Growing up my family spent our summers camping all over Idaho. I remember going to Yellowstone for the first time as a child. We were driving along a back road and came across a grizzly bear digging under rocks for grubs to eat. As a small child, seeing a bear in real life was scary, even though we were safe in our vehicle and the bear was 20 feet away.
Since then I have been to Yellowstone many times and each visit was unique, depending on how long we spent there and the time of year we went.
I want to share how you can get the most out of Yellowstone and see all of the best sights in only 2 days with my personalized itinerary. Feel free to follow this or change it up as you need!
A 2-day guide on how to see the best of Yellowstone.
Let’s start with a few basics-
- The Best Time To Visit: You can literally visit Yellowstone all year long depending on what you plan to do. If you want to snowmobile go in the winter months or if you plan on camping you will want to go during the summer when it is warm. April to May or September to November has the mildest weather and fewer crowds. July & August are the most popular months because the kids are out of school and the weather is warm enough to sleep outside. Personally, I prefer mid to end of September. Check out my post here for 5 Reasons to Visit Yellowstone in September.
- How to Get To Yellowstone: The closest major airports are Salt Lake City UT or Billings MT. If you are flying in to either of these you will want to rent a car and drive the rest of the way. From SLC it is a 320.7 mile drive (or approximately 4 hr. 45 min) and from Billings it is 172.4 mile (or approximately 2 hr. 42 min) drive. Depending on your budget you can fly into smaller airports in Bozeman MT, Jackson WY or Cody WY.
- Where to Stay: This too depends on your budget, your means of transportation and time of year you travel. If you plan on camping there are many campgrounds throughout Yellowstone that make getting around the park easy. *Note- When camping you need to keep your food in Bear proof containers. But, if you prefer a hotel you have a couple of options here as well; Yellowstone has lodging within the park at 5 locations: Mammoth Hot Springs, Old Faithful, Canyon Village, West Thumb/Grant Village, and Lake Village. You will want to book these well in advance as they sell out quickly. You could also stay in West Yellowstone, which has numerous hotels to choose from. We stayed at the Stage Coach Inn because it had a complimentary daily breakfast (which worked out perfectly when we were up and at it so early), a pool, and was within walking distance to shopping, restaurants and the Playmill Theater (which you can read about in Part II of this post).
- Bonus Tip- You will be doing a lot of walking so be sure to wear comfortable shoes, pack some snacks/lunch in your car to take with you for the day & bottled waters to drink.
- Entrance Fee- Yellowstone is a National Park and so there is an entrance fee of $30 per vehicle, which is good for 7 days from the day you purchase it.
Okay, so now that we’ve got the basics out of the way let’s get to the 2-day guide!
Start your day early! There is so much to see that you will want to get an early start, preferably before sunrise, to give yourself time to get into the park and out to the meadows where the Elk graze in the early mornings. Start by heading to the meadow just west of Madison Campground. If you come during the end of September you will get the opportunity to see the elk in their mating season, with the bull elk bugling and fighting each other over the herd of females.
Next head south at the Madison Junction and take the Firehole Canyon Drive. This short turn off from the main road will take you down through a beautiful little canyon with a couple of water falls, called Firehole Falls.
Once you come back out on to the main road continue South and take the Fountain Flat Drive. If you are up for it there is a hike led by rangers taking you down to Fairy Falls, but this may take several hours. Instead, I suggest parking and walking the short distance down the trail to the hot pots and then continue on your way. Watch for buffalo roaming along here and if you keep your eyes peeled you may even spot a majestic Bald Eagle.
From here you will head back out to the main road and continue south to the Firehole Lake Drive. This a loop that takes you past a few paint pots & the Great Fountain Geyser. It will bring you back to the main road again and you will continue south to the Midway Geyser Basin to see the Grand Prismatic Spring. The Grand Prismatic Spring is a popular spring known for its rainbow of colors.
Biscuit Basin is your next stop and is another great area to visit. It has views of beautifully colored springs, sputtering mud pots and an eerie looking landscape with deadened trees from all of the minerals in the water.
From here you will head to the Old Faithful Lodge area. You will want to spend a few hours in this part of Yellowstone in order to see all of the springs & geysers. If you want to see Old Faithful erupt find the nearest ranger, or check the sign board at the geyser itself for the next approximate time it will erupt . Old Faithful erupts every 35 to 120 minutes and lasts from 1 1/2 minutes to 5 minutes long.
Walk the boardwalk loop and be sure to make a stop at the Grand Geyser. Check the board to see when it last erupted and if a crowd is forming around it find a spot to sit and wait for it’s fabulous show. The Grand Geyser isn’t as predictable as Old Faithful but it is by far the best geyser to watch erupt. When the Grand Geyser does erupt it actually triggers two other geysers within 10-20 feet of it and the three together are spectacular.
After making the loop around the boardwalk head back to the Old Faithful Lodge for some lunch or grab a seat outside and eat your own picnic lunch you brought along.
Now it’s time to hit the road again, heading West towards Yellowstone Lake. We will be making a quick stop at Kepler Cascades for a pretty view up the river at the cascades.
If you have time you can make a stop at the Grant Village Visitor Center, named after Ulysses S. Grant. *Tip-Rangers host evening programs at the amphitheater from mid June to September.
Now, you will head North along the lake and up towards Hayden Valley to see the Mud Volcano. Take a walk along the boardwalks here to view the sputtering mud pots.
Next, continue on up through Hayden Valley. Keep an eye out for herds of buffalo or try to spot the grey and brown wolves that are known for hanging around this area.
This ends Day 1, so you will now continue back to your accommodations for the night.
Next up….Day 2 The Northern Loop of Yellowstone.
Comment below if you have a favorite spring, geyser or mud pot in Yellowstone, I would love to hear your thoughts!
Until Next Time……Travel On!
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