Yellowstone Itinerary

Yellowstone Itinerary: How to Spend 1 to 5 Days in Yellowstone

Julie Itinerary, United States Leave a Comment

If you are planning your trip to Yellowstone National Park, this is a great place to start. There are many different ways to plan the “perfect Yellowstone itinerary,” depending on your interests and how much time you have.

Yellowstone is the largest national park outside of Alaska. With over two million acres of land, five park entrances, numerous geyser basins to visit, and scenic drives through valleys filled with elk and bison, there is A LOT to do here.

Ideally, you need at least three or four days to visit Yellowstone National Park. However, if you are short on time, you can get to the main highlights, even if you just have a day or two. 

About this Yellowstone Itinerary

These itineraries are for the months of May through October. From early November through mid-April, 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.

With that being said, you should know that crowds are huge during the summer months (especially July and August). In 2018, Yellowstone was the 5th most visited park in the USA, receiving 4.1 million visitors. Expect major difficulties finding a parking space midday and be prepared to share walking trails with many other visitors.

If you plan to visit Yellowstone National Park for at least three days, we recommend staying in two different locations. Yes, it can be a hassle packing and unpacking, but Yellowstone is so large that switching accommodations can minimize travel time in the park. I give recommendations on where to stay in each itinerary. However, if you want to stay in one place for your entire visit, Canyon Village is the most centrally located village in Yellowstone. 

Important Update for 2020: There are planned road closures on Grand Loop Road between Tower Fall and Chittenden Road. This section of road will be completely closed until April 2022. Get the full details on the national park service website. I designed this Yellowstone itinerary to avoid this road closure.

How to Use This Map: Click the icons on the map to get more information about each point of interest. Click the star next to the title of the map to add this map 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.

One Day Yellowstone Itinerary

Where should you go if this is your first visit to Yellowstone and you only have one day? In my opinion, the must-see sights for a first-timer are Old Faithful, the Grand Prismatic Spring, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and a drive through either Hayden Valley or Lamar Valley to spot wildlife.

If you only have one day, most likely you are on a road trip through the USA. Most people visit Yellowstone on a big road trip that includes Grand Teton National Park. If that is your plan, you can start in Grand Teton, hit the main sights in Yellowstone, and end the day in either Mammoth, West Yellowstone, or in one of the lodges inside of the park.

Below is an itinerary that starts in Grand Teton and ends in central/north Yellowstone. We also have an article with five different ways to spend one day in Yellowstone National Park which you can read here. This article includes many different routes through the park to fit your road trip itinerary. 

Here is a map if you start in Grand Teton and end in Mammoth (but it also works if you are traveling in the opposite direction).

One Day Yellowstone Itinerary

Here is a sample one day Yellowstone itinerary. All times are approximate, to give you an idea of how to plan your time.

7 am: Drive from Jackson/Grand Teton National Park to Yellowstone. From Jackson, it is a 60-mile drive to the south entrance of Yellowstone and takes approximately one hour and fifteen minutes (95 miles, 2.25 hours to Old Faithful).

9:30 am: Old Faithful. Old Faithful is the world’s most famous geyser. It erupts every hour and half, give or take ten minutes. While you are here, you can also explore the Upper Geyser Basin. A visit to Old Faithful and Upper Geyser Basin typically lasts two hours.

12:30 pm: Grand Prismatic Spring. Take in the breathtaking view from the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook. It’s a 1.6-mile round trip walk from the Fairy Falls parking lot. Then, brave the crowds at Midway Geyser Basin for an up-close view of the Grand Prismatic Spring.

4:00 pm: 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.

5:30 pm: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. You can visit both rims of the canyon, either driving or hiking to the overlooks. If you are doing good on time, it is worth it to see both sides of the canyon. But if you are short on time (or low on energy), go to the south rim and visit Artist Point, the iconic view of the waterfall and one of the most popular sites in Yellowstone.

Once finished at Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, check into your hotel. Canyon Village is the most convenient place to stay. If you have plans to drive on to Glacier National Park, stay in Mammoth or Gardiner, Montana. You can also stay in West Yellowstone.

Doing this in Reverse Order: You can also do this in reverse order, starting in West Yellowstone, Mammoth, or Gardiner, and ending in Grand Teton. Go first to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, drive through Hayden Valley, visit Grand Prismatic Spring when the sun is still high in the sky (to see the most vibrant colors) and end with Old Faithful.

