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HOW TO SEE YELLOWSTONE IN 1, 3, OR 5 DAYS


Riverside Geyser at Old Faithful
Yellowstone is a beautiful and awe-inspiring National Park. Unfortunately, due to its remote location, many people don’t always have a lot of time to see everything. Yellowstone is massive with about 3,472 square miles of wilderness. That means that you have to really plan on what you want to do before visiting. The first thing to do is figure out what you want to prioritize. Do you want to watch wildlife? See thermal features? Do everything you can in a short time period? Here are some ways that you can get the most out of your visit:

1. You Have 1 Day and You Want to Watch Wildlife:


Downloadable Notated Map of Wildlife (in Red)

General Tips for Wildlife:


· If you have 1 day and want to prioritize wildlife viewing, focus on the northern side of the park.

· Lamar Valley is your best bet for any wildlife viewing, no matter what time of year.

· Hayden Valley is great for bison viewing until September.

· Mammoth will almost always have elk.

· If you see a crowd stopped, pull over so you can get pictures without blocking traffic.

· If you see a ranger stopped with a crowd, that usually means there are wolves or bears.

· More animals are out around sunrise or sunset.


General Itinerary Ideas:

1. Stay in or around the Canyon area since it's more central. You can also stay up towards Mammoth or Roosevelt if you want to focus on the Lamar Valley.


2. Wake up very early and head to Lamar Valley. Slough Creek is often a good place to look for wolves in the mornings. Watch for people with large telephoto lenses if you’re unsure.


3. After seeing some wildlife in Lamar Valley, drive south on Dunraven Pass towards Canyon. Head towards Hayden Valley to see bison and maybe some black bears along the way. A favorite picnic area for lunch is the Nez Perce Ford area in Hayden Valley.


4. Keep going south and head for Fishing Bridge. From there, drive around the lake and start up Sylvan Pass. You’ll see a burned area from a past forest fire. Grizzlies are often spotted here.


5. From here, depending on your time, head back up towards Canyon and catch the sunset in Hayden Valley, around Lake Yellowstone, or at the Lower Falls. You can grab dinner at the Lake restaurant or up in Canyon.





2. You Have 1 Day and You Want to See Geysers:


Downloadable Notated Map of Thermal Areas (in Red)

General Tips for Thermal Areas:


· There are many thermal areas in the park, and it’s difficult to see them all in one day.

· If you’re going in peak summer months, don’t plan on seeing more than a select few.

· Crowds are big, so parking and traffic takes a long time.

· Pick which areas you want to focus on so you can take your time and enjoy them.

· Remember that geysers are natural features and are never precise.

· Be prepared for long wait times for geysers that have longer prediction windows.


General Itinerary Ideas:

1.Stay more in the Old Faithful or Grant areas since the majority of thermal areas are on the southern side of the park.


2.Get to Old Faithful early to try and beat the major crowds. See which geysers are predicted and for what times.

  • If geyser times are predicted to be close together, pick one and wait for it. If you don’t know your way around the basin, it can be really hard to catch multiple geysers with similar prediction windows.

  • Try to see Grand Geyser if you can. It’s the world’s tallest predictable geyser, but it can have long wait times.


3. The Old Faithful area could easily take all day, but if you want to try and see more, head north towards Midway Geyser Basin.

  • Instead of parking in the small lot at the basin, take the Ferry Falls hike nearby. There is an observation point of Grand Prismatic up on the hill. You can also go ahead and walk around the small basin if you have time.


4. If Great Fountain Geyser has been predicted for anytime you’re around Midway, go ahead and drive over to the Firehole Lake Drive to see if you can catch it.

  • If you’re there and the pool is overflowing and bubbling, that means that the geyser is close to erupting.

  • If it doesn’t look ready, White Dome Geyser is nearby and erupts roughly every 45 minutes.

  • If you’re doing good with time, you can stop by the Fountain Paint Pots area as well.


5. Drive north to Norris Geyser Basin.

  • This is a large basin, so it can take time if you want to see everything.

  • The world’s tallest geyser, Steamboat, is located here. It’s usually erupting a little bit of water, but major eruptions are very rare.

  • Be aware that if Steamboat has a major eruption while you’re there, the water will land on the cars in the parking lot and might damage the paint.


6. Most likely the day is done, possibly even before Norris, so head back to where you’re staying.

  • If you happened to be heading south from Norris around sunset, go over to Artists Paintpots to see that thermal area at Golden Hour.





3. You Have 1 Day and You Want to See It All:


Seeing all of Yellowstone in one day is not something that I’d recommend. The park is just too big to see everything, especially if you’re going during peak summer months when traffic and crowds are very heavy. You can try, but you will definitely have to skip things.



Downloadable Notated Map of the 6 Main Sections (in Red)

General Tips:

  • I’d recommend focusing on certain things that you want to do, and try not to be upset if you have to cut something due to time.

