Article Overview: Yellowstone Itinerary
Yellowstone itinerary planning is easier with this simple guide, walking you through each part of the park and maximizing time as the top spots. With five entrances, hundreds of geysers, dozens of waterfalls, and countless wildlife sightings, we want to make visiting Yellowstone as enjoyable and explorable as possible.
Knowing how long it takes to get from one side of the park to the other or what kind of delays to expect can change your entire Yellowstone itinerary. Most importantly, you need to know how much you can fit in one day and what sites are near each other so you can make the most of your trip.
This comprehensive guide is a 1 to 5 day visiting Yellowstone itinerary. You’ll understand overall what’s possible for different length trips and exactly how each should be broken down in the guide below.
Table of Contents: Yosemite Itinerary 1-5 Days
Table of contents: Yellowstone itinerary
- Using Your Yellowstone Itinerary
- Visiting Yellowstone’s Regions
- Yellowstone Itinerary Map of Regions and Entrances
- Best Additions to a Yellowstone Itinerary
- How Long Should You Spend Visting Yellowstone?
- Yellowstone Itinerary 1-5 Day EPIC Guide
- Things to Know Before You Visit Yellowstone National Park
Using Your Yellowstone Itinerary
A Yellowstone itinerary looks different in each season. During winter, only the road between the north and northeast entrances is open. This guide covers your travels from June to October when camping sites open up, and you can access more of the park.
However, better weather brings bigger crowds that factor into your Yellowstone itinerary, especially from June to August when the weather is warmest. Yellowstone was the first National park and is still one of the most visited.
Because of the size of Yellowstone, an enormous 3,471 square miles, consider staying in a couple of different sections of the park for three-day Yellowstone itinerary trips or longer. Drive time can eat away at your Yellowstone itinerary.
Visiting Yellowstone’s Regions
Known for its glacier-carved valleys, Yellowstone is home to over 500 geysers, including one of the most famous in the world: Old Faithful. It’s also home to an array of wildlife, waterfalls, and thousands of thermal features.
The first thing to remember for a Yellowstone itinerary is that the park offers entrances from the north, northeast, east, south, and west. Although much of the park is in Wyoming, you can still reach Montana and Idaho.
- Mammoth Hot Springs: Delve into the geothermal wonders of Yellowstone at the Mammoth Hot Springs. Witness the surreal terraces formed by mineral-rich water that has sculpted intricate formations over time. Explore the historic Fort Yellowstone and its visitor center.
- Old Faithful and Upper Geyser Basin: No visit to Yellowstone is complete without witnessing the iconic Old Faithful geyser erupt in a towering display of water and steam. This section houses the Upper Geyser Basin, home to the world’s largest concentration of geysers. Stroll along boardwalks to witness eruptions.
- Canyon Village and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River: Marvel at the vibrant hues of the canyon walls carved by the Yellowstone River over millennia. Take in the breathtaking waterfall views from overlooks like Artist Point and Uncle Tom’s Trail.
- Lake Village and Yellowstone Lake: Experience tranquility at Yellowstone Lake, one of the largest high-elevation lakes in North America. Enjoy a leisurely stroll along the lakeshore, go fishing, or embark on a scenic boat cruise to soak in the serene surroundings.
- Lamar Valley and Wildlife Watching: Venture to Lamar Valley, often referred to as the “Serengeti of North America,” for unparalleled wildlife viewing opportunities. Keep your eyes peeled for bison, elk, wolves, and grizzly bears. You’ll also go through the Tower-Roosevelt region on the way.
Yellowstone Itinerary Map of Regions and Entrances
Here’s a map of the entrances paired up to the nearest region of the park to help plan your Yellowstone itinerary.
Best Additions to a Yellowstone Itinerary
Another key point about planning a Yellowstone itinerary is to know some of the must-see natural formations in Yellowstone:
- Grand Prismatic Spring and Midway Geyser Basin
- Old Faithful and Upper Geyser Basin
- Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
- Norris Geyser Basin
- Mammoth Hot Springs
- Hayden and Lamar Valleys
Many geysers are grouped together in the different basins. The Upper, Midway, and Norris Geyser Basins are all essentially loop trails that have many different types of geysers located along the way.
Notably, for the best wildlife watching on a Yellowstone itinerary, Hayden and Lamar Valleys have herds of bison and elk roaming the grasslands. The best times to see them are early in the day or late in the afternoon.
How Long Should You Spend Visting Yellowstone?
To emphasize the point, you won’t be able to fit all the best spots in your Yellowstone itinerary unless you stay a minimum of three days. The park is just too big to pack it all into a couple of days or less. Plus, you never know if you’ll get stuck behind an hour-long bison crossing or bear sighting on your way to your next spot!
