Yellowstone National Park had been sky high on our travel bucket list since – well, forever! Who hasn’t always wanted to visit one of Earth’s most unique and natural marvels?! But we made one mistake. We only gave ourselves 3 days to explore this vast volcanic landscape. We needed 4. This action packed 4 days in Yellowstone itinerary covers everything you need to plan your perfect visit.
Above ground, Yellowstone can be described by every synonym of the word breathtaking. However, lurking just below the surface is a super-volcano known as Yellowstone Caldera.
As hot magma rises from Earth’s Mantle toward the Crust, pressurized heat escapes in the form of thermal geysers, creating a spectacle worthy of millions of tourists each year.
This Ultimate Yellowstone Itinerary explains how to get to Yellowstone, all the best things to do, where to stay and of course walks you step-by-step through 4 amazing days ticking off everything that makes this place so special.
Let’s get planning!
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Why Visit The World’s Original National Park?
What is the fist thing you think of when you consider Yellowstone? Probably super heated geysers blowing steam high into the sky, right?
We’d seen geysers before high up in Chile’s Altiplano and they were the one thing we knew for sure we would see here at Yellowstone. However, these billowing plumes of pressurized steam had stiff competition for our favorite aspect at the park.
Spotting wildlife immediately becomes more exhilarating than looking at steam, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is immeasurably more awe-inspiring than steam, and the sheer scale of the world’s very first National Park blows the mind more than steam.
Now, that’s not to say we weren’t impressed by the gigantic geothermal caldera and all of its features, trust us, we were. It’s to let you know Yellowstone is far more than simply clouds of hot, sulfuric acid smelling steam.
Yellowstone covers a total of 2.2 million acres of land. Yes, it’s a little bigger than your back yard!
So in a nutshell, why should you visit Yellowstone National Park?
- Beautiful scenery throughout the entire park, plenty of wow-factor moments
- Some of the best wildlife spotting in America – including Grizzly Bears
- Fantastic hiking opportunities surrounded by nature at its finest
- Majestic waterfalls with multiple viewpoints cascading into deep canyons
- And of course Geysers, Hot Springs, Steaming Rivers & Bubbling Mud-Pots
Our Yellowstone National Park Factfile
How To Get To Yellowstone National Park
Okay, we’re talking about Yellowstone and 3,500 square miles of wilderness here! The park has several entrance and exit points, so getting to Yellowstone will depend entirely on where you begin your journey.
There are no fancy names for the entry points, simply the direction they bring you into the park from: North, Northeast, East, South and West.
Once inside the park, getting around is easy thanks to a well maintained 142-mile figure of 8 road network known as ‘Grand Loop Road’. Be aware this road will be busy if you visit in Summer, we even experienced some traffic flow issues in snowy October!
Here’s another factor to consider that will impact this 4 days Yellowstone itinerary:
Are you visiting only Yellowstone, from point A with a plan to return to point A afterwards? Or is Yellowstone part of a wider road trip?
For example, we drove West from Badlands and South Dakota and afterwards headed due South to Grand Teton National Park. Therefore, we entered and exited on different roads, meaning we didn’t have to come back on ourselves too often.
Important Note: We visited Yellowstone in October after a heavy snowfall, many of the roads in / out of the park were closed. Please be sure to check current road conditions before setting off.
Yellowstone Road Trips
Salt Lake City to Yellowstone – Option 1: Take I-15 North to Idaho Falls, then 20 to Yellowstone West entrance (320 miles / 4h 45m). Option 2: Take I-80, 16 and 89 to Jackson, WY and Grand Teton before entering Yellowstone South entrance (330 miles / 6 hours). The route via Jackson is far more scenic but takes much longer once you factor in driving through Grand Teton.
Denver to Yellowstone – Option 1: Take I-80, 287 and 26 to 191 which is the link road between Grand Teton and Yellowstone South entrance (500 miles / 8h 30m). Option 2: Take I-25, 26, 20 to Cody, WY and 14 into Yellowstone East entrance (545 miles / 8h 30m).
South Dakota, Custer State Park or Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone – Take 16 to I-90W towards Buffalo, WY. US-16 Buffalo to Ten Sleep (Cloud Peak Skyway) is incredibly scenic. Use 31, 20 and 14 to Cody, WY and Yellowstone East entrance (440 miles / 8 hours).
