Yellowstone National Park is one of the biggest national parks in the world and is also thought to be the oldest. The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem covers a massive 20 million acres, with the 3468.4 square miles of Yellowstone National Park nestled at its heart. The area is so big that it falls into three separate states: Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Yellowstone lies in a temperate zone, but also features mountains and vast tracts of subalpine forest, as well as the many geothermal features that have made this stunningly beautiful area so very famous.
The area was discovered in the early and mid-17th century, but initially stories of petrified trees, steaming hot rivers and boiling mud were dismissed as fantasies and nonsense. After the Civil War, the area was properly explored and mapped and shortly thereafter, in March 1872 the area was set aside as a public park. There was a certain low level of interest in the area which faded during the Second World War but began to rise again in the 1950’s. This peak of interest has never died away and currently up to 3 million people per year visit the park annually. Impressively in July 2010 there were almost a million visitors to the park in that month alone, a reported 975 000. Visitors include scientists from many disciplines (botanists, volcanologists, and ecology experts to name a few) and sightseers and nature lovers from all over the world.
Visitors to the park can take driving tours in coaches, their own vehicles and in the winter, snowmobile tours. There are many attractions, from the awe-inspiring sights, to the abundant and diverse wildlife – which includes many endangered species, the park being one of the very few places which can boast an animal population almost unchanged since man first came to the area, particularly after the reintroduction of the wolf. Recreational activities include boating, camping and fishing, although the latter is strictly controlled and only permitted with a park-issued licence. Another very popular activity is hiking on the plentiful trails in the area.
Multiple trails wend and criss-cross through the park, enabling the visitor to gain an in-depth understanding of the area and the diverse range of mammal, bird, fish and reptile wildlife that thrive in this area. The trails are designed so as to take in points of interest, geographical features and allow good animal viewing. The trails range from a few hundred meters to many miles and are rated with various levels of difficulty. Trail running, as the sport of running along hiking trails, is an excellent way to keep fit and indulge in one’s love of running, while getting a close-up intimate sense of the area. Just remember to pack the right kit for the hike and rouged terrain such as running gloves, hat, decent pair of thermal socks and duffel bags.
Visitors are warned to not travel alone, and to make plenty of noise as they go, in order to give nearby grizzlies a chance to hear them and move off, rather than be startled by a solitary runner moving along by him or herself! In general since the park cracked down on visitors feeding bears – before the 1970’s feeding of the bears by visitors was encouraged by park officials, until they realised that the bears were beginning to attack vehicles and people in search of treats – visitor safety is generally good, with fewer attacks being reported than previously.
Yellowstone National Park is an amazing place to visit, a real relic of the volcanic past and a superb example of a successful ecosystem. It is well maintained and thoroughly deserves its place on the list of places to visit in your lifetime, especially if you are a trail runner looking for new challenges.