Yellowstone National Park is probably the most iconic national park in the US, and for good reason. First off, it is the nation's oldest national park (established in 1872). Second, with all of its geothermal activity, it is so extremely unique in its landscapes. And third, Yellowstone is teeming with wildlife just waiting to be captured in a photograph (from a safe distance of course)! With all of that said, there was no question about where we would be spending our time for our Wyoming (state #38) vlog. But Yellowstone can be an intimidating park, especially if you’re on a tight schedule like us! For that reason, we’ve put together this one day itinerary in hopes of helping other time-crunched travelers like ourselves make the most of their time in this bucket list park.
*Be sure to watch our “Wyoming: Yellowstone in a Day” travel vlog for a closer look at our visit!
Before we get into the itinerary, check out this map so that you can wrap your head around the layout of the park. Also, if you click on the map it will take you to an interactive version of the map where you can get more info on each area.
Alright… Let’s get to it!
6:30am: Sunrise at Mammoth Hot Springs (North Entrance)
Sunrise in Yellowstone is a magical thing. Especially in the Mammoth Hot Springs area during Bull Elk rutting season (September)! The canyon comes alive with the Bull Elk mating calls! And the way that the sun reflects off of the shallow pools around the hot springs is beautiful!
7:45am: Norris Geyser Basin
Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest, oldest, and most dynamic of Yellowstone's thermal areas and is home to 193 geysers. One of those is Steamboat Geyser which is the world's tallest active geyser. Its major eruptions shoot water more than 300 feet)While there’s little chance that you’ll actually get to see Steamboat Geyser erupt since it is very sporadic with anywhere from 30 to 50 eruptions happening each year, it’s worth hiking the boardwalks through the Norris Geyser Basin to view all of the pools, springs, and geysers. Plus, you never know… You might get to see the world's tallest geyser in action!
9:45am: Grand Prismatic Spring (Midway Geyser Basin)
Grand Prismatic Spring is probably the second most popular attraction in the park (Old Faithful being number one), and there is good reason for it. This 370 foot wide, 160 foot deep, technicolored hot spring is the largest hot spring in the United States, and the third largest in the world. The hike/walk out to the Grand Prismatic Spring boardwalk is short and very accessible (as most trails in Yellowstone are). All of this said, Grand Prismatic Spring is what we would call a Must-See when visiting Yellowstone.
10:45am: Grand Prismatic Overlook (1.2 miles round trip - located at Fairy Falls Trailhead)
If you’re like us and want a little better view of the Grand Prismatic Spring, you’ll want to take the short hike up to the Grand Prismatic Overlook. It’s a short 1.2 mile (round trip) hike that takes you to an overlook that sits just over 100 feet higher than the spring giving you a beautiful vantage point to take in the vivid colors. If you only have time for one stop at Grand Prismatic Spring, this would be the one to make in our opinion.
12:00pm: Old Faithful Area (Old Faithful Lodge, Yellowstone Gift Shop, Restaurants, etc.)
After a morning full of adventuring, you’re probably getting hungry, so a visit to the Old Faithful Area is the perfect next stop on the itinerary. This area has all the amenities you could ever need in a national park… Restrooms, gift shops, visitor center, restaurants, lodges, AND cell service! While you’re in the Old Faithful Area, you HAVE to check out the Old Faithful Inn! It was constructed in 1903-1904 and is the largest log hotel in the world; possibly even the largest log building in the world. There’s also a mezzanine lounge on the second floor that offers food, drinks, and an excellent view of the Old Faithful Geyser!
1:15pm: Old Faithful Geyser (Upper Geyser Basin)
Without a doubt, Old Faithful is the most iconic site in Yellowstone, and for good reason! With around 20 eruptions a day, it makes sense how it got its name, and each eruption is 100-180 feet high and lasts from 1.5 to 5 minutes. We chose to get as close as we could to the geyser and watched from the Old Faithful viewing area rather than the mezzanine mentioned before, but wherever you choose to watch from, you can’t leave Yellowstone without catching this beauty in action!
2:15pm: West Thumb Geyser Basin (Black Pool, Thumb Geyser, Fishing Cone)
This was unexpectedly one of our favorite stops. West Thumb is a “thumb” of Yellowstone Lake, so you get beautiful views of the West Thumb as well as some of the most spectacular blue water hot springs. Our favorite here was Black Pool, which isn’t black at all!
3:45pm: Yellowstone Lake
You don’t have to spend a ton of time here, but it’s a beautiful lake that’s worth pulling off for and taking in the views from the shore.
4:30pm: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Another iconic Yellowstone site, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is an absolute must and was probably our favorite stop of the day. There are a lot of great overlooks to choose from, but we chose to stop at Artist Point and Uncle Tom’s Point. Hindsight, I do wish we had stopped at the Brink of the Upper Falls overlook as well, but I honestly don’t think you can go wrong with any of the viewpoints.
If you’re looking for wildlife, look no further than Hayden or Lamar Valley, especially around sunset. It’s during the hour or so before and after sunset (and sunrise) that wildlife is most active, and these two valleys are famous for wildlife spotting. So, get your camera ready and prepare yourself to be in awe! Bears, Wolves, Bison, Elk, and SO many other creatures can be seen here!
Bonus Tips for hikers:
With such little time in the park, there’s not a lot of time for hiking AND viewing all of the sites, but if you do want to modify the itinerary and get some more hiking in, here are a few of the best short hikes in the park:
Mystic Falls (2.4 miles round trip - located at the Biscuit Basin Trailhead about 3 miles north of Old Faithful)
Trout Lake (1.2 miles round trip - in the Lamar Valley approximately 18 miles east of Tower Roosevelt)
Brink of Lower Falls (.8 miles round trip - North Rim Dr. near Canyon Village)
And just like that, your time in Yellowstone has come to an end! We really hope this itinerary was helpful, and if it was, we hope you’ll consider heading over to our YouTube Channel and subscribing for more travel content and/or following us on Instagram! Happy traveling!