1, 2, 3 and 4 days in Yellowstone Itinerary Guide
Looking for the perfect Yellowstone itinerary?
Well, it doesn’t exist.
Yellowstone National Park encompasses over 2.2 millions acres of land and trying to find the perfect Yellowstone itinerary will drive you crazy.
BUT, we do have a great guide below to help you plan a trip to Yellowstone for 1, 2, 3 or 4 days!
Psst: Are you heading to the Grand Tetons next? Check out this guide for hiking in the Grand Tetons.
Table of Contents
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Established by Congress and signed into law by Ulysses S. Grant in 1872, Yellowstone was the first of the US’s 62 national parks and is widely considered to be the first national park in the world.
The “OG” national park is so vast, diverse, peacefully hectic, and beautiful. Hundreds of species of wild animals roam the lands, and even the streets, of the park, which also contains half of the world’s geysers and hydrothermal features!
It’s super important to have a tentative Yellowstone itinerary when you visit, and we have you covered!
General Stores in Yellowstone
**Boozy Travel Tip: All the General stores in Yellowstone have local beer, wine, and liquor. You can create your own 6-pack of local beers that are often park-themed like this one, and at pretty decent prices too! Wait until you get into the park to find your booze.
In case no one has mentioned this yet, there is next-to-NO cell service in the park.
It doesn’t matter if you have Verizon, AT&T, Sprint or T-Mobile, you won’t find it.
The larger hubs/visitor centers of the park will have some coverage, but it may not be very strong (simple calls and texts).
In the map below, you can see exactly where the cell service is so you can plan your Yellowstone Itinerary ahead of time if cell service is a must.
Phone Credit: Yellowstone Cell Phone Map
Yellowstone National Park has an app which has a ton of information about the park, hikes, and even geyser predictions.
You can download this app to use offline (because you have no other choices in the park) and can use it for comprehensive info on what to see in the park.
*Note: you need to screenshot the geyser predictions because once you are in the park, you won’t be able to pull them up again (unless in a cell coverage zone).
With all this being said, enjoy your time being disconnected from the world and take in everything that nature has to offer.
It’s important to note that if you are going to go hiking, there will be no way to call for help. Please be smart and carry bear spray.
Read more on What to Pack below.
Yellowstone National Park does have an entrance fee of $35 per vehicle, which is good for 7 days of purchase. Check here to see the most current prices.
If you are planning on visiting more than one National Park in a calendar year, we suggest purchasing the America the Beautiful, Interagency Annual Park Pass.
For $80, you will gain unlimited entry for 12 months into all national parks, monuments, and forests in America!
Yellowstone National Park has 5 entrances: Gardiner (north – only entrance open year-round), Cooke City (northeast), West Yellowstone (west), Cody (east), and through the Grand Tetons (south).
The closest airports to Yellowstone:
- West Yellowstone, Montana (open in summer only)
- Bozeman, Montana
- Billings, Montana
- Cody, Wyoming
- Jackson, Wyoming
We suggest Bozeman or Jackson for airport destinations. The drive from Bozeman is only 1.5 hours. If you fly into Jackson, you can incorporate the Grand Tetons into your Yellowstone itinerary and really have a nice vacation.
See our guide for planning your Yellowstone – Grand Tetons Road Trip. (coming soon)
There are several places to stay, both in the park and outside, and each have their advantages and disadvantages.
Staying in Yellowstone National Park
If you are looking to stay in the park, there are several options. But should you stay in the park?
The biggest advantage of staying in the park is maximizing your time to explore this massive place.
Yellowstone is significant in size and most people don’t realize that until they arrive.
The disadvantage to staying in the park is the limited amount of services provided meaning you might only have one option for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Also, since you maximize time by staying in the park, these options are usually more expensive than staying outside the park.
We have stayed inside the park at the Canyon Lodge and we loved being able to be in the park and close to all the attractions.
Hotels in Yellowstone National Park
- Mammoth Hot Springs
- Old Faithful Inn
- Canyon Lodge
- Grant Village
Campgrounds in Yellowstone National Park
- Madison Campground
- Mammoth Campground
- Canyon Amphitheater Campground
- Bridge Bay Campground
- Grant Village Campground
Staying outside Yellowstone
The two closest places outside the park to stay are located at the north and west entrances to the park. We stayed in West Yellowstone for a few days and drove into the park.