  • If you want to try and see everything, there are 6 main sections of the park that you could try to fit in: Mammoth, Lamar Valley, Canyon, Norris, Old Faithful, and Lake.

  • You should probably stay in the Canyon area since it's the most central location in the park.


General Itinerary Ideas:

1. Start out early and see the Lower Falls before crowds start building. If you’re staying in the Canyon area, this shouldn’t be very far.

  • Just do the North Rim Drive with only a couple of viewpoints.

  • Don’t try to see the Upper Falls as well since there isn’t enough time.


2. Head up Dunraven Pass and over to Lamar Valley to see some wildlife.

  • Focus around the Slough Creek area.

  • Don’t stay here too long or go too far into the valley or you’ll run out of time.


3. From Lamar, head west over to Mammoth.

  • The hike around the Terraces doesn’t take too long, but be aware that there are a good number of stairs.

  • There are also amenities here if you want to grab something to eat or get gas.


4. Head south to Norris Geyser Basin.

  • You can park in the small lot or the overflow lot.

  • There are two sections of this basin, but I’d probably recommend going left for the Back Basin since you’ll get to see Steamboat Geyser.

  • If you aren't as interested in thermal features, you can skip this stop.


5. There are a lot of thermal areas as you head south towards Old Faithful.

  • If you have spare time, stop at Midway Geyser Basin to see Grand Prismatic.

  • You can also take the Ferry Falls hike to the Grand Prismatic Overlook.

6. Old Faithful will take more time than you think, especially if you want to try and see everything.

  • I wouldn’t recommend trying to see the whole basin since it’s too big and geysers aren’t always predictable.

  • See which geysers are expected to erupt soon at the Visitor Center. There are plenty of places to sit and watch Old Faithful.

  • Old Faithful and Daisy are the most predictable geysers, but Daisy is further down the basin.

  • If you’re at Old Faithful around sunset, crowds often die down.


7. If you still have time by this point, head east towards Lake for some dinner and a nice sunset.

  • The Lake area has nice amenities including a restaurant and different shops.

  • Don’t stay too late if you aren’t staying in this area in order to avoid driving back in the dark.


8. Be sure to head back to where you’re staying with plenty of time before it gets dark!




 

4. You Have 3 Full Days in Yellowstone:


If you have at least 3 full days to explore the park, you can take more time seeing everything without having to sacrifice certain sections. I would either recommend picking one location to stay and venturing out from there, or staying in different sections of the park in order to get up early to beat the crowds. Your location will most likely dictate what you should see and when, but here’s how I would combine the different sections of the park within 3 days:


Day One: For one of your days, I would focus on seeing Lamar Valley, Mammoth, and Norris Geyser Basin.

1. Get up early for wildlife viewing in Lamar Valley. Keep an eye out for wolves around Slough Creek.


2. Head west towards Mammoth.

  • If you want you can take a slight detour over to Tower Falls from Lamar Valley and then head over to Mammoth.


3. Spend time hiking the Mammoth Travertine Terraces.

  • Be aware that there are a good number of stairs along this trail.


4. If it’s lunch time already, grab some food at the Terrace Grill or something to-go in the General Store.


5. Head south towards Norris.

  • You can take a slight detour to the pull-off for Roaring Mountain if the weather is cooler.


6. Walk around Norris Geyser Basin and see if Steamboat Geyser erupts.

  • Norris is a large basin, with 2 main sections: Back and Porcelain basins. Back basin is longer and mostly level, with Steamboat along the way. Porcelain is shorter with steeper inclines and some stairs.


7. If you still have some time, see the Artists Paintpots nearby around sunset.


Mammoth Hot Springs

Day Two: For one of your days, I would focus on the Canyon, Lake, and West Thumb areas.

1. Get up early to see the Upper and Lower Falls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone before crowds build.

  • Sometimes you can catch a rainbow at the bottom of the Upper Falls around 9am during sunny summer months.

  • Drive the North Rim Drive, and hike down to the Brink of the Lower Falls.

  • Go over to Artist Point for the iconic view of the Upper Falls.


2. Head south for some wildlife viewing in Hayden Valley.

  • Bison herds are often found here, with the Wapiti Wolf Pack spotted every so often.


3. Stop by Mud Volcano and walk around the basin.

  • This hike is steep going up the hill towards the larger hot springs. If you don’t want to hike all of it, you can focus on the mudpots towards the bottom.


4. Drive south towards Fishing Bridge.

  • If you want some souvenirs or snacks, the General Store here has a nice selection.


5. Continue driving east until you see a large beach on your right called Sedge Bay.

  • You can go in the lake if you like, but be aware that the water is very cold most of the time.


6. If you are doing well on time, drive a little further east until you see a road going up on your left called for Lake Butte Overlook.

