Yellowstone Itinerary Ideas from 1 to 5 Days

In Trip itineraries, USA by Jurga49 CommentsTHIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS

Traveling to Yellowstone and wondering what are the main highlights of Yellowstone, how much time you need to visit the park, and what’s the best itinerary to follow? In this post I am sharing our experience-based suggestions and Yellowstone itinerary ideas for one to five days. These tips will help you get the most of your trip to Yellowstone, no matter how much time you have.

Note that these are all summer itineraries only. In winter most of the roads in Yellowstone are closed and you can only visit the Old Faithful and the Mammoth Springs areas.

Below you can find detailed day to day itineraries for 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 days in Yellowstone. I also included a map for each of the itineraries. That way you have a better idea of where all those places are. Of course, you don’t have to follow these itineraries precisely, but it gives you a good idea of the main landmarks and the time you need to see them. Your Yellowstone itinerary will also be influenced a lot by the location of your accommodation. You may want to check our guide to the best accommodation options in and near Yellowstone National Park.

Old Faithful Inn and Geyser in Yellowstone National Park

Old Faithful Inn

 

TIP: Don’t underestimate driving distances in Yellowstone. The park is big and traffic is busy in summer. On top of that, you may experience delays due to road works and wildlife traffic jams. Furthermore, parking spots at the most popular landmarks are scarce, so you may need some extra time and patience.

All that being said, we visited Yellowstone end of July, the busiest season of the year. It was only busy around the most popular attractions. Actually, it’s quite easy to escape the crowds in Yellowstone if you want to – just go for a walk. I read somewhere that around 80% of Yellowstone visitors never walk further than 10-15 minutes from their car. We could definitely confirm that from our experience. Don’t be one of those tourists! If you have some time  to spare and are physically capable, make sure to make at least several short walks in Yellowstone. Of course you have to see the landmarks of Yellowstone, but it’s those unplanned experiences and unexpected encounters that will make your trip more memorable.

How much time do you need in Yellowstone National Park

When I was researching our American road trip itinerary, I quickly realised that one or two days are simply not enough for Yellowstone. Not only is Yellowstone the oldest National Park in the world, it’s also one of biggest and most diverse National Parks we ever visited. After thorough research we decided to dedicate four full days to Yellowstone. It gave us just enough time to see all the main highlights without having to rush. We did quite some hiking, went for a swim, spent time driving the scenic loop road and looking for wildlife… Yellowstone is so big and so diverse that you could easily spend a week here and never get bored. However, if you just want to see the main landmarks of Yellowstone, three days is enough. 

TIP: Don’t pack your days too much and leave some space for unexpected wildlife encounters, bison traffic jams, a beautiful hike, a soak in the warm river, etc. Yellowstone is so much more than just the most famous landmarks!

Best Yellowstone itinerary for any trip

One Day in Yellowstone National Park

If you only have one day in Yellowstone visit the Old Faithful area, Grand Prismatic Spring, and drive at least part of the scenic loop road. If you are short on time I suggest to drive the lower loop passing the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone (stop by Artist Point), Hayden Valley, and the Yellowstone Lake.

Here is a map indicating all the main landmarks that you should be able to see in Yellowstone in one day.

TIP: If you only have one day in Yellowstone, it might be wise to join an organised day trip rather than go on your own. Experienced local guides will make sure that you get the most out of your very short stay in Yellowstone. Here’s one of the best Yellowstone day trips (departing from Jackson or Teton Village) that I was able to find.

Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone

Old Faithful geyser is a must in Yellowstone!

Colorful Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park

Grand Prismatic Spring is not to be missed

 

How to see the best of Yellowstone in two days

This is my suggested two day itinerary for the best of Yellowstone. Please note that to see all of this in just two days you will need to start really early and you won’t have much extra time to explore deeper.

Day 1: Old Faithful Geyser, Old Faithful Inn, and the Morning Glory Pool. Grand Prismatic. Mammoth Hot Springs.
Day 2: Lamar Valley. Dunraven Pass. Yellowstone Grand Canyon. Hayden Valley. Yellowstone Lake.