Frankly, to get a real taste of what a packed Yellowstone itinerary has to offer, I would recommend four to five days.
Yellowstone Itinerary 1-5 Day EPIC Guide
One Day Yellowstone Itinerary by Car
Your Yellowstone itinerary for one day could be simply driving the easy figure-eight pattern around the park. That covers almost 170 miles, with additional mileage depending on what entrance you use. Given that distance, it can take up to seven hours before you even get out of the car.
First of all, first-timers planning a Yellowstone itinerary can’t miss Old Faithful, the Grand Prismatic Spring, and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
Driving up from Grand Teton is one of the more popular routes for one-day travelers on a Yellowstone itinerary. Comparatively, some people will have just one day for the Tetons and a single day for Yellowstone.
You can pick one of the anchor towns for an overnight stay or drive back out the south exit. Accordingly, check the road status within the park to make your best decision.
1 Day Yellowstone Itinerary
Even with only one day on your Yellowstone itinerary, you’ll still get to see some of the most famous sites in the park. Given that the park is so popular, traffic can easily get you off schedule. Be that as it may, even traffic views still offer wonderful sights along the way.
Morning: Drive into Yellowstone from Grand Teton Park or West Yellowstone. Driving from Jackson through Grand Teton on a Yellowstone itinerary will take about 2. 5 hours. Old Faithful is 40 miles from the south entrance and 30 miles from the West Yellowstone entrance. In any event, if you can do an earlier wake-up, catch the sunrise, and you’ll face little to no traffic on the way in. Explore Old Faithful and the Upper and Lower Geyser Basins.
Afternoon: Hayden Valley and/or Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. You won’t be able to make it all the way to Lamar Valley since it’s too far north for this Yellowstone itinerary, but you can still see plenty of wildlife in Hayden Valley. You’ll see herds of bison, and you might even catch a peek at a wild fox, wolf, or bear.
Catch a sunset as the last stop of the day on your Yellowstone itinerary.
2 Day Yellowstone Itinerary
A 2-day Yellowstone itinerary gives you more time to visit all the sights, so pick your top two sections or activities.
Morning Yellowstone Itinerary: Visit Old Faithful and Upper Geyser Basin. With a full two days of a Yellowstone itinerary, you can visit Old Faithful and have the luxury of being able to wait around until you see it explode with mist and water into the air. Furthermore, you’ll also have plenty of time to walk around the Upper Geyser Basin, which has the largest concentration of geysers in the world.
Midday Yellowstone Itinerary: Grand Prismatic Spring and Midway Geyser Basin. The trail has two of the largest hot springs in the world that are also known as mammoth-sized springs.
Afternoon Yellowstone Itinerary: Check Out Surrounding Sites. There are tons of other geysers located around the basins you can visit if you have some extra time on your Yellowstone itinerary. Biscuit Basin, Black Sand Basin, Great Fountain Geyser, and the Lone Star Geyser are all located right next to the Upper and Midway Geyser basins.
Morning Yellowstone Itinerary: Visit West Thumb Geyser Basin/Hayden Valley. The West Thumb area of Yellowstone is often overlooked for the bigger and more well-known geysers in the park, but it is still well worth adding to the Yellowstone itinerary. Heading north toward the Grand Canyon will get you a drive through Hayden Valley, where you’ll have plenty of chances to view wildlife.
Midday Yellowstone Itinerary: Visit the Grand Canyon. A two-day Yellowstone itinerary gives you lots of time to visit both rims of the Grand Canyon. The best views are at the overlook points, which include Artist Point, Red Rock Point, Inspiration Point, and Lookout Point.
Afternoon Yellowstone Itinerary: Visit Norris Geyser Basin. The Norris Geyser Basin is known for being the most active and hottest geyser basin in the park. Porcelain Basin glows with blue thermal pools and fumaroles.
3 Day Yellowstone Itinerary
As noted above, we recommend three days as the shortest stay while visiting Yellowstone because it gives you just enough time to see all the main attractions.
MorningYellowstone Itinerary: Old Faithful and Upper Geyser Basin.
Midday Yellowstone Itinerary: Grand Prismatic Spring and Midway Geyser Basin.
Afternoon Yellowstone Itinerary: Surrounding Geyser Basins and trails.
Morning Yellowstone Itinerary: West Thumb Geyser Basin and Hayden Valley.
Midday Yellowstone Itinerary: Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, both rims.
Afternoon Yellowstone Itinerary: Norris Geyser Basin and surrounding sights. The Norris Geyser Basin has several sights surrounding the area that are worth checking out, like Monument Geyser Basin, Beryl Spring, and Artists Paintpots.
