Looking to plan a trip to Yellowstone National Park? We visited Yellowstone in the summer of 2019 in an epic road trip covering 19 national parks in US & Canada in 3 months.
In this post, we will get you acquainted with things to do in Yellowstone, share our 5 day itinerary including pictures and videos, and help you plan your own visit.
Here are the topics we will cover in this post and other related posts. Click on any link to skip to the relevant section.
What is Yellowstone National Park Famous for?
Established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park is the oldest and by far the most famous national park in the US. It is an incredible place filled with thermal features such as geysers and hot springs, and an abundance of wildlife living in a largely untouched habitat that you cannot find elsewhere in the United States.
Located mostly in Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park also has portions in both Montana and Idaho to comprise an area of over 2 million acres! That makes it the 2nd largest national park in the contiguous United States after Death Valley National Park. It’s so vast, it actually has four different entrances to the park, one in each direction. The closest town is West Yellowstone., just outside of the west entrance.
Yellowstone National Park Map
- Upper, Mid & Lower Geyser Basin – This is where most of the geysers and hot springs, including the Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring are.
- Norris Geyser Basin – A bit further north from the Lower Geyser Basin, this area has the hottest geysers in Yellowstone.
- Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District – Further up north is the Mammoth Hot Springs, which is a large thermal area full of travertines and hot springs.
- Canyon Village and Grand Canyon of Yellowstone – The 1000+ ft deep canyon carved by the Yellowstone River as it flows north, with its distinct yellow colored rocks.
- Lamar Valley – the vast sub alpine valley where the bison and other wildlife roam in herds and often migrate from one side of the road to other causing traffic jams.
Where to Stay in Yellowstone?
One of the best locations to stay in Yellowstone is actually outside the park in the small touristy town of West Yellowstone. It has plenty of hotels, bars and restaurants and is conviniently located just outside of the west entrance of the park. If you’d like to stay inside the park, the best location is the Upper Geyser Basin (Old Faithful Inn) and West Thumb (Grant Village) as they are quite central to the main attractions in the park.
Keep in mind that Yellowstone is a huge park, so regardless of where you stay you will be doing quite a bit of driving everyday. Another great option is to stay in the Mammoth Hot Springs area (Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel & Cabins), which is a great option for its proximity to Grand Canyon, Lamar Valley and of course, the Mammoth Hot Springs, which is in its backyard!
Camping & RV
We stayed at Brandon Iron Inn in West Yellowstone, which has a small RV park in the back known as Pony Express RV Park. Its a great RV park as it’s right in the middle of town and has full hookups! During our stay here, we enjoyed going to the Wild West Pizza, the best pizza place in town with live music on weekends.
There aren’t very many RV parks inside Yellowstone Parks, and most parks limit the RV length. Grant Village Campground, Madison Campground and Bridge Bay Campground are some great options within the park, in three separate areas within the park. But make sure to reserve your spot well in advance as they tend to sell out quickly. Also note that these campgrounds are seasonal and close down during winter. Make sure to check the dates here.
How many days to spend in Yellowstone?
We recommend spending at least 3 full days here. This will give you enough time to explore the three distinct features of the park each day – the geysers, hot springs and thermal features, the vast sub alpine valleys with sprawling wildlife, and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
Many people opt to spend a whole week exploring both the Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park in a single trip. With these two parks being only 80 miles apart, it certainly makes a for a logical itinerary to combine them in a single trip. We spent 5 days in Yellowstone, after spending an equal amount in Grand Teton. Below is our day-by-day itinerary.
DAY 1: EXPLORE GEYSER BASINS IN YELLOWSTONE CALDERA
LOWER GEYSER BASIN
Visiting this area will probably be one of the very first activities in Yellowstone, and to help you plan your visit check out our post on the Top 5 Geysers in Yellowstone for tips to plan your day.
GRAND PRISMATIC SPRING
Crimsons, yellows, blues, and even greens explode like a cutaway of an everlasting gobstopper throughout the pool. These colors are all caused by colonies of thermal-loving bacteria that change the water’s hue. But don’t let the presence of life in this water tempt you to try and touch it; the water is over 160°F and is filled with microbes you’d rather not be on friendly terms with.
DAY 2: VISIT THE UPPER GEYSER BASIN & HIKE TO MYSTIC FALLS
According to probes dropped 72 feet down the cone of the geyser, the water temperature at that depth averages about 250°F. Despite the boiling water, it’s perfectly safe to view and remains one of the most popular attractions in the park.
Although Old Faithful is the most predictable geyser, and attracts herds of tourists, there are several other hot springs and geysers in the Geyser Basin that we thought were equally if not more interesting.
Biscuit Basin & Mystic Falls
From the viewpoint, the trail continues to the Mystic Falls before looping back to Biscuit Basin. The waterfall itself isn’t out of the world, but it nevertheless makes the trail a bit more interesting. Get some great photos with the backdrop of the Little Firehole River flowing down into the basin. Overall, it’s a great trail to get some physical activity and enjoy views of the surrounding basin from up top. Definitely worth the effort!
West Thumb Geyser Basin
West Thumb Geyser Basin is only a 30 minute drive from Upper Geyser Basin and features several geysers and springs right by the shore of Yellowstone Lake. The 1 mile boardwalk makes a perfect location for a casual evening walk watching the sun setting over the horizon. You will find far less crowds here than the more popular spots like Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic, and will make for a peaceful evening walk along Yellowstone Lake. The beautiful pictures of the lake will make an added bonus!
DAY 3: EXPLORE NORRIS GEYSER BASIN & MAMMOTH SPRINGS
Norris Geyser Basin
Mammoth Hot Springs
As boiling hot water flows through the fault line between Norris and Mammoth Hot Springs, it collects calcium carbonate from limestone deposits underneath. When this calcium rich water gushes out of the springs, the calcium is deposited on the surface creating large travertines where algae thrive.
These travertines are a wonderful mix of brown, red, orange, green and white. One of these travertines, known as Terrace Mountain, is the largest known carbonate depositing spring in the world!
We definitely recommend including Mammoth Hot Springs in your visit. Although a bit out of the way from other areas of interest, it is definitely a unique landscape and the pictures are just amazing!
DAY 4: VISIT THE GRAND CANYON OF YELLOWSTONE
There is a beautiful visitor center and a lodge housing several dining facilities that can be found north of the canyon’s North Rim Trail. There are also guided bus tours offered by park operators at an additional cost, but they can provide a unique experience that allows you to spend more time focusing on the natural wonder around you and let someone else worry about the road.
DAY 5: WILDLIFE VIEWING IN LAMAR & HAYDEN VALLEY
Hayden Valley, which is similar valley along the Yellowstone River, is much smaller but offers the same abundance of flora and fauna. It is around fifty square miles just north of Yellowstone Lake.
TOP 5 THINGS TO DO IN YELLOWSTONE
- Grand Prismatic Spring
- Grand Canyon
- Lamar Valley
- Mammoth Hot Springs
- Old Faithful
MUST HAVE’S FOR YOUR NATIONAL PARK TRIP
National Geographic Guide to National Parks
Yes, you can always Google stuff and find things on the fly. But if you are on a trail with no reception, a physical guide will come in handy. Besides, there is some pleasure in the good old way of discovering a new place by reading a book! This guide is a must have for anyone planning to travel to national parks.
AMERICA THE BEAUTFUL ANNUAL PARK PASS
All TRAILS iOS APP
Are you ready for Yellowstone?
Here are our other posts covering our visit to Yellowstone National Park. Hopefully these will help you plan your trip and have a memorable visit.
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