Old Faithful Yellowstone Itinerary

Old Faithful

 

Yellowstone Boardwalk Trail

Boardwalk trail on the Upper Geyser Basin

 Grand Prismatic Spring Yellowstone Itinerary

The view from Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook

 

Midway Geyser Basin

Midway Geyser Basin

 Yellowstone Itinerary Summer

Bison in Hayden Valley

 

Artist Point Yellowstone Itinerary

Artist Point, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Two Day Yellowstone Itinerary

This two-day Yellowstone itinerary is a continuation of the itinerary above, only you travel at a more leisurely pace and you get to visit a few more places.

Day One

Morning: Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin. Watch the geyser eruption from the boardwalk. For a unique view of the eruption (and much lower crowds), hike up to Observation Point. Take your time walking through the Upper Geyser Basin and Geyser Hill. Have lunch at the Old Faithful Inn or assemble a picnic lunch at the Old Faithful General Store.

Midday: Grand Prismatic Spring and Midway Geyser Basin. Consider adding on the hike to Fairy Falls.

Afternoon: More Geyser Basins. Located in the same area as Grand Prismatic Spring and Old Faithful are several more geyser basins to visit: Biscuit Basin, the Fountain Paint Pot Trail, and Black Sand Basin. Leave the crowds behind and hike to Lone Star Geyser, a geyser that erupts up to 45 feet every 3 hours.

Where to Stay: Old Faithful, Canyon Village or West Yellowstone

Observation Point Yellowstone Itinerary

View of Old Faithful from Observation Point

 Yellowstone Hot Spring

Fountain Paint Pot Trail

 

Old Faithful Inn

Old Faithful Inn

Day Two

If you stayed in Old Faithful the night before:

Morning: Visit West Thumb Geyser Basin and drive through Hayden Valley to see the herds of bison. Optional: visit Mud Volcano, a short trail that takes you past bubbling mud pots.

Morning/Midday: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Visit both sides of the rim, either walking or driving to the overlooks. Midday, parking can be limited, so your best bet is to walk to the overlooks. Our top experiences here include Artist Point and Uncle Tom’s Trail on the south rim and Brink of the Lower Falls and Lookout Point on the north rim.

Afternoon: Visit Norris Geyser Basin. A visit here consists of seeing two basins, Back Basin and Porcelain Basin. Unless you catch Steamboat Geyser in action, Porcelain Basin is more thrilling. Steaming hot springs, light blue thermal pools, and noisy fumaroles are what you will see here.

Late Afternoon/Evening: Mammoth Hot Springs. Mammoth Hot Springs is a large complex of hot springs that is located in north Yellowstone. Hot, steaming water spills out over travertine terraces, making this one of the most unique geothermal areas in the park. A visit here can be quick, with a short walk to one or two viewpoints. Or, you can spend an hour or two walking the boardwalk trails past each of the viewpoints.

West Thumb

West Thumb Geyser Basin

 Norris Geyser Basin

Norris Geyser Basin

 

Mammoth Hot Springs Yellowstone Itinerary

Mammoth Hot Spring

If you stayed in West Yellowstone or Canyon Village:

Morning: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Midday: Hayden Valley with the option to visit Mud Volcano
Afternoon: Norris Geyser Basin and Mammoth Hot Springs.

Where to Stay: Mammoth, Gardiner, West Yellowstone, or Canyon Village

Three Day Yellowstone Itinerary

Our three-day itinerary is similar to our two-day itinerary, with the addition of the amazing Lamar Valley, a scenic drive, and the addition of a big hike.

Day One

Morning: Old Faithful and Upper Geyser Basin
Midday: Grand Prismatic Spring and the option to hike to Fairy Falls
Afternoon: Geyser basins near Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring

Where to Stay: Canyon Village, Old Faithful, or West Yellowstone

Day Two

Morning: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Midday: Drive Dunraven Pass. This is a good time to hike to the top of Mt. Washburn for panoramic views of the park. It is a 6.2-mile round trip hike.
Afternoon: Drive through Hayden Valley to spot wildlife. Optional visit to Mud Volcano.

Where to Stay: Canyon Village is the best place to stay but West Yellowstone and Mammoth/Gardiner also work well.

Day Three

Morning: Norris Geyser Basin
Midday: Mammoth Hot Springs. Have lunch in Mammoth or Gardiner. See the Roosevelt Arch, a stone arch that was constructed in 1903 and marks the main entrance into the park at that time. Consider taking a swim at Boiling River Hot Spring, a naturally occurring hot spring that is located near Roosevelt Arch and Mammoth.
Evening: Visit Lamar Valley at dusk. This is the best place in Yellowstone to spot wildlife.

Where to Stay: Mammoth, Gardiner, or Canyon Village

Boiling River

Boiling River Hot Spring

 Lamar Valley Sunset

Lamar Valley at Sunset

 

Gardiner Yellowstone Itinerary

Gardiner, Montana

Pro Travel Tip: When driving through Yellowstone, be prepared to drive slowly and to get stuck in “animal traffic jams.” Bison tend to stop smack in the middle of the road, blocking traffic in both directions, creating traffic jams.