TIP: If you have 2 days in Yellowstone and want to see the very best of the park without having to do much planning, consider joining this highly-rated and very complete Yellowstone 2-day/1 night tour (departs from Jackson, WY).

Bison in Yellowstone

Bison in Lamar Valley

Lower Falls of the Yellowstone Grand Canyon

Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

 

What to do in Yellowstone in three days

If you have three days in Yellowstone, I suggest the following itinerary:

Day 1: Old Faithful and the Geyser Loop Trail (don’t miss the Morning Glory Pool). Grand Prismatic. Norris Geyser Basin.
Day 2: Mammoth Hot Springs. Boiling River (swimming). Lamar Valley. Tower Fall. Dunraven Pass.
Day 3: The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone river (Artist Point, Uncle Tom’s Trail, Lower Falls). Hayden Valley. Yellowstone Lake.

Minerva Terrace at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone

Mammoth Hot Springs

Morning Glory Pool - Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park

Morning Glory Pool

Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone

Norris Geyser Basin

 

Four days in Yellowstone

We stayed four full days in Yellowstone with kids, but our trip itinerary can be used by all types of Yellowstone visitors. More adventurous travellers might want to do a bit more hiking, but if you want to see all the main highlights of Yellowstone without having to rush – this is it.

Here is my suggested four-day itinerary for Yellowstone based on our experience. We visited the Grand Prismatic and the Old Faithful area at the end of our trip and I think it was a good decision. It’s often better to leave the most impressive places for last; that way you appreciate the rest more. We also spread the visit of three thermal areas (West Thumb Basin, Norris Geyser Basin, and the Grand Prismatic/ Old Faithful areas) over separate days. That way you have more diversity every day. Otherwise it’s easy to get ‘geysered out’ in Yellowstone :).

Day 1: Lewis Falls. West Thumb Basin. Yellowstone Lake. Storm Point hike. Mud Volcano area. Hayden Valley.
Day 2: Grand Canyon of Yellowstone (Artist Point, Uncle Tom’s Trail, Lower Falls). Norris Geyser Basin. Firehole River (swimming).
Day 3: Mammoth Hot Springs. Boiling River (swimming). Lamar Valley. Tower Fall. Dunraven Pass.
Day 4: Midway Geyser Basin (Grand Prismatic). Lower Geyser Basin. Upper Geyser Basin (the Old Faithful Geyser, Old Faithful Inn, and the Geyser Loop Trail), also Biscuit Basin and/or Black Sand Basin.

TIP: If you are looking for the best guided-tour option check this beautiful 4-day/ 3 night Yellowstone and Grand Teton highlights trip with focus on wildlife (departs from Jackson, WY).

Here is a map indicating each of the suggested places from our 4-day Yellowstone itinerary.

Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park

Scenic road – Lamar Valley to Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone

Colorful thermal features of the West Thumb Geyser Basin in Yellowstone

West Thumb Geyser Basin

American bison in Yellowstone National Park

Bison in Lamar Valley

Ice Lake in Yellowstone National Park

Tiny Ice Lake is worth a short walk

 

Five days in Yellowstone

If you have five days in Yellowstone, make sure you see all the main landmarks and highlights described in the four day itinerary. In addition, you could hike to Mount Washburn. It’s a long hike (6-7 miles (10-12km) depending on the route you choose) and requires a good part of the day.

Take a look at the map above (4 day itinerary) – the blue dot next to Dunraven Pass is Mount Washburn.

Dunraven Pass at Mount Washburn in Yellowstone National Park

Dunraven Pass at Mount Washburn

 

So, these are my suggestions for the best way to see the main landmarks of Yellowstone based on our experience. None of these itineraries are very detailed (that would require separate articles), so if you have any specific questions feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll try to help.

You may also want to read our tips on what to pack for Yellowstone in summer.

