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Yellowstone Itinerary for 1 to 5 Days (+Map & 2021 Planning Tips)

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Yellowstone Itinerary for 1 to 5 Days (+Map & 2021 Planning Tips)

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 for visiting Yellowstone 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.

Good to know: Note that these are all summer itineraries only (approx. mid-May to mid-October). That’s the period when all the roads are open and you can explore Yellowstone to the fullest. In winter, most of the roads in Yellowstone are closed and you can only visit the Old Faithful and the Mammoth Springs areas.

UPDATE: There are some major road works in Yellowstone in 2021. So to help you plan your Yellowstone trip for this summer, we included some tips on how to adjust your Yellowstone trip itinerary if needed.

TIP: If you want to visit Yellowstone, but are overwhelmed with all the planning, you can also easily visit the park with an organized tour. There are day trips or multi-day tours available. Here you can find our selection of the best Yellowstone tours.

Yellowstone itinerary and trip planning tips
Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone
 

Below you can find the 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.

TIP: You can jump straight to our Yellowstone trip itinerary suggestions. However, before going into details of your Yellowstone itinerary and starting to plan your trip, there are some important things you should know! So I suggest that you read that information first. Read on!

Old Faithful Inn and Geyser in Yellowstone National Park
Old Faithful Inn

Important Info for Planning a Trip to Yellowstone

ACCOMMODATION: Your Yellowstone itinerary will also be influenced a lot by the location of your accommodation. Price-quality-location wise, West Yellowstone is one of the best places to stay. You can see what’s available in this area for your travel dates via the map below.

Alternatively, check our detailed guide to the best places to stay in and near Yellowstone via the link below.

READ MORE: Best Accommodation in and Near Yellowstone National Park

   

DRIVING DISTANCES & TRAFFIC: Don’t underestimate driving distances in Yellowstone. The park is big and the 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.

Important!!! Please always check the official website for up-to-date information on any road closures or planned works when planning your trip!

HOW TO ESCAPE THE CROWDS: 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 main landmarks and attractions of Yellowstone, but it’s those unplanned experiences, hidden gems, and unexpected encounters that will make your trip more memorable.

WHEN TO VISIT: If you are not sure when to go to Yellowstone, please check our guide for the best time to travel to Yellowstone. If you are planning to visit in the peak season, please check out our experience-based tips for visiting Yellowstone in July and in August.

Colorful geothermal lake of West Thumb Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park
Colorful geothermal features of West Thumb Geyser Basin – one of the less visited places in Yellowstone
 

How much time do you need in Yellowstone National Park

When I was researching our American road trip itinerary, I quickly realized that one or two days are simply not enough for visiting Yellowstone. Not only is Yellowstone the oldest National Park in the world, it’s also one of the biggest and most diverse National Parks we ever visited.

After thorough research, we decided to spend four full days in 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 or two 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!

LEARN MORE: Tips for Your First Trip to Yellowstone

 

Yellowstone Entrance Fee

You’ll need an entrance pass for Yellowstone. It costs 35 USD per private vehicle and is valid for 7 days. You can buy it at any entrance gate of the park.

However, if you are visiting several National Parks in the same year, it’s better to get an annual National Parks Pass. It’s called America the Beautiful Pass and costs 80 USD for the whole family traveling in the same vehicle. It is valid in all National Parks and 2,000 federal recreation sites across the United States for one year from the month of purchase.

TIP: If you only visit for a day, you can also opt for this day tour that includes all the fees. Also this popular 4-day tour includes entrance fee, so you don’t have to worry about any of that.

And now that you know all the practicalities, below, you can find our Yellowstone itinerary suggestions. Take a look!

Best Yellowstone itinerary for any trip from 1 to 5 days
 

Suggested Yellowstone itinerary for any trip from 1 to 5 days:

One Day in Yellowstone National Park

If you only have one day in Yellowstone visit the Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin, Grand Prismatic Spring, and drive at least part of the scenic loop road.

If you are short on time when visiting Yellowstone, I suggest driving the lower loop passing the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone (stop by Artist Point), Hayden Valley, and Yellowstone Lake.

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

One Day Yellowstone Itinerary:

  • Old Faithful & Upper Geyser Basin
  • Grand Prismatic Spring
  • Grand Prismatic Overlook Trail (optional)
  • Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
  • Hayden Valley
  • Yellowstone Lake
  • West Thumb Geyser Basin

For more details and information for this Yellowstone itinerary, please see our 1-day itinerary via the link below.

