by Matt, Updated July 2022
Yellowstone’s greatest feature is the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Canyon Village is an area in Yellowstone dedicated to showing off the canyon, as well as providing activities, lodging, and food.
What is the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone?
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is a 24-mile long, 1,000 feet deep canyon on the east side of Yellowstone National Park. The upper two miles are where most of the scenic action is at: two huge waterfalls and the iconic Yellow-colored canyon, from which the park gets its name. It is perhaps the most photographed site in Yellowstone.
It is, on average, about 1,000 feet deep. This would be considered deep if it were in the eastern part of the country, but here in the Rockies, it’s relatively shallow. By comparison, the deepest canyon in North America is Hell’s Canyon in Idaho and Oregon, at over 8,000 feet. The Grand Canyon in Arizona is over 6,000 feet deep. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison, in Colorado, is over 2,000 feet deep (and looks quite similar, except that it is black instead of yellow).
So it’s not the depth that makes this canyon so special. In fact, the shallower depth lends a more intimate feel, whereas the Grand Canyon is too big and imposing to get cozy with. So the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is deep enough to inspire awe, yet shallow enough to take it all in.
Of course, it also has waterfalls. There are three waterfalls you can see in this area of the park: The Upper Falls, the Lower Falls, and Crystal Falls.
The most iconic is the Lower Falls (sometimes called Yellowstone Falls), which are framed in by the yellow-colored canyon. The Lower Falls drops over 300 feet, twice the height of Niagra Falls.
Things to do at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Here’s a quick list of our ratings. We go into detail on each of these below.
- Artist Point ***
- Brink of the Upper Falls ***
- Brink of the Lower Falls ***
- Lookout Point **
- Horse ride **
- Canyon Visitor Center *
- Grand View *
- Inspiration Point *
How to see the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
There are overlooks on both sides of the canyon. These overlooks are connected by roads and by trails.
Because the river turns between each of the falls, you cannot see the Upper Falls and the Lower Falls at the same time.
There are three roads that take you to viewpoints. They are: North Rim Drive (one-way road), Brink of the Upper Falls, and South Rim Drive.
North Rim Drive
Brink of the Lower Falls ***
The North Rim Drive is a one-way road. The first parking lot is for the brink of the lower falls. You’ll walk .8 miles down about 600 feet (& many switchbacks!) to get to the landing spot, which is right next to the top of the waterfall. You’ll have good views of the yellow canyon from here.
Lookout Point (and Red Rocks Lookout) **
This is the best place to view the falls and canyon on the north side. You can see it from up top at Lookout Point, and you can also hike down Red Rock Trail for a closer view at Red Rock Point.
Grand View & Inspiration Point *
With these views, you’re not as close to the falls, but you get more of the canyon in your view. Note that Inspiration Point is beyond the bend in the river, so you really can’t see the falls at all from there. Rather, you’ll be looking at the canyon in the other direction.
Upper Falls Road
Brink of the Upper Falls ***
This is technically not part of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. You cannot see the yellow canyon from here. But it is located just upstream, between the north and south sides, and is definitely a place you’ll want to stop.
This is a very popular stop. It’s located right on the Grand Loop Road, the only stop on either side that has its own dedicated road and parking lot.
The falls are just a short walk from the parking lot. There are two spots to look out, but the one right next to the waterfall is by far the best. You get to see the river flow right towards you, then turn and tumble over the edge, usually accompanied by a rainbow.
South Rim Drive
Uncle Tom’s Parking Lot **
The first stop on this road is Uncle Tom’s Parking lot. The parking lot is big; I’ve never seen it completely full. There are three things to see here.
- Upper Falls Viewpoint. Take a short walk to the viewpoint of the Upper Falls. You’ll even be able to see people standing at the brink (see above).
- Crystal Falls. From the Upper Falls viewpoint, walk to your right and you’ll see a few more lookout points. Look through the trees and you’ll notice another waterfall! I missed this for years. One more waterfall to add to your list!
- Uncle Tom’s Trail. Similar to the Brink of the Lower Falls, you’ll hike about .6 miles down a steep trail (over 300 stairs) to get a wonderful view of the falls. (As of 2022, this trail is closed for repairs and may be closed permanently).
Artist Point ***
This is the granddaddy of viewpoints for the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
It’s the last stop on the South Rim Drive. It’s a short walk from the parking lot. This area juts out into the river, and thus provides the only straight shot of the river and falls in one view.
Hiking at Canyon Village
There are a number of hiking trails in this area. I have not done any of these hikes yet.