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See the best of Yellowstone with the best itinerary suggestions from one to five days #Yellowstone

Yellowstone itinerary ideas for one, two, three, four, and five days #Yellowstone
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Comments

  1. Thank you for the great iterary suggestions!
    We will be coming to Yellowstone during the 2018 Labor Day weekend.
    I was wondering if you could help me with the best route when pulling a 30 foot travel trailer. We will be coming from Custer State Park in South Dakota and will be staying at Fishing Bridge.

    We are thinking of entering the park through the north entrance. Would you advise this? I am concerned about the road grades and tight turns on this route. Would this be our best choice? We have a limited amount of days and the South entrance seems like a better route but will take an additional day of travel to reach.
    I would appreciate any suggestions.
    Thank you!

  2. Hi Jurga,

    We are planning a family vacation to Yellowstone from June 22 to June 30. We are driving an RV and parking for 3 days in an RV park right outside the east entrance and then moving to the west entrance for a few days and then back to the east for our final 3 days. We are renting a car from Cody, WY and will be driving that through the park. We are trying to decide the best hikes and sights to see while making the most of our time. We are planning to drive up to Lewis and Clark Caverns one day and White Water rafting one day. What would be your suggestions.

    Thanks

  3. Hello. I am traveling from NC, where do we fly into? You said it’s about a 3 hour ride, so do you usually drive right to the hotel? Did you stay at the Canyon Lodge for the first 3 nights and the Old Faithful Inn the last night?
    Thank you for your help.

    1. Author

      Hi Nadine, the closest airport to Yellowstone is probably in Jackson (JAC) or Bozeman (BZN) which seems to have more flights. From Bozeman to the Northern gates of Yellowstone is just 1,5hrs drive. Afterwards, it depends on where you are staying. Check Google Maps for driving distances and times.
      Ans yes, we stayed at the Canyon Lodge and also one night at the Old Faithful Inn.
      Hope this helps

  4. This is an awesome post! My girlfriend and I planned a last minute trip to Yellowstone/Grand Teton/Jackson Hole from May 23-28. We are flying into Salt Lake City, and unfortunately have to make the long drive back to fly out. Do you have any suggestions as to how to best allocate our time between all three places? We are looking to spend the most time in Yellowstone. Thanks.

    1. Author

      Hi Dylan, depending on your flight times here’s what I’d suggest. On the first day (23/5) drive to Jackson Hole area (it’s some 5hrs drive from SLC) and stay there. Then the next 3 full days (24-26/5) you could visit Yellowstone (see Yellowstone accommodation guide here). The next day (27/5) you could come back to visit Grand Teton. The most popular day trip there is taking a boat on Jenny Lake and then hiking to the Inspiration Point. It’s a half day trip, so you could afterwards drive to Salt Lake City for your flight out the next day. There is plenty to see and do in Salt Lake City to fill a few hours of your time. If your flight is late on the last day you could opt to spend a bit more time in Yellowstone or Grand Teton and then drive straight to SLC from there. Hopefully this gives you some ideas on how to plan your time in the area. Enjoy your trip!

  5. Thanks for the great itinerary and tips. Appreciated.

    We’re planning a mid-Sept 2018 trip to Yellowstone, arriving in Salt Lake City, then onto Grand Teton NP( 1 day) – then 4 days in Yellowstone NP and then leave from Billings MT / Bozeman MT. So, starting south and then traveling north till departure airport.

    This allows us to avoid a long drive back to Salt Lake City for the return.

    With this in mind, would you still recommend staying in Canyon Lodge area (3 nights) and Old Faithful area (1 night), if we want to follow your 4-day itinerary? Should we make any changes to your 4-day itinerary?

    Thanks in advance.

    1. Author

      Hi Gary, yes, you can use pretty much the same itinerary as we did, maybe just switch some days around to better fit your accommodations. You could start at the OF (if you find accommodation, alternatively stay at West Yellowstone for that area) and then move to the Canyon area (again, assuming you can find accommodation there, otherwise West Yellowstone or Mammoth area might be good alternatives), then finally go North to Billings. Depending on your flight time, it might be best to stay in Billings the last night – it will definitely be cheaper than staying in Yellowstone, and you can leave Tower/ Mount Washburn/ Lemar Valley area for this last day.
      Please also check our Yellowstone accommodation guide for suggestions on where to stay if Canyon Lodge and the OF turn out to be fully booked.

