Yellowstone National Park has several well-known attractions, one of which is the “Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.” Visitors standing at Artist Point can marvel in the surreal landscape of red, orange, and yellow hues that paint the canyon. Many outcroppings offer panoramic views of the canyon and both the Upper and Lower Falls.
Between the breath-taking views, the soaring ospreys, and the brilliant colors, The Canyon District is sure to strike the chords of any visitor’s heart.
The Geography of the Canyon
While the canyon is a majestic display of geography, it’s also a fairly recent geological creation, dating at about only 10,000 to 14,000 years old. The canyon boasts depths of up to 12,000 ft. from top to bottom and a width of 4,000 feet from rim to rim. The main mineral found in the canyon is the pale, yellow, volcanic rhyolite.
While the origins of the canyon are not fully understood, it is believed that the stair-step nature of the falls is due to erosion. During Yellowstone’s violent past, layers of hard and soft rock converged together forming terrain of uneven hardness. As the rivers began to flow through the canyon, the water eroded the softer rock at a quicker rate than the hard rock. The erosion created massive cliffs upon which the water plummets down.
The canyon is comprised of two striking waterfalls: the Lower and Upper Falls, with the Lower Falls being the tallest with a height of 308 ft.
Because the Lower Falls is the most prominent feature of the Canyon District, it is difficult to miss. But, if it’s your first time to the canyon, the best angles for seeing the Lower Falls are from Artist Point (one of the most famous observational peaks), Red Rock Point (perspective from the bottom of the Lower Falls), and the Brink of the Lower Falls Trail (you can gaze into the mist as the water tumbles across the brink). The South Rim Trail offers some spectacular views without guard-rails – so hang on to those toddlers!
While significantly shorter in height, the Upper Falls are no less spectacular than the Lower Falls.
During the summer that I worked in Canyon Village, I only went to the Upper Falls a few days before I left because I thought it wouldn’t compare to the grandeur of the Lower Falls. Boy was I wrong! With a height of 109 ft., the Upper Falls has a distinctly different landscape than the Lower Falls. A short trail wraps around the side of the canyon and follows the descending river until it drops into a tumultuous cascade of glittering water.
Both the Brink of the Upper Falls Trail and Uncle Tom’s Trail offer excellent views of the Upper Falls.
A smaller, yet intriguing waterfall in the Canyon District is Crystal Falls. Crystal Falls is the where Cascade Creek meets the canyon. The pristine Cascade Creek winds around in the Lodgepole pines until it becomes interwoven in a unique rock formation and takes a steep plunge into the canyon to create Crystal Falls.
The best way to see Crystal Falls is to walk the South Rim Trail that stretches from the Lower Falls to the Upper Falls.