Julie United States 71 Comments

If you only have one day in Yellowstone National Park, what should you do?

Yellowstone National Park is massive. It’s the second largest national park in the United States outside of Alaska. With thousands of acres of land, five entrances, numerous canyons and geyser basins to visit, plus a drive through valleys filled with bison and elk, there’s no way you will get to everything with just one day.

However, with one day in Yellowstone, you have just enough time to see the highlights.

Since Yellowstone is so big, we have several different itineraries to choose from. If you only have one day, most likely you are on a road trip through the USA. Your perfect itinerary will really depend on where you are coming from and where you are going next.

Overview of Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the United States. In 2021, it was 3rd on the list of “most visited parks.” In July and August, crowds can be huge, so if you will also be visiting during these months, be prepared for traffic jams, difficulty finding parking spots, and high crowds.

Grand Loop Road is the main road in Yellowstone. It is here that you will find the most of the must-see sights.

Best Things to do with One Day in Yellowstone:
  • Old Faithful
  • Grand Prismatic Spring
  • Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
  • See the wildlife in Hayden Valley or Lamar Valley

Things to Do in Yellowstone

These itineraries are for the months of May through October. From early November through May, many of the park roads will be closed due to snowfall. It’s still possible to visit the park in the winter, but you will get around by snowmobile or snow coach, which of course will be a much different experience than the summer months.

Record Floods in Yellowstone

On June 12, 2022, Yellowstone and northern Montana had record floods. These floods washed aways portions of the roads between Gardiner, Montana and the north entrance of Yellowstone and roads near the northeast entrance of the park. 

These floods altered the landscapes of Yellowstone and some roads are expected to be closed for an extended period of time.

At the time that I am updating this, the north and south loops of Yellowstone are open. The road between Gardiner and Mammoth is closed, as is the Northeast Entrance of the park. 

As of July 2, the park cancelled the Alternating License Plate System. Visitors can enter the park on any day they like, regardless of license plate number. Currently, there is no timed entry reservation system in effect, but I recommend getting updates on the official website, just in case this changes.

Stay Updated about Park Conditions

Conditions are constantly changing in the park and will continue to do so throughout the summer. I plan to keep this article updated but the best place to go for current conditions is the official National Park Service website.

One Day in Yellowstone

Here are six sample itineraries for how to spend one day in Yellowstone. Pick the one that most closely fits your planned route through the park. If you have any questions about these itineraries, or if you don’t see your option listed, let us know in the comment section below.

Since you only have one day in Yellowstone, it will be a long, busy day. I recommend that you start as early as possible, not only to give yourself as much time as possible, but to also see one or two sights with low crowds. We typically hit the road no later than 7 am.

Several of these itineraries will not be possible in 2022, based on road closures from the recent flood.

Grand Teton National Park to Gardiner, Montana

Start: Grand Teton National Park or Jackson, Wyoming
End: Gardiner, Montana or Mammoth Hot Springs

Modification for 2022: After visiting Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, exit the park at West Yellowstone. The road is closed between the north entrance and Gardiner, Montana.

How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left hand corner of the map to view the layers (places to go and the driving route). You can click the check marks to hide or show layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest.
 
If you click the star next to the title of the map, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.

Grand Teton National Park sits just south of Yellowstone. Combining these two national parks on a road trip through the USA is a brilliant idea. In fact, it’s exactly what we did, starting in Grand Teton, then Yellowstone, and ending at Glacier National Park.

For a full list of things to do in Grand Teton, check out our article Best Things to do in Grand Teton National Park.

From Grand Teton National Park and Jackson, Wyoming, you will drive north on the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Highway to Yellowstone. The south entrance of Yellowstone is located north of Jackson Lake. To get to this entrance from Jackson, it is a 60 mile drive and takes one hour and fifteen minutes.

Optional: West Thumb Geyser Basin

This is the first sight you will see once you enter Yellowstone. If you got an early start and are doing good on time, you could consider getting out here to stretch your legs. At this small geyser basin you can see brilliant blue hot springs and wonderful views of Yellowstone Lake. A visit here is quick, taking most people 30 to 45 minutes. However, there is a lot to do today, so you could skip this and go directly to Old Faithful.

West Thumb

Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin

Old Faithful is the world’s most famous geyser. It erupts on a very reliable schedule, erupting roughly every hour and a half, give or take ten minutes. Get the next predicted eruption time here.