      1. UPDATE: We’ve decided to make it a round trip from SLC.
        Our itinerary currently –
        Day 1 – From SLC, drive to Grand Teton, Reach late afternoon/evening. Stay in Grand Teton. NP.
        Day 2 – Jenny Lake and Inspiration Point. Stay in same place.
        Day 3 – Drive into Yellowstone NP. Staying 3 nights in Canyon Lodge.
        Day 6 – Staying in West Yellowstone. This is so that I could save some time on my return drive to SLC.

        Sightseeing Itinerary is open as of now for days 3,4,5,6. Thinking of following your 4-day itinerary suggestions.

        Question –
        1. For Day 1 and 2, I’m staying in Moran,WY, around two hours from OF, but I’ve Grant Village accommodation availability also on Day 2. Considering the relatively short distance to OF from Moran and no need to check out, should I ignore Grant Village for Day 2? Or will traffic be bad that I’d be better off staying in Grant Village on Day 2? Part of the appeal is that the accommodation option(Signal Mountain) is better in Moran compared to Grant.

        Any suggestions/comments will be appreciated. Thanks.

        1. Author

          Hi Gary, this looks ok to me. One thing – you really don’t need the whole day for Jenny Lake and Inspiration Point. Unless you do some other hiking or plan to do something else, or are ok with a very relaxed day. We also stayed 2 nights at Signal Hill and felt that we had too much time with not much to do. So maybe prepare another hike or something else (kayaking?) to keep yourself busy. OR indeed drive to Yellowstone in the afternoon. If you do the Jenny Lake trip early, you’ll have the whole afternoon free. So I would even say that you could go all the way up to the Canyon Lodge and stay there 4 nights instead of 3, or try if you can get 1 night at the Old Faithful (this is all based on availability of course). I don’t assume traffic will be that bad (even in July it was ok). You may have some bison jam in the Hayden Valley though, so count some extra time for that. All in all, if you can get out of Grand Teton by 2-3PM I think you can easily get to the OF or Canyon area that same day.

  6. This post is immensely helpful!! Thanks so much – We’re planning a trip mid to late June – and yes, I’m unfortunately doing the late planning and haven’t booked lodging yet. Hoping to get something via airbnb if possible at this late date. Is staying outside the park doable? We are driving up from Salt Lake City and planned to work our way up from Grand Teton (maybe just an afternoon because we want to devote most of our time to Yellowstone) and Yellowstone and fly out of Bozeman MT, We have 4 1/2 days total for sightseeing and your itinerary is perfect so I’m definitely going to use it for our planning purposes. So, since we’re driving from SLC, we had planned to stop at Teton first and spend the night in Jackson. From there I suppose we will work our way up and stay somewhere near the west entrance before finally ending up the last night at the north entrance.. Does that sound reasonable?

    thanks Lisa!!

    1. Author

      Yes, Lisa, it should be doable. Please also check my guide to Yellowstone accommodation for the best suggestions on where to stay near the park.
      In Grand Teton you could just take a boat on Jenny Lake and maybe hike to Inspiration Point from there – that’s about half a day indeed. You could try and look for accommodation closer to Yellowstone (Grand Teton area) instead of driving back to Jackson for that one night, but indeed it’s a bit last minute.

  7. Hi jurga,
    I saw your itinerary and we are planning to go on may 28,29,30 just for long weekend trip. can you suggest any hotels and do we need to rent a car or else can i fly there, and is there any local transportation from one place to another to travel.

    As we are planning to go in may, is it a good time to go to see all types of animals and lakes and other stuff.