North Dakota / Billings to Yellowstone: Take I-94 to Billings, I-90 briefly and US-212 (known as Bear Tooth Highway). This is the route we eventually took as we were forced to enter Yellowstone via its Northeast entrance due to road closures. Bear Tooth Highway is one heck of a scenic drive – particularly when covered in snow (150 miles / 3 hours).
Jackson, WY / Grand Teton to Yellowstone – Take US-191 scenic road (John D Rockefeller Jr Road) all the way to Yellowstone South entrance (80 miles / 1h 45m).
Yellowstone Closest Airports
If you’re flying in from around the states on a Yellowstone vacation, here are your nearest airports along with which entrance you will take to the Park:
What Are The Best Things To Do At Yellowstone National Park?
Yellowstone is blessed with having an endless amount of amazing things to do for visitors. You could spend a month here and still not see or do everything this incredible place has on offer.
That being said, simply listing the best things to do at this mammoth sized National Park is not enough to help you plan your visit. The only way to plan effectively is by structuring the park into regions.
There’s a lot of information coming your way but we will organize it and clearly display everything on a map!
First up, let’s take a look into what makes this National Park one of the most sought after in the world, before we break the park down into 6 distinct regions.
Yellowstone Wildlife Spotting
Wildlife spotting is one of the biggest drivers of tourism to Yellowstone National Park. This is one of the best places in America to observe a wide range of wild animals in their natural environments.
You have the opportunity to see Grizzly Bears – seldom seem in the lower 48 US States – if that is of interest to you. Personally, we didn’t mind NOT seeing a grizzly!
However, Grizzlies are just the beginning. If you are lucky you might also see Black Bears, Wolves, Elk, Pronghorn, Bighorn Sheep, Moose, Antelope, Mule Deer, Coyotes, Lynx, Mountain Goats, Cougars and Bald Eagles.
It is extremely difficult to predict exactly where these animals are going to be at any given time. But you can give yourself the best shot at seeing wildlife by visiting the right places at the right times of day.
That being said, if these particular areas become busy with humans, animals are likely to move to quieter areas. In truth, we saw more wildlife when we didn’t go looking for it, instead we waited for them to come to us.
Top-tip: If you see small gatherings of people with professional looking photography / telescopic equipment, there’s a good chance of spotting wildlife. However, be polite, don’t make a lot of noise. You might even get a chance to look through their equipment!
Wildlife Respect & Safety
Something vitally important to remember is respect for wildlife. Keep your distance, don’t try to feed them and don’t intimidate the wildlife.
Our number one disappointment with Yellowstone was tourists. Yes, it can be exciting to see an animal, but that doesn’t mean slamming on your brakes and abandoning your car in the middle of the road so you can take a picture.
More than once, we witnessed altercations between tourists who wanted the best angle from their car window. Be civil toward each other, as well as animals and the environment!
We use the word safety and that’s not for the animals, its for you. Each year, Yellowstone National Park has to deal with injured tourists who thought they could get close to animals, but they were wrong. Bear in mind (pun intended!) that some of these animals can become dangerous if threatened.
Yellowstone Geyser Basins & Hot Springs
There are over 10,000 geysers and hot springs within the 2.2 million acres of Yellowstone National Park, making this the largest geyser field on the planet.
Almost all geysers and hot springs throughout the park can be viewed from safe distances along wooden boardwalks. It is important to stay on designated board walks, otherwise you may lose a toe or two!
We will cover Yellowstone’s most famous geysers and hot springs within each region of the park below.
You will either have to visit the lesser known basins or plan your visit outside of high season (more on seasons later) if you’re looking for a less crowded experience
Remember there are also bubbling mud pools, smaller colorful geysers and lesser known hot springs. If Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring are too busy, try again early or late in the day.
Hiking is less synonymous with Yellowstone than geysers and wildlife, however, you should not overlook this aspect of visiting the park.
Did you know there are over 900 miles of hiking trails here? The problem is, how do you choose which trails to hike!
To begin with, err on the side of caution by checking Yellowstone’s backcountry situation report – particularly if you intend to hike away from major trails. This live updated report will inform you of bear activity, trail closures, rising water levels and depth of snow among other important aspects.
Hiking is the best way to escape crowds and see Yellowstone’s best sites from different (and quieter) perspectives. Plus, you drastically increase your chances of spotting wildlife away from roads and hordes of tourists.