The advantage of staying outside the park is all the amenities and options for things to do in town. There are plenty of restaurants, shops, and other attractions outside the park. The price is usually cheaper too!
The disadvantage is the added time it will take you to get in and drive to attractions in the park. From the west entrance, plan a solid 45 minutes – 1 hour to get to Old Faithful.
From the north entrance, it’s about 15 minutes to get to Mammoth Hot Springs.
Here are the hotels we suggest:
West Yellowstone (west entrance)
- Kelly Inn
- Crosswinds Inn
- WorldMark West Yellowstone
- Budget: White Buffalo Hotel
- Other Hotel options for West Yellowstone
Gardiner (north entrance)
According to NPS website, over 4 million people visit Yellowstone yearly with the majority of visitors in July and August.
We’ve been over the July 4th week and again over Labor Day and the crowds didn’t seem to change much.
Peak season for the park is during the summer from late June through early September. In May and June, you can see the baby animals, but the weather will be cold, wet, and unpredictable.
During our first visit over July 4th, it rained the first 3 days and the high temperatures were in the low 40s. It even snowed twice!
We are convinced the gift shops sell heavy jackets and pants because tourists assume it’s summer and will be warm. They are in for a rude awakening.
Yellowstone in Winter
From November through April, most of the roads are closed to vehicles due to snow, but guided snowmobiles are allowed on some of the roads.
There are over 50 miles of groomed trails for cross-country skiers and those can be accessed through obtaining permits or private tours.
Yellowstone National Park is located on a large plateau 6,000 feet above sea level. It’s unpredictable weather makes this challenging to pack for and we highly recommend studying the weather forecast before arriving.
While visiting in July for 7 days, we had high temperatures in the low 40s with snow and 4 days later, it was 78 degrees and sunny.
Also, on one of our hikes (Bunsen Peak), it was absolutely gorgeous weather for half of the hike, and then all of a sudden, a storm rolled in, the temperature dropped 20 degrees, and we experienced sleet and rain (while wearing summer clothes).
It was a quick storm that passed and the beautiful weather resumed a few minutes later!
Samantha and her mom in late August. It was 44 degrees and raining.
We tell you all of this to help you realize how important it is to pack the right gear for hiking.
If you are going to day hike, these items are essential in your packs:
- Emergency heat ponchos and/or layers
- Hat and sunglasses
- First Aid Kit
- 2 liters of water (minimum)
- Packaged food (sandwiches, protein bars, etc.)
- Bear Spray
If you can, you should try and plan 4 days in Yellowstone National Park (or more).
Yellowstone is a MASSIVE park. We had a solid week there and still missed some stuff. For this Yellowstone itinerary, we have broken down the park by area.
Click on the interactive map below to see all the attractions and where to stay.
HOW TO USE THIS MAP: To view the layers and see the names of the places on this map, click the tab in the top left corner. You can select the check marks to show or hide certain layers. If you select the icons on the map, you will get more information about the point of interest.
HOW TO SAVE THIS MAP: If you select the star icon next to the map name, you can save this map to your Google Maps account. To view it, open Google Maps in desktop or on your phone, select the menu button, go to “Your Places,” scroll to the right to Maps, and you will see this map.
Our Yellowstone itinerary includes the top things to see in 4 days in Yellowstone. And that will still be cramming a lot into a little bit of time.
If you are willing to sacrifice some hiking and spend more time driving, this Yellowstone itinerary could be compressed into 2 days.
Our first trip to Yellowstone was for a full week, but we came back a few months later and compressed our Yellowstone itinerary into 2 full days during which we spent large portions of our time driving, but it can be done.
The Grand Loop Road is 142 miles and forms a figure-8 and connects all 5 entrances. If you really want to see what Yellowstone has to offer, it’s suggested to spend a week exploring.
We did just that and as we mentioned before, we covered extensive ground, but still missed a LOT of things.
It’s an easy rule of thumb to say every major junction is roughly 30 minutes apart in the park. From Mammoth Hot Springs to Norris Geyser or Old Faithful to Madison Junction or Old Faithful to West Thumb, all are roughly 30 minutes apart.