Yellowstone Bison

Four Day Yellowstone Itinerary

With four days, you can visit the main highlights of Yellowstone at a leisurely pace. You also have the option to add in a few short hikes.

Tip to Avoid the Crowds: Crowds are largest between 10 am and 4 pm in the summer months. If you have four or five days in Yellowstone, you have more time to work with, so it is possible to plan your days to avoid sightseeing at these crowded times. Start early, visit a site in the morning, relax in your lodge or have a leisurely picnic lunch midday, and then visit another site in the late afternoon.

On our most recent visit to Yellowstone, we were here in August. To avoid the crowds, we woke up very early and toured the park from 7 am to 11 am. We spent the middle part of the day at our hotel and then we went back out at 5 pm. It worked out very well. We saw most places with low crowds and we had a better chance to spot wildlife, since the animals are most active at dawn and dusk. The only downside is the extra driving.

Day One

Morning: Old Faithful and Upper Geyser Basin
Midday: Grand Prismatic Spring and the option to hike to Fairy Falls
Afternoon: Geyser basins near Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring

Pro Travel Tip: The best time to visit Grand Prismatic Spring is midday, when the sun is high in the sky and the morning mist has burned off of the spring. This is one place in Yellowstone that we recommend visiting midday, during peak hours.

Where to Stay: Canyon Village, Old Faithful, or West Yellowstone

Day Two

Morning: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Midday: Drive Dunraven Pass. This is a good time to hike to the top of Mt. Washburn for panoramic views of the park. It is a 6.2-mile round trip hike. Or, drive south to Yellowstone Lake and hike Elephant Back Mountain, a 3.5-mile trail that offers nice views over Yellowstone Lake.
Afternoon: Drive through Hayden Valley to spot wildlife. Optional visit to Mud Volcano.

Where to Stay: Canyon Village is the best place to stay but West Yellowstone and Mammoth/Gardiner also work well.

Day Three

Morning: Norris Geyser Basin
Midday: Free time at your hotel
Afternoon: Mammoth Hot Springs and Boiling River Hot Spring

Where to Stay: Mammoth or Gardiner

Day Four

Morning: Optional hike near Mammoth. The Bunsen Peak Trail is a 4.6-mile hike where you climb to a peak for great views of north Yellowstone. The Beaver Ponds Loop Trail is an easy 5-mile hike with a good chance to spot wildlife, just make sure you bring bear spray.
Midday: Relax in your hotel or have a picnic lunch.
Afternoon/Evening: Drive to Lamar Valley. On the way, add on the 7-mile scenic drive on the Blacktail Plateau. Stop in Tower for a quick view of Tower Fall. End the day spotting wildlife in Lamar Valley.

Where to Stay: Mammoth or Gardiner

Morning Glory Pool in the Upper Geyser Basin near Old Faithful

 Blacktail Plateau Yellowstone Itinerary

Blacktail Plateau

 

Lamar Valley Yellowstone Itinerary

Lamar Valley

Five Day Yellowstone Itinerary

With five days in Yellowstone, I recommend following the four day itinerary and on your fifth day, adding on additional experiences in Yellowstone.

Ideas include:

  • Take a Ranger Guided Tour
  • Go Fishing
  • Spend more time in Lamar Valley spotting wildlife
  • Go horseback riding
  • Go hiking (there are over 1,000 miles of trails in Yellowstone)
  • Plan a backcountry camping trip

For a full list of things to do in Yellowstone, visit the National Park Service website.

Planning Your Trip

Reserving Your Hotels/Lodges

If you want to stay within Yellowstone National Park, in one of the lodges or campgrounds, you need to make your reservation well in advance. 

Reservations open May 1 the prior year for summer (Summer 2021 reservations open May 1, 2020) and March 15 the prior year for winter. Lodges get fully booked one year in advance but cancellations are common, so keep checking back if you can’t reserve the lodge you want.

National Park Fee

It costs $35 per vehicle to enter the park and this is good for seven days.

America the Beautiful Pass: If you have plans to visit Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks, it is worth it to purchase the America the Beautiful Pass. This annual park pass costs $80 and is valid for one year. Not only will you save money on park fees for this trip but you will also get free admission to any other national park or federal recreation sites that you visit within 365 days of purchasing this pass. 

Important Links

Check park conditions and road closures on the official Yellowstone National Park website. 

Yellowstone Entrance Gate

If you have any questions about this Yellowstone itinerary, let us know in the comment section below.

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