The downside to hiking at Yellowstone is how much time you will lose from an already tightly packed itinerary. There are a number of shorter hikes well worth your time, but the longer hikes / backcountry hiking should be reserved only for those who are more interested in hiking than sightseeing.
Is this your second or third vacation to Yellowstone? Try hiking more on this visit if you’ve visited the famous geysers on previous trips.
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone / Yellowstone Upper and Lower Falls
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone has allured avid photographers to the park for decades. Upper Falls is an impressive spectacle but Lower Falls is the major draw.
The Yellowstone River crashes into a stunning canyon from 308 ft (twice the height of Niagara Falls), making Lower Falls a paradise for lovers of dramatic scenery.
The best part? There are various viewing platforms along both the North and South Rim drives running adjacent to the river. Each observation point offers its own perspective of the mighty falls, plus the chance to escape big crowds.
Our top recommendation is to visit the falls on more than one occasion and preferably at sunrise. Although temperatures were below zero in mid-October, we witnessed a gorgeous sunrise over Lower Falls with just a handful of others.
Let’s Break This Down Into Regions
As we mentioned earlier, your typical list of ‘best things to do’ doesn’t apply in Yellowstone. It is simply too vast an environment.
Many of the ‘must visit’ sites are spread out across the National Park, meaning planning your visit can become a little overwhelming (and the reason we recommend your Yellowstone itinerary to be 4 days).
Therefore, we will break down the Park into regions. Take a look at the image below depicting the 6 major regions of Yellowstone:
Within each region, we will discuss the following where appropriate:
(Note: At the end of this section, study the interactive map showing all accommodation and sites of interest. The map will give you an idea about which regions will be top of your wishlist.)
1. Mammoth Hot Springs (North)
Mammoth is one of the more built up areas inside Yellowstone National Park and is located just 5 miles from the North entrance. You will find a hotel, cabins, a grand dining hall, post office, gas, campground, shopping and Albright Visitor Center. Nearby attractions are all within a stones throw of Mammoth village.
Mammoth Geysers and Hot Springs
A spectacular complex of terraces formed by calcium carbonate (travertine) dominates a hillside just minutes from Mammoth village. By far the busiest attraction in Mammoth, these terraces are best seen at sunrise to avoid crowds and enjoy the first light of day burn through hazy steam in the morning.
Mammoth Hiking Trails
Mammoth isn’t known for epic hikes and we would recommend not using up any time on your tight schedule here with a hike. That being said, if you have extra time in the area, there are 2 shorter trails worth looking into:
Boiling River – a popular short hike (1 mile roundtrip) and don’t forget your swimwear!
Lava Creek – mid-distance (7 miles round-trip) passing by Undine Falls – 60 ft waterfall.
Although this area is not usually regarded as prime wildlife spotting territory, we saw our fair share around Mammoth. Your first surprise will be mule deer wandering the hotel and dining hall car park when you arrive! We also saw pronghorn and elk but bison are well known to be regular visitors to the area.
Black bears can be found around Mammoth. If you want to find one, look in forested areas around less busy areas away from the travertine terraces. Our tip if you want to avoid them (particularly if you head up to the terraces for sunrise) is to make noise, talk and clap intermittently.
Campgrounds – Mammoth campground is the only campground open all year at Yellowstone. This is a first come first served site and costs US$ 20 per night. More information.
Hotel and Cabins – Mammoth offers a Frontier Cabin, Hot Tub Cabin, Suite, Premium Hotel Room and Cabin without bath. We stayed in a Frontier Cabin and it was perfect with a wonderful hot shower. More information.
2. Tower-Roosevelt (Northeast)
Tower-Roosevelt is located to the Northeast of Yellowstone and is one of the lesser built up areas of the park. You can find gas, primitive lodging and camping here. This region is best used as a gateway for wildlife spotting and hiking before continuing on to another region for accommodation.
Unfortunately, the section of road between Tower and Canyon was completely closed for the entirety of our visit. Therefore we were unable to hike Mount Washburn or see Tower Fall. There’s always next time, right?!
Mount Washburn is one of the most popular hikes here thanks to its panoramic sweeping views over Yellowstone and even Grand Teton on a clear day. At 10,243ft (3,107m) and with just a 2.5 mile one-way hike from Chittenden or 3 mile on-way hike from Dunraven Pass, the rewards are more than worth your efforts!
