Day 2 Lower Loop
The Park’s Grand Loop Drive is shaped like a figure 8, divided into the Upper Loop and Lower Loop. We recommend driving the Lower Loop on Day 2, since it features Yellowstone’s most famous attraction – Old Faithful, that way you are building up to a grand finale. The Lower Loop has the greatest number of Yellowstone’s hydrothermal features.
It doesn’t matter whether you drive clockwise or counter clockwise around the Lower Loop, but my preference is to try and do it counter clockwise. Both ways are magnificent!
The strongest piece of advice we have is to make the Upper Geyser Basin and Old Faithful, the last sightseeing you do on this day. Leave yourself at least 3-4 hours and be prepared to walk a few miles if you can. Watching geysers as the sun is setting is, well, simply incredible.
Norris Geyser Basin
This may be the place where you first join the Lower Loop. Norris is definitely worth a stop, though with only one day, you might have to choose to not fully explore the 2 excellent walking loop trails. Make sure you do at least 2 things at Norris. Go take a look at Steamboat Geyser. Its major eruptions are completely unpredictable, but even if you catch a minor eruption, it’s mesmerizing. Also walk to the other side of the ridge for the Porcelain Basin Overlook. You can do these 2 things in 30 minutes or less.
Norris Junction to Madison Junction
There are several easy roadside stops that can be seen really quickly – a waterfall and a beautiful hot spring pool. The one excellent attraction that requires 1 hour to see is the Artists Paintpots. If you’ve been really good and started early enough to give yourself 13-14 hours for sightseeing, then make the stop, if not, it’s a shame, but OK to skip it.
From Madison to Old Faithful
We are getting into the hot zone along this section and its tempting to make long stops at the places of interest here. These are the places where you should definitely park and go and see:
Fountain Paint Pots – if rushed, you don’t have to walk the entire loop trail, though just 20 minutes can be enough to explore beyond the famous boiling mud.
Grand Prismatic Spring at Midway Geyser Basin. This is the most amazing colored hot spring in Yellowstone. We won’t have time to do the hike to the elevated view from the Fairy Falls Trailhead, but you will still enjoy the pools from ground level.
Firehole Lake Drive is a short detour drive that we definitely should do, and cross our fingers that we get lucky. Great Fountain Geyser eruptions are predicted and are huge, but its window for eruptions is long, like +/- 2 hours.
We will drive past it, but we won’t have time to linger, even if we are inside the eruption time window. White Dome Geyser eruptions only shoot up 40 feet these days, but it goes off about every 30 minutes, so we’ll be impressed if we see this one too. Same for the smaller Pink Cone Geyser though it’s not as frequent. The road brings us back to the Grand Loop.
At Old Faithful
We’ve now arrived at Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin. The first thing to do is to go to the Visitor Center is look at the prediction times for the eruptions in this basin. The staff will help you map out a route to give yourself the best chance to see multiple eruptions from different geysers.
Be prepared to walk 2-4 miles depending on prediction times – though the walking is essentially flat and easy. And the boardwalks between major geysers take you past beautiful pools, other smaller geysers and formations. Morning Glory Pool is most definitely worth the hike!
You should see Old Faithful erupt at least 2 times during your visit. Watch it one time from the seating right in front, but also try and see another eruption from an elevated position on Geyser Hill or even from Daisy Geyser.
If Riverside’s next eruption fits your schedule, then that is a fantastic one to photograph. As we said earlier, its worth staying in the Upper Basin even into twilight as the eruptions can be even more spectacular in the lower, fading light. Be sure to take a look at the Old Faithful Inn lobby before driving away.
West Thumb has a little of everything, boiling mud, fumaroles, hot springs and even small geysers. It might seem like a little let less spectacular if coming directly from Old Faithful, but its lakeside setting makes it extremely picturesque. Its definitely worth stopping at West Thumb and a full visit can be done in one hour or less.
West Thumb to Canyon Village
The first half of this leg drives alongside the shores of Yellowstone Lake. It’s a corner of the Park that we shouldn’t miss, but its perfectly acceptable to simply enjoy this section from our vehicle as we drive through.
With limited time, stopping at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel, the Marina and Fishing Bridge are not necessary.From Fishing Bridge to Canyon Village we follow through Hayden Valley, a haven for wildlife, so, as you always should while in Yellowstone, keep an eye out animals.
A stop at Mud Volcano and the Sulphur Cauldron should not be missed, a great contrast between boiling mud and dirty hot springs and the pristine clarity of the most of the hot pools in Yellowstone. Mud Volcano can be experienced in 30 minutes or less.
Canyon Village to Norris Junction
We recommend the Canyon Village area be explored as a part of your Upper Loop day, so use the Norris Canyon Road to cut across to the other side of the Park at Norris Junction. There are no must do stops on the leg of our drive.
Download a GyPSy Guide Driving Tour App for Yellowstone – It’s Like Having A Tour Guide in the Car
That’s a full, but manageable day to explore Yellowstone’s Lower Loop Drive. Downloading the GyPSy Guide App Tour of Yellowstone National Park will be hugely helpful to you as it automatically explains the things that are coming up.
This will help you know whether attractions are not to be missed, or if its OK to skip certain places to save time for other must do stops. Its like having a tour guide in the vehicle along with you.