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Yellowstone is an enormous park with a staggering number of attractions to see. The park’s absolute highlights are accessible via the Grand Loop Road, and you can visit most of them in a few days. Tailor your itinerary to your interests—perhaps wildlife, thermal features, or major scenic hotspots—and hit the road. It takes roughly 30 minutes to drive between major junctions, but traffic and herds of bison crossing the road can significantly lengthen travel time. Be patient.

The Upper Loop

Mammoth Hot Springs: The first attraction you’ll hit coming in from the north, Mammoth’s beautifully sculpted travertine terraces (the Upper and Lower terraces ★★ are described in “Yellowstone: The Extended Tour,” below) are well worth a stroll. History buffs will appreciate the Albright Visitor Center and Fort Yellowstone, a collection of preserved buildings from the 1890s and early 1900s.

Norris Geyser Basin ★★: Norris is Yellowstone’s hottest, most acidic thermal area and a wonderful place to wander two adjoining basins, Back Basin and Porcelain Basin. You’ll see examples of geysers, steam vents, and hot springs with colorful bacterial mats, plus the Norris Museum

Canyon Village Area: An absolute must-see, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River ★★★ plunges more than 1,000 feet from rim to river and features two stunning waterfalls. Gaze at the polychromatic rock layers from several lookouts, hike the North or South Rims, or even descend into the canyon on Uncle Tom’s Trail. Several fantastic day hikes and overnight trails launch from this area.

Tower-Roosevelt Area: As the closest road junction to the Lamar Valley ★★★, this is ground zero for spotting wolves, bears, bison, elk, and plenty more species. Nearby Tower Fall ★ is one of the park’s most impressive front-country cascades, accessible via a short-paved path. 

The Lower Loop

Old Faithful Area: Probably the world’s most famous geyser, Old Faithful ★★★ shouldn’t be missed—but the rest of the spouters and hot springs in Upper Geyser Basin ★★★ are equally impressive. Walk the extensive boardwalks for a look at this unique concentration of hydrothermal action (there are more than 150 features within 1 sq. mile). Make sure to explore inside the incredible Old Faithful Inn or sit down for a bite at Old Faithful Snow Lodge. One of the park’s best visitor centers, the historic Haynes Photo Shop, and several hiking trails are here, too.

Lake Village Area: Huge, lovely, and very cold, 20-mile-long Yellowstone Lake ★★ offers plenty adventure: scenic boat tours, paddling opportunities, and shoreline camping. Stop by the historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel to see the park’s most elegant lodging, or grab a beer on the front porch of Lake Lodge. Nearby Bridge Bay Marina offers boat rentals and guided fishing trips. Just north, Hayden Valley ★★ is another great place to look for bears and bison. 

Midway Geyser Basin: Yellowstone’s largest hot spring, Grand Prismatic Spring ★★, resembles a portal to another world: a shockingly blue pool ringed by bright yellows, greens, and oranges. A boardwalk swings you right past the steaming spring, or you can get the aerial view on an elevated platform across the street. The Fairy Falls Trail also takes off from here.
 

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.