Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Wyoming, USA. 

This is our second day in Yellowstone National Park. Dazzled by the amazing world of Norris Hot Springs and Mammoth Old Springs, we are ready to make a new discovery in the park: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. It is the most photographed site after Old Faithful, the 2nd largest geyser in the world. Indeed, it is the most spectacular area in Yellowstone National Park.

This grandiose and natural environment reduces Men to their right dimension.

1. Where is the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone?

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is located in the northern part of the park.

The nearest park entrance is the North Entrance, close to gardiner (Mont.). Then drive to North Rim Drive.
See the map below for the other access to the Grand Canyon, with times and mileages.

2021 will see 3 major road projects in order to meet the challenges of the increase of the park visitation and trafic :

1. Closure of the road between Tower-Roosevelt and Canyon Junction
2. Works of repairs on Old Faithful overpass Bridge will cause delays up to 15 mn.
3. Works on infrastructure around the North Entrance will change the trafic pattern,

Check the up-to-date information about temporary road closures.

Click on the map to enlarge:

Yellowstone-road-map-with-mileage
Consult the official Yellowstone map to better locate Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

2. Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone map

This map shows the services provided in Canyon Village (shopping, dining and lodging,…).
Canyon Visitor Education Center opens on July 1st. Check the opening and closing dates before going.

yellowstone-canyon-map

3. How Grand Canyon was formed? 

About 600,000 years ago, the Yellowstone area was the site of a tremendous volcanic cataclysm. In particular, as eruptions occured, a huge caldera was formed and was filled with lava and sediments for thousands of year. Then, the forces of the Yellowstone River carved out the soft rocks of the canyon.

The canyon was at one time a geyser basin, which proves the thermal activity existing in the park.

Even today, the canyon is constantly changing as a result of natural phenomena (erosion by the river, rock falls, weather, earthquakes …).
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is 20 miles long and its highest walls can reach 1200 feet.

lower falls of the grand canyon of the yellowstone

Lower falls – View from the South Rim

Three falls in the canyon of Yellowstone

The Grand Canyon is actually made of sedimentary soft rocks and of volcanic rocks, more resistant. The uneven erosion of the Yellowstone River on these two types of rocks has resulted in the formation of waterfalls. Therefore the canyon counts today three falls:

– First, the Upper Falls (109-foot high),
– Then, the spectacular Lower Falls (308-foot high), almost twice as high as the Niagara Falls,
– and finally the less known Crystal Falls.

The beauty of these falls reinforces the striking character of the site.

In the footsteps of Thomas Moran

Thomas Moran was one of the first landscape illustrators of the American West. In 1871, he joined a geological expedition that took him to Yellowstone region.

His splendid paintings of the present-day park convinced the U.S. Congress of the need to protect the area.  It was not long after this that Yellowstone became the first national park in the United States. His painting of the Grand Canyon hangs on one of the walls of the White House!

grand canyon of the yellowstone by thomas moran

AThomas_Moran – Grand Canyon- Wikimedia Commons

4. Hiking in Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone 

Breathtaking views on the canyon are offered by several paths and viewpoints.

Hiking map of Grand Canyon

Several trails and ten viewpoints built along the canyon rim allow you to visit the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. The hikes are short but the views are stunning. Use this map and read the following descriptions to plan your excursion.

yellowstone-grand-canyon-trail-map

5. What to see in Grand Canyon? 

a. The Brink of the Lower Falls

From Canyon Village, a loop road (North Rim Drive) follows the north rim of the canyon. The first intersection leads on the left to the parking lot at the edge of the Lower Falls. The view of the spectacular falls and the deep blue Yellowstone River is breathtaking.

yellowstone river view from the lower falls

Looking down the Yellowstone River

b. The Upper Falls view point

Less than a mile from the Lower Falls, an observation deck has been built above the Upper Falls. Smaller than the Lower Falls, they are no less impressive. In the background you can see the Canyon Bridge built over the Yellowstone River.

upper falls canyon bridge

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone – Upper Falls and Canyon Bridge

c. The Uncle Tom’s Trail

2021 : Stairs are closed. Trail from Artist Point to Uncle Tom’s Parking area remains open.

