an epic yellowstone national park itinerary
Ah, YELLOWSTONE! America's first national park since 1872 AND the world's first national park, too. This gigantic park spreads over 3,500 square miles and across the three states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.
It's one of the country's most popular parks, think 4+ million visitors a year, and is known for the geothermal activity and abundance of wildlife. When you take a drive through the park, you'll be in awe by the variety of landscapes from canyons and rivers to geysers and meadows.
There's PLENTY to do and I recommend saving 2-3 days to really dig into what the park has to offer. It's definitely an accessible park perfect for the whole fam with lots of viewpoints and paved walkways. We're including a mini guide below and what our itinerary looked like so you can take a peek at how we spent our time in Yellowstone National Park.
A FEW QUICK TIPS:
To explore the park, you'll definitely need a car. Unlike other parks, they don't have a public transportation system and there is plenty of ground to cover
It's an amazing park year-round, but make sure you're aware of road closures and less access in winter. We visited in the early days of Fall and it was absolutely gorgeous. I've seen photos from Spring and it looks just as stunning!
Wildlife can also be seen year-round, but animals will be most active during Spring-Fall. Spring is full of bears and baby animals while Fall yields plenty of animals all around.
IT IS BEAR COUNTRY, I repeat, BEAR COUNTRY! Please do your part in keeping the bears and other wildlife safe by reading up on how to be aware and what to expect while visiting bear country. Never hike alone, do not leave food out, and have bear spray. Read more on bear safety HERE
While there are so many stunning animals, remember not always stay at least 100 yards (91 m) away from bears and wolves, and at least 25 yards (23 m) away from all other animals, including bison and elk. Don't feed the wildlife either!
Remember to also stay on boardwalks and trails. The areas of this park are all active and geothermal areas can have a crust that can result in some crazy burns.
We spent three days exploring Yellowstone and followed the itinerary below. The first day we took it slow and had a magical horseback ride in West Yellowstone then explored the town. We split the park in half and did the lower area one day and the upper area the second.
We were also able to stay in Madison Campground while we were there and it was AMAZING. If you can camp in the park, you definitely should! Note: there are no showers, so bring those baby wipes. Haha!
Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center
Horseback Ride at Diamond P Ranch
Explore West Yellowstone
West Thumb Geyser Basin
Old Faithful Geyser
Grand Prismatic Spring
Mammoth Hot Springs
Yellowstone Grand Canyon
Norris Geyser Basin
If you don't have time to follow the entire itinerary above, I'm listing the places we loved below so you can choose your itinerary! Old Faithful is an obvious one guys, so be sure to put that one on your list! We wanted to share some that were a little bit underrated!
Norris Geyser Basin
One of my favorite basins we visited was Norris Geyer basin. It was actually the least crowded but the coolest one in my opinion! It's the oldest and hottest of Yellowstone’s geothermal areas with the hottest geothermal temperature recorded at Norris at 459°F! HOLY HOT STUFF.
The basin is divided into two areas, Porcelain Basin and Back Basin which are both vastly different. Porcelain is a barren landscape with steaming vents while Back is heavily wooded and hides Steamboat Geyser, the world's tallest active geyser! When it does erupt, it can shoot water up to 300 ft into the air. It erupts infrequently and the last major one was in February 2020.
Grand Prismatic OVERLOOK + Midway geyser
I know Grand Prismatic is another obvious one, but do you know about the overlook hike? It's about a one-mile round-trip and offers an awesome view of Grand Prismatic (also the largest hot spring in the US!). Park 1 mile south of Midway Geyser Basin at the Fairy Falls Parking Lot and start the trail from there. I promise you, the views are AMAZING and you don't want to miss out on seeing the spring from this view. If you haven't heard of Grand Prismatic spring, it's likely you've seen photos of the gorgeously hued pool - the center of the spring is blue and the outer rings are made up of bright yellows, oranges, and reds. The colors are caused by pigmented bacteria that thrive off the geothermic activity and the color varies based on the temperature of the water.
The road through Hayden Valley was actually closed this trip so we decided to drive along Lamar Valley instead and it was STUNNING. We saw tons of bison, some elk, and even got to do a little offroading on an offshoot road where we discovered a gorgeous grove of aspens that were a fiery orange. It was a fun way to relax our legs while still seeing the park.
Mammoth Hot Springs
These terraces are amazing! I was actually a little reluctant making the drive from our west campground all the way up here but it was well worth it. This area is way different from the other geothermal areas in Yellowstone due to the mesmerizing travertine rock formations cutting through the landscape. You can walk through the hot springs via the 1.75 miles boardwalk trail that goes through the upper and lower terraces. It's so worth it! If you want to learn more about the area you can also visit their visitor center to read about the history, wildlife and grab a snack.
Horseback Ride at Diamond P. Ranch
Hands down one of my favorite activities we were able to do on this trip! We actually found out about Diamond P Ranch through Hipcamp when we needed to book a one-nighter in Yellowstone since our campground wasn't available for one of the days we were in town.
We booked their 3-hour ride and were honestly sooo captivated by the magic of riding a horse up onto the continental divide and through the Galatin National Forest. We were able to get a sneak peek at the aspens just starting to turn n the fall. When the wind rustled their leaves it looked like tiny butterflies were riding through the breeze!
Have any other questions about our time in Yellowstone? Drop a comment below or DM us on Insta!