Yellowstone is one of the biggest and most diverse National Parks in the US. There is so much to see and do! The good news is that the park has a very convenient loop road allowing you to see all the main highlights in a relatively short time. In this article, we share our best tips on how to spend two days in Yellowstone.
With 2 days in Yellowstone, we suggest that you visit the western side of the Yellowstone loop on one day and the eastern side the other day. That way, you can see all the main attractions of Yellowstone without having to drive up and down too much.
TIP: If you have more time in Yellowstone, please check our Yellowstone itinerary suggestions – it contains tips for shorter and longer trips as well.
Below, you can find our suggestions for how to best spend two days in Yellowstone National Park. To make your travel planning easier, we also included a map, suggested itinerary, and some practical tips for your visit. Find out!
READ ALSO: Best Things to Do in Yellowstone
Yellowstone Two Days Itinerary
How to See the Best of Yellowstone in 2 Days:
Upper Geyser Basin
Grand Prismatic Spring
Norris Geyser Basin (optional)
Mammoth Hot Springs
Boiling River (optional)
Stay in Mammoth Springs/ Gardiner area
Undine Falls and/or Wraith Falls (optional)
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Mud Volcano (optional)
Yellowstone Lake – West Thumb Geyser Basin
Good to know: The reason why we recommend doing the trip this way instead of doing the Lower Loop of Yellowstone one day and the Upper Loop the other day, is because it gives you more time to explore the Upper Geyser Basin on one day and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone on the other day. Both of these areas have a lot to offer and they are both located along the Lower Loop. So if you visit them both on the same day, you’ll have to rush through them.
TIP: If you have 2 days in Yellowstone and want to see the very best of the park with a local guide, consider this highly-rated Yellowstone 2-day/1 night tour (departs from Jackson, WY or Teton Village). It has a very complete itinerary including all the main highlights as well as many less-known places. It would be very hard to see that much on your own…
Important: This is a summer itinerary, approximately from mid-May to mid-October when all the roads in Yellowstone are open. For more information about different seasons, please read our guide to the best time to visit Yellowstone.
To make it easier to plan your time, I created a map indicating everything that you should be able to see in Yellowstone in two days.
You can do this trip arriving via the South Entrance (coming from Jackson/Grand Teton NP) or via the West Entrance (coming from Bozeman/ West Yellowstone). Ideally, you spend a night in the Mammoth Hot Springs area or in Gardiner (just outside the North Entrance of Yellowstone).
Depending on where you enter and leave the park and also where your accommodation is, you’ll have to adjust this itinerary a bit. But it gives you a good idea of what can be done in Yellowstone in 2 days.
How to Use This Map: Use your computer mouse to zoom in or out. Click on the icons on the map to get more information about each place. Click the arrow on the left top corner for the index. Click the star next to the title of the map to add this map to your Google Maps account. To view the saved map on your smartphone or PC, open Google Maps, click the menu button and go to ‘Your Places’/’Maps’.
Old Faithful & Upper Geyser Basin
Upper Geyser Basin, aka the Old Faithful area, is the most popular place in Yellowstone. It’s here that you’ll find the historic Old Faithful Inn and the biggest best-predictable geyser in Yellowstone, the Old Faithful Geyser. This area is a must in any Yellowstone itinerary!
The Old Faithful Geyser erupts at quite regular intervals of about 90 minutes. Eruption times are displayed at the Visitor Center and in several different places throughout the park. While you wait for Old Faithful to erupt, make sure to visit the Old Faithful Inn. Its wooden interior is just as impressive as the exterior.
READ MORE: Old Faithful Geyser
While most visitors never go beyond these two main landmarks, I suggest that you explore a bit more of the Upper Geyser Basin. It’s an incredible area with the largest concentration of geysers and geothermal features in the world.
In addition to the Old Faithful geyser, there are 4 other big geysers that can be predicted with some reliability: Riverside Geyser, Castle Geyser, Daisy Geyser, and Grand Geyser. Predicted eruption times for these geysers can also be found at the Visitor Center, so note them down and go geyser-hunting!
