If you’ve always wanted to go to Yellowstone National Park, but thought you didn’t have enough time, we’ve got news for you – you can see the highlights of this massive park in as little as one day. Sure, you may not see all of this largest national park outside Alaska, but you’ll see the stars of the show, plus if you have 2, 3, 4, even 5 days, you can keep adding to form a tailor-made itinerary that suits your schedule. So, even if you have a day or two, you don’t have to miss out on seeing the elk, bison, geysers, valleys, canyons and waterfalls or this iconic American destination.
The best time to undertake a 1- to 5-day itinerary of Yellowstone National Park is between May and October. It’s possible to visit during the winter (early November to mid-April), but you’ll have to move about by snowmobile or snow coach and won’t be able to be as independent.
Here are some tried-and-true Yellowstone itineraries of 1 to 5 days:
Get a jump on your big day in Yellowstone National Park by setting the alarm early. You’ll be driving the lower loop of the Grand Loop Road, covering between 90 and 125 miles and five major park attractions. Start at the west entrance and make your way along the Madison River. Turn north at Madison Junction and stop at the Norris Geyser Basin. Stretch your legs with a walk on the boardwalks, marveling at the geysers of the Back Basin and the Porcelain Basin.
Move on to the east to Canyon Village – spend some time here at the insightful visitor center. Continue to South Rim Drive and take a gander at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, the Upper Falls and the Lower Falls. If you’d like, hike a portion of the South Rim Trail – or you can get a great view of the Lower Falls from Artist Point.
Next up, Hayden Valley for bison and, maybe, bears. The Yellowstone River meander peacefully through this area of the park, making for lovely photography. Stop for lunch at Lake Village – perhaps at the grand Yellowstone Hotel. Follow the lake southwest toward West Thumb. Get out for a bit and walk the boardwalk to this lakeside geyser basin.
Finally, head to the west, cross the Continental Divide and arrive at Old Faithful. This monumental geyser erupts every 60 to 110 minutes, so you’ll probably catch it at least twice. You can check at the Old Faithful Inn or the visitor center for the predicted schedule. Walk the Upper Geyser Basin while you’re there. Spend the night here, at the Old Faithful Inn, the Old Faithful Snow Lodge or the Old Faithful Lodge or camp at the Madison or Norris campground.
If you have another day to spare, add the upper loop of the park to yesterday’s agenda. The loop is 70 miles long. If you’d like to tack on the Lamar Valley, you’ll add another 15 to 20 miles out and back.
From Old Faithful, head north to Norris, stopping at Midway Geyser Basin on the way to see the incredible Grand Prismatic Spring. Continue north to Mammoth Hot Springs and marvel at its glistening travertine formations. If you’d like, visit the Albright Visitor Center for park history and take a self-guided tour of Fort Yellowstone.
Follow the road east to one-way Blacktail Plateau Drive for fantastic wildlife-viewing opportunities, then continue to the Lamar Valley – this is where most of the park’s wildlife lives, including wolves.
From here, return to Tower-Roosevelt, stopping at the Tower Falls overlook, then drive the scenic 8.859 Dunraven Pass drive back to Canyon Village.
If you have three days in Yellowstone National Park, consider breaking up your sightseeing as follows:
Day 1: Spend this day visiting the geysers and hot springs. You’ll want to stop at Norris Geyser Basin, Grand Prismatic Spring, Fairy Falls and Old Faithful.
Day 2: Spend today exploring the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and doing some wildlife viewing. Start with the wind-open vistas of the Lamar Valley, searching for bison, bears and wolves (particularly active at dawn and dusk). While you’re in the area, stop at Mammoth Hot Springs Terrace. Consider hiking Mount Washburn Trail on Dunraven Pass for its scenic views. And, finally, explore the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, perhaps hiking the South Rim on Uncle Tom’s Trail.
Day 3: Today you’ll cover some of Yellowstone National Park’s impressive lakes and valleys, starting with Hayden Valley for bison spotting. Have a picnic lunch on the shores of Yellowstone Lake. Stretch your legs on the Storm Point 2.1-mile loop hike.
If you have four days in Yellowstone National Park, consider this itinerary:
Day 1: Lewis Falls, West Thumb Basin, Yellowstone Lake, Storm Point loop hike, Mud Volcano area, Hayden Valley
Day 2: Grand Canyon of Yellowstone (with Artist Point, Uncle Tom’s Trail, Lower Falls), Norris Geyser Basin, Firehole River (go swimming!)
Day 3: Mammoth Hot Springs, Undine Falls, Wraith Falls, Lamar Valley, Tower Fall, Dunraven Pass
Day 4: Midway Geyser Basin and Grand Prismatic Spring (hike to Grand Prismatic Overlook), Lower Geyser Basin, Upper Geyser Basin, Old Faithful, Biscuit Basin or Black Sand Basin
If you have five days in Yellowstone National Park, consider using the four-day itinerary described above, but add on any of the following:
- Hike or bike to Lone Star Geyser, 3 miles south of the Old Faithful area.
- Check with the visitor center about hiking options depending on your interests, time and ability level.
- Take a boat ride on Yellowstone Lake.
- Go on a scenic float trip or river-rafting trip.
- Explore the various historic lodges and hotels in the park.
- Hike to Lewis Falls.
- Take a scenic flight tour or photography flight.
- Visit the West Thumb Geyser Basin.
- Drive the one-way 3-mile Firehole Lake Drive between Old Faithful and Madison Junction.
- Drive to the Gardiner, Montana, entrance and see the 1903 Roosevelt Arch.
- Visit the Boiling River.
- Stop at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center.
- Spend time at the Museum of the National Park Ranger.
- See the Petrified Tree in Yellowstone.
- Visit Morning Glory Pool.