If you have time to see more than one view of the Yellowstone Canyon, then take the North Rim Canyon Drive, which is a 2.5 mile one-way road that will lead you to various viewpoints. From various lookout points along the route you will have spectacular sweeping views of the canyon and the Yellowstone River below. Look Out Point, my second favorite, offers another spectacular view point of the Lower Falls, as it plunges into the canyon below. This falls is one of the highlights of Yellowstone, so don’t miss it. This view point was a very popular view point for many early visitors to the park. Because of this, in 1880 Superintendent Norris built a railing here and it has been called Lookout Point ever since.
If you take this trail, expecting great shots of the falls, forget it. But you will be treated to some awesome views of the canyon from the vantage point of the top of the Lower Falls. The trail itself is another brutal one (when going back up) It's paved all the way, but it is very steep with many switchbacks, so expect to take your time making it back up. It's nearly a 600 foot change in elevation from the top to the bottom. The best part is the view out into the canyon. Enjoy it before you begin the climb back up!
One of the last stops along the north rim, there are some great views of the Lower Falls. You can then leave the comfort of the overlook and hike down a fairly well-marked but extremely steep trail to get a closer look. The trail is less than 1/2 a mile, but has a 500 foot elevation change, so coming back up is brutal. As I look through my pictures to see the difference in the view from the top and bottom of the trail, it's hard to find one! I think if I were to do it again - I'd save my energy for a different trail. In the main picture, you can glimpse the bottom part of the trail (the boardwalk section.) Then, compare the views!
The north rim of the canyon is a one-way loop that circles past the visitor center and lodge. You come to a fork in the road, where you can take a left and head over to Inspiration Point. A quick but steep path takes you to an overlook of the Lower Falls and the canyon. On the way in, you can see an enormous glacial boulder. Like many of the viewpoints along the rims, this is worth your time and fighting the crowds because the views are incredible. Be sure to take the time to make a stop here.
As you drive along the south rim, one of the major attractions is this trail. This is not for those who have a fear of heights, as this is an extremely steep, 500 foot staircase. And remember - what goes down, must come up! If you do take the trail down, you will be rewarded with a couple of money shots of the Lower Falls of the canyon. The sound of the waterfall is deafening. Note there are a number of benches along the way back up, so take a rest when necessary. Attached are pictures of the falls as well as a picture of the trail from across the canyon.
It is of course not THE Grand Canyon, but the river carved here some sumptuous gorges in the volcanic rocks and lake sediments of various colors which are simply amazing. Added to that, the waterfalls roaring and echoing on the walls of the canyon give a supplementary dimension to the landscape.
There is a trail going down to the falls, but I did not go, being on a hurry (why? I do not remember. . . ) and wanting to see other things during the day.
The colors of the walls and the sharp cut shapes of rock formations are impressive and I would have liked to look at from a more quiet place, but it was a little bit crowded and I was not in mood to feel much more of the waterfalls and the canyon colors. The colors come from minerals deposited in the volcanic ashes and diatomites (rock formation made up entirely of diatoms, microscopic siliceous algae, deposited in a lake which was there), which also are soft rocks. The sharp cone-shaped features on the walls are fairy chimneys which form as a result of erosion of the soft rocks and locally protected from erosion by a hard basalt piece or boulder; underneath the hard rock the erosion is slower and the place remains as a mini hill called fairy chimney.
I would have liked to walk more, I am sure it is beautiful to go to the falls along the river shore; there are trails going down.
Grand View is another parking area from which to view the Yellowstone Canyon. Besides the viewpoint you may enjoy walking a small portion of the trail that follows the Canyon from Inspiration Point to the Upper Falls. This short walk from the Grand View parking area to the Lookout Point parking area can give you rewarding views of the canyon and the rock formations below. River erosion cutting through layers of volcanic rock formed the Yellowstone Canyon. About 14,000 to 18,000 years ago, ice dams that were formed at the mouth of the Yellowstone Lake melted, and a great volume of water was released downstream causing massive flash floods and immediate heavy erosion of the present day canyon. It is believed that these flash floods probably happened more than once. As you view the canyon you will see various colors within it, including the yellow found in the name of the park. The rhyolite in the canyon walls contains different iron compounds. When the old geyser basin was active the heating of the rocks caused chemical alterations in this iron. Because of exposure the elements in the rocks are oxidizing. It is surprising to many people that the yellow they see in the canyon is the result of the iron present in the rock rather than sulfur.
