstone National Park Map. Click on the map for a larger version. Map: NPS via USGS, public domain.

Area of Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is 3,472 square miles (8,991 square kilometers) in area. This makes Yellowstone the eight largest national park in the United States. Yellowstone is bigger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined.

Visitors to Yellowstone National Park

In 2020, Yellowstone National Park had 3,806,306 visitors, make it the 12th most visited national park in the United States.

Highest Point in Yellowstone

The highest point in Yellowstone is Eagle Peak at 11,358 feet (3,462 meters). Eagle Peak is located in the southeastern part of Yellowstone.

Looking across a green sagebrush flat at a high mountain with clouds around its peak.
Eagle Peak, Yellowstone National Park. Photo: NPS / Jacob W. Frank, public domain.

Lowest Point in Yellowstone

The lowest point in Yellowstone is Reese Creek at 5,282 feet (1,610 meters).

Continental Divide

The North American Continental Divide passes through Yellowstone National Park. Water flows to the Gulf of Mexico on one side of the divide and the other side empties directly into the Pacific Ocean. The Continental Divide divides North America’s Atlantic and Pacific watersheds.

This map created by the USGS shows the location of the Continental Divide (red dashed line). The purple dashed line is the outline of the Yellowstone Caldera.

South and west of the divide, water flows into the Pacific Ocean, whereas north and east of the divide, water flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Isa Lake lies on the continental divide, and its water drains into both the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.

Map of Yellowstone showing major rivers and continental divide.
Map of Yellowstone showing major rivers and continental divide. Map: Shaul Hurwitz, USGS, public domain.

Largest High Elevation Lake in North America

Yellowstone Lake, at 7,733 feet (2,357 m) above sea level, is North America’s largest high elevation lake (above 7,000 feet / 2,134 m).

Yellowstone Lake is home to the the largest population of wild cutthroat trout in North America.

Yellowstone Lake drains to the north via the Yellowstone River.

Supervolcano

Yellowstone National Park sits on the site of a supervolcano. A “supervolcano” is a volcano capable of erupting magma volumes that are more than 240 cubic miles. Two of the last three major volcanic eruptions at Yellowstone met this definition.

While the volcano is still active, the last volcanic eruption was a lava flow that occurred 70,000 years ago.

Yellowstone has experienced three super eruptions in the last two million years: 2.08, 1.3, and 0.631 million years ago. The Yellowstone caldera, an enormous crater in the western-central portion of the park, was formed roughly 631,000 years ago by a major volcanic eruption.

The volcanic activity continues to many of the park’s geothermal features and is responsible for the 1,000 to 3,000 yearly earthquakes.

Geothermal Activity at Yellowstone

Half of the world’s geothermal features can be found in Yellowstone National Park.

There are 10,000 hot springs, mudpots, fumaroles, travertine terraces, and geysers located within the park boundary.

Hot springs are the most common geothermal feature in Yellowstone. Hot springs are pools of hydrothermally heated water.

Thermophiles in Yellowstone

These geothermal features support thermophiles, heat-loving bacteria, that give many of the pools their vibrant colors.

Aerial view of Grand Prismatic Spring; Hot Springs, Midway & Lower Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park. Photo: Jim Peaco, National Park Service
Aerial view of Grand Prismatic Spring; Hot Springs, Midway & Lower Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park. Photo: Jim Peaco, National Park Service

Additionally, Yellowstone contains the world’s highest concentration of geysers. That’s more than 500 geysers including Steamboat Geyser, the world’s largest active geyser, and it half of the world’s geysers.

Photo of Riverside Geyser in Yellowstone National Park.
Yellowstone was the first National Park established in the United States on March 1, 1872. Riverside Geyser. Photo: Neal Herbet, NPS, public domain.

The most famous geyser in Yellowstone is Old Faithful. The geyser was the first geyser to be named. In 1870, the cone geyser was named due to its somewhat predictable regularity.

The geyser is one of only six geyser that park staff will predict. Park staff currently post predictions about Old Faithful via the NPS Yellowstone Geysers app and on Yellowstone’s geyser prediction Twitter feed.

A geyser eruption with visitors standing on the boardwalk watching.
Visitors watching Old Faithful erupt on October 4, 2019. Photo: NPS/Jim Peaco, public domain.

Biomes at Yellowstone

80% of Yellowstone is covered by forest. Another 15% of Yellowstone is grassland and 5% is water.

More than 80% of the forest canopy in Yellowstone is lodgepole pine  (Pinus contorta). There are a total of nine species of conifers.

Lodgepole pine forest, Yellowstone National Park.
Lodgepole pine forest, Yellowstone National Park. Photo: NPS/Diane Renkin, public domain.

In addition to lodgepole pine, Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, whitebark pine, and limber pine are found at higher elevations. Lower elevation trees feature Douglas-Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum).

Biodiversity at Yellowstone

Yellowstone has the largest concentration mammals in the contiguous United States.

67 species of mammals are found in Yellowstone. The most iconic mammals seen in Yellowstone are grizzly bears, gray wolves, and American bison.

Six starlings perched on the back of a bison.
Birds like these starlings will perch on the backs of bison to hunt for insects that have been stirred by the by grazing movements of bison. Photo: Kim Acker/NPS, public domain.

In 2016, it was estimated that 690 grizzly bears live in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

In 1995, gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone. In January 2021, 123 wolves were counted in Yellowstone grouped in nine packs.

Other mammals include black bears, wolverine, Canada lynx, mountain lions, elk, mule deer, moose, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, and white-tailed deer.

Both the Canada lynx and the Grizzly bears are endangered species.

Yellowstone National Park is home to 285 bird species, including raptors, songbirds, shorebirds, and waterfowl. In the park, over 150 species construct nests and fledge their young.

Large black bird with a white head and tail sits on the branch of a dead tree.
Bald eagle at Eagle Bay on Yellowstone Lake. Photo: NPS/Diane Renkin, public domain.

Yellowstone also has 16 species of fish (five nonnative), five species of amphibians, and six species of reptiles.

Human History

Human history at Yellowstone is more than 11,000 years old based on the recovery of archeological artifacts. More than 1,850 archeological sites have been located in Yellowstone National Park.

27 Native American tribes have ties with the region. Oral histories have helped archaeologists to understand a timeline of when various tribes were in and around the Yellowstone region.

References

Annual Park Ranking Report for Recreation Visits in: 2020. (2020). NPS.gov. https://irma.nps.gov/STATS/SSRSReports/National%20Reports/Annual%20Park%20Ranking%20Report%20(1979%20-%20Last%20Calendar%20Year)

Park facts – Yellowstone. (n.d.). NPS.gov. https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/parkfacts.htm

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