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.
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!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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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