READ MORE: One Day in Yellowstone

TIP: If you only have one day in Yellowstone, it might be wise to join an organized 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 the best Yellowstone day tour (departing from Jackson Hole or Teton Village) that I was able to find. And here is a one-day tour from West Yellowstone.

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

How to Use This Map: Use your computer mouse (or fingers) to zoom in or out. Click on the icons 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 geyser in Yellowstone
Old Faithful geyser is a must in any Yellowstone itinerary!
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.

This itinerary will make sure you get to see the very best of Yellowstone in 2 days. Take a look!

Two Days Yellowstone Itinerary:

Day 1: Old Faithful Geyser, Old Faithful Inn, and the Morning Glory Pool (Upper Geyser Basin). Grand Prismatic Spring. Norris Geyser Basin. Mammoth Hot Springs. Boiling River.

Day 2: Undine Falls and/or Wraith Falls. Lamar Valley. Tower Fall. Dunraven Pass. Yellowstone Grand Canyon. Hayden Valley. Mud Volcano. Yellowstone Lake. West Thumb Geyser Basin.

Please note that due to the 2021 road works between Canyon and Tower, you might have to adjust this itinerary on day 2. If you absolutely want to go to Lamar Valley, you’ll have a serious detour on your way back to Yellowstone Canyon, which will add a few hours to your day.

You can find our detailed 2-day itinerary and tips on how to adapt it for this summer via the link below.

LEARN MORE: Two Days in Yellowstone

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).

Below is the map illustrating the 2-day itinerary suggestions for Yellowstone.

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, you can explore all the main areas at a more relaxed pace. In addition, you’ll have some time for some lesser-known places that will make your Yellowstone trip even more special. Below is our suggested itinerary.

Three Days Yellowstone 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). Undine Falls. Wraith Falls. Petrified Tree (not a must). 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.

Please note that due to the current road works between Canyon and Tower (Dunraven Pass), you might have to adjust this itinerary! You can still do it, just on day 2, you cannot drive via Dunraven Pass which is closed in 2021. It’s probably best to stay in Gardiner after day 1 and stay in West Yellowstone on day 2 (and potentially on day 3). In that case, you should be able to do it as it is suggested here. If you rather just stay in one place, then West Yellowstone is the best option.

This Yellowstone itinerary for three days includes pretty much all the main landmarks that you really have to see in the park.

Below is the map showing suggestions for things to see when visiting Yellowstone in 3 days.

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 travelers 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 :).

Four Days Yellowstone Itinerary:

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. Go swimming in the Boiling River. Undine Falls. Wraith Falls. Petrified Tree (optional). Lamar Valley. Tower Fall. Dunraven Pass.

Day 4: Midway Geyser Basin (Grand Prismatic). You can also hike to the Grand Prismatic Overlook. 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.

Please note that due to the current road works between Canyon and Tower, you cannot drive via Dunraven Pass (day 3). So, depending on where your accommodation is, you may have to adjust this itinerary a little bit.

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 a focus on wildlife (departs from Jackson, WY).

Below 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 days Yellowstone 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.

Update: Since the road between Canyon and Tower/ Rooseevelt area is closed in 2021, Mount Washburn trailhead is not accessible.

Another nice option on foot or by bike is Lone Star Geyser. It’s located about 3 miles south from the Old Faithful area and can be reached via a hiking/biking trail from there. It erupts every 3 hours.

Otherwise, you can find plenty of other nice hikes, go for a boat ride on Yellowstone Lake, go for a scenic float or rafting nearby, etc.

Take a look at the map above (4 days in Yellowstone) – the blue dot next to Dunraven Pass is Mount Washburn. And the blue dot south of the Old Faithful is Lone Star Geyser.

Dunraven Pass at Mount Washburn in Yellowstone National Park
Dunraven Pass at Mount Washburn
 

So, these are my suggestions for the best way to plan your Yellowstone trip and see the main landmarks of Yellowstone. None of these itineraries are very detailed as that would require separate articles, such as the ones for 1 and 2 days that we linked to above. So if you have any specific questions, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll try to help.

Please note that I cannot help you to create individual itineraries, however. We have lots of information and detailed guides for visiting Yellowstone, so please check those articles for more suggestions on how to plan your Yellowstone trip.

Update: Since so many of our readers asked for suggestions on how to best combine Yellowstone NP with Grand Teton NP, Glacier NP, and also with visiting Mount Rushmore, we have now published dedicated articles for those places. Take a look below!

