America’s first National Park, Yellowstone, is high on many adventurer’s road tripping list.
It’s not hard to see why; amazing geothermal features that are abundant throughout the park, spectacular mountains, Yellowstone Lake, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and rivers.
And a diverse range of wildlife including grizzly bears, bison, wolves, elk and pronghorn.
We’ll help prioritize the must-see places vs suggestions, based on your time and interest.
Along the way, we’ll do a little thermal geology 101 lesson so you can better appreciate the plumbing behind the features you are viewing, such as Mammoth Hot Springs’ cascading travertine terraces.
Share stories of wildlife behaviour and their habitat, for when you are quietly watching animals in Hayden and Lamar Valleys.
And check off the most important landmarks in the area like those in the Upper Geyser Basin, location of Old Faithful, and Midway Geyser Basin with Grand Prismatic Springs and nearby Norris Geyser Basin.
Plus many other stories, tips and directions that will help enrich your Yellowstone National Park experience.
Gardiner, West Yellowstone, Northeast (Cooke City), East (Cody) & Grand Teton Entrances
It is recommended to have a minimum one day for each of the Upper and Lower Loops. You can drive the entire Grand Loop in a single day, and the commentary will help with selecting which stops to make. Multiple days to explore all areas of the Park and allow time for wildlife watching, geyser eruptions and other adventures in the Park is best.
Around 125 miles to complete the whole Grand Loop drive.
Yellowstone is the world’s first national park, and awes visitors with its otherworldly bubbling hot pots and steamy geothermal features as well as its spectacular mountain scenery, vast canyons, and abundant wildlife.
The majority of Yellowstone National Park is located in the northwestern corner of Wyoming, although a small section of the park is in Montana and Idaho.
Yellowstone Airport in West Yellowstone is the closest airport and only three miles from the park’s West Entrance. The Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport is the closest international airport and a little more than an hour to the North Entrance near Gardiner, or a little less than a two-hour drive to the West Entrance in West Yellowstone.
Yellowstone National Park is open year-round, although access is limited during the winter months. July and August are by far the most popular times to visit. Fewer crowds make April through May and September and October some of the best times to visit.
The absolute minimum amount of time you should allow yourself to do sightseeing in Yellowstone is two days, doing the Upper Loop one day and the Lower Loop on the other day.
We share a couple of possible Yellowstone itineraries to help organize your time, but as the commentary plays based on your location, you have ultimate flexibility.
If you have more time, add an extra day in Yellowstone. It’s very worthwhile to allow yourself time in the geyser basin areas to wait for eruptions. Other than Old Faithful, the predicted geysers will often have a 1-2 hour window when the next eruption may occur, so it’s really helpful to have time to be patient and wait for things to happen. The different geysers gush in different ways, so each one has its own style!
If you only have one day you can still enjoy some of the Yellowstone’s main attractions, but try to stay at least one night inside the park so you can start your sightseeing first thing in the morning. You need a minimum of three full days to see all the main sights and four is ideal.
Hotel-style accommodations, rustic cabins, campgrounds, RV parks and luxury suites are all available inside Yellowstone National Park but it can sometimes be difficult to secure reservations, especially during the peak summer season. Luckily there are numerous options for all budgets and tastes right outside Yellowstone.
Read our blog – Where should I stay in Yellowstone for more details.
Geysers in Yellowstone fall into two categories of predictable and unpredictable. Some, like Old Faithful are regular, erupting every 90 minutes or so, others, like Steamboat are more erratic, laying dormant for years and suddenly active with a string of eruptions.
So with an erratic schedule how do you plan your geyser watching? The National Park Visitor Centers have latest predictable times listed on their website, in their app (must be on wifi) and in person. And geysertimes.org is updated by dedicated “geyser gazers”.
So it’s worthwhile to check in the night before if you want to spend some of your day geyser gazing.
It’s quite exciting to see the many animals in Yellowstone – both big and small. They are wild, so you need to remember their movements are never guaranteed and you always need to respect the recommended safe distances, keep in your vehicle and never feed them. You can rent spotting scopes, camera lens and binoculars to safety see animals up close.
Suggested areas to spot some of the 67 species of mammals, 300 species of birds, fish and amphibians you’ll find in Yellowstone include;
Unfortunately each park now collects its own entrance fees so you will need to purchase a separate pass each for Grand Teton and Yellowstone.
Depending on the length of your stay it might be best value to purchase an America the Beautiful Annual Pass which gets you entry into any national park without any time restrictions.