  • Drive up the short road and take in the panoramic views of Yellowstone Lake.


7. Head back west towards the Fishing Bridge Intersection and head south towards Lake and West Thumb.

  • You can stop into the Lake area if you want some souvenirs or food.

  • You can also check out the Historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel.


8. Wrap up the day spending some time seeing West Thumb Geyser Basin.

  • This is a smaller basin that is right on the lake.

  • Elk are often nearby, especially during mating season in September.



Brink of the Lower Falls

Day Three: For one of your days, I would focus on the Old Faithful area along with other nearby geyser basins.

1. Get up early to explore the Old Faithful area before crowds start building.

  • Check with the Visitor Center for geyser prediction times. They usually start posting them around 9am.

  • Explore the different geysers, picking certain ones that you want to see based on their prediction times.

  • Don’t try to see all of them if they’re prediction times are too close!

  • Geyser predictions are never exact, and you usually have to get there early and wait to see some of the more unpredictable ones like Grand.

  • Try and see Grand Geyser erupt if you can. It's hard to predict, but if you see the pool overflowing, then it’s fairly close.


2. Depending on how much time you’ve spent at Old Faithful, you can explore some of the other basins in the area.


3. Biscuit and Black Sand Basins are small and nearby, but they can be skipped if necessary.


4. Midway Geyser Basin has the iconic Grand Prismatic Spring, but it can be very crowded because of this.

  • Unlike with Old Faithful, I wouldn’t recommend seeing Grand Prismatic too early in the day because cooler temperatures make more steam cover the bright colors of the spring.

  • If you wait until later in the day, like just before sunset, crowds have thinned and the temperatures are still warm enough that there isn’t too much steam.

  • I would recommend hiking the Ferry Falls trail up to the Grand Prismatic Overlook in order to see the spring from a higher viewpoint.


5. If you still have time, you can conclude with the Fountain Paint Pot and Firehole Lake Drive areas.

  • Fountain Paint Pots is a shorter trail with mudpots, springs, and geysers.

  • Firehole Lake Drive has Great Fountain and White Dome Geysers.




 

4. You Have 5 Full Days in Yellowstone:

If you have 5 full days in the park, you can really see a lot. You can also include a day trip down to Grand Teton National Park. I would recommend staying in different sections of the park based on your itinerary so that you don’t have to do quite as much driving. If you do want to stay in one location and branch out from there, I’d recommend staying in either the Canyon or Lake areas since they’re more central. Your location will most likely dictate what you should see and when, but here’s how I would combine the different sections of the park within 5 days:


Printable Map of Grand Teton National Park

Day One: Stay on the northern side of the park and focus on wildlife viewing and Mammoth. You can also take a day trip out the northeast entrance to see the Beartooth and Chief Joseph Highways if you prefer.

1. Wake up early for wildlife viewing in Lamar Valley.

  • Take your time looking for wolves around Slough Creek, large bison herds, and black bears and pronghorn around the Blacktail Plateau Drive.


2. Start to drive west towards Mammoth, but take the turn for Tower Falls.

  • Drive up a little ways and see Tower Falls.

  • Be aware that the viewing area is fairly small and can get crowded.


3. Go back towards Roosevelt and head over to Mammoth to explore the Travertine Terraces.

  • You can also grab food and gas in this area.

  • The trails for the terraces aren’t very long, but they do have quite a few stairs.


4. If you want a harder hike with spectacular views, drive south from Mammoth towards Norris and hike to Bunsen Peak.

  • It’s considered a moderate hike, but I consider it to be more on the strenuous side if you’re not used to high altitudes or steeper inclines.

  • The views are amazing all along the trail.

  • Make sure to have bear spray and groups of at least 3 due to bear activity (especially in the spring).


5. You’re probably exhausted by now, so go ahead and head to your next location for the night.


Lamar Valley

Day Two: Stay around the Canyon area so that you can focus on the more central area of the park.

1. Get going before 8:30am and head over to the Upper Falls.

  • On sunny summer days, you can sometimes see the rainbow at the bottom of the Upper Falls around 9am.


2. Drive the North Rim Drive.

  • Stop at the different pull-offs for great views of the Lower Falls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

  • Hike down to the Brink of the Lower Falls to see the water spilling over. It’s a short hike, but steep coming back up.


3. From Canyon, drive west towards Norris.


4. You could also stop and do the easy Cascade Lake trail on your way to Norris.

  • It’s an Out and Back Trail that’s about 6 miles roundtrip.


5. On your way to Norris, you can take the short one-way loop to see the Virginia Cascades.

  • If you’re short on time, you can easily skip this.


6. If you want a picnic in this area, the Norris picnic area on your right is a nice spot.


7. Hike the Norris Geyser Basin and see if Steamboat erupts.

  • Be aware that if Steamboat Geyser erupts, the water can land on the cars in the main parking lot and cause damage to the paint.