   
More information for your trip to Yellowstone:

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Alec

Monday 19th of April 2021

We are planning to visit the park for a week from June 20, 2021. I am not sure if would be ideal to rent a smaller type of RV for 2 people and travel the entire park than camp in different spots or rent a car and spend two nights in several different locations with accommodations such as hotels/motels. your input would be greatly appreciated!!! Thanks in advance.

Tacy Thornton

Friday 9th of April 2021

Hi! I was looking at your 4 day itinerary. Do you stay in one place the whole time when following this itinerary? We will be coming from Denver and are going to go to Grand Teton for 2 nights then we will head to Yellowstone for 5 nights. Do you recommend that we try to stay inside the parks or are gateway towns good too? What is the best town to stay in when visiting Grand Teton? Also, I read that West Yellowstone is a good place to stay. Could we stay there the whole time we are visiting Yellowstone or should we move around? We have two boys and I know we will be driving a ton but I would like to stay in a good location so that we are not spending ALL of our time driving back and forth. We have never been to the area and there is so much information.. My main questions are about lodging. We are planning a trip for June 2022 so I am trying to get an early start.

Jurga

Saturday 10th of April 2021

Hi Tacy, we have a very comprehensive article about where to stay here: where to stay in and near Yellowstone. There, you can read about our experience, where we stayed, and what we recommend.

In short, we stayed in Canyon Lodge for 3 nights and at the Old Faithful Inn for one night and it worked well, but the OF Inn was really not worth all the fuss, we found. If you can stay inside the park, it's always great as it will save you some driving. But the park is huge, so no matter where you stay, you'll be driving a lot. In addition, the lodges inside the park cost A LOT more than those outside, some are quite dated, and they don't have any facilities like tv, wifi, or pools, which might be great for families with kids. So for better facilities, more restaurants, and cheaper prices, you are better off in West Yellowstone (which is indeed quite centrally located) or potentially Gardiner for the northern side. But to have less driving, it's definitely nice if you can stay centrally inside the park. One of the best locations for that is the Canyon area, which is quite central to everything. However, this year, there are road closures to the north of Canyon which make it much less attractive as a place to stay. I'm not sure if that road will be open in June 2022 yet, and if it's not, then Canyon Lodge would not be that much better than Lake Lodge or the lodges at the Old Faithful area... But you are still nicely on time for 2022, so if you want to stay inside the park, be sure to reserve your accommodation as soon as they open the bookings (should be in May this year for summer 2022). I think I'd recommend two locations anyway - maybe Canyon for a few days and then West Yellowstone or Old Faithful or Gardiner if you want to spend more time exploring the north. Or West Yellowstone and Gardiner if you decide to stay outside the park.

As for Grand Teton, there are some lodges inside the park as well - book those as soon as reservations open. Alternatively, Jackson is a good place to stay, also cheaper and has more restaurants and activities. But if you want to be in nature and avoid lots of driving, staying inside the park will surely save you a lot of driving. You can find more information on where to stay in Grand Teton in our Yellowstone - Grand Teton itinerary, look under day 1.

Hope this helps a bit. It's really your choice as there are advantages and disadvantages of staying in or near the park.

Lynn Sundberg

Thursday 8th of April 2021

Hi Jurga, thank you for all of your helpful information on visiting Yellowstone! We are flying into Spokane on 7/30 to attend a friends wedding in Clark Fork ID on 7/31. Our plan is leave Idaho on 8/2 and drive thru Yellowstone to get to my brother's home in Rapid City on approximately 8/6 and fly out from there. In your opinion is that doable? We realize Yellowstone is so big that we unfortunately won't have time to see it all. I read your comments on how lodging is booked a year in advance. Will that & places to eat be an issue if we are just "winging it"? I also thought about renting a smaller RV instead of an SUV just in case we can't find anywhere to stay. Just trying to research and learn as much as I can, make reservations, etc before we get there and be prepared to make sure that all will work out. I just ordered the visitor guides for Idaho & Wyoming. Your thoughts and any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Lynn Sundberg

Friday 9th of April 2021

@Jurga, thank you so much! I am not feeling as overwhelmed now with your experienced insight, accommodation links & very helpful information.

Jurga

Friday 9th of April 2021

Hi Lynn, I just looked at the map and all these places are really far from each other. You'd have a full day drive from Clark Fork, ID just to reach Yellowstone - it's about 7-8 hrs without any stops. After that, you'd have a similar drive to Rapid City (8-9hrs). So that means that you would have two very long days of driving in order to spend 3 days in Yellowstone. It's doable, the question is if it's worth it for you...