The Brink of the Lower Falls trail is a wonderful experience. You will find yourself standing at the top of the largest falls in the park, where you can experience the rush of water as it falls suddenly downward to the Yellowstone River 350 feet below. This is a fun, and interesting experience, but it is not for everyone. The three eighth of a mile walk carries you 600 feet steeply downward over a series of switchbacks, leaving you to climb 600 feet up again. If you are out of shape, have small children, or do not find walking comfortable, you will not enjoy this hike. The volume of water that plunges over the falls you will be standing over, varies from 63,500 gallons per second at peak runoff in the spring, to 5,000 gallons per second in the fall.
Don’t miss out on seeing the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The canyon and its two wonderful waterfalls are only visible from short walks and overlooks, as you cannot see it from the road. The Upper Falls has a 109 foot fall, and the Lower Falls drops 308 feet. The canyon walls are gray, brown, yellow, red, and orange, adding color to the spectacular views, which have inspired artists and photographers alike. If you are on a short time frame, at least make a stop at Artist Point, for a beautiful view of the Lower Falls. This one is my favorites as it gives the best overall view of both the Lower Falls and the canyon from two beautifully located viewing levels. The first level is accessible for people with disabilities, allowing them to view this magnificent site. As you gaze out over the canyon you will see the Yellowstone river churning far below you as it plunges over the falls and heads toward Tower Falls another 15 miles away. For shear beauty, the canyon is the Queen of the park.
There are several places to stop and walk to get a view of the Grand Canyon and the falls. Just south of Canyon Village is the short route to view the Upper Falls and Lower Falls.
As in the rest of the park, there are good sidewalks and boardwalks to get to the viewing areas, as they cannot be seen from the road. There are some steps to view the Upper and Lower Falls.
We used our second day in Yellowstone to drive through the Northern Circle of Yellowstone, by driving over to Canyon Village from West Yellowstone, and took the road North.
Gibbons Falls is on this route. I took my handicap parking tag and we were able to get a parking place. Parking is somewhat limited here, but it is worth the stop to see the falls.
We found the road to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone kind of by accident. We had stopped at the Canyon store area and on the way out noticed a decrepit sign saying "Grand Canyon" to the right. So we followed. I've been to the south rim many times but I don't ever remember coming to the North Rim. There were several stops and trails to go down. We loved them all. After getting a good look of the lower falls we took the next stop where we could take a short but steep trail down to the edge of the falls. That was truly awesome.
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone should be high on every visitor’s list I think. It was a bit of a revelation to me – I’d come to Yellowstone to see the geysers and other similar phenomena and hadn’t appreciated how much else the park had to offer. While the canyon isn’t as large or as dramatic as the Grand Canyon itself (and frankly not as good) it is still an incredible sight and worth spending some time exploring. Two roads follow the canyon; one on the north rim and one on the south (you have to return to the main road between your visits to each rim). This tip covers the north rim; I've written a separate one for the south.
On the north rim we stopped at:
- Inspiration Point at the far end of the road – this is the best place to get a general overview of the canyon, for which you’ll need to walk down about 55 steps
- Lookout Point – here we found excellent views of the Lower Falls, with ospreys circulating in the canyon below.
- Brink of the Upper Falls – there's a short walk and some steps down which take you to a point where you’re pretty close to the water’s edge (close enough to feel the spray and get some good photos)
At this overlook just south of Tower Junction a short boardwalk takes you to a point overlooking The Narrows. This is the most northerly look possible at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Here the river is 500 feet below (not recommended for sufferers from vertigo) and the steep basalt column cliffs on the opposite side of the river, remnants of an ancient lava flow, are home to osprey and hawks. The dramatic scenery here inspired the artist Moran; his paintings of this scene were among those presented to Congress in 1872, leading to the establishment of the park.
Its strange to think of a Grand Canyon in Yellowston but the canyon and the richness of the colors near sunset are simply spectacular. Sure its not as deep or wide as the "Grand Canyon" but it is very much worth the loop drive and hikes to the various vista points. Don't miss the hikes as the views are just stunning!