If You Have Only 1 or 2 Days
There are two ways to approach a time-crunched visit to Yellowstone, both of which have their merits. One, choose one area to explore in depth, take your time absorbing the sights, and get out on a backcountry trail. If that’s your cup of tea, skip on to “Yellowstone: The Extended Tour” to choose your destination. But if you’d rather pack as many sights into the day as humanly possible, these itineraries are for you. Keep in mind that patience and flexibility are key to pulling off this whirlwind.
1 Day—Get an early start: This greatest-hits tour of the lower loop of Grand Loop Road covers 94 to 124 miles and encompasses five major attractions, leaving little time for dallying. Begin from the popular west entrance and cruise along the Madison River, where you can see the forest recovering from the 1988 fires. You’ll also spot ducks and trumpeter swans on the river, and grazing elk and bison. Turn north at Madison Junction and stop at Norris Geyser Basin to walk the boardwalks through both larger, geyser-packed Back Basin and the smaller, bleached-white Porcelain Basin. Plan to spend at least an hour here, perhaps a bit more if you want to see the Norris Geyser Basin Museum.
Get back in the car and proceed east to the Canyon Village area (a good spot for a snack or to stop by the visitor center). Then continue down the road to South Rim Drive for a peek at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, including the awe-inspiring Upper Falls and Lower Falls. Hike part of the South Rim Trail for rimside views, or go straight to Artist Point for a picture-perfect view of Lower Falls.
Next stop: Hayden Valley. Drive south and keep an eye out for bison and bears roaming near the Yellowstone River. Just beyond is the Lake Village area, your best bet for lunch. Dine at Lake Yellowstone Hotel or picnic along the shore. The lake will be your companion along the next stretch of road, curving southwest to West Thumb. Hop out and walk the boardwalk through this small lakeside geyser basin.
Press west, crossing the Continental Divide twice, to the Old Faithful area. You’ll easily catch Old Faithful itself at least twice, as it erupts every 60 to 110 minutes (check at the Old Faithful Inn or the visitor center for the next predicted show). In between eruptions, stroll the boardwalk through Upper Geyser Basin to gaze at more than a hundred other thermal features. If you’re lucky enough to score at room at Old Faithful Inn, Old Faithful Snow Lodge, or Old Faithful Lodge, this is your stopping point. If you’d rather sleep alfresco, head back north to Madison or Norris campgrounds.
2 Days—With a second day, you can tack on the sights of the upper loop to your plan (the loop itself is 70 miles long, although visiting the Lamar Valley will add 15–20 more miles out and back). If you spent the night at Old Faithful, make your way north to Norris (stop by Midway Geyser Basin to see Grand Prismatic Spring en route). From there, continue north to Mammoth Hot Springs. Get out and walk the upper and lower terraces to watch travertine formations being built before your eyes. Stop by Albright Visitor Center for background on park history and wildlife, then take the self-guided tour of Fort Yellowstone.
Next, the road swings east. Take the one-way Blacktail Plateau Drive for even better wildlife-spotting chances than you already have on the road, then press on into the Lamar Valley. This wide, rich expanse is home to most of the park’s major wildlife species; dawn and dusk are the best times to look for them, especially wolves.
Backtrack to Tower-Roosevelt and make a quick stop to see Tower Fall from the overlook. The next stretch is one of the park’s most scenic: a winding road that climbs to 8,859-foot Dunraven Pass, delivering sweeping views the whole way up and down. You’ll end up back at Canyon Village.
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.