And, indeed, you would have to look at which accommodations are still available for those dates. I think you should be able to find something in Gardiner or West Yellowstone still, but I definitely wouldn't wait until you get there. The same with RV - if you don't book your camping in advance, the chances are very low that you'll just find something upon arrival. I think that all the campings inside the park that allow advance bookings are long booked-up as well. And those that are first-come-first-served, will be extremely hard to get in August. I wouldn't count on it. The restaurants inside Yellowstone will be busy, but that wasn't really a problem when we visited (we usually only ate dinner and had to wait a bit, but it wasn't bad). It's actually better to pack a picnic for lunch so that you don't have to waste your time during the day.

Anyway, if you decide to go to Yellowstone, with three days, you can still see the main highlights. You could drive to West Yellowstone and stay there for 3 nights (see accommodation availability here). Visit the Old Faithful/Grand Prismatic/ maybe Norris Geyser on day 1. Then visit Yellowstone Canyon, Hayden Valley, and Yellowstone Lake on day 2. Then on day3, visit Mammoth Hot Springs and the northern side of the park, drive through Lamar Valley, and maybe stay in Cooke City before continuing to Rapid City. Cooke City has very limited accommodations (see here), so you could also drive to Cody (it has a bit more accommodation - see here), but that means an extra long drive that day (but less driving the day after when you go to Rapid City). If you don't mind changing hotels every day, then you could also turn things around a bit, so this is just one of the ways to do it. You could also visit the Northern side of Yellowstone on day 2 and then leave the Canyon, Hayden Valley, and the rest for day 3, and drive to Cody from Yellowstone Lake. That would save you some driving afterwards.

Either way, whatever you decide, be sure to make your travel arrangements asap. National Parks will be very busy this summer. And if you go, be sure to start your days very early (6-8 AM) and visit the most popular places first thing in the morning. Good luck with the planning!

Terri Prigge

Tuesday 6th of April 2021

I am looking at your 4 day itinerary, I am wondering if all of these places are close in area. Should we look at staying at one place the whole time, or do we find a different place to stay each night? We would enter YNP by Jackson.

Jurga

Wednesday 7th of April 2021

Hi Terri, if you are traveling soon, then it's not really a matter of choice as most accommodations inside the park are usually fully booked a year in advance. So if you are visiting Yellowstone this summer, you'll likely have to just take what's still available. If you are looking for one somewhat centrally located place to stay near Yellowstone, West Yellowstone is the best option just outside the park. Otherwise, Gardiner is good for the northern side of the park. Please also take a look at our Yellowstone accommodation guide for more explanation on where to stay. Have a nice trip!

Maggie

Tuesday 6th of April 2021

Hi, Thanks for putting all this information in one spot! We are going in August for three nights four days. Our plan is to fly into Bozeman and spend a night there, and then come in through the north entrance. We are staying at the Yellowstone Lake Hotel the whole time. Do you think the road closures will be an issue? If we can find a an available room somewhere else would it make sense to stay in more than 1 location? Our plan is to drive out and end up in Jackson Hole.

Thank you!

Jurga

Tuesday 6th of April 2021

Hi Maggie, this sounds good except that the road closure between Tower/Roosevelt and the Canyon area will make it a bit tougher for you to visit the northern side of the park. So if you absolutely want to go to Lamar Valley, you could potentially add a night extra and visit it on the first day and also visit Mammoth Hot Springs and - if open - Boiling River on that same day. Stay in Gardiner or in Mammoth Hot Springs hotel (if available) for a night. After that, make your way to your hotel at Yellowstone Lake, visiting Norris Geyser Basin and maybe the Grand Prismatic Spring and the Old Faithful on that day. You can then have a more relaxing day visiting Yellowstone Canyon, Hayden Valley, and Yellowstone Lake on the next day. So - if you can add an extra day - maybe do the following: Day 1: Arrival and stay in Bozeman Day 2: North Yellowstone and stay in Gardiner Day 3: West Yellowstone and stay at Yellowstone Lake Day 4: Yellowstone Canyon, Hayden Valley, Yellowstone Lake, West Thumb Geyser Basin - stay at Yellowstone Lake Day 5: Move on to Grand Teton NP/Jackson Hole. You can then visit some of the nicest place Grand Teton in a day on your way to Jackson Hole.

Otherwise, if you only have 4 days, I think you'll have to skip Lamar Valley (day 2), and potentially very quickly visit Mammoth Hot Springs before driving more south and you might have to skip Norris Geyser Basin if you're running short on time and rather go to Grand Prismatic Spring and Old Faithful before driving to Yellowstone Lake. Good luck with the planning!

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