This area also has many smaller geysers, mud pools, fumaroles, and colorful geothermal springs. So even if you don’t catch any big geysers in action, it’s still very much worth visiting.
Good to know: 3-4 hours should be enough to see the main highlights of the Upper Geyser Basin. Depending on your interests, I suggest that you plan to spend 2-4 hours here. That way, you still have plenty of time for the other attractions.
READ MORE: Upper Geyser Basin
Grand Prismatic Spring
Grand Prismatic Spring is the highlight of any trip to Yellowstone. This huge hot spring is best known for its incredible colors. And yes, it’s just as colorful in reality as in the pictures!
Count at least half an hour to visit the Midway Geyser Basin, including the Grand Prismatic Spring, Excelsior Geyser Crater, Turquoise Pool, and Opal Pool. However, if it’s really busy here, it might take you an hour or even longer.
TIP: If you don’t mind a short walk, I recommend hiking to the Grand Prismatic Overlook. This easy hike brings you to the higher elevation point from which you can see the Grand Prismatic Spring from above. You’ll need 30-45 minutes for this hike.
READ MORE: Grand Prismatic Spring
Norris Geyser Basin
The hottest geyser basin of Yellowstone, Norris Geyser Basin is another good place to see all kinds of geothermal features. However, in my view, it’s not as impressive as the Upper Geyser Basin (the Old Faithful area) or the Midway Geyser Basin (Grand Prismatic area). So with limited time in Yellowstone, don’t feel bad if you don’t make it here.
If you find at least an hour extra in your itinerary, consider a stop here. You should know that Norris Geyser Basin is very big and is comprised of two sections – Porcelain Basin and the Back Basin.
With just an hour here, I suggest that you visit the Porcelain Basin. It has a barren landscape with steaming vents, a few hot springs, and lots of bubbling and boiling geothermal features. The main loop boardwalk is about 0,5 mile long and is probably the best thing to do here if you’re short on time.
Mammoth Hot Springs
Located in the North of Yellowstone, Mammoth Hot Springs area couldn’t be more different from any other place in the park. If you have to choose between Norris Geyser Basin or Mammoth Hot Springs, I’d definitely suggest the latter. It’s a very unique place and it doesn’t require that much time to visit.
Mammoth Hot Springs area has two parts connected by boardwalks and stairs – Mammoth Lower Terraces area at the bottom and Mammoth Upper Terraces area on the hill. It takes about half an hour to explore the lower part and about that much time for the upper terraces.
The main highlights of Mammoth Hot Springs are Minerva Terrace, Palette Spring, Liberty Cap, and Canary Spring.
If you are not keen on doing stairs, explore the lower part on foot and then drive up the hill and see some parts of the Upper Terraces from the car. It’s not the same as walking, but you can see some interesting places right next to the road. A lot depends on the traffic and on the parking situation. Ideally, you leave the car at one of the parking areas at the bottom and simply walk everywhere.
Boiling River is one of a few places where you can swim in Yellowstone. A soak in the warm waters here is the best way to relax after the whole day of sightseeing. However, it’s not always open, so it depends a bit on the weather and the season when you visit.
READ MORE: Boiling River
Stay in Gardiner
This itinerary brings you to the northern part of Yellowstone National Park at the end of day one. If you can secure accommodation inside the park, consider staying at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel.
A cheaper alternative is staying in Gardiner, just outside of the Yellowstone entrance gates. This town has several nice hotels and accommodations and offers a great price-quality ratio. Furthermore, hotels inside the park don’t have Wi-Fi, so for that, Gardiner is also better.
If you spend the night at Gardiner, as suggested above, I would recommend starting your second day in Yellowstone with an early morning drive to Lamar Valley. On the way, you can also see some waterfalls.
Undine Falls & Wraith Falls
Undine Falls is a beautiful waterfall that is visible from the Grand Loop Road in the direction of Roosevelt/Tower. You can find this waterfall on your left, about 4 miles southeast of Mammoth. This waterfall doesn’t require much time, so definitely worth a short stop.
Continue further in the direction of Tower Junction. In about one mile, you’ll see a small parking area on your right. This is Wraith Falls trailhead. It’s a short easy hike of 10-15 minutes to Wraith Falls, so you need about half an hour here.
