Julie Itinerary, United States 107 Comments

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

This Yellowstone itinerary works best during 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 2019, Yellowstone was the 6th most visited park in the USA, receiving 4 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 2021: There are planned road closures on Grand Loop Road between Tower-Roosevelt and Canyon Junction. Get the full details on the national park service website. I designed this Yellowstone itinerary to avoid this road closure.

A Quick Geography Lesson

Yellowstone is the largest US national park outside of Alaska. With over 2 million acres of land and 5 park entrances, this place is massive.

Yellowstone National Park is primarily located in Wyoming, although it does spill over, just a little bit, into Idaho and Montana.

If you look at the map of Yellowstone below, you will see that the network of roads inside the park forms a figure of eight. The main loop is called Grand Loop Road. Bisecting this loop, and making the park roads resemble a figure of eight, is Norris Canyon Road. The majority of sights you will visit are located on Grand Loop Road.

Yellowstone Road Closure Map

I modified this nps.gov map to highlight Grand Loop Road, the park entrances, and the main sights in Yellowstone. This map also shows the road closure between Canyon Village and Tower/Roosevelt in 2021.

There are five park entrances, one on each side of the park (north, east, south, and west), with an additional entrance on the north side. Because of the park’s location, and the multiple entrances, it makes an awesome road trip destination. A visit to Yellowstone is usually combined with Grand Teton National Park, Devils Tower, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, and Glacier National Park.

It takes three to five days to see and do everything inside of the park. If you are staying for 3 or more days, I recommend staying at two different locations in Yellowstone to minimize driving time. You can get recommendations on where to stay in our Where to Stay in Yellowstone article.

Best Things to Do in Yellowstone

Here is a list of the best things to do in Yellowstone:

  • Old Faithful & Upper Geyser Basin
  • Grand Prismatic Spring & Midway Geyser Basin
  • Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
  • Wildlife sightings in Hayden and Lamar Valleys
  • Norris Geyser Basin
  • Mammoth Hot Springs
  • Go for a hike (Mt. Washburn & Fairy Falls are popular options)

The wildlife spottings in Yellowstone are incredible and every day offers a different experience. The best time of day to see the bison, elk, and bear are early and late in the day, so plan your visits to Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley during these times. But it is possible to spot wildlife anywhere in the park, so always be on the lookout.

For a detailed list of things to do in Yellowstone, with many more photos, take a look at our article 18 Amazing Things to Do in Yellowstone.

How Many Days Do You Need in Yellowstone?

You need a minimum of three full days to see the top sights in Yellowstone. Since Yellowstone is so large, you will potentially spend several hours each day driving from sight to sight. Add in extra time for wildlife sightings, animal traffic jams, and maybe even circling the parking lots midday for an empty space.

If you want to thoroughly explore Yellowstone, I recommend spending at least four to five days here. That’s plenty of time to visit the top sights without feeling like you are in a race.

How to Get to Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park is located in the northwest corner of Wyoming. Here are the distances and driving times from nearby airports:

  • Idaho Falls Regional Airport, Idaho: 110 miles, 2 hours
  • Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, Montana: 80 miles, 1.5 hours
  • Yellowstone Airport, West Entrance of Yellowstone: 3 miles, 10 minutes
  • Yellowstone Regional Airport, Cody, Wyoming: 55 miles, 1.25 hours
  • Jackson Hole Airport, Jackson, Wyoming: 70 miles, 1.5 hour
  • Salt Lake City International Airport, Utah: 325 miles, 5 hours
  • Rapid City Regional Airport, South Dakota: 440 miles, 7.5 hours

Both Yellowstone Airport and Yellowstone Regional Airport are very small airports, so your options will be limited. You might have better luck finding convenient and economical flights at Bozeman, Idaho Falls, and Jackson Hole. We usually fly into Salt Lake City and visit Grand Teton National Park on the drive up to Yellowstone.

Yellowstone is a very popular road trip destination. Here are nearby travel destinations which you can visit before or after Yellowstone:

  • Grand Teton National Park: 60 miles, 1.5 hours
  • Jackson, Wyoming: 80 miles, 2 hours
  • Cody, Wyoming: 80 miles, 2.25 hours
  • Devils Tower, Wyoming: 375 miles, 7 hours
  • Mount Rushmore & Rapid City, South Dakota: 450 miles, 8 hours
  • Glacier National Park: 380 miles, 6 hours

Note: This driving distances and times are estimates and will vary according to your starting/ending location inside of Yellowstone National Park.

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 six 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).

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.

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.

Old Faithful Yellowstone Itinerary

Old Faithful

 
Yellowstone Boardwalk Trail

Boardwalk trail on the Upper Geyser Basin

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.

Grand Prismatic Spring Yellowstone Itinerary

The view from Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook

 
Midway Geyser Basin

Midway Geyser Basin

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.

Yellowstone Itinerary Summer

Bison in Hayden Valley

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.

Artist Point Yellowstone Itinerary

Artist Point, Grand Canyon of the 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.

For more information, here is the link to our One Day Yellowstone Itinerary.

Visiting Yellowstone on a Day Trip from Grand Teton National Park or Jackson

Visiting Yellowstone on a day trip from Grand Teton National Park or Jackson works great. With one day, you can visit the tops sights in Yellowstone, including Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and see the bison in Hayden Valley.

We have a detailed guide on how to plan your day trip from Grand Teton and Jackson. But if you prefer to learn more about Yellowstone from a guide and/or if you don’t want the hassle of driving and parking, there are several highly rated tours that start in Jackson.