To watch the eruption, you can either grab a seat on the very crowded boardwalk or hike up to Observation Point for a bird’s eye view (1 mile round trip).

Old Faithful

The view from Observation Point

While you are here, you can also explore the Upper Geyser Basin, which is one of the best places in the park to see hot springs, more geysers, and brilliantly colored thermal pools.

A visit to Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin usually lasts about two hours, with time to watch the eruption and walk the boardwalk trails.

Grand Prismatic Spring

From Old Faithful, it’s just a short drive to the Grand Prismatic Spring.

There are two ways to see the Grand Prismatic Spring and I recommend doing both of them. That also means that you will have to park in two separate parking lots.

As you drive here from Old Faithful, you will first arrive at the parking lot for the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook. Park at the large, gravel parking lot for Fairy Falls (RV’s, buses, and trailers are not allowed in this parking lot). From here, it is a 1.6 mile round trip hike to the overlook and it’s worth it! Here is the view.

One Day in Yellowstone

To walk the boardwalk trails and get up close to the Grand Prismatic Spring (called the Midway Geyser Basin), hop back in your car and drive a mile and a half up the road to the Grand Prismatic Spring parking lot. This lot is tiny for the number of visitors this place gets so most likely you will have to park along the road. Walk the 0.8 mile boardwalk trail past Grand Prismatic Spring and several other hot springs.

Grand Prismatic Spring

Hayden Valley

To get to Hayden Valley, you will have to do some backtracking. Drive past Old Faithful and the West Thumb Geyser Basin to Hayden Valley.

Hayden Valley is one of the best places in Yellowstone to see bison. If you are lucky, there will be a large herd on the roadside so you can get up close with these animals.

Hayden Valley

Bison in Yellowstone

Traffic jams in Hayden Valley are common. The bison tend to stop smack in the middle of the road, blocking traffic in both directions.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

For thousands of years the Yellowstone River has been carving out this canyon. You can visit both rims of the canyon, either driving or hiking to the overlooks. If you have the time, it’s worth it to see both sides of the canyon.

On the North Rim, our favorite experiences were hiking down the the Brink of the Lower Falls, hiking to Red Rock Point, and taking in the view from Lookout Point.

Brink of the Lower Falls

Brink of the Lower Falls

 

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Lookout Point

On the South Rim, walk Uncle Tom’s Trail and visit Artist Point. Artist Point is the iconic view of the waterfall and one of the most popular sights in Yellowstone (it is also the cover photo for this article).

If you visit both rims of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, a visit here can take between 3 and 4 hours, depending on traffic and how much you choose to do.

Optional: Mammoth Hot Springs

From Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, drive north towards Gardiner. You can either drive past Norris Geyser Basin and up Route 89 (this route is shorter and faster) or drive up Grand Loop Road, over Dunraven Pass, to Tower and then to Mammoth (this route is longer but more scenic). If you plan to visit Mammoth Hot Springs, get updates on road closures before you go.

If you still have time and energy left, you can visit Mammoth Hot Springs. It takes an hour to walk all the trails here, but with 15 minutes, you can park and see the Liberty Cap, one of the prettiest of the hot springs at Mammoth.

Mammoth Hot Springs

End your day in Mammoth or West Yellowstone (or Gardiner, Montana once the road reopens).


Mammoth Hot Springs to Grand Teton National Park

Start: Mammoth Hot Springs or Gardiner, Montana
End: Grand Teton National Park or Jackson, Wyoming

Modification for 2022: The road is closed between Gardiner and Yellowstone so this itinerary is not possible in 2022. As an alternative, you can start in West Yellowstone and drive directly to Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

This is the same itinerary as above, only you will do the drive in the opposite direction.

Visit Mammoth Hot Springs and then drive to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The best way to get here is to take Grand Loop Road east from Mammoth, take the detour on Blacktail Plateau Drive, and then drive over the beautiful Dunraven Pass to get to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Alternatively, you can drive Highway 89 south to Norris Canyon Road to get to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Midday, visit Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, keep your fingers crossed that you’ll see bison in Hayden Valley, and you have the option to visit West Thumb Geyser Basin. Visit Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring before driving south to Grand Teton National Park.


Grand Teton National Park to the Northeast Entrance

Start: Grand Teton National Park or Jackson, Wyoming
End: Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone

Modification for 2022: The roads in Lamar Valley might remain closed in 2022, so this itinerary is not possible in 2022.