If you like waterfalls and it’s been raining recently, it’s definitely worth a short visit. However, if you rather drive straight to Lamar Vally, you can also skip this waterfall. We were here in summer and the waterfall wasn’t really impressive, we found. It’s a nice hidden gem of Yellowstone, but don’t feel bad if you miss it.
Lamar Valley is the best place to see wildlife in Yellowstone. Early morning is a great time to be here, especially if you want a higher chance to see wolves or bears. We saw hundreds of bison here, a couple of coyotes, and also some elk.
Lamar Valley is a bit off the way for most tourists and so most people never come here. However, the scenery of Lamar Valley is simply breathtaking and wildlife viewing is some of the best in America. So I really recommend that you make a small effort to get up earlier and visit this unique place!
If you follow this itinerary as suggested, it’s really not a big detour. Lamar Valley is about 30 miles/ 1-hour drive from the Mammoth area. I suggest that you drive through the entire valley and back. There are some pull-offs near the road where you can stop to watch wildlife. Often you’ll see plenty of wildlife from your car. After you visit here, you can continue in the direction of Yellowstone Canyon.
Tower Fall is one of the most popular waterfalls in Yellowstone. It’s a beautiful waterfall and very easy to see. The viewpoint is located 100 yards from the Tower General Store and it only takes a few minutes to visit.
There is also a trail leading to the base of the waterfall. However, it was partially closed when we visited and based on what I’m reading, it’s still not possible to hike all the way to the bottom of this waterfall.
Anyway, with just two days in Yellowstone, I suggest that you simply visit the Tower Fall viewpoint and move on to explore the more impressive Yellowstone canyon area.
TIP: If you need to stock up on food or drinks for lunch, you can do it here as well. The next place with shops and restaurants is Canyon Village.
Grand Loop Road & Dunraven Pass
From Tower Fall, drive south in the direction of Canyon Village. This part of Yellowstone’s Grand Loop Road is probably the most scenic drive in Yellowstone. Along the way, you’ll pass impressive basalt columns and Dunraven Pass with spectacular views as far as an eye can see.
They say that this area is also great for seeing bears, but we drove here twice, also at the prime wildlife viewing time at dusk, and no luck. But you never know – drive slowly, enjoy the scenery, and keep an eye for bears.
TIP: Along this road, there is a parking area with some informational panels. From here, you can see the caldera of Yellowstone volcano. A huge part of Yellowstone National Park is actually a volcano and it’s best visible from Dunraven Pass.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River is another highlight of your second day in Yellowstone. This is the place where you’ll want to spend more time. The impressive canyon can be seen from several viewpoints along both rims and it’s well worth visiting all the viewpoints because the scenery is quite different from each of them.
With two days in the park, I think that you can easily allocate at least 3 hours for Yellowstone Canyon. That should give you enough time to drive to all the viewpoints and – if interested – also make a hike on Uncle Tom’s Trail. It’s a short but quite strenuous hike that involves a steep stairway of about 300 steps (and you have to do it both ways). There are lots of longer hiking trails in this area, but for that, you would need much more time.
The best view over the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is from the Artist Point at the end of the South Rim Drive. North Rim also has some great views over the canyon. The main stops here are the Brink of the Lower Falls, Inspiration Point, Lookout Point, and Grand View.
Good to know: It’s hard to estimate how much time you’ll need here in advance because it all depends on how busy it is. So adjust your schedule as you go.
Hayden Valley is another great place to see wildlife in Yellowstone. However, it’s incomparably busier than Lamar Valley, so be prepared for the bison traffic jams here. If it’s quiet, don’t rush through the valley! There are many pull-offs where you can park your car and watch wildlife. If you see a group of people or cars together, chances are big that they have spotted some animals. Just be careful and don’t go too close to wild animals!
You’ll have to pass Hayden Valley on your way to the Yellowstone Lake area, so keep in mind that there might be long delays and plan your time accordingly. Normally, it takes about half an hour to drive from Canyon Village to Yellowstone Lake, but if there are lots of bison and lots of cars, this drive of less than 20 miles can take you up to 1,5 hours.