The exception to this is Norris Geyser to Madison Junction is only about 15 minutes.
Old Faithful to Mammoth Hot Springs takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes; and that’s assuming you don’t stop to see the sights and traffic isn’t being stopped by a bison. Yes, that happens!
Moral of the story, take it slow and give yourself more time. It also helps to pack lunches so you don’t have to stop for lunch.
It’s important to note that the roads can/will close for unexpected reasons in Yellowstone which can really mess up your Yellowstone itinerary.
Check the NPS website here to see what the current road conditions are before you go.
For our day 1 in Yellowstone itinerary, we suggest you stay in West Yellowstone or in the park at Old Faithful Inn or Madison Campground.
If you only have 1 day in Yellowstone, Old Faithful and the Grand Prismatic are the must-see things on this Yellowstone Itinerary.
If time permits it, you can pull a few things from the Yellowstone itinerary on days 2 and 4 below, with the top attractions being the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone or Mammoth Hot Springs.
Get there early! We saw Old Faithful erupt 4 times and we had the place to ourselves at the early morning eruptions.
While it’s not the biggest or most spectacular geyser at Yellowstone, Old Faithful is the most consistent and easily the most famous geyser. It was the first geyser to be named in Yellowstone National Park in the 1870s and earned its nickname for its consistent eruptions.
Since 2000, Old Faithful has faithfully erupted (see what we did there), every 45 – 120 minutes. The technology has gotten so good that it can accurately predict an eruption within a 10-minute window on either side.
There is no shortage of seating for this event and even if you stand, you’ll have a great view. Even from the Old Faithful parking lot.
To find Geyser Predictions, check out:
Located in the Upper Basin Geyser, you can spend 2 hours walking along the boardwalks to explore the numerous other geysers here.
This mile-long basin contains the largest concentration of hot springs and geysers in the world, according to National Geographic.
We suggest starting from the back side of Old Faithful and follow the trails from there. Passing dozens of colorful hot springs and geyserite formations, you’ll see all the magic of the geyser basin.
There is also a hike to see Old Faithful from a bird’s eye view. We watched Old Faithful erupt from this higher viewpoint as well as from the ground level.
If you only have time to watch Old Faithful once, we suggest skipping this viewpoint hike (pictured below).
Once you get your steps in at Old Faithful, drive north towards Madison Junction. If you have time for a quick 2-mile hike, pull into the Biscuit Basin to check out the Mystic Falls / Upper Basin Overlook hike.
Otherwise, continue on to the Grand Prismatic.
Grand Prismatic Spring
The Grand Prismatic Spring is truly a unique sight to see. As the largest hot spring in Yellowstone, this is a top thing to see on any Yellowstone Itinerary. Because of its popularity, parking can be a pain between 10 AM – 4 PM.
Located in the Midway Geyser Basin, the Grand Prismatic is over 300 feet in diameter and more than 100 feet deep. The algae and bacteria cause the bright colors in this hot spring.
There are 2 ways to view the Grand Prismatic. The first is walking along the boardwalk at the Midway Geyser Basin. This will get you up-close and personal with this beautiful hot spring via a wooden boardwalk.
You’ll pass other notable features, including the Excelsior Geyser, which erupted for 2 days in 1985 and left a massive boiling vat that produces 4,000 gallons of boiling water every minute.
Making coffee or tea has never been so easy!
But seriously, don’t drink/touch the water.
The second way to view the Grand Prismatic is via the Fairy Falls Trailhead for a bird’s eye view. The parking lot is about a quarter-mile south of the main Grand Prismatic parking lot. It’s important to know that you CANNOT access the main boardwalk from here.
From the parking lot, it’s roughly 1.2 miles round trip, out-and-back, with a 200-foot elevation gain. For more info, check out our Yellowstone hiking guide.
Firehole Lake Drive
Two miles north of the Grand Prismatic, you’ll find a one-way road called Firehole Lake Drive which will lead you to the Great Fountain Geyser. Please be sure to check out the predictions for the estimated eruption times.
The Great Fountain typically erupts every 11 hours, but the eruption is considered by many people to be one of the best in Yellowstone.