From Grand Teton National Park and Jackson, Wyoming, you will drive north on the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Highway to Yellowstone. The south entrance of Yellowstone is located north of Jackson Lake. To get to this entrance from Jackson, it is a 60 mile drive and takes one hour and fifteen minutes.

You have the option to visit the West Thumb Geyser Basin once you enter Yellowstone National Park.

Watch the eruption at Old Faithful, walk the boardwalk trails around the Upper Geyser Basin, and then visit both the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook and the boardwalk trails of the Midway Geyser Basin.

From here drive north towards the Norris Geyser Basin (but don’t stop here) and continue east to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Visit both the north and south rims if you have time.

From the Grand Canyon, drive north on Grand Loop Road. This takes you over the Dunraven Pass and past Tower Fall. Then, take Highway 212 east into Lamar Valley.

Lamar Valley is the best place in Yellowstone to see wildlife. Elk, bison, deer, bear, coyotes, and wolves can all make appearances here. Late afternoon and early evening are one of the best times for wildlife spottings, so your timing should be perfect.

Lamar Valley

Bison

Exit the park at the northeast entrance. Just beyond the northeast entrance is one of the most scenic drives in the USA. From Cooke City to Red Lodge, Montana, Beartooth Highway climbs up and over the mountains. Along the drive, you will have jaw-dropping views of multiple national forests and the Beartooth Mountains. This drive takes about 3 hours and can be done from June through early October. 

Beartooth Highway

Beartooth Highway


West Yellowstone to Grand Teton National Park

Start: West Yellowstone
End: Grand Teton National Park or Jackson, Wyoming

No modifications for 2022. 

West Yellowstone is located in Montana, just outside of the park. This is a great place to stay, with lots of hotel options and restaurants to choose from. We spent one night here at the Kelly Inn

From West Yellowstone, drive directly to Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. This is a great place to visit in the morning, since the roads and parking lots will still be relatively empty. It will be easy to drive from overlook to overlook on the North Rim this time of day. Visit the North Rim first and end on the South Rim.

Drive through Hayden Valley, see Old Faithful and walk through the Upper Geyser Basin, and then visit the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook and the boardwalk trails at Midway Geyser Basin.

End your day in Grand Teton National Park or Jackson, Wyoming.


East Entrance to Grand Teton National Park

Start: East Entrance (Cody, Wyoming)
End: Grand Teton National Park or Jackson, Wyoming

No modifications for 2022.

The closest town to the east entrance is Cody, Wyoming. To get into Yellowstone, it is a 53 mile drive through a rugged, mountainous landscape. It takes an hour to drive to the east entrance from Cody, but what a beautiful drive! This stretch of road is called Wild Bill Cody Scenic Byway and it creates a spectacular entrance into Yellowstone National Park.

Wild Bill Cody Scenic Byway

Wild Bill Cody Scenic Byway

Once inside the park, drive north through Hayden Valley, visit the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Midway Geyser Basin, the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook, and then Old Faithful. Before exiting the park, you also have the option to add on the West Thumb Geyser Basin.

Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone Lake

If your visit to Yellowstone is part of a road trip with Mount Rushmore, Devils Tower, and/or the Black Hills of South Dakota, there are several different driving routes to choose from. Both Bighorn Scenic Byway and Cloud Peak Skyway cut across the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming and are very scenic routes that connect Yellowstone with South Dakota. We also have a detailed 10-day itinerary that starts in Grand Teton National Park and ends in South Dakota. Along the way, visit Yellowstone, Devils Tower, Mount Rushmore, and Badlands National Park.


East Entrance to Mammoth

Start: East Entrance (Cody, Wyoming)
End: Mammoth or Gardiner, Montana

Modification for 2022: Exit the park at West Yellowstone rather than Gardiner, Montana. 

From Cody, drive the Wild Bill Cody Scenic Byway to the east entrance.

Once inside the park, drive right to Hayden Valley. Continue north to Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, spending time on both the North and South rims. Then, drive counter-clockwise on Grand Loop Road to get to Old Faithful. See Old Faithful and walk the boardwalk trail at Upper Geyser Basin. Photograph Grand Prismatic Spring from the overlook, visit Midway Geyser Basin, and then drive to West Yellowstone (rather than Gardiner). 

Old Faithful

Old Faithful


More Itinerary Ideas

I know that I did not include every possible route through the park. The above itineraries are for the most common routes through Yellowstone. If you don’t see your route listed and have questions, let us know in the comment section below.

