Visit the very first National park in the world: Yellowstone National Park in Montana and Wyoming. Sitting on a huge volcano, the 3500 acre park is home to hundreds of wildlife species, lively geothermal activity, and verdant forests. If you only have a few days to see it, then you’ll want to craft the perfect 3 day Yellowstone itinerary.
As one of the largest parks in the US, Yellowstone has vast amounts of things to see and do. The park is divided into 8 areas and you will have to pick and choose which areas are must sees! I have been to over half the national parks and I have planned all of these trips myself. I created a wonderful itinerary for you to see the best highlights.
During the busy season, Yellowstone tourists crowd the park. Traffic abounds, while parking and lodging can be incredibly hard to find. If you plan on going during the peak months then make sure to book your travel months in advance and arrive to the park early to beat the crowds! Also, pack bear spray for all of your hikes.
You Might Also Like These Posts:
- Glacier National Park Itinerary
- Best Road Trips in the US
- Ultimate Guide to Visiting Yellowstone in May
Table of Contents
Yellowstone National Park Itinerary
Day 1: Grand Prismatic, Geysers, and Old Faithful
Enter the park at the West Entrance and follow the signs towards Midway Geyser Basin to see Grand Prismatic. This is one of the most famous sights in the park, with bright blue water surrounded by a yellow and orange ring on the edge. You can walk around the .8 miles boardwalk and get near the spring or continue on to the Fairy Falls Trail and admire it from the overlook.
Visitors to the park flock to this location and this was one of my favorite areas in the entire park. You should get there as early as you can, so you can beat the crowds! Parking is limited and people often end up parking along the roadside.
Continue following the road to Fairy Falls to see the Grand Prismatic from above and take an easy 5 mile hike to a beautiful falls. Walk .8 miles into the trail and you will get to the Grand Prismatic overlook. Here, you will get a much better perspective of the vastness and craziness of this geothermal spring.
About a mile past the viewpoint, you will see a sign for the trail to the left. KEEP YOUR EYES PEELED! We walked past this marker, and ended up going 2 miles in the wrong direction. The trail makes its way through the woods, until you get to the clearing with the tall, thin falls flowing from a cliff above.
When you finish this hike, you can head 5 miles down the road to Old Faithful. Old Faithful may be the most iconic part of the park, known for the fact that you can predict the times the geyser will erupt.
The Old Faithful area of the park includes the famous Inn, a center with restaurants and stores, and the Old Faithful viewing area. You should look at the eruption times, which are posted in various spots in the center before you make your next plan. If you have to wait, then you can grab an ice cream cone or a bite to eat!
Around 20 minutes before the next eruption, people start to crowd the viewing area. There is a large circle of benches that surround the geyser itself. Don’t worry if you don’t get a seat, the geyser is tall enough for everyone to see! When the water bursts forth from the ground, you will understand why people flock from near and far to see it. The force of the water is truly astounding. Old Faithful can erupt anywhere from 1.5 to 5 minutes, so you should have time to grab a few pictures or videos.
Firehole Lake Drive & Gibbon Falls
Once you are satisfied, drive 9 miles to the Lower Geyser Basin and Firehole Scenic Drive. This is a 3 mile one-way loop where you can stop to see plenty of interesting geothermal hot spots. This area is less crowded than the other geysers, so you’ll have ample time and space to explore.
If you have time, drive half an hour away to Gibbon Falls This is a little bit out of the way, but we figured we had the time to stop there. Gibbon Falls is down the Gibbon River and is a beautiful rushing waterfall.
On your way back you might be lucky enough to spot some Bison out in the field! We were able to see a group of Bisons, which was the perfect ending to the day. You’ll know when there are Bison nearby, because there are usually slow downs and traffic jams. Seeing them throughout the park, is one of the best parts of traveling through it.
Day 2: Mt Washburn, Upper Yellowstone Falls, Mammoth Hot Springs, and Lamar Valley
Enter the park this morning and drive about an hour and a half to the Mt. Washburn trail. This 7 mile hike features panoramic views at the tallest peak in the park. You will be able to see for miles all around.
There are two different points from which you can take this trail, Dunraven Pass or Chittenden Road. The Dunraven Pass is far more crowded, but also may be more scenic as it goes through the forest. Leaving from Chittenden Road, means you will drive up an unpaved road to the trailhead and mostly walk through the sun.
After climbing 1300 feet, you’ll finally get to the top of this trail. You will be greeted with stunning views and the ability to visit the inside of a fire lookout tower. There is still a ranger that lives there to watch the area and sometimes he comes down to answer questions. This is one of the only fire lookouts that is still operational, which is very cool! Watch out for wildlife as you walk the trail.
After your long hike is out of the way, you can see a bunch of other parts of the park. We drove from Mt. Washburn to the Upper Yellowstone Falls. These falls are located at the top of a canyon where the river has carved through it. They are very impressive falls and the canyon itself is made of yellowish beige stone. We read that you can see a rainbow through the waterfall at 9:30- 9:45 am, but we did not have the chance. However, they were still beautiful.
Mammoth Hot Springs
Once you’ve seen the falls, you can see the terraces of the Mammoth Hot Springs. This spot is truly unique and it resembles caverns or icicle like structures. It’s one of the things you must see on a visit to Yellowstone! If you continue past the springs, you can go to the visitor center nearby where you can grab a bite to eat and see elk grazing.
Are you ready for some wildlife spotting? Time to head to one of the most active areas in the park: the Lamar Valley. For the best wildlife viewings you should either go at sunrise or sunset.
If you’re going from the West Entrance it takes about 2.5 hours to get to the Lamar Valley. You can drive through the valley to see hundreds of buffalo as the sun rises or sets behind. If you are lucky you may even spot a wolf! Photographers line up along the roadside to get wonderful shots of this area.
Day 3: West Thumb and Yellowstone Lake
On your last day, you have time to explore an area of the park that you haven’t seen yet! Visit Yellowstone Lake, an incredibly large and impressive lake or see the geothermal activity at the West Thumb Geyser Basin.
West Thumb Geyser Basin
The West Thumb Geyser Basin is an area adjacent to Yellowstone lake that has various geothermal features. You can pay for a paper trail guide in the visitor center at West Thumb. This guide is the perfect accompaniment to your walk along the boardwalk, because it will tell you all about the things you’ll see. It’s another unique area in the park that you should definitely see!
With More Time
If you have more time in the park, then you can see some of the other great highlights. There are other great hikes like Uncle Tom’s Trail, Mystic Falls, and Trout Lake or you can view more wildlife in Hayden Valley. I would have definitely added these to our itinerary if we had. I hope that this itinerary was helpful for planning your trip to Yellowstone!
Let me know if you use this 3 days Yellowstone itinerary and you find this helpful? Don’t forget to pin it and save for later!