    1. Author

      Hi Manu, Yellowstone is all about nature, so yes, any time is good to see the animals and stunning landscapes. Keep in mind that it’s a huge national park so indeed you do need a car to get around (unless you join a tour). It’s actually really last minute for hotel bookings for May, but it’s not yet high season, so I guess you’ll be able to find something. Check this post for all Yellowstone accommodation suggestions.
      The closest airport as far as I know is in Jackson Hole and you can rent a car from there. It takes another 2-3hrs to drive to Yellowstone through Grand Teton (I assume that road is open end of May, but maybe best to check ahead).
      If you don’t know where to start with all the preparations for this trip, it might be well worth looking into booking a tour, e.g. this highly rated 2day trip from Jackson Hole.
      Hope this helps. If I were you I’d start making the arrangements asap.

  8. We have planned our trip for July this summer, I have been reading as many blogs as I can but yours is the first to be so helpful about an itinerary, thank you. I booked reservations in West Yellowstone for the week but wondered if we should split the week and stay some of it near the north gate. I think we are planning to fly in and out of Bozeman Mt. My basic plan because it is high season is get up early drive to farthest point of the days itinerary and work backwards ( I am hoping this alleviates some traffic and crowd congestion. Also did you do any hiking, all I keep reading about is bears. Again thank you for the info, it’s greatly appreciated.

    1. Author

      Hi Nancy and thanks a lot for your feedback. I think West Yellowstone is in general one of the best places to stay near Yellowstone. Mammoth Springs area might be indeed a bit easier for the Northern part of the park and maybe also for Lamar Valley. Here you can find more information and tips for Yellowstone accommodation.
      It’s a good idea to start early in the morning. I’d go to the most popular places first and do the quieter areas and hiking during the day.
      As for hiking, we did some hiking and didn’t run into any bears. But we are hiking with three kids, so make plenty of noise to scare all the wildlife away :). You may want to buy a bear spray and a bear bell if you plan to do longer hikes where fewer people come. You can also rent a bear spray in the park (just two locations), but it’s a hassle and not that cheap. Here you can find more tips for what to pack for Yellowstone.
      Here you can find some of the hikes we did and other tips for places to visit in Yellowstone. It’s a guide to exploring Yellowstone with kids, but most places and hikes will appeal to everyone.
      Hope this helps. Have a great time in Yellowstone!

  9. Thank you for the itineraries, we will be going in mid September and plan to spend three days there.
    We wil also be going to Grand Teton and Jackson Hole.

    1. Author

      Have a great time in Yellowstone, Rebekah! In Grand Teton take a bot on Jenny Lake (go early) and you can make a nice hike to Inspiration Point (or even a bit further) on the other side of the lake. It makes for a nice day trip.

      1. Thank you for the advise.
        I am wondering what your thoughts are about taking tours in Yellowstone? I want to see all the things you mentioned, but curious if it’s best to do it on our own or book something.
        Thanks again

        1. Author

          I have mixed feelings with tours, Rebekah. Some are great, some – less. In general, our rule is to take tours to places that you can’t visit on your own (boat trips, activities like glacier hiking, winter tours where driving would be too dangerous, etc). You can easily visit Yellowstone on your own and if you have three days, you can see a lot. On the other hand, I know that many people are averse to planning their own trip and they would be stressed the whole time, so the individual trip would be a nightmare for people like that. Or if you go to a place where you only have one day and you want to make the very best of it, then taking a tour might be the best solution as you can benefit of all the experience and knowledge of the tour guides.
          It’s really up to you to decide what works best for you, but once again – in three days you can see a lot in Yellowstone also on your own. Thus these itinerary suggestions – to make sure you see the very best of Yellowstone in the time that you have.

          1. Thank you for the feedback, I think we will just do it on our own, that way we can stop when we want and for how long we want. My husband isn’t a hiker, so we won’t be doing any hiking, although I would love to.
            Thanks again for the feedback.

          2. Hello I have one more question, we are staying in West Yellowstone. I’m wondering if that will be a good place to stay and still be able to do all the things in 3 days, or will that be too much driving?

          3. Author

            Hi Rebekah, I think that West Yellowstone is one of the best places to stay at for exploring Yellowstone outside the park. It’s pretty central to everything, so if you plan well and start your day early you should be able to see and do a lot. No matter where you stay, there is always quite some driving involved as Yellowstone is really big. So try to concentrate on one or two areas every day.