Yellowstone Itinerary Add-On
Any Yellowstone itinerary should include a night sky viewing, especially between April and October.
The boardwalks near Old Faithful and Mammoth Hot Springs offer great viewing platforms.
Morning Yellowstone Itinerary: Lamar Valley.
Lamar Valley is the best place in the park to catch a glimpse of wildlife on a Yellowstone itinerary. Additionally, the miles of grasslands throughout the park provide the best roaming environment for bison, elk, deer, and other wild animals. Ideal wildlife viewing happens in the early morning or late afternoon.
Midday Yellowstone Itinerary: Mammoth Hot Springs
There are over 50 different hot springs located in the Mammoth Hot Springs area. The impressive sight is split into upper and lower terraces, which each have their own unique appeal. The limestone rock allows the travertine formations to grow much faster compared to other sinter formations, which end up looking like a cave that has been turned inside out.
Afternoon Yellowstone Itinerary: Mammoth Terrace Grill
Compared to the five-plus hours it would take to get back to the southern part of the park, stop by the Mammoth Terrace Grill to get a bite to eat. At the same time, you can also explore the trail options in Mammoth Hot Springs, from easy to challenging.
4 Day Yellowstone Itinerary
In general, a 4-day Yellowstone itinerary gives you time to either explore a region more thoroughly or add on a region.
Tips for Crowds: Generally, you’ll get most of the traffic in Yellowstone between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. during the busy months in the park. Either way, it’s best to go early in the mornings when visitors aren’t up yet or around dusk when others are settling in for the night.
Morning Yellowstone Itinerary: Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin.
Midday Yellowstone Itinerary: Grand Prismatic Spring and Midway Geyser Basin. The only midday site we recommend visiting on your Yellowstone itinerary is the Grand Prismatic Spring cause that’s when it’s most brilliant. First of all, the cooler temps in the morning cause the spring to put off a lot of steam, making it difficult actually to see its beautiful colors. Secondly, take an additional hike to Fairy Falls, dropping 220 feet high. Thirdly, you’ll also get access to a couple of new geysers along the way.
Afternoon Yellowstone Itinerary: Surrounding Geyser basins to Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring, including Biscuit Basin, Black Sand Basin, and Lone Star Geyser. Subsequently, you should check the geyser activity on the park’s website to help plan your Yellowstone itinerary.
Morning Yellowstone Itinerary: West Thumb Geyser Basin, Hayden Valley, and Mud Volcano. With significantly more time on your Yellowstone itinerary, you can make a separate trip to Mud Volcano next to Hayden Valley. You’ll see Dragon’s Mouth Spring, which is a cave with gasses and boiling water that spews out the front and makes noises.
Midday Yellowstone Itinerary: Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, both basins. Add a long hike to your Yellowstone itinerary by tackling Mount Washburn to get panoramic views of the entire park. Undeniably this is the toughest hike in Yellowstone. The trip is difficult with steep elevation and a length of over 6 miles.
Afternoon Yellowstone Itinerary: Have dinner in Canyon Village. Finally, Canyon Village is the largest area in Yellowstone and has great restaurants, a gift shop, and other amenities to round out the second day of your Yellowstone itinerary.
Morning Yellowstone Itinerary: Norris Geyser Basin.
Midday Yellowstone Itinerary: Relax at a restaurant or your hotel.
Afternoon Yellowstone Itinerary: Visit Mammoth Hot Springs.
Morning Yellowstone Itinerary: Drive Through Lamar Valley.
Midday Yellowstone Itinerary: Eat at Tower Roosevelt. Located near Lamar Valley on the north side of the park, Roosevelt Lodge is a lodge built in the 1920s with a BBQ restaurant and bar. At the same time, enjoy the views of Tower Fall.
Afternoon Yellowstone Itinerary: Hike part of the 33-mile Lamar River Trail 3K1. This trailhead is right by the Lamar River and Soda Butte Creek, which is right in the middle of wildlife territory. While this is the best chance to get closer to the wild animals in the park, it’s best to bring your bear spray just in case you run into a grizzly.
5 Day Yellowstone Itinerary
Unquestionably, five days in Yellowstone gives you a little freedom to choose your own adventure in the park. The four-day itinerary should be enough to see the major highlights, and a fifth day would leave room for an extra activity or event that not many people get to do on their Yellowstone itinerary.
There are personal wagon tours where you travel through Yellowstone as they did in the days before the park was established. Notably, they’ll cook you food and show you around the park. Plan your Yellowstone itinerary using park-sanctioned vendors.
In conclusion, here are a few extra activities you can add on your fifth day of the Yellowstone itinerary to get the most out of the park:
- Go horseback riding
- Take a kayak or canoe fishing on Yellowstone Lake
- Go on a one-day or two-day backpacking trip
- Hike one of the dozens of trails.
