From Mammoth Hot Springs at the North Entrance to Fountain Pots and Old Faithful near the West and South Entrances, this circle links tourists to every legendary jewel. Driving the full route, whether clockwise or counter-clockwise, might take anything from four to seven hours. The more scenic route is to go west into Montana and then back east into Wyoming. This option leaves time to stop at museums and other sights along the way.
The first part of your journey will take you past beautiful lakes and clear streams before entering the rugged terrain of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. After about an hour and a half in the park, you'll reach the northernmost point of the road at the North Entrance Station. From there, it's another 30 minutes to the West Entrance where you can pick up the loop road that takes you past several more geysers and hot springs before returning you to the South Entrance.
On your way back down, be sure to check out the Grand Loop Road, which follows the edge of the Yellowstone National Park for many miles. There are plenty of pullouts along the way where you can take in the view or get out and explore on your own. When you return to the main road, continue south until you hit Old Faithful Geyser, then turn around and head back toward the north. If you're interested in seeing more than just the main attractions, consider adding on some side trips from our detailed map.
The journey through Mammoth Hot Springs' main and lower terraces takes around an hour. The boardwalks are approximately 1.75 miles long with a 300-foot elevation difference. You'll pass by prominent landmarks including Canary Spring, Minerva Terrace, Palette Spring, and Liberty Cap along the journey. The entire boardwalk is suitable for strollers and other wheeled vehicles.
Mammoth Hot Springs is one of four major geothermal areas in Yellowstone National Park. The others include Paradise Valley, Hayden Valley, and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. All four areas contain hot springs, mud pots, fumaroles, and geysers. However, only in Mammoth does the heat reach enough depth to be useful for swimming.
The first evidence of life at Mammoth Hot Springs dates back 538 million years. Since then, several fossils have been found there. The bones of large animals like mammoths and mastodons have been discovered buried under layers of volcanic ash from nearby Mount Mazama when it erupted more than 7,000 years ago. In addition, some complete skeletons have been found.
In 1872, after members of the Washburn Expedition discovered the springs, they named them after their president, Henry W. Ravenwood. At that time, there were no facilities for bathing at Yellowstone Park. So, the explorers built cottages near the springs as well as a road leading up to them.
Driving the 39-mile loop of South Dakota Highway 240 between Cactus Flat and Wall without stopping would take roughly one hour, but nearly no one does. The highway was designed as an alternate route for drivers who were already in or approaching Rapid City when they wanted to reach U.S. Route 16 without going through Pierre.
Today, only two people a day travel along this desolate stretch of road, which is why it's good that there are rest stops every 20 miles or so. If more people drove across South Dakota, you might not be able to stop at all!
The state government built Highway 240 in the 1970s as a shortcut from I-90 to US 16 near Mitchell. Before its construction, the only way to get to Mitchell was via Route 16 north from Pierre or south from Custer. The new highway cut out much of the need to drive on Route 16, but it didn't attract many travelers at first. In fact, before the mid-1990s, only a few cars used the highway daily. That all changed in 1995 when the first section of the newly constructed "Pilgrim Trail" opened up east of Cactus Flat toward Mt. Rushmore. Since then, the trail has been popular with hikers and bicyclists from all over the world, and traffic along Highway 240 has increased dramatically.
Wyoming's Mammoth Hot Springs Visitors to Yellowstone National Park may now purchase digital yearly and seven-day admission permits online at YourPassNow beginning Thursday, February 1. The National Park Service (NPS) collaborated with NIC Inc. to create and manage YourPassNow in order to better serve Yellowstone visitors.
The new service allows visitors to select their date of entry into the park and choose whether they want a daily or yearly pass. It also provides information on ticket sales history for each visitor, so permit holders can make more informed decisions about how often to visit the park.
"YourPassNow offers another convenient option for purchasing permits," said NPS Director Michael Dombeck. "It's another way we're keeping up with changing visitor behavior and preferences by providing a variety of ways for people to connect with our parks."
Yearly passes are $80 and daily passes are $12. Both types of passes must be displayed upon entering the park. Additional copies are available for $6 each.
National Parks Traveler has ranked Yellowstone as one of the best places to visit this year. For more information on visiting Yellowstone National Park, visit nps.gov/yell.
Discovering Scenic Byway 12 This is a very fantastic journey. To help make sense of it all, we've devoted an entire road trip itinerary to Scenic Byway 12. Sure, if you're simply passing through, the entire journey can be finished in three hours. But if you have time, then stay on this route for as long as you can.
The byway starts in downtown Salt Lake City at State Street and travels east toward Wyoming. Along the way, you'll pass several interesting sites including the National Historic Trail, which was established by Congress in 1866. The trail followed the path of former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln as he moved from city to city during his quest to bring about peace following the Civil War.
After leaving Salt Lake City, Scenic Byway 12 winds its way through scenic canyons and across wide open plains until it reaches Wyoming. Here, the route takes advantage of the Beartooth Highway, which runs between two high-altitude mountain ranges and serves as one of the only overland routes into central Montana. The byway ends after traveling about 200 miles through five different states.
On average, it takes drivers who start in Salt Lake City and drive straight through to reach Montana in three days. However, some trips may take longer depending on how many stops are made along the way.