  • This is a large basin, with two main sections, so it can take a while if you want to see everything.

  • You can also wait and see if Steamboat happens to erupt.


8. Move on to your next location for the night.


Steamboat During the Steam Phase After Eruption

Day Three: Stay around the Old Faithful area so that you can focus on the thermal areas of the park.

1. Start the day exploring the Old Faithful area before crowds get too big.

  • Check for geyser predictions at the Visitor Center. They usually start posting them around 9am.

  • Pick which geysers you want to see based on the prediction times. If the times for several geysers are close, pick which one you want to see more.

  • Try to see Grand, Riverside, or Castle since they don’t erupt as often as Old Faithful and Daisy.

  • You can see Old Faithful erupt from the hillside above by hiking the short trail to the Observation Point.


2. If the Old Faithful area didn’t take too long, you can head over to Biscuit and Black Sand Basins.

  • They’re small, so you can skip them if you need to.


3. Head over to Midway Geyser Basin to see Grand Prismatic Spring.

  • This is a crowded area, so be patient for parking.

  • If you don’t want to walk the small basin, you can park at the Ferry Falls trail and hike up to the Grand Prismatic Observation Point to see it from above.


4. You’ve probably spent the whole day by now, but if you have time, head over to the Firehole Lake Drive just before sunset.

  • White Dome Geyser during the summer looks like it’s erupting fire around sunset.


Grand Geyser at Old Faithful

Day Four: You could stay around the Lake, Fishing Bridge, Bridge Bay, or Grant areas so that you can focus on Yellowstone Lake.

1. Get up early to catch the sun rising over Yellowstone Lake.

  • There’s a platform in front of the Lake Yellowstone Hotel where you can get good views.


2. Head east past Fishing Bridge over towards Sylvan Pass.

  • You’ll drive along the lake and start up the hill to a burned area.


3. Watch for Grizzlies in the burned area above the lake.

  • There are 3 grizzlies named Raspberry, Snow, and Jam that like this area.


4. On your left will be a road that goes up the hill to the Lake Butte Overlook.

  • Take this road up for panoramic views of the lake.


5. Head back towards Fishing Bridge.

  • You can get in the lake at Sledge Bay along the way back (but the water is very cold!).

  • If you want to hike over here, Avalanche Peak is a personal favorite. Just be aware that this is a very steep trail and is considered difficult. The views at the top are more than worth it though!


6. Grab some lunch at the Fishing Bridge General Store if you haven’t eaten already.

  • There is also a good selection of souvenirs here.


7. Head south towards West Thumb, and keep an eye out for grizzlies on the way.

  • Grizzlies are often spotted south of Bridge Bay, especially during the spring or just after a rainstorm.


8. Explore the West Thumb Geyser Basin.

  • This is a unique basin that’s located right on the lake.

  • On clear days, the views are beautiful.

  • Elk are also found around here, particularly during mating season in September.

9. If you want a hike in this area, the Natural Bridge trail near Bridge Bay is a nice hike.

  • It’s rated moderate, but I’d say it’s on the easier side.


10. Finish the day with heading towards your next location.



Yellowstone Lake

Day Five: Stay either in the Grant area or further south so that you can explore Grand Teton National Park.

1. Depending on where you are, start the day with the early morning sun looking onto the Teton Range.

  • If you’re near Colter Bay, look out over Jackson Lake. (though be aware that the lake levels have dropped dramatically in recent years)

  • If you’re near Jenny Lake, go over to the Visitor Center or the Jenny Lake Overlook.

  • If you’re further south, go over to Mormon Row or Glacier View Overlook.


2. Spend the day driving on Teton Park Road and pulling off at every overlook that you like.

  • My favorites are the Mountain View, Jenny Lake, and Glacier View Overlooks.


3. Make sure to take pictures at Mormon Row outside of the park.


4. If you want to view wildlife or see fall foliage, go up the Moose-Wilson Road.

  • You don’t have to go all the way, but at least go up half a mile past the first hill.


5. For a good hike, try the Death Canyon trail located off of the Moose-Wilson Road.

  • You can just go up to the Patrol Cabin, or you can go further if you like longer hikes.

  • It gets steep after a little while, but it levels out more as you reach the top.

  • Be careful on the road up to the trailhead. Either have high clearance or be a skilled driver! Don’t go too far up if it’s too muddy.


6. Also be sure to take pictures at Oxbow Bend and Schwabacher Landing.

  • These are especially good spots at sunrise or sunset.



 

If you plan ahead, you can see a lot more of the park compared to winging it. Because of the crowds, the park’s massive size, and inevitable bison jams, you have to be prepared for anything. Always remember to enjoy where you are and be considerate of others who want to see this beautiful place as well.





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