Yosemite vs Yellowstone: How to Choose Between the Two
The United States is filled with incredible National Parks, with Yosemite and Yellowstone being up there as some of the best! With breath-taking landscapes, intriguing wildlife and a wealth of history, how do you possibly choose between the two?! Here we lay out the two National Parks side by side so you can see blow-for-blow what they have to offer so you can decide which you’d prefer to visit.
How To Choose Between Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks
If you must choose between the two national parks, some things you should consider are: Yosemite is only a 3-hour drive from San Fransisco, and is much more accessible than Yellowstone. Yellowstone is vast and serene with more wildlife. Yosemite has more waterfalls and a stunningly rugged landscape.
Read on to discover the pros and cons of both Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks as this will help you weigh up which park will be best for you.
-Skip this section if you don’t care much for the history-
Yosemite National Park has a somewhat turbulent and tainted history, with the Native American tribe that originally lived here being driven out in the mid-19th century. Despite being removed from the land, the park retains its tribal name ‘Yosemite’ which meant ‘killer’ in Miwok. It’s not known whether this name was what the tribal community called the park before being driven out due to its dramatic landscape or because of the act of making them depart.
Yosemite Valley was designated as a public recreational space in 1864 by President Abraham Lincoln due to the fact that the area had become a hotspot for Gold Rush miners and European explorers. The area needed conservation, and the bill by President Lincoln was the first step in protecting the land.
Later, in 1890, John Muir, a Scottish-American naturalist, pushed for Yosemite to become a national park in order to help preserve the wilderness and wildlife. Muir loved Yosemite and spent time as a shepherd on the land, studying the geology of Yosemite Valley as well as being one of the first to climb Cathedral Peak and Mount Dana.
The landscape in and around Yellowstone National Park is thought to have formed as a result of a violent volcanic eruption which occurred around two million years ago. As the eruption was so explosive, it created a vast terrain of rolling hills, ridges and rock formations which sprawls almost 3500 square miles (nearly 9000 square kilometres).
Due to the geology of Yellowstone, with magma powering the hydrothermal system that runs below the surface of the park, it is known for its number of geysers including Old Faithful which erupts several times a day!
These geysers and eruptions are now one of the highlights of visiting Yellowstone, but for the native tribes who lived here, they were a cause of great fear as they believed there must be evil living beneath the surface to create such an event.
Yellowstone was the first official National Park as designated by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. While this was later than the signing off Yosemite as a public area of recreation by Abraham Lincoln, it is still seen as the first of the 61 areas protected by the National Park Service.
Best For Landscapes: Yosemite vs Yellowstone:
Both Yosemite and Yellowstone have absolutely fascinating landscapes that will keep you awe-struck and wanting to pull out your camera at every turn.
The landscapes at Yosemite are arguably more dramatic thanks to the towering peaks and rock formations that rise above the surrounding lower ground. Yellowstone, on the other hand, features a wider outlook, with verdant views as far as the eye can see.
Each park has its own highlights, and it depends on what inspires you most. If you want to see cliff faces, wildflower meadows, waterfalls, lakes and soaring sequoias, then Yosemite’s the one for you.
If you’d rather explore rolling hills, bubbling hydrothermal basins and colourful hot springs (without missing out on a plethora of waterfalls!), then Yellowstone is a good choice.
If you’re visiting one of these national parks for breath-taking landscapes alone, then Yosemite might just take the prize… but read on to weigh up other factors that might affect your choice!
Best For Wildlife: Yosemite vs Yellowstone:
If wildlife is a priority when deciding which national park to visit, then Yellowstone National Park will probably be your winner.
The vast, unspoilt landscapes of Yellowstone are home to almost 70 species of mammals, including around 4000 bison who roam and graze throughout the park. It is also a popular nesting spot for bald eagles who come here in droves to roost and soar around the park.
As Yellowstone is a larger and more remote park, there is much more space for wildlife to roam. While this may make you think that you’re less likely to see animals, you’d be wrong as some wildlife viewing is almost guaranteed.
Visitors may be lucky enough to witness grizzlies, moose, elk, coyotes and even wolves, who may also be heard at night while camping on site!
Yosemite, while still a home to a great range of wildlife, is less known for its sightings, probably due to the large numbers of visitors the park receives in a much smaller area.
Yosemite is home to black bears, deer, mule, foxes and bighorn sheep to name but a few, but some of these are shy creatures who prefer to stay away from the interference of humans. Birdlife is rife here though thanks to the park’s elevation, so it can be a wonderful location for bird watching rather than mammal sightings.