Tower Junction is where Yellowstone’s top rated wildlife viewing area ends, as US-212 reaches grand loop road from the Northeast entrance. This area is known as Lamar Valley and it is the place to be if you are visiting Yellowstone for wildlife observation.
We strongly recommend you visit early or late if you want a real chance of seeing abundant wildlife. You’re all but guaranteed to spot Bison roaming but you can see much more if you time it right.
We entered Yellowstone via the Northeast entrance and drove the entire way through Lamar Valley but it was right before midday (and snowy!) so we didn’t see many animals.
Note: If you are visiting Yellowstone primarily for wildlife spotting, Tower Fall campground is the closest accommodation to Lamar Valley.
Tower Fall and Yellowstone River Overlook are the two major attractions around Tower-Roosevelt region. Tower’s 132 ft falls are narrow but packed tightly a needle-like cascade if viewed from afar. The 4 mile roundtrip to see the Yellowstone River flowing through the narrows. This is family friendly but there are steep cliffs.
3. Canyon (Central / East)
Canyon is one of the most popular places to set up base in Yellowstone thanks to its central location and volume of accommodation, with over 500 rooms available. You will also find a good selection of food at Canyon Lodge Eatery, which is more like a canteen than restaurant.
Canyon is your best choice if you prefer to stay at just one place for your entire Yellowstone visit. Right around the corner is Yellowstone Falls.
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Yellowstone Falls
Prepare to be blown away! This is one sight you will not forget from your time at Yellowstone National Park. We encourage you to visit each and every viewpoint along both North and South rim drive – and do that more than once.
For the best photographs, arrive before sunrise to Artist Point. We couldn’t get enough of these dramatic views as the Yellowstone River pounds its way through the breathtaking canyon.
There are no hikes worth mentioning around Canyon for a Yellowstone itinerary only lasting 4 days. With more time, maybe! We won’t consider each of the small trails along North and South Rim roads to Yellowstone falls viewing platforms as hikes.
Just South of Canyon Village and Yellowstone Falls, you will find Hayden Valley, regarded as the second best part of the park for wildlife spotting. This is the place we saw by far the most wildlife including coyotes, mule deer, bison and our first ever bald eagle!
Again, it is best to arrive early or late to increase chances of spotting animals but be warned – Grizzlies roam alongside Yellowstone River. We never saw a grizzly, but we did see a lone Grey Wolf from afar, which was awesome!
Campgrounds – Canyon campground is open late May to Mid Sept. There are 273 reservable sites at a cost of US$ 32 per night. More information.
Hotel and Cabins – Canyon offers the most accommodation by far at Yellowstone. Open from the beginning of June until early October, you can choose between a Western Cabin, Standard Lodge Room, Superior Lodge Room, Premium Lodge Room and Suite. We snagged a free upgrade to Premium Lodge Room (from Western Cabin) which was a welcome escape from the cold nights! More information.
4. Norris Geyser Basin (Central / West)
Norris is the oldest and hottest of Yellowstone’s thermal regions, with the highest recorded temperature measuring a whopping 459 f (237 C) just over 300m below the surface. This region is where your Yellowstone geyser hunting experience springs to life and you can witness the tallest active geyser in the world.
Norris Geysers and Hot Springs
At Norris geyser basin you will find several thermal geysers in very close proximity. The area is easy to explore via boardwalk and has to rank as one of the must visit regions on your 4 days Yellowstone itinerary.
Waters around Norris basin are acidic, rather than alkaline, which means bacteria creates those colorful patterns you associate with Yellowstone.
Steamboat geyser – the world’s tallest at 300ft – went years with barely any activity but in 2019 there were 48 eruptions. But there’s no guarantee boiling hot water will erupt the day you visit and you could be standing around a long time waiting. We saw it blow a few times but not to it’s maximum height.
Artist’s Paint Pot – This 1 mile hike beginning just South of Norris Geyser Basin is definitely worth a quick stop off. After a short walk through a forest you will come across a small open area featuring thick grey mud bubbling pools and blue/grey/brown colored holes in the ground. Highly recommended easy hike.
Norris Region Campgrounds
Norris campground – Open late May to late September and just to the North of Norris Geyser Basin. There are 111 first come first served sites at a cost of US$ 20 per night. More information.
