Despite Yellowstone National Park quickly reopening the damaged areas affected by historic floods that hit on June 13, it still has to deal with more long-term repercussions. Meticulous traffic management and crowd overflows might not make visiting the park and its incredible features worth it, especially if you have to prepare for the worst. With potential access changes and limited services and facilities, the park's unpredictability isn't favorable when it has already attracted big crowds before the recent flooding. According to the National Park Service, Yellowstone was the 12th most visited national park in the United States in 2021.
But Yellowstone isn't the only beautiful place in the nation to see all its distinct features. Other natural regions nearby that present similar attributes are worth checking out. So, if you were planning to visit Yellowstone for specific reasons like beholding the famous geysers or herds of bison, check out our suggestions for the best alternative destinations to visit for a less stressful trip.
To See Extraordinary Hydrothermal Features
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Yellowstone is known for its well-renowned hydrothermal features, such as hot springs, geysers, mud pots, and fumaroles. Those features come from the fact most of the park sits atop the caldera of an ancient supervolcano. According to the NPS, the park has the largest concentration of active geysers in the world and homes more than 500 of them. That already makes up more than half of the geysers in the whole world. But famous hydrothermal trademarks such as Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Springs have become packed with tourists. You can expect even more chaotic overcrowding with all the recent closures pushing visitors towards what's still open in the park. But that's a problem you won't run into if you visit Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Lassen Volcanic is the least visited park in California, so you can find comfort knowing you won't have to navigate through heavy crowds. It features eight hydrothermal areas that mimic Yellowstone but are also significantly distinct in their unique ways. A short hike leads to Boiling Springs Lake, where the bubbling lake reaches a high temperature of 125 degrees, or to Cold Boiling Lake, where cold gases bubble to the lake's surface, portraying boiling water. And as its name implies, it's home to numerous volcanoes, including the world's largest plug dome volcano (a rare type of lava dome that forms when highly viscous lava gushes into a crater). Although Lassen Peak is considered an active volcano, its last eruption was about 100 years ago, according to the NPS.
To See Majestic Herds of Bison
Custer State Park
When it comes to Yellowstone bison, the crazy stories about their attacks on ignorant tourists getting too close to take the ultimate selfie probably come to mind. Despite the foolishness, the park is popular because it has the largest bison population on U.S. public land, as told by the NPS. Yellowstone bison are unlike most herds because thousands of them roam individually and freely all over the park. Although the flooding didn't negatively affect the park's bison herds, the animals have been seen taking to roads to avoid the rising water. And with the closures causing more traffic on park roads, you'll have an easier time seeing bison elsewhere, like Custer State Park.
Located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Custer State Park is one of the nation's largest state parks and is recognized as one of the top ten best wildlife destinations worldwide. The park homes not only almost 1,500 bison but also whitetail and mule deer, antelope, mountain goats, elk, coyotes, burros, bighorn sheep, birds, wild turkeys, and prairie dogs. You can see most of the park's wildlife from your car, and we bet that beats randomly seeing bison on the road while stuck in the middle of traffic at Yellowstone.
To Drive Down Scenic Highways & Hike Trails
Beartooth Highway is one of the few noteworthy scenic drives leading to Yellowstone. This National Scenic Byway is one of less than 30 designated All-American Roads and is recognized as one of the prettiest drives in the nation because of its diverse range of terrain. Also known as U.S. Route 212, the 68-mile path climbs 10,947 feet above sea level, takes at least three hours to complete, and traverses the Montana-Wyoming border between Red Lodge and Cooke City. The picturesque road features towering granite walls, alpine lakes and meadows covered in flowers, some of the world's oldest rocks, and glacial cirques that lead into snow-covered valleys (yes, even in the summer). But instead of taking it into Yellowstone, head the opposite way to the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness instead.
Although a road trip on Beartooth Highway is a grand adventure alone, the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness has 943,648 acres to explore. This massive terrain is a hiker's paradise with hundreds of miles of hiking trails and plenty of untouched backcountries. The Beartooth Mountain Range also lies in this region and consists of 20 peaks that reach over 12,000 feet in elevation, including Granite Peak, Montana's highest mountain at 12,799 feet.
For Breathtaking Waterfalls
North Cascades National Park
There are over 290 waterfalls in Yellowstone, most of which are impressive. Most of the more popular waterfalls, such as Lower Falls, Union Falls, and Upper Falls, see heavy foot traffic because of how easily accessible they are. There's also a far southwest section of the park known as Cascade Corner or Bechler. The area sits relatively low elevation and features meadows, creeks, marshes, and forests. The region's main attractions are the 20 waterfalls found mostly along Falls River, Bechler River, and Boundary Creek. But Cascade Corner is rarely visited, most likely because of the long hikes it takes to reach most of the waterfalls (up to 15 miles!). So when figuring out which waterfalls to see, you'll likely have to decide between the crowds or the long hikes.
North Cascades National Park is the least-visited park in the lower 48 and is often overshadowed by the more popular national parks in Washington, Mount Rainier, and Olympic National Park. But North Cascades has the most extensive glacial system in the lower 48, with over 300 glaciers decorating its mountains, and is just three hours from Seattle. The park offers the best backcountry adventures with its rugged mountainous terrain, milky green-blue lakes, and cascading waterfalls. You can visit Colonial Creek Falls, the state's tallest waterfall cascading 2,566 feet down Colonial Peak, within 13 distinct drops. Ladder Creek Falls and Gorge Creek Falls are also powerful waterfalls worth checking out, and the hiking trails to get there are much easier to trek.
Nearest National Park
Grand Teton National Park
If your plans for traveling to Yellowstone are concrete, it might be frustrating not to be able to visit parts of the park because of the closures. Grand Teton National Park is an excellent addition to your itinerary to make up for the time you were going to spend in Yellowstone's closed areas, which still include the North Entrance Road from Gardiner, Montana, to Mammoth Springs and Northeast Entrance Road from Cooke City/Silver Gate, Montana, to Tower-Roosevelt. Grand Teton is only 30 minutes from Yellowstone's southern entrances, making it a convenient drive from the parts of the park that are still open. It's much smaller than Yellowstone and can be explored within a day or two. Keep in mind that this park gets pretty crowded in the summer. So, you can expect some traffic on the way to popular attractions such as the parking lot for Jenny Lake.
Where You Shouldn't Go
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park might seem like an easy alternative option since it's Montana's other iconic national park. But we advise not visiting this park as a substitute for Yellowstone this summer. The area sees overflow traffic from Yellowstone, making it just as crowded and heavily trafficked. Accommodations near and inside Glacier are already fully booked for the next couple of months, and even a scenic drive down the famous Going to the Sun Road is more of a hassle than you would think. You'd have to precisely time grabbing the required vehicle ticket you need to make the drive, which means hoping you can snag one of the extra tickets that are released 48 hours before your visit date at 8:00 am. And if you don't get one, you'll have to arrive at the park's east entrance before 6:00 am or after 4:00 pm. Not to mention, Glacier County has also been experiencing flooding around Flathead River, along with late snowfall, further delaying completely cleared roads.
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