Natural Highlights of the West Thumb &
Grant Village Areas

The West Thumb and Grant Village Areas are loaded with natural attractions guaranteed to spark intrigue in the Earth’s amazing capabilities.

Yellowstone Lake
Rivaling Old Faithful in terms of its natural appeal, Yellowstone Lake has attracted visitors long prior to the park’s official establishment. Archaeological evidence of Native American campsites has been discovered on the lake’s shoreline, and John Colter roamed the region on his 1806-1807 western discovery tour. Word of the scenic mountain lake spread like wildfire, and droves of mountain men, prospectors, and explorers flocked to the lake between 1820 and 1900 to gather their own research and sightings. Growing restless of simply exploring the lake’s 110 miles of shoreline, explorers widened their horizons when the 1871 Hayden Survey set sail on the crystal clear waters. The successful sail of Anna inspired other explorers to take to the lake. Both government and privately funded expedition parties sponsored their own sails with boats reported on Yellowstone Lake in 1874, 1880, 1885, 1889, and 1905.

Through the insights of these historic explorers and the continued research of park/government employees, Yellowstone Lake is now recognized as the park’s largest lake. Encompassing 136 square miles with an average depth of 140 feet and a maximum depth of 390 feet, Yellowstone Lake is also regarded as America’s largest natural freshwater lake situated at an elevation above 7,000 feet.

The lake is peacefully placid most mornings, but its temper flares when prevailing winds stir up three to four-foot waves. Average water temperatures of just forty-one degrees Fahrenheit and a surface that remains frozen from early December through late May combine to make Yellowstone Lake one of the park’s coldest attractions. Although the lake becomes thermally stratified each summer with different water layers featuring extremely divergent temperatures, the surface layer rarely peaks past sixty-six degrees Fahrenheit. As a result, park officials strongly discourage swimming and remind boaters of the very real danger of hypothermia. Even during summer, researchers estimate that survival in Yellowstone Lake’s chilly waters is a mere twenty to thirty minutes.

Yellowstone Lake’s cold temperatures may be unsuitable for water sports, but they are ideal for supporting North America’s largest population of wild cutthroat trout. Anglers rush to the lake as soon as winter’s one-inch to two-foot thick ice layer melts. Wildlife lovers in search of moose, grizzly bears, bald eagles, pelicans, osprey, and cormorants also populate the area.

One of Yellowstone Lake’s most interesting features is its subsurface thermal activity that is becoming increasingly evident to park visitors. For several years, the park’s thermal commotion has elevated and tilted the lake nearly one inch per year. Trees are now slowly being flooded on the lake’s southern end as existing beaches on the northern shoreline expand. Although researchers predict that the Yellowstone Lake basin will eventually erupt in a cataclysmic explosion, visitors have little to fear at the moment. The lake’s tilting behavior is moving at a geological snail’s pace, ensuring that visitors will be able to enjoy Yellowstone Lake for several generations to come.

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