Fountain Paint Pots
Rejoining the main road, you’ll come across the Fountain Paint Pots. This is a quick and easy half-mile boardwalk loop to see a variety of cauldron mud pots, spitting and blooping all around.
There are also 3 geysers in the back that were fun to watch erupt simultaneously.
Wrapping up 1 day in Yellowstone Itinerary
As mentioned before, if you only have 1 day, you can combine bits and pieces from days 2 and 4 to round out your Yellowstone itinerary.
Yellowstone is large and taking the time to explore is key!
If you are staying in West Yellowstone, we suggest The Buffalo Bar for dinner.
They have a great local/regional draft beer selection and we really enjoyed the nachos.
In case you hadn’t figured it out yet, your Yellowstone itinerary has a lot of driving.
Day 2 in Yellowstone will have more driving, but will hopefully have more wildlife.
If you took our advice and stayed in West Yellowstone, you’ll be making your way towards the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
Easily accessible from the parking lot, Gibbon Falls is an 84-foot waterfall tucked along the roadway.
This stop is a quick 10 minutes and the views from the falls into the park are beautiful.
Norris Geyser Basin and Steamboat Geyser
Continuing north of Gibbon Falls, you’ll come to the Norris Junction which is a 4-way stop that will take you every direction in the park. From the 4-way stop, make a left to get to the Norris Geyser Basin.
The Norris Geyser Basin is known for being home to the world’s tallest geyser, Steamboat Geyser.
As you enter the parking lot, you’ll see various signs about if the geyser erupts, the amount of damage it will cause to your car from the spray. Park at your own risk!
The Steamboat Geyser is unpredictable, infrequent, and is a rare sight to see! From 1991 to 2020, the geyser has only erupted 3 times. May the odds be ever in your favor!
If you happen to be there during an eruption, you’ll be among only a few hundred to ever see it (go play the lottery immediately).
With that being said, the area where the geyser erupts is relatively mundane with not a lot to see, but the entire Norris Geyser Basin is fun to explore.
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Exiting Norris, you’ll want to go straight at the 4-way stop and drive roughly 35 minutes to get to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. This was easily one of our favorite things in Yellowstone and on this Yellowstone itinerary.
Though it might not be as grand in size as Arizona’s Grand Canyon, it’s every bit as grand in its beauty. Plus, this is where the name Yellowstone was derived.
Due to the yellow formations of this canyon, the Minnetaree Indians named the river that runs directly through it, “Yellow Rock River”.
This was passed on to French trappers, who called it Roche Jaune or “yellow rock”, and then American explorers settled on Yellowstone.
Hence, the name of the river and the national park we love and explore today. The rocks of the canyon are actually oxidizing and the yellow colors indicate the presence of iron in the rock rather than sulfur. Basically, the canyon is rusting!
Upper Falls drops 109 feet over volcanic rocks and Lower Falls plunges an unbelievably powerful 308 feet into the river below! This is almost double the size of Niagara Falls!
There are so many different places to experience the color, power, and grandeur of this spectacle, including Artist Point (pictured above).
In 1883, Frank Jay Haynes believed that this point was the place where painter Thomas Moran sketched his famous picture which inspired Congress to establish Yellowstone as a national park. However, it was later determined that Moran’s paintings were from a different viewpoint entirely, but the name just stuck.
Exploring the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is easy and we suggest going in this order!
Start with the Artist Point along the South Rim. From the Artist Point parking lot, walk the quick path to get to the most dramatically beautiful viewpoint. There are a few trailheads from this area if you are looking to hike.
From here, you can hike or drive the South Rim to Uncle Tom’s Point to access the Upper Falls viewpoint.
The next stop will be along the North Rim, which again, you can hike or drive. We drove to ensure we’d have more time to see all the things on our Yellowstone itinerary.
Back on the main road, make your first right to access the Brink of the Upper Falls, then get back in your car and drive again on the main road.
Another right turn will get you access to the Lookout Point for spectacular views of the canyon and the Yellowstone River.
From here, you can descend hundreds of feet down a path to get a closer view of the falls via the Brink of the Lower Falls trail.
