|While Yellowstone Lake serves as the primary natural attraction in the Lake, Bridge Bay, and Fishing Bridge Areas, the area is also home to many other Yellowstone legends. Visitors will find bubbling mudpots, impressive springs with medieval names, scenic valleys, and more.
Nestled at an elevation of 7,733 feet and encompassing 136 square miles, Yellowstone Lake is recognized as North America’s largest high elevation lake. The impressive lake served as a source of early explorer intrigue and continues to occupy the time of current researchers. Under the direction of Dr. Val Klump from the Center for Great Lakes Research and the University of Wisconsin, researchers utilized a submersible robot submarine to discover astonishing new evidence about Yellowstone Lake.
Scientists once believed that Yellowstone Lake’s deepest point was 320 feet, but the submarine discovered an extensive canyon measuring 390 feet deep. Other significant findings proved that the lakebed of Yellowstone Lake is remarkably similar to the park’s visible land features. Geysers, hot springs, and steam vents bubble with rage while impressive canyons, rock spires, and silica chimneys add diversity to the mix. Researchers now believe that Yellowstone Lake’s underwater features are nearly identical to the thermal vents located on the Pacific Ocean’s floor.
The Yellowstone River flows 671 miles on its course from Wyoming’s Shoshone Mountains to its eventual merger with the Missouri River and the Atlantic Ocean. On its journey, the river flows through and departs Yellowstone Lake at Fishing Bridge, continues over LeHardy Rapids to Hayden Valley, tumbles over the Upper and Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, meets the Lamar River at Tower Junction, and winds its way northeast through Montana.
The prized Yellowstone is one of America’s last major undammed rivers and provides critical trout spawning habitat. As a result, grizzly bears often line the river and its tributaries, and anglers scour the riverbanks for the catch of the day. While visiting the Yellowstone River, visitors should be extra vigilant about bear safety and be aware of all current fishing regulations.
Mud Volcano/Sulphur Caldron
Now comprising a large area rather than a single feature, Yellowstone’s Mud Volcano has long been known as one of the most marvelous, yet mysterious, places in the park. Park Superintendent Nathaniel Langford described the area in 1870, and frontier minister Edwin Stanley detested the area for its “villainous” properties.
Despite unsavory early descriptions that linked Mud Volcano to an evil uprising, the area features powerful springs and mudpots that intrigue researchers to this day. Historically, Mud Volcano was a single feature that announced its presence with loud rumblings and unsightly mud flinging. Now that the massive crater is quiet, other features in the area take precedence.
Dragon’s Mouth Spring belches and steams as 180 degree Fahrenheit water splashes in its underground cave. Escaping steam and gasses cloak the surrounding landscape in a mysterious palette of orange and green. Nearby, Black Dragon’s Caldron burst onto the scene in 1948 with a massive mud explosion that blew apart mature trees as if they were tiny matchsticks. The Black Dragon rumbles eerily throughout the day, and frequent earthquakes in the area continue to remold the activity of this popular backwoods creature.
Directly north of the Mud Volcano area, Sulphur Caldron’s thrashing yellow waters feature a stable pH of just 1.3. The area, which is more than twice as acidic as battery acid, is one of the most acidic regions in Yellowstone, and visitors must exercise extreme caution. The springs are capable of disintegrating anything that falls into their lair
Hayden and Pelican Valleys
The large, open meadows characterizing Hayden and Pelican Valleys are the remains of ancient lakebeds. Respectively located six miles north and three miles east of Fishing Bridge, the Hayden and Pelican Valleys are covered with a variety of lush vegetation and sport one of America’s finest wildlife habitats. Grizzly bears, bison, and elk all roam through the bountiful fields, and wildlife sightings are frequent. Visitors are reminded to follow all wildlife viewing safety tips.
LeHardy Rapids is a scenic waterfall situated three miles north of Fishing Bridge on the Yellowstone River. Drawing its name from 1873 Jones Expedition topographer Paul LeHardy, the cascade fills each spring with cutthroat trout journeying to Fishing Bridge for annual spawning. In 1984, park officials constructed a boardwalk to provide visitors with safe, close-up views. As a result, harlequin ducks that once inhabited the area have now disappeared. In an effort to once again attract this unique species, park officials periodically close the boardwalk during spring mating season. Visitors are asked to comply with the park service’s closures and respect Yellowstone’s wildlife.
A one-mile hike or bicycle ride departing directly south of the Bridge Bay Campground leads to a natural rhyolite bridge at the brink of Yellowstone’s backcountry. Formed by erosion and spanning Bridge Creek, the natural feature rises fifty-one feet above the scenic stream. Although visitors may follow a trail to the top of the rock bridge, travel across the feature is strictly prohibited in an effort to preserve the bridge for future generations.