There are many beautiful valleys in Wyoming, but this one deserves a closer look. Hayden Valley contains the outflow of Lake Yellowstone, with its Yellowstone River continuing north to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, then on towards the Missouri River. The valley is named in honor of Ferdinand Hayden who did important early geologic surveys in the Yellowstone region.
The valley was known to pioneer trappers and explorers who made their way to Yellowstone Lake along the Yellowstone River. Today it’s best known for a migrating herd of bison, which my wife and I have seen every time we’ve visited Hayden Valley.
If you’re lucky you might spot a grizzly or black bear, fox, coyote or wolf. Elk, moose and deer are sometimes seen. Waterfowl are common and provide bird-watching opportunities if that interests you. Remember that wildlife viewing is always best at dawn or dusk.
Most people don’t drive to Hayden valley to see deer or ducks. They come for the chance to study bison up close. Few places offer as good an opportunity to observe these massive creatures in their natural environment. The bison might be just a few feet from your car.
The reason all these animals hang out in Hayden Valley is evident once you visit. In the summer the valley is lush and green, with lots of meadows for grazing and bountiful fresh water flowing in the Yellowstone River. The valley’s terrain is expansive and fairly gentle. The valley measures about 7 miles long and is 7 miles wide, covering 50 square miles.
Yellowstone’s Grand Loop Road runs through this Hayden Valley and the road contains many turnouts, so you’ll have lots of opportunity to stop and see animals if they’re around. The road is often quite busy — filled with both cars and bison at times — so be patient.
The outlet of the Yellowstone Lake into the Yellowstone River features the historic wooden Fishing Bridge, ironically now closed to fishing.
The Hayden Valley contains some geothermal geysers and hot springs, although these are not nearly so well known as those elsewhere in the park. Still, these were the first geysers discovered in the park by the trappers and explorers about 150 years ago.
If you’re interested, there are several hiking trails in the valley for those brave enough to enter wilderness where bear, wolves and bison live.
(Click on thumbnails to enlarge photos)