  10. Hi there – this is really helpful…thanks! I am travelling to the area with my teenage son from the 25th May – 4th June but we’re flying to and from Denver (from England) and hiring an RV…so we probably have about 5 days in Grand Teton & YNP. My son is really keen to visit Shoshone National Forest too (he loves the video game Firewatch). Any suggestions on must-see places and hikes would be fabulous.

    At the moment we are thinking of driving from Denver via Dubois into Shoshone and then over to Grand Teton and up to Yellowsone…then back via the Red Desert to Denver…sound reasonable?

    1. Author

      Hi Colin, I have to admit that I don’t know these places at all, so I’m afraid I can’t help you. We also flew to Denver (and out of Salt Lake City), but made a very different trip. Here you can find our American trip itinerary, maybe you’ll find some inspiration in there (but then again, very different route).

  11. Jurga
    We are hoping to visit Yellowstone this next Summer. Relieved to find your suggestions.
    We’re looking at the 4 day.
    Regarding housing….we’ve been looking at Airbnb in Cody.
    How difficult or is it feasible to base out of Cody and accomplish your itinerary?
    Or should we base somewhere else?
    Thanks,
    Doug

    1. Author

      Hi Doug, you could stay in Cody just before and/or after visiting Yellowstone, but it’s really too far to commute every day. Yellowstone is huge and in summer it’s really busy in the park, so you will quickly get frustrated having to spend so much time in the car. Here you can find our suggestions for the best accommodation options in and near Yellowstone NP. Keep in mind that most places inside the park will probably already be booked, the best alternative in that case is West Yellowstone.

  12. Hi! First of all thank you for taking the time to research and post this. It is saving me so much time and headache.

    I have a question on getting into the park. What are the pass requirements? Do you buy a day pass each day or is there a week pass? Where do you have to present your pass? Just once to get inside then you are good till you leave? Any info you have about this would be so very helpful. Thank you again!

    1. Author

      Hi Amie, you can buy the pass at any entrance gate to the park. That’s where they check them when re-entering too. It’s usually valid for a week, per car, for all people in it. You can enter and leave as many times as you want.
      Tip: If you are visiting more National Parks in one year, consider buying a yearly pass for all parks – it’s just 80USD for the whole family (in one car) all parks, valid the whole year. You can buy this pass at any entrance station of any national park, no need to buy in advance.
      Here you can find more info about Yellowstone park pass and here about America The Beautiful Pass (annual pass for all parks).

  13. Thank you for this itineray suggestion! We plan to visit Yellowstone with kids and your post weel resume the highlights. This plan will help us to organize our days… Thank you so much!

  14. Hi this is a great itinerary. We are planning on visiting Yellowstone next September. Can you please let me know where you stayed? Was it all at the same place?

  15. Great tips! I grew up not too far from Yellowstone, but sadly never spent nearly enough time there. I definitely hope to visit again next time I go home!

  16. We did the exact same thing as you suggested, spending 4 days in Yellowstone. So agree with not packing too much in a day because you will have moments of unexpected amazing encounters. It is by far my favorite National Park because of the incredible diversity you get to see in the park. Beautiful photos 🙂

    1. Author

      Thank you, Richa. It’s one of my favourite National Parks too – every part of Yellowstone is unique in its own way.

  17. This post is insanely useful. Thanks for providing multiple itineraries. Taking the time to visit the more remote areas in the park is worth it

    1. Author

      Absolutely, Carol! The main landmarks are not to be missed of course, but we really loved going a bit off the beaten path – you are completely on your own then and it’s a totally different way to experience Yellowstone.

  18. Your Guide is top notch and the photography .. just wow !!!

    I’ve never been .. Yosemite I have but not here! Now I really wanna go !

  19. I went to Yellowstone a long time ago with my family but I don’t remember much. Guess it’s time to go again! This was definitely helpful!

  20. Very useful, clear and detailed post. Thanks for this. We are headed to SFO next summer, still figuring what else to do from there for a week to 10 days.

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