While it was powerful and spectacular, the hike back up the canyon is brutal, so take plenty of water with you.
Once back at your car, continue down North Rim Road and you’ll arrive at Grand View Point. No explanation needed!
Last, but certainly not least, is the Inspiration Point which just further solidifies the grandeur of this canyon.
To save more time on your packed Yellowstone itinerary, drive from Grand View Point to Inspiration Point (this can also be accessed by walking along the North Rim Trail).
After you’ve experienced the awe of the Grand Canyon, the road will lead you back to the Canyon Junction where you can refuel the car, get snacks or a meal, and check out all the local merchandise and booze in a general store.
If you are looking for a beautiful hike nearby, we suggest traveling north on the main road to get to the Washburn trailhead. For those not looking to hike, continue on south towards Hayden Valley.
Having soaked up the natural beauty of the canyon, it’s time to find some animals.
Hayden Valley is known for prime wildlife spotting so be sure to take your time. From white pelicans and swans to bison and elk, the valley is your best bet for wildlife viewing.
*Note: do NOT get within 25 yards of bison and 100 yards of bears. These animals are very dangerous. Use your binoculars and keep your distance!*
While neither are pretty, they are impressive mud springs that can hurl large mud-blobs tens of feet high.
And because that isn’t awesome enough, they smell AWFUL.
The rotten egg smell of these mud springs lingers, so we moved quickly around the boardwalk to get out of the stench.
Depending on the time of day, you might want to start heading back towards West Yellowstone if that’s where you are staying.
From the Mud Volcano, it’s close to a 1 hour and 40 minute drive out of the park.
If you can swing it, we would suggest staying in Canyon Village to maximize your time.
Arguably the most beautiful portion of the park, the area surrounding Yellowstone Lake is easily our favorite part of the park for the views and the hiking trails.
As you’ve read, most of Yellowstone is driving a lot and then getting out at an overly-crowded attraction.
We suggest getting out and walking/hiking more on this day to stretch your legs and get away from the crowds.
If you are traveling from West Yellowstone, plan on an hour drive to get you to the West Thumb area.
If you managed to find lodging in Canyon Village, we suggest starting this day 3 in Yellowstone Itinerary in reverse order, starting with Storm Point.
West Thumb Geyser Basin
Another boardwalk trail, the West Thumb Geyser Basin is an easy 0.6-mile walk through a colorful geyser basin along the lakeshore. What sets this geyser basin apart from the others is the overall scenery.
Peering out across the lake, you’ll see jagged mountains (potentially snow capped) across the clear blue Yellowstone Lake.
From the West Thumb Geyser parking lot, we highly suggest doing the Yellowstone Lake Overlook hike, a moderate 1.7-mile loop with 400 feet in elevation gain.
On the way up to Fishing Bridge, there is an easy 2.5-mile hike to the Natural Bridge with an option for a moderate climb up to the bridge (you can’t cross it).
Check out our guide here for more detailed info on the hikes in Yellowstone.
The Fishing Bridge area has a gift shop, restaurant, snacks and grocery store so this can be a great option for lunch if you aren’t packing one, although we highly suggest you do pack your own.
The store does have ice cream though, which is a nice treat.
From Fishing Bridge, you can take the scenic drive towards the east entrance until reaching Steamboat Point.
This is where we saw a curious marmot as well as some beautiful views of Yellowstone Lake and the Grand Tetons way in the distance.
On your way back towards Fishing Bridge, stop at the Storm Point hike trailhead for a quick hike.
Storm Point Hike
We LOVED this hike.
We loved it so much when we went back in August, we took our 70-year old parents on this hike.
This is an easy 3-mile hike with minimal hills and includes all the best parts of a hike: beach, water, forest and wildlife.
Both times we hiked here, we saw a lone bison in the field, countless ducks and geese, and furry marmots sunbathing.
It only takes about 1.5 hours to complete the whole loop and we think it’s one of the most underrated hikes in the park.
If you only have 3 days in Yellowstone, we’d suggest heading south from here towards the Grand Tetons.
If you have more time, check out our Yellowstone hiking guide for other day hikes nearby!
If you are staying in West Yellowstone, it’s going to be a solid 1.5 – 2 hour drive back from Fishing Bridge.