Maddison Campground – Located 14 miles Southwest of Norris and open late April to mid October. Longer opening times and central location make this one of the most popular campgrounds at Yellowstone. There are 278 reservable sites for tents and RV’s at US$ 27 per night. More information.
5. Old Faithful (Southwest)
Old Faithful is the iconic Yellowstone geyser everyone knows about before visiting the park. But the Old Faithful region has much more on offer, including perhaps the most eye catching feature of all: Grand Prismatic Spring. This region contains Lower, Midway and Upper Geyser Basins – which means a lot of sightseeing! You can find almost all amenities here, except a campground.
Old Faithful Region Geysers and Hot Springs
Lower Geyser Basin – Fewest geothermal features in the region but one of the most sought after spots for sunset in Great Fountain Geyser along Firehole Lake Drive (closed in Winter).
Midway Geyser Basin – Smaller in area but possibly the most rewarding in terms of natural beauty. The vibrant colors of Grand Prismatic Spring are difficult to appreciate from its boardwalk, so you will need to climb Fairy Falls Trail for that postcard perfect view. Excelsior Geyser can not be overlooked as it’s on the same boardwalk and produces an enormous amount of hot steam, often shrouding the Firehole River.
Upper Geyser Basin – The crown Jewel, Old Faithful is located here along with the highest density of geothermal activity in the park. Old Faithful erupts once every 35-120 minutes for anywhere between 1-5 minutes. This isn’t the most spectacular of geysers, it’s just the most regular and predictable.
Old Faithful Hiking
Fairy Falls – Begin at Fairy Falls Trailhead for an easy 5 mile roundtrip to one of Yellowstone’s most spectacular falls. This trail also offers postcard-perfect views over Grand Prismatic Spring.
Observation Point – If you want to escape the crowds (knows as ‘the bleachers’) sitting in a half circle around Old Faithful, take this moderate 1.5 mile roundtrip hike. You will be rewarded with a much more tranquil viewing platform.
Old Faithful Accommodation
Old Faithful Lodge – Simple Frontier Cabins are more affordable and offer views over Old Faithful. More information.
Old Faithful Inn – 327 rooms and open from early May to mid October, but get in early as this is the most requested lodge in Yellowstone. More information.
Old Faithful Snow Lodge – Open mid December to end of February, only accessible by over snow vehicles. Wide range of rooms available at various prices. More information.
6. Yellowstone Lake / West Thumb (Southeast)
One thing you probably don’t know about – and certainly won’t appreciate until you see it – is the sheer scale of Yellowstone Lake. It is enormous! We’ve combined West Thumb Geyser Basin and Grant Village with Fishing Bridge and Lake Village into the one region here. They all hug the lake edge in Yellowstone’s Southeast corner. All amenities can be found at both locations on the lake.
Yellowstone Lake Geysers & Hot Springs
At the Southern end of Yellowstone Lake you will enter West Thumb Geyser Basin. What makes this place unique is stunning views of Yellowstone Lake and snow capped mountains behind geothermal features.
A boardwalk loops around West Thumb Basin allowing you to see the most impressive features while enjoying some of the best views in the park. Look out for Fishing Cone and Big Cone Geyser in the lake.
Yellowstone Lake Hiking
Yellowstone Lake isn’t the place to visit if you’re looking for serious hiking trails. However, there are two easy going walks ending with excellent views over the lake and West Thumb.
Lake overlook – Easy to moderate 1.5 mile roundtrip hike from West Thumb parking lot for elevated views over West Thumb Basin.
Storm Point – Easy 2.5 mile roundtrip beginning close to Fishing Bridge for close up views over Yellowstone Lake.
Yellowstone Lake Wildlife
The Northern part of Yellowstone Lake is where Yellowstone’s East entrance (from Cody) arrives into the park. Areas surrounding East entrance road are known to be a favorite of the Grizzly Bear, but you can also expect to see a wider variety of wildlife in this region. We saw coyotes and mule deer around Lake Lodge during our visit.
Yellowstone Lake Accommodation
Campgrounds – Bridge Bay has 432 reservable sites at US$ 27 per night. It is open late May to early September (more information). Grant Village has 430 reservable sites at US$ 32 per night. However, this one is only open mid June to mid September (more information). Fishing Bridge RV Park has 310 RV only electrical hookup sites at US$ 79 per night. The RV park is open early May to mid September (more information).
