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A Guide to Hiking at Yellowstone National Park

Crowds gather to witness Old Faithful's eruption at Yellowstone Park. See more national park pictures.

From Native Americans of the Blackfoot, Shoshone and Nez Perce tribes to Army soldiers tasked with protecting the land from early 20th century poachers to the hordes of modern day adventurers, nature enthusiasts and vacationers who visit the place in droves each year, Americans have been enjoying the wild wonder of Yellowstone Park for nearly 10,000 years [source: PBS].

Established in 1872, Yellowstone -- which takes its name from the nearby Yellowstone River -- is the world's first national park. Its 3,472 square miles (8,987 square kilometers) span three states: Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. Nearly 3 million people visit Yellowstone each year, particularly in July [sources: National Park Service, CNN].

Yellowstone's size, historic significance and the fact that it's really, really old are all well and good. But what really draws people to park each year is the seemingly endless array of things to see and do in this swath of the great outdoors.

There are the geysers, for example. Ah, yes, the geysers. Yellowstone is home to Old Faithful, the country's best-known spewer of boiling hot water. This geyser erupts every 90 minutes or so, spitting a spectacular stream of wet stuff as high as 184 feet (56 meters) in the air. Old Faithful is a centerpiece of the park, but it is also just one of several geysers scattered throughout. In fact, Yellowstone has the world's largest collection of geysers [source: National Park Service].

If an array of natural fire hydrants spraying water from the ground isn't enough, visitors are reminded that Yellowstone is a pure slice of nature by the variety of beasts that share this land. With all those grizzly bears, wolves, bison and elk around, Yellowstone is, in a way, the country's largest zoo. Just don't try to pet or feed these animals [source: National Park Service]!

Yellowstone can also be a place of action. Biking, snowmobiling, boating, horseback riding, fishing -- there's no shortage of activities for visitors enjoy during a trip to the park. But what people enjoy most are the many hiking trails. Read on for a rundown of some of Yellowstone's best hiking routes.