The nice thing about this side of the park is that it’s usually less crowded because all the main attractions are on the western side of the park. It’s probably why we loved the area so much!
Last, and certainly not least, is the northern portion of the park and an easy last day for your Yellowstone itinerary.
This day can easily be an extension of day 1 or 2 depending on where you are staying.
If you are based in Gardiner, these will be the closest attractions to you.
Gardiner Entrance – North
The Roosevelt Arch is located at Yellowstone’s north entrance, the only year-round entrance at the park, and was constructed in 1903 because it was thought that the surrounding town of Gardiner, Montana, wasn’t impressive enough for visitors.
Thus, the arch was built at the North Entrance, which was the first major road in the park, to welcome people to the majestic Yellowstone.
The top of the arch is inscribed with a familiar quote, “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People”, which is straight from the Organic Act of 1872, the legislation which created Yellowstone as the nation’s first national park.
Be sure to have your camera ready for some family photos!
Mammoth Hot Springs
Located at Yellowstone headquarters, Mammoth Hot Springs was very appropriately named as it is a very large collection of hot springs.
This thermal area is very different from the other thermal features in the park though as it is made up of terraces of travertine caused when the hot water from the springs cools and deposits calcium carbonate.
Over 2 tons of this calcium carbonate flows into Mammoth each day!
The colors around this place (bright whites, pinks, and dark reds) are so stark and beautiful against a clear blue sky, but even on dreary days, like when we visited, it is still amazing.
There are two terraces, Upper and Lower, with about 1.75 miles of boardwalks to explore.
We’ve heard that these springs and terraces have been described as an inside-out cave, and having walked all of the boardwalks, we definitely agree.
Allow yourself 2 hours to explore all the boardwalks and hot springs in the lower and upper terraces.
There are quite a few steps involved, but you can access the upper terraces from a parking lot on the top portion if you need to drive. Our favorite thing to see was the Canary Spring, located in the Upper Terrace area.
On your way south, the best view of the park is found through a steep and long hike from the Bunsen Peak trail. This hike involves a 1,300-foot elevation gain in 2 miles, but the views from the top, in our opinion, are the best in the park.
This is a strenuous hike and we don’t recommend it unless you are in tip-top shape. More information on this and other Yellowstone hikes here.
The Roaring Mountain is a quick 5-10 minute stop on your Yellowstone itinerary. This mountain side is a giant, acidic thermal area with steam vents giving the illusion the mountain is roaring.
Artist Paint Pots
This easy 1-mile trail takes to you a short loop through a hydrothermal area with hot springs, small geysers and mud pots.
This path is relatively flat from the parking lot, but does ascend up the hill side for an elevated view of the hot springs below.
If you have more time, we highly suggest driving to Lamar Valley in the northeast portion of the park.
This is the best place to see wildlife and we saw 2 bears in our time here in this area. Elk, pronghorns, deer, and bison thrive in this grassy valley.
While uncommon, you might see coyotes, bobcats, red foxes, wolves, or cougars.
*Note: animals are unpredictable and it is NEVER okay to approach or feed a wild animal. Maintain safe distances and remember that you are responsible for your own safety.*
As we’ve mentioned countless times during this guide, one of the best parts of visiting Yellowstone National Park are the numerous amounts of hikes available.
We think you’d be sorry if you didn’t add at least 1-2 hikes to your Yellowstone itinerary.
We have a complete guide of the 15 best day hikes to do and we broke it down by location in the park. Make sure you check it out to complete your Yellowstone itinerary.
Overall Yellowstone itinerary
It was truly an unbelievable and awe-inspiring week of traveling all over America’s first, and one of its most grand, national parks.
So awe-inspiring that we came back for round 2 a few months later!
We’ve even gotten to sample our fair share of local craft beer while here (which has been a pleasant surprise).
And if you’re still with us at this point, you’ve probably realized that this park is massive and you will have to hustle to complete everything on your Yellowstone itinerary, especially if you have limited time.
Pick and choose what sounds good to you from what we’ve described above and let us know all about your time in Yellowstone!
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We are Samantha & Chris and we are Boozing Abroad (literally). Both stateside and overseas, we are connecting people with local cultures through local booze!