Hotel and Cabins – Lake Yellowstone hotel offers a wide variety of rooms from basic to extremely expensive (more information). Lake Lodge Cabins – Consisting of 186 Frontier and Western cabins at much more budget friendly prices (more information).
Yellowstone 4 Days Itinerary Interactive Map
Click into this interactive map, zoom in / out and scroll around the National Park regions to orientate yourself. We always find that spending just a few minutes working out where things are really helps when we arrive.
The map includes all of Yellowstone’s accommodation options, entrance points, hiking trails / viewpoints, hot springs / geysers and major attractions.
Your Perfect 4 Days Yellowstone National Park Itinerary
You can begin to construct your plans now you have an idea of where the main attractions are. Our Yellowstone example itinerary is 4 days long, which means you can relax and take things slowly.
Our biggest frustration was only having enough time to visit each attraction once, so if it was crowded or the weather wasn’t in our favor – well, that was just tough luck.
But with an extra day, it means you can re-visit any place you missed, was too busy or you enjoyed the most.
For the purpose of this itinerary, we will begin at Yellowstone’s Northeast Entrance and end at the Park’s South Entrance, just as we did ourselves.
Let’s get stuck into your perfect 4 days Yellowstone itinerary!
Yellowstone Itinerary Day 1 – Lamar Valley, Tower-Roosevelt and Mammoth Hot Springs
Entering via US-212 will already get you off to a super-scenic start! Just take care on the roads if you’re traveling outside of Summer, it can snow any time.
As you draw closer to Grand Loop Road you will pass through Lamar Valley, widely regarded as the best wildlife spotting in Yellowstone. Try to arrive early morning for the best shot as seeing Bison and other animals. Spend an hour or two stopping at various pull-offs. Remember, if you spot any serious gear, that’s where you need to pull out your binoculars!
Just before Grand Loop Road you will find Specimen Ridge Trail, hike this trail if you didn’t see a lot of wildlife in Lamar Valley, you want to see even more wildlife or you just love hiking! By getting off the road you give yourself a much better chance at seeing animals in the wild.
When you arrive at Tower Junction turn left and drive a few miles to see Tower Fall and time allows, hike to Yellowstone River Overlook. Turn around and head back the same way but pass US-212 and continue on Grand Loop Road towards Mammoth.
Your next stop is Yellowstone’s Petrified Tree. Now, this gated tree stump isn’t the most wow-factor attraction you will see on this 4 days Yellowstone itinerary. But it is around 50 million years old, which means it is in fact, mightily impressive.
Mammoth Hot Springs
There’s not much else between Tower and Mammoth with the exception of Lava Creek hiking trail. If it’s earlier than you expected, hike this trail past Undine Falls, but if it’s already getting on, it’s time to check in at your Mammoth accommodation. You’re likely to see mule deer wandering around the car park so drive carefully!
You need to check in inside the hotel whether you’re staying in the hotel or a cabin. Mammoth dining hall is directly across the car park ready for once you’re all settled in to your room.
After dinner (depending on light and time of year), drive a couple minutes up to Mammoth Hot Springs for a quick look around the area. Don’t forget your camera because these terraces are extremely photogenic. It’s a shame the sunset is directly behind a huge hill but you’ll be back here at first light.
Yellowstone Itinerary Day 2 – Mammoth Hot Springs, Norris Geyser Basin, Mount Washburn and Yellowstone Falls
Norris Geyser Basin
Wake up early and make your way to Mammoth Lower and Upper Terraces to see dense steam penetrated by bright sunbeams. We arrived before sunrise (playing music incase of bears) in sub zero snow but didn’t last long! You’ll be surprised at how few people there are up at sunrise – even in Yellowstone.
Return to your cabin or the dining hall for breakfast, check out and get on the road heading South towards Norris Geyser Basin. Scenery along the way is gorgeous, stop if you see anything you like the look of but not for too long!
Park up at Norris, be sure to look around the educational Visitor Center before spending the next few hours wandering the Geyser Basin boardwalks. You have plenty of geysers to take in, we recommend walking Porcelain Basin loop to the Northeast and the larger loop to the Southwest.
Don’t miss Steamboat geyser – it was extremely active when we visited.
There are many other springs and geysers here, just keep following the boardwalks and the crowds. Echinus geyser is a popular stop, however, this once prolific steam sprayer has become far less inclined to blow its top in recent years.