 


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.

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.

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

For more information about Yellowstone National Park, click here to read our Guide to Yellowstone National Park. Get important travel planning tips, sample itineraries, advice on when to go, where to stay, and more.


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, Midway Geyser Basin, and the option to hike to Fairy Falls
Afternoon: Geyser basins near Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring: Black Sand Basin, Biscuit Basin and the Fountain Paint Pot Trail

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

Day Two

Morning: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Midday: Have lunch in Canyon Village. If you want to go hiking, and since Mount Washburn is inaccessible in 2021, you can 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. Optional visit to West Thumb Geyser Basin.

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, Midway Geyser Basin, and the option to hike to Fairy Falls
Afternoon: Geyser basins near Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring: Black Sand Basin, Biscuit Basin and the Fountain Paint Pot Trail

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

Morning Glory Pool in the Upper Geyser Basin near Old Faithful

Day Two

Morning: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Midday: Have lunch in Canyon Village. 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 and/or West Thumb Geyser Basin.

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. End the day spotting wildlife in Lamar Valley.

Where to Stay: Mammoth or Gardiner

Blacktail Plateau Yellowstone Itinerary

Blacktail Plateau

 

Lamar Valley Yellowstone Itinerary

Lamar Valley

Another option to consider is this 4 day tour of Grand Teton and Yellowstone. With a guide, you visit both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Along the way, you will stay in Jackson, Cody, and Cooke City. The fee includes transportation, lodging, and your guide. The tour is designed as a safari, giving you the best chance to spot wildlife.


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 2022 reservations open May 1, 2021) 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.

Get recommendations on where to stay in and around Yellowstone in our post Best Hotels and Locations in Yellowstone.

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. 

Traveling with an RV

We have not traveled with an RV, so we don’t have experience about what it is like to visit Yellowstone with an RV (but we have seen many RV’s on these roads). If you want more information, I recommend taking a look at this website, for an overview of what to expect in the park.

Important Links

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

Tours 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 tours to consider. 

 

Yellowstone Entrance Gate

Where Are You Going Next?

If your visit to Yellowstone is part of a bigger road trip through Montana and Wyoming, here are some articles to help you plan your trip.

ROAD TRIP IDEA:  Grand Teton, Yellowstone & Glacier National Parks: 10 Day Road Trip Itinerary
DEVILS TOWER:  Complete Guide to Devils Tower: How to Plan Your Visit 

Yellowstone National Park

BEST OF YELLOWSTONE:  18 Amazing Things to do in Yellowstone
WHERE TO STAY:  Where to Stay in Yellowstone: Best Hotels & Locations
GRAND PRISMATIC SPRING:  Grand Prismatic Spring and the Hike to Fairy Falls
ONE DAY IN YELLOWSTONE:  One Perfect Day in Yellowstone National Park
OLD FAITHFUL:  Yellowstone’s Old Faithful: 10 Tips to Have the Best Experience
GEYSER BASINS:  6 Best Geyser Basins to Visit in Yellowstone
YELLOWSTONE DAY TRIP:  The Perfect Yellowstone Day Trip from Grand Teton National Park

For more information about Yellowstone National Park, click here to read our Guide to Yellowstone National Park. Get important travel planning tips, sample itineraries, advice on when to go, where to stay, and more.

Grand Teton National Park

BEST OF GRAND TETON:  Best Things to do in Grand Teton National Park
GRAND TETON ITINERARY:  How Many Days Do You Need in Grand Teton? A Complete Itinerary
ONE DAY IN GRAND TETON:  One Perfect Day in Grand Teton National Park
HIKES IN GRAND TETON:  15 Best Day Hikes in Grand Teton National Park

Glacier National Park

BEST OF GLACIER:  10 Best Things to do in Glacier National Park
HIKES IN GLACIER:  10 Great Hikes in Glacier National Park
GLACIER ITINERARY:  How Many Days Do You Need in Glacier National Park?
GRINNELL GLACIER:  How to Hike to Grinnell Glacier
HIGHLINE TRAIL:  Hiking the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park


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

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Yellowstone Itinerary and Travel Guide

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Comments 107

  1. Just got home from a five day excursion to Yellowstone compliments to your wonderful planning out of the different day trips. We hit all the spots of the four day trip planner, stayed in 2 different locations (West YS- Kelly Inn and Gardner- Roosevelt INN)). We had the most fabulous time, the hikes (Elephant Back i.e.), the scenery, the wild life. Just got my pictures uploaded and it made me cry seeing the beauty all over again. The one thing I would definitely add in the four day trip when you are in Northern YS do the Wild West Wagon (or horse) dinner cook out in Roosevelt it by far was the best “touristy” thing we did. I would skip “Old Faithfull” and not eat at any of the restaurants in the park because Covid is on high alert with masks wearing and stuff and it was hard being free flowing to restricted. I am so happy I found your website before we left it really made our trip the very best ever 🙂 You can really get lost going around aimlessly without direction and you gave it to us in spades!!!!!!!

    1. Post
      Author

      Hello Rose. Thank you for writing in and sharing suggestions from your trip. Sounds like you had a great time! Enjoy those photos! Cheers, Julie

  2. You have the best information and itineraries out there! We used it for our recent trip to Badlands National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and Yellowstone National Park. They helped us so much and made everything so much easier. Thank you!! Checking now for our next vacation.

    1. Post
      Author

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