Yellowstone National Park is a national park located primarily in the U.S. state of Wyoming, although it also extends into Montana and Idaho. It was established by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872. Yellowstone, widely held to be the first national park in the World, is known for its wildlife and its many geothermal features, especially Old Faithful Geyser, one of the most popular features in the park. It has many types of ecosystems, but the subalpine forest is most abundant. It is part of the South Central Rockies forests ecoregion.
Native Americans have lived in the Yellowstone region for at least 11,000 years. Aside from visits by mountain men during the early-to-mid-19th century, organized exploration did not begin until the late 1860s. The U.S. Army was commissioned to oversee the park just after its establishment. In 1917, administration of the park was transferred to the National Park Service, which had been created the previous year. Hundreds of structures have been built and are protected for their architectural and historical significance, and researchers have examined more than 1,000 archaeological sites.
Yellowstone National Park spans an area of 3,468.4 square miles (8,983 km2), comprising lakes, canyons, rivers and mountain ranges. Yellowstone Lake is one of the largest high-elevation lakes in North America and is centered over the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest supervolcano on the continent. The caldera is considered an active volcano. It has erupted with tremendous force several times in the last two million years. Half of the world's geothermal features are in Yellowstone, fueled by this ongoing volcanism. Lava flows and rocks from volcanic eruptions cover most of the land area of Yellowstone. The park is the centerpiece of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the largest remaining nearly-intact ecosystem in the Earth's northern temperate zone.
Hundreds of species of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles have been documented, including several that are either endangered or threatened. The vast forests and grasslands also include unique species of plants. Yellowstone Park is the largest and most famous megafauna location in the Continental United States. Grizzly bears, wolves, and free-ranging herds of bison and elk live in the park. The Yellowstone Park bison herd is the oldest and largest public bison herd in the United States. Forest fires occur in the park each year; in the large forest fires of 1988, nearly one third of the park was burnt. Yellowstone has numerous recreational opportunities, including hiking, camping, boating, fishing and sightseeing. Paved roads provide close access to the major geothermal areas as well as some of the lakes and waterfalls. During the winter, visitors often access the park by way of guided tours that use either snow coaches or snowmobiles.
Yellowstone ranks among the most popular national parks in the United States. Since the mid-1960s, at least 2 million tourists have visited the park almost every year. In 2010, a record number of visitors came to the park in July: 975,000. July is the busiest month for Yellowstone National Park. At peak summer levels, 3,700 employees work for Yellowstone National Park concessionaires. Concessionaires manage nine hotels and lodges, with a total of 2,238 hotel rooms and cabins available. They also oversee gas stations, stores and most of the campgrounds. Another 800 employees work either permanently or seasonally for the National Park Service.
Park service roads lead to major features; however, road reconstruction has produced temporary road closures. Yellowstone is in the midst of a long term road reconstruction effort, which is hampered by a short repair season. In the winter, all roads aside from the one which enters from Gardiner, Montana, and extends to Cooke City, Montana, are closed to wheeled vehicles. Park roads are closed to wheeled vehicles from early November to mid April, but some park roads remain closed until mid-May. The park has 310 miles (500 km) of paved roads which can be accessed from five different entrances. There is no public transportation available inside the park, but several tour companies can be contacted for guided motorized transport. In the winter, concessionaires operate guided snowmobile and snow coach tours, though their numbers and access are based on quotas established by the National Park Service. Facilities in the Old Faithful, Canyon and Mammoth Hot Springs areas of the park are very busy during the summer months. Traffic jams created by road construction or by people observing wildlife can result in long delays.
The National Park Service maintains 9 visitor centers and museums and is responsible for maintenance of historical structures and many of the other 2,000 buildings. These structures include National Historical Landmarks such as the Old Faithful Inn built from 1903 to 1904 and the entire Fort Yellowstone – Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District. An historical and educational tour is available at Fort Yellowstone which details the history of the National Park Service and the development of the park. Campfire programs, guided walks and other interpretive presentations are available at numerous locations in the summer, and on a limited basis during other seasons.
Camping is available at a dozen campgrounds with more than 2,000 campsites. Camping is also available in surrounding National Forests, as well as in Grand Teton National Park to the south. Backcountry campsites are accessible only by foot or by horseback and require a permit. There are 1,100 miles (1,800 km) of hiking trails available. The park is not considered to be a good destination for mountaineering because of the instability of volcanic rock which predominates. Visitors with pets are required to keep them on a leash at all times and are limited to areas near roadways and in "frontcountry" zones such as drive in campgrounds. Around thermal features, wooden and paved trails have been constructed to ensure visitor safety, and most of these areas are handicapped accessible. The National Park Service maintains a year-round clinic at Mammoth Hot Springs and provides emergency services throughout the year.