A few minutes drive South you will find Artist’s Paintpots trail. We highly recommend this quick 1 mile roundtrip hike where you can see deep earthy colors surrounding small hot springs. In addition, you have an opportunity to get up close and personal with boiling mud bubbling in grey molten clay-like pools.
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Take Norris Canyon road due East towards Canyon without stopping before checking in at your accommodation. Drive a few miles North and park up at Dunraven Pass, before setting off on the most popular hike in Yellowstone National Park – Mount Washburn. Panoramic views from the summit will be worth the time and effort.
This is the hike we unfortunately couldn’t access.
It will be late afternoon / early evening by the time you finish your hike. Make haste just a few miles South and turn off onto one way North Rim Drive. Your first time seeing the powerful Yellowstone Lower Falls is from Lookout point, which is awesome, but less awesome than some of the other viewpoints coming up.
Continue driving round to Grand View, before either driving or hiking (if time allows and you’re not too tired) to Inspiration point – the best observation area along North Rim Drive.
It shouldn’t be long until the sun sets directly behind Lower Falls. At dusk, on the way back to Canyon, drive slowly and look out for wildlife. We saw Bison and a lot of Mule Deer on this stretch with a stunning deep purple sky sunset and moonrise over the plains.
Yellowstone Itinerary Day 3 – Yellowstone Falls, Hayden Valley & Yellowstone Lake
Another early start and this one is non-negotiable! Check out and leave at least 30 minutes before sunrise (check times here) so you can get parked, walk the very short trail to Artist Point and get your camera set up before the sun rises and illuminates the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. It’s worth getting up for.
On the way back out of South Rim, stop off at Upper Falls View and hike down Uncle Tom’s Trail for an amazing close up vantage point of Lower Falls. The steep staircase trail descent was not open when we visited, so be sure to check for trail closures before your visit.
Once the sun has risen and you’ve marveled enough at the wonderful canyon, jump back in the car and drive South towards Hayden Valley. This is Yellowstone’s second major area for seeing animals and if you’re early enough, you’ll have a high probability of spotting wildlife.
The key is not to go looking for the animals, but to park up where nobody else is parked along the Yellowstone River and wait for them to come to you. You might see a multitude of amazing wildlife, or you might not see any animals at all, it all comes down to chance. Be prepared for both eventualities.
Next up as you head South is Mud Volcano. There’s a short circular boardwalk here covering a number of caldrons and springs, most notably Dragon’s mouth spring. No need to spend long here and you’ll be hungry by now. Grab lunch at Fishing Bridge / Lake Yellowstone.
Yellowstone Lake and West Thumb Geyser Basin
Remember that just because an area isn’t recognized as a wildlife ‘hotspot’ it doesn’t mean you won’t see any animals. We spotted a gang of Elk and more coyotes right on the lake edge around Lake Yellowstone lodge. Explore the area before following the Lake South to West Thumb Geyser Basin.
Spend the remainder of the afternoon walking around West Thumb Basin, taking in the likes of Abyss Pool, Black Pool, Big Cone Geyser and Fishing Cone. Don’t forget you can take the short Lake Overlook hike right from West Thumb parking lot.
Drive West to Old Faithful and check in to your final accommodation. Depending on the time, you can either stick around Old Faithful for sunset or drive 11 miles North to Great Fountain Geyser, which has a magnificent sunset.
Yellowstone Itinerary Day 4 – Lower, Midway and Upper Geyser Basins
Grand Prismatic Spring
You get to sleep in a little (finally!) on your last day. No rush this morning, you’ll be driving up to Lower Geyser Basin and working your way back down to Old Faithful. Slowly does it today.
It is important to note here – if you want to get photographs of one particular area such as Grand Prismatic Spring, it might be worth beelining straight there first thing in the morning.
Start the day by entering one-way Firehole Lake drive – where you can now visit Great Fountain Geyser if you didn’t the night before. Opposite the one-way exit from Firehole Lake road, park up at Fountain Paint Pot trailhead and walk the very short trail.
If you missed swimming in Boiling River at Mammoth, you could drive a few miles North to Firehole swimming area. Otherwise, heading South once more, your next stop is one of Yellowstone’s finest geothermal features: Grand Prismatic Spring.