Yellowstone Day Trip from Grand Teton

Visiting Yellowstone on a day trip from Grand Teton National Park works very well. We have a detailed day trip itinerary from Jackson, Wyoming, the perfect way to spend one day in Yellowstone if you will be visiting Grand Teton National Park. 

The Perfect Yellowstone Day Trip from Grand Teton National Park

Taking a Tour of Yellowstone

If you prefer to visit Yellowstone with an experienced guide, or want to avoid the hassle of driving and parking, here are several highly rated day trip tours to consider. One departs from West Yellowstone and two depart from Jackson.

 

With More Time in Yellowstone

If you have more than one day in Yellowstone, don’t miss our article Yellowstone Itinerary: Best Way to Spend 1 to 5 days in Yellowstone. 

Tips to Have the Best Experience

Get an early start. This will give you more time for sightseeing and let you visit at least one sight with low crowds.

Consider visiting Yellowstone in May or at the end of September into October if you want to have lower crowds and a more pleasant experience.

In July and August, be prepared for large crowds, traffic jams, and difficulty finding a parking space at most sights.

Visit the Grand Prismatic Spring midday or early afternoon. Yes, this is the most crowded time to be here but it’s also the best time to see the spring. Midday, the mist has burned off and the colors are vibrant, especially on a sunny day. Early in the morning, the spring is covered with mist and it can be a disappointing experience. For more information on how to visit the Grand Prismatic Spring, and add on the hike to Fairy Falls, read this.

Take a look at our things to do in Yellowstone article for more ideas of things to do. There is a lot more information about each sight in this article, plus, you might see something else on this list that really interests you.

More Information about Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park Guide


If you are planning to spend one day in Yellowstone and have any questions, let us know in the comment section below.

 

Where Are You Going Next?

If your visit to Yellowstone is part of a bigger road trip through the USA, here are more ideas about nearby destinations.

Read all of our articles about the Wyoming in our Wyoming Travel Guide.

Yellowstone One Day Itinerary

 

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Comments 71

  1. Avatar for Kelly P
    Kelly P

    Hi Julie,

    My family and I are making plans to do a 1-day drive in July. I noticed you have a recommended itinerary to do the East Entrance to Gardiner, MT. We would be doing that in reverse – will that work out OK? Thank you so much for this information, it is very helpful!

    1. Avatar for Kelly P
      1. Avatar for Julie Post
        Author
    2. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Yes, that would work great. Here’s the order of how to do it: Go first to Old Faithful and Upper Geyser Basin, then Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook, then Midway Geyser Basin, the Artist Paintpots (I saw your other comment). That will fill up your morning. Have a picnic lunch or get lunch in Canyon Village. Then visit Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. You will drive through Hayden Valley as you head to the east entrance, then end the day on the Wild Bill Cody Scenic Byway. Cheers, Julie

  2. Avatar for Manesseh
    Manesseh

    Hi Julie! I am NEW to EarthTrekkers blog and couldnt be more excited to find these itineraries. My husband and I have the rare chance to visit friends in Sheridan. So we’d be coming from the East through Cody. We only have about 36 hours before we have to fly back via Bozeman Mt airport so we are going to do the East to Yellowstone entrance and on up to Mammoth stay the night and they be relatively close to MT.

    Question….our dates are Nov 3-8th. I saw where you mentioned roads being closed in YS early November…do you think we should chance this trip over there?? I would so appreciate your advice or thoughts. Thank you again…love this site its so full of great inspiration and info for all us beginner Nat. Parkers.

    Thanks again,
    Manesseh & Joe in Texas

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Hello Manesseh and Joe. We just did this same drive in the reverse order about a week ago. It is beautiful…not only Cody to the East Entrance but through the park as well. As far as if the roads will still be open…maybe?? That area just had its first real snow this autumn a few days ago. If it doesn’t snow again, you could be OK. But if the area gets another snowfall over the next few weeks, then the roads will most likely close. You will have to watch the weather and plan accordingly.
       
      We also drove through the Bighorn Mountains last week. There is a north route and a south route and we like the north route just a little bit more. But again, keep an eye on the weather because these roads can also close for snow. I will be writing more about this drive, hopefully in the next few weeks. It it snows and the roads are closed in the Bighorns and Yellowstone, then you will have to drive Interstate 90 from Sheridan to Bozeman. So, hopefully the weather will cooperate and you will get to see Yellowstone soon!
       
      Cheers, Julie

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