NOTE: This is Grizzly Bear Country, so if you decide to hike these trails, make sure to carry bear spray.
- North and South Rim Trails. These trails go along the edge of the canyon, connecting the viewpoints. They can be accessed from any of the parking lots or trailheads.
- Clear Lake Trail. The Clear Lake Trail begins in the Uncle Tom Parking Lot and leads to Clear Lake. To get to Clear Lake is .7 miles (one way), though it is often completed in a loop to Ribbon Lake and back along the South Rim Trail (6.3-mile loop).
- Wapiti Lake Trail. Wapiti Lake Trail is a backcountry, 30-mile out-and-back trail that leads to Wapiti Lake and connects to many other trails in the area. A permit is required for overnight excursions.
- Glacial Boulder Trailhead. This trailhead connects to two trails, each of which is 10 miles long: Seven Mile Hole Trail and Mount Washburn Spur Trail. Located on the north side, this trail shows off the rest of the Grand Canyon (the portion after the initial best two miles).
Horseback rides at Canyon Village
Xanterra offers 1-hour and 2-hour horseback rides at their Canyon Corral! I did the 1-hour horseback ride last time I visited the park, and here are a few things to know about it:
- It’s for beginners. They read us a list of DON’Ts for about 30 minutes before the ride, including “Don’t take pictures on the ride.” Therefore, I don’t have any pictures of the scenery to show you. They also have multiple trail guides who ride alongside the riders. Our group had 17 people in a nose-to-tail line of horses.
- You won’t see the Grand Canyon. The trail ride goes in the opposite direction of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, so you do not see the canyon on your Canyon Trail Ride.
- The ride is still beautiful. You’ll see Cascade Canyon and quite a few lush meadows and mountain wildlflowers on the ride. You’ll also get some views of the mountains in the north as well as Hayden Valley in the south. You’re high up on the hill, with vast panoramas for a good portion of the ride.
To book a ride, see Xanterra’s website.
Learn more about horseriding options in Yellowstone.
Eating at Canyon Village
Canyon Village has multiple places to eat, and they are all located right next to each other, some within the same building. Just pull into the Canyon Village parking lot and you’ll find grills, cafes, and ice cream shops.
One thing you’ll notice is that the buildings have a “retro” look to them. That’s because they were all designed during the Mission 66 time period when the parks received a lot of funding to upgrade visitor services in the 1950s and 60s.
Yellowstone is generally known for having bad food. However, I enjoyed my meat and potatoes with huckleberry sauce from the cafeteria inside the Canyon Lodge building. You can’t miss the building when you pull into the parking lot.
These are all managed by Xanterra. For current hours, and to see which places offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner, see Xanterra’s Yellowstone dining page.
Lodging at Canyon Village
Canyon Village is home to the Canyon Lodge & Cabins, which is the largest accommodation in the entire park. It has over 500 rooms and cabins to choose from. Rooms generally start at about $270 per night.
Due to its size, it is often the last lodge in the park to fill up.
The biggest benefit to staying in Canyon Village is its centrality. It really is the best place to stay if you want to see the entire park without moving around or doing an enormous amount of driving.
The biggest drawback is that it doesn’t have that much character. It was recently constructed and it is located mostly among the pine trees with no nice vistas or canyon views.
Book a room or learn more about Canyon Lodge & Cabins.
Camping at Canyon Village
Here again, camping at Canyon Village is ideal due to its central location. And since most of the campgrounds are located in pine trees, it isn’t very different from the other Yellowstone campgrounds.
There are a few campgrounds that are more scenic, but most are densely forested.
Campgrounds generally run about $30 per night.
Book a campsite or learn more about Canyon Village Campground.
Canyon’s Self-Driving Shuttle
Canyon Village is also home to TEDDY: The Electric Driverless Demonstration in Yellowstone. Two self-driving vehicles shuttle visitors from the lodge or the campground to the Visitor Center & Restaurant Area.
Routes are short, but you might enjoy the FREE ride to the Village and back!
Visiting Yellowstone and need a game plan?
There are so many things to do at Yellowstone — and it is so big and spread out — that planning a trip can be challenging. If you don’t have a game plan, you will drive around and wonder — should we turn in here, or keep going?
We’ve created an itinerary to help you plan your trip. It gives you a game plan to get the most out of Yellowstone. It’s simple, but it’s also based on years of experience we have in visiting the park.
We’ll help you. Check out our Yellowstone Itinerary and then relax, because you’ve got this!