Firehole River will likely be engulfed in a cloud of steam as you walk towards Grand Prismatic, giving off an eerie effect. This huge heated cloud is produced by Excelsior Geyser, which was once the tallest geyser at Yellowstone. Without question, the place will be packed with tourists, so try to be courteous as you walk the relatively narrow boardwalks.
Stop off as much as possible on the looped boardwalk to soak up Yellowstone’s largest hot spring and one of its most iconic features. If you would like to see Grand Prismatic Spring’s colors in all their glory from above, you will need to scramble up the nearby hill onto Fairy Falls Trail. This isn’t officially allowed, but people do it anyway!
Finish your 4 days Yellowstone itinerary back where you started this morning at Old Faithful. What better place to sign off an incredible experience than its most iconic feature. Check times of eruptions, noted all around Old Faithful area including the dining halls. Plan to arrive 10-15 minutes before the predicted eruption.
The bleachers will be busy so be sure to walk around and behind Old Faithful, before taking the Observation Point trailhead to a much better vantage point.
The crowds will cheer once Old Faithful begins to erupt and you will have finally seen the most famous geyser in the world spurt its hot steam into the deep blue sky above!
Don’t forget that you are in Upper Geyser basin, the most active of all geothermal areas within Yellowstone and more than a one trick pony. Behind Old Faithful – past the trailhead for observation point – you can follow a path leading to multiple hot springs and geysers.
Exit Yellowstone via the South entrance towards Grand Teton National Park. If you like to kayak, Lewis Lake on the way out of Yellowstone is the best place in the park to paddle!
There’s plenty of time left on Day 4 to make it down to Jackson, WY with a few detours along the way in Grand Teton. It’s almost like you planned it that way!
Best Time to Visit Yellowstone National Park
Spring – Animals are very active as they come out of hibernation, grizzlies are very grizzly so care must be taken. Snow melting causes waterfall volumes to increase and the weather begins to warm slightly. May and June are excellent months to visit Yellowstone before it gets too crowded.
Summer – Summer in Yellowstone is jam packed with tourists, which personally isn’t our cup of tea. However, you get more daylight and warmer temperatures which means perfect conditions for crushing hikes, sightseeing and comfortable camping. Of 4 million annual visitors to the park, over half visit in July and August. Wow! Not only will every attraction be busy but getting a camping spot or hotel room would be tough going.
Fall – When we visited Yellowstone in October it had snowed heavily just a few days before our arrival. It was the first big snowfall of the year so we just missed those beautiful rustic fall colors. September would be a fantastic alternative if you prefer to avoid crowds and enjoy cooler temperatures.
A few days before our Yellowstone visit, we were lucky enough to experience stunning fall colors in South Dakota.
Yellowstone in Winter
Although we didn’t technically visit in Winter – when most of the park is shut down and access can only be achieved by snowmobiles – it certainly felt like Winter! Our photos give you an idea of what Yellowstone would look like if you were to visit in Winter. We were blown away by the ‘Winter Wonderland’ scenery and felt fortunate to have visited when we did.
Following a huge snowfall, the temperature stayed below zero for 3 days but the sun was shining brightly from a deep blue clear sky every day. On our second morning we woke up to a thick mist and fog which left Yellowstone feeling positively spooky!
When it comes to booking accommodation, as with many other USA National Parks, you need to be as organized as possible.
The earlier you book, the more chance you have of securing the exact locations you prefer. Be flexible and expect to switch between campgrounds / hotels if you book last minute.
For this 4 days Yellowstone itinerary, our suggested accommodations in summary are:
However, this only works effectively if you enter from the North and leave via the South of Yellowstone. If your entrance and exit will be different, plan your accommodation accordingly.
Canyon is a solid central location you can use to explore the whole park from if you’d prefer to just do the one check-in and check-out process. Use Yellowstone National Park Lodges booking service to check availability and prices.
Expect to pay handsomely for hotel rooms, it is Yellowstone after all!
We hope this helped you plan your visit to Yellowstone National Park.
Please let us know if you have any questions or you need any help planning your Yellowstone trip and be sure to check out our in depth guide to Yosemite National Park!
Do you prefer Yellowstone or Yosemite? Let us know in the comments below.
Trivia: Which record does Yellowstone's Old Faithful Inn hold?
Largest Log Structure In The World
Old Faithful Inn is the most requested accommodation in the whole of Yellowstone National Park!
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