TIP: Try not to fret about the traffic and just enjoy all the wildlife around you! Often, you can see lots of bison very close to you and it’s a great opportunity to observe these giant animals from the safety of your car.
Mud Volcano & Dragon’s Mouth Spring
Mud Volcano area is another popular stop between Hayden Valley and Yellowstone Lake. There are quite some geothermal features here, mainly sprouting mud pools. I find this area less interesting than most other geothermal areas in Yellowstone, but if you have some time, it’s a nice stop along the way. If not, just drive by and don’t feel bad about it; you’re really not missing much.
Probably the most impressive and worth seeing is the Dragon’s Mouth Spring. Hot steams comes out from a sort of cave, making a steaming and roaring sound in the process. Some people say that this sound makes them think of a dragon; thus the name. Don’t worry, there is no dragon lurking in there! But it’s a fascinating sound indeed.
There are boardwalks and you can make the whole loop here passing more geothermal features with special names: Grizzly Fumarole, Black Dragons Caldron, Churning Caldron, Mud Caldron, and Sizzling Basin. If you only want to see the Dragon’s Mouth Spring, you can do it in 5-10 minutes. Count about half an hour for the whole loop.
Yellowstone Lake & West Thumb Geyser Basin
Yellowstone Lake is large and there are lots of things to do here. However, by the time you reach it, you won’t have much time to explore the lake. And that’s ok – all the other areas of Yellowstone that we included in this itinerary are even more special and worth your time!
For a short visit at Yellowstone Lake, we recommend that you head to the West Thumb Geyser Basin, just along the shores of the lake.
Located on the west side of the lake, West Thumb Geyser Basin is a very colorful geothermal area. It’s quite compact and doesn’t require more than 30-45 minutes. Furthermore, you can easily explore the entire place following a short loop trail on wooden boardwalks. This is a really nice area to end your visit in Yellowstone.
Continue Your Trip
Following this itinerary, you’ll end your second day at the southern end of Yellowstone. You have several options – east to Cody, south to Grand Teton NP, west to West Yellowstone, or north to Gardiner.
Teton Village and Jackson Hole are the biggest towns in the Grand Teton area with most accommodation options and best facilities. They are both about 50 miles/ 1-hour drive from the South Entrance of Yellowstone.
Cody is the biggest town to stay if you are heading east. It’s about 50 miles/ 1-hour drive from Yellowstone East Entrance.
If you are heading north after visiting Yellowstone, then you probably best drive to West Yellowstone (50 miles/ 1,5 hrs from West Thumb Geyser Basin) or back to Gardiner (75 miles/ 2,5 hrs from West Thumb Geyser Basin).
Tips for A Better Experience
- Start your days as early as possible! Keep in mind that driving distances in Yellowstone are big, speed limits – low, and you may also lose time when looking for parking at the main landmarks.
- Pack a picnic lunch and water. It will save you time and give you more flexibility.
- Stay close to the park or inside the park. See our accommodation suggestions in the itinerary above. Here you can find more information about the best places to stay in and near Yellowstone.
- Be flexible. If you notice that you are running ahead of schedule, explore a bit deeper (places we marked as ‘optional’). On the other hand, if it’s really busy and you are running out of time, concentrate on the main landmarks only.
- Don’t try to plan every minute of your day. You simply can’t prepare for everything in advance. Foresee some extra time for unexpected wildlife encounters, erupting geysers, etc.
More information for visiting Yellowstone:
- Overview: Yellowstone Travel Guide
- When to go: Best Time to Visit Yellowstone NP
- What to see: Things to Do in Yellowstone
- Tours: Best Yellowstone Tours
- Summer trip: Tips for Visiting Yellowstone in July and August
- For families: Yellowstone with Kids
- Packing: What to Pack for Yellowstone in Summer
Is Yellowstone part of a bigger road trip? Take a look at these guides as well:
- Grand Teton NP: One Day in Grand Teton National Park
- Glacier NP: Glacier National Park Itinerary
- Mount Rushmore: Complete Guide to Visiting Mount Rushmore
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