Another trail allows you to visit the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone … from below. About a mile from the North Rim Drive entrance, the road crosses the Chittenden Bridge on the left and then follows the South Rim Drive.  After the bridge, Uncle Tom’s Trail leads down into the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone at the base of the Lower Falls. It is not actually a trail, but a metal staircase with over 300 steps. It leads visitors to the foot of the falls.

The descent is really impressive: The falls are only really visible further down. However, the roar of the river that rushes down from a height of 90 meters makes you aware of their power.

At the bottom of the stairs, a platform allows you to contemplate the falls embedded in ochre-colored rocks. At the point of impact, the waters form a permanent dense fog in which a magnificent rainbow is formed. But be careful on the way back, the ascent of the stairs as they are steep. This sound and visual spectacle are absolutely impressive.

 Lower falls view from uncle tom trail

View of the Lower Falls from Uncle Tom’s Trail

Why the name of Uncle Tom’s trail?
A man named HF. Richardson, from Montana, nicknamed Uncle Tom, obtained permission from the park in the 1890s to take visitors to the Yellowstone River and then to the falls. Afterwards, a picnic was held at the falls.
The means of access to the river at the time were rather spartan: descent with ropes and ladders. It was really some kind of adventure for women wearing dress with crinoline to climb down the walls of the canyon! Such an adventure!

d. South Rim Trail

You can also visit the Grand Canyon from the South Rim Trail. This trail begins at the Chittenden Bridge and runs along the rim of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Once we get back up to the top of Uncle Tom’s Trail, we continue our hike along the South Rim Trail which runs along the canyon. This 3,5 miles round trip hike offers several incredible views of the site.

With walls that can reach a height of 350 meters, the canyon looks like a large pink notch in the plateau covered with pine forests and other conifers.  Thus we are amazed by the colors offered by the panorama. The ochre and pink walls of the canyon frame the dark blue waters of the Yellowstone River.

A careful look at the rock walls allows us to distinguish a few raptors perched on their nests, in search of food.

Yellowstone canyon from artist Point

North rim of Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

e. Artist Point Yellowstone

South Rim Trail ends at the most breathtaking viewpoint on the site. The viewpoint, called Artist Point offers a grandiose perspective on the Grand Canyon and on the Lower Falls. We are speechless with admiration at the sight of such a splendid panorama.
Down the walls of the canyon, the Yellowstone River indifferently continues to flow in the direction of the Mississippi River.
The view is of great dramatic intensity.

Below, the Yellowstone River continues on its way to the Mississippi River where its waters will flow into.

The view is of great dramatic intensity.

Grand Canyon of the yellowstone view from artist point

View from Artist Point

Why Artist Point? Because it was believed that Thomas Moran painted his famous canvas “The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone” there. But in fact he was standing in what is now called the Moran Overlook.

6. Grand Canyon Hotels

The Canyon Lodge & Cabins

Canyon Lodge is conveniently located in the heart of Canyon Village and is accessible via the North Entrance. It counts several buildings of various styles (lodges and cabins).

It opens from mid-May to the first days of October. Take the reservations through recreation.gov.

Hotels in Gardiner

Outside the Yellowstone Park, near the North Entrance, Gardiner has accommodation options. We have listed 4 top ranked hotels for the quality of their accommodation and proximity to the park :

Ridgeline hotel (formely Best Western), 905 Scott St W, Gardiner, MT 59030, Tel +1 406-203-9965
Yellowstone Gateway Inn, 103 Bigelow Ln, Gardiner, MT 59030, Tel +1 406-848-7100
406 Lodge at Yellowstone, 204 S 3rd St, Gardiner, MT 59030, Tel +1 406-848-9956
Yellowstone park riverfront cabins.  550 Old Yellowstone Trail S, Gardiner, MT 59030, Tel +1 406-570-8080

7. Canyon Campground Yellowstone

Canyon Campground is opens from May 21th to September 19th. It is located in Canyon Village, in a pine forest, and near the Yellowstone River.

Reservations are done through Yellowstone National Park Lodges online reservation system. 
or call 307-344-7311 (307-344-5395 for TDD service).

To know more about Canyon Campground.

8. Other

When to goCanyon Visitor Education Center opens on July 1st. Check the opening and closing dates  of its facilities before going.

Accessibility : The village and the trails are largely accessible to wheelchair users. Ask the rangers for more details.

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