Do you want someone else to do the Yellowstone itinerary planning? The tours sanctioned by Yellowstone offer a la carte opportunities to a full trip planned for you, catering to your own needs. It’s a great way to build a Yellowstone itinerary stress-free, but it will cost you extra.
How to Get to Yellowstone
Since there are five different entrances to the park, how you get started on your Yellowstone itinerary will depend on where you’re coming from. Furthermore, you want to consider the drive time from the airport to the park. Here are a few of the major airports around the area, how many miles they are from Yellowstone, and how long the drive should take:
- Rapid City Regional Airport, South Dakota: 440 miles, 7.5 hours
- Yellowstone Regional Airport, Cody, Wyoming: 55 miles, 1.25 hours
- Jackson Hole Airport, Jackson, Wyoming: 70 miles, 1.5 hours
- Yellowstone Airport, West Entrance of Yellowstone: 3 miles, 10 minutes
- Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, Montana: 80 miles, 1.5 hours
- Salt Lake City International Airport, Utah: 325 miles, 5 hours
- Idaho Falls Regional Airport, Idaho: 110 miles, 2 hours
While it’s convenient to fly directly to Yellowstone through the regional or main airport, at the same time, they are both fairly small, and flights are limited. You’ll have a better chance of flying into Jackson, Bozeman, or Idaho Falls, which should subsequently match your regional destination in the park for the first day of your Yellowstone itinerary.
Yellowstone Itinerary Planning Tips
First of all, the perfect Yellowstone itinerary depends on your personal preferences. If you’re tight on time, don’t let anyone (including us) tell you how to Yellowstone your way.
For example, I happen to love wildlife. I would prefer to spend more time seeing wildlife and hiking up mountains than looking at geysers on a Yellowstone itinerary. At the same time, yeah, it’s cool to see a geyser. Maybe I’d add one into the mix.
In another case, someone might want to explore as many thermal features as possible and limit potential exposure to bears and bear traffic jams on a Yellowstone itinerary, with a secondary goal of hitting up waterfalls.
Yellowstone YOUR Way
Furthermore, we just want to help you find the best options to build your Yellowstone itinerary around. You can interchange these modules below to craft your undoubtedly perfect trip.
Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley surely offer some of the best hiking trails and wildlife sights.
Visiting in the fall will give you smaller park crowds and a unique chance to see the elk rut, where the bugling elk sounds fill the park.
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone has the most impressive waterfalls, but most park sections have their own special cascades.
Pair several waterfall trails with the Upper and Lower Geyser Basins, or enjoy Tower Falls in Tower-Roosevelt separately.
With 500+ geysers and more than 10,000 thermal features, you’re in luck from Lower Geyser Basin all the way north to Mammoth Hot Springs.
In fact, even Yellowstone Lake’s West Thumb is a hot, steamy activity hub.
The east side of Grand Loop Road will have the most challenging hikes in the park, including Mount Washburn, Seven Mile Hole, and Avalanche Peak.
Prime wildlife viewing and some thermal crosspoints bring it all together in detail.
Obviously, Yellowstone Lake is the place for you, with fishing and boating available from spring through fall. The Fishing Bridge is also a sight to behold for any angler.
The trails nearby include an access point to Mud Volcano, but be prepared for a particularly acidic smell.
Things to Know Before You Visit Yellowstone National Park
$35 per vehicle OR if you plan to visit more National Parks within the next 12 months, purchase the America the Beautiful Pass. This pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more, including 2,000 sites for free after a one-time $80 fee.
We like this one, which is environmentally friendly and effective.
The Best Guide Book for Yellowstone National Park is this one.
The Best Map: I like this map best for Yellowstone National Park.
National Parks Checklist Map: This beautiful National Parks Checklist Map can be ordered to your house.
Framed National Parks Map: We’re a sucker for maps; this framed national parks map is the best.
Where to Stay in Yellowstone National Park
Where to Stay: This is our favorite hotel in/around Yellowstone National Park.
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Helpful Related Links
Things to Do in Yellowstone: 15 BEST Things to Do Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone Facts: 10 AMAZING Yellowstone National Park Facts
Where to Stay in Yellowstone: Where to Stay in Yellowstone – Best Hotels + Helpful Guide
Best Airports Near Yellowstone: The BEST Airports Near Yellowstone National Park
The Wyoming National Parks: 10 EPIC Wyoming National Parks: The Complete Guide (+ Photos)
Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone: Driving Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone National Park Road Trip
Grand Teton Hikes: 18 EPIC Grand Teton National Park Hikes (Photos + Guide)
Grand Teton Guide: Grand Teton National Park Ultimate Guide