Best For Waterfalls: Yosemite vs Yellowstone:
Waterfalls are one of Yosemite’s claims to fame, with 10 of the falls here being longer than Yellowstone’s longest cascade.
Yosemite Falls is the tallest on the continent at 739m, and one of the highest in the world, so you’re sure to be impressed by the power of this mighty waterfall.
Therefore, if you want to witness long, dramatic drops, then Yosemite is the park for you.
If you’re not as bothered about height but love both the peace and power of waterfalls, you may be interested to hear that Yellowstone National Park is home to a whopping 290 falls that run year-round! You’ll therefore never be short of a waterfall or two when hiking the trails in and around Yellowstone.
The waterfalls at Yellowstone are much, much lower in height than those at Yosemite, with the highest, Lower Falls, standing at just 94m, but the sheer number of falls in the park is still impressive.
You’ll need to weigh up what you want to see in terms of waterfalls to help yourself choose between Yosemite and Yellowstone.
Best For Serenity: Yosemite vs Yellowstone:
If peace and quiet are important to you when planning a visit to one of the national parks, then Yellowstone may be preferable to Yosemite. While both parks receive over three million visitors a year, Yellowstone National Park is around three times the size of Yosemite and therefore doesn’t seem half as busy during the peak season.
Of course, the highlights of both Yosemite and Yellowstone will be popular spots year-round, with crowds gathering around wildlife sightings, pristine photographic spots and favourites like the Old Faithful geyser. However, once you get off the beaten track, you’ll be able to find peace and serenity.
The meadows around Yosemite are a quieter part of the park and offer plenty of peaceful walking trails to explore, but the more popular hikes and climbs in the park are likely to be busy. Yellowstone, on the other hand, offers more than a thousand miles of hiking paths and trails, so you’re bound to find some sections of serenity no matter what time of year you travel.
Best For Accessibility: Yosemite vs Yellowstone:
If ease of accessibility is a vital factor when weighing up whether to visit Yosemite or Yellowstone, then it will, of course, depend on where you are coming from. However, on the whole, it’s safe to say that Yosemite is much more accessible than Yellowstone.
Yosemite National Park can be reached in around 3 hours from San Francisco and between 5-5.5 hours from Los Angeles and Las Vegas (by car). Plus, flights to San Francisco are available from all over the US (and beyond), so you can easily add Yosemite to any Californian/American vacation.
Yellowstone is much more difficult to reach, with visitors having to take flights to West Yellowstone or Jackson Hole, Wyoming (often via Salt Lake City) so it’s not as easy to simply hop in the car and add it to your trip if you’re visiting other west-coast highlights such as LA and Las Vegas. However, the drive to Yellowstone takes you past the Grand Tetons and the Beartooth Highway, which also add to the general experience of your trip to Yellowstone.
Of course, the fact that Yosemite is more accessible means that it’s more popular and therefore less serene, while the vast wilderness of Yellowstone is more untouched but more difficult to reach.
Best For Winter Activities: Yosemite vs Yellowstone:
It’s hard to say which park is best for winter activities as both Yosemite and Yellowstone allow for year-round accessibility with cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and snow-shoeing available in winter. These activities allow you to enjoy the magical landscapes even when it’s covered in snow!
Yosemite arguably has a better climate, with winters being less bitterly cold than up in Yellowstone, but Yellowstone also boasts all-terrain van tours which give you the chance to explore the park and wildlife from the comfort of a vehicle. These vans feature winter treads which allows them to roam the land, getting up close and personal with bison and elk.
Yosemite features ice-skating, skiing and snowboarding, which are fun family activities so it can be an awesome destination for a winter getaway.
- Epic scenery
- Easy accessibility
- The tallest waterfall on the continent
- Challenging hikes and rock climbing
- More expensive
- Much busier
- Harder to secure accommodation
- Oldest National Park in the US
- Geysers (including Old Faithful)
- Loads of wildlife
- Huge park with plenty of campgrounds
- Harder to get to
- Less dramatic scenery
In all honesty, comparing Yosemite and Yellowstone does them both an injustice as it’s impossible to say that one is hands-down better than the other. Both parks have their highlights, and different people may enjoy one over the other.
If you want big-hitting landscapes, towering peaks and ease access, then Yosemite is your best bet. If wildlife, serenity and rolling hills are more important (and you don’t mind it taking longer to get there), then Yellowstone may be the choice for you.
If you have the chance, it would be best to visit both Yosemite and Yellowstone, as well as other National Parks in the US, but if you have limited time, you’ll need to use the above criteria to weigh up what is most important for you.
Have you been to Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks? If so, which was your favourite, and why? Let us know in the comments below.
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