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Yellowstone in a Day – How to Maximize Your Time

Sometimes I feel like our travels take us on a whirlwind journey through our destinations, primarily because we experience so much in a short time. That’s our philosophy right…Exploring the World One Weekend at a Time! Our recent trip to Yellowstone National Park et al. was equally as ambitious given that you could easily spend a week or two inside just Yellowstone and still not experience everything this park has to offer. But never fear, we want to share with you our guide to exploring Yellowstone in a day!

Ambitious, stupid, crazy, pointless, unlikely and unbelievable are all adjectives that I considered when thinking about seeing as much of Yellowstone National Park in just one day. Fortunately for us we were able to experience this over a two day period, but ‘technically’ it was just one full day of exploring given that we spent an afternoon and the following morning here before heading towards Glacier National Park.

Preparation is Critical

Before you start thinking that exploring ANY national park in only one day is feasible, you have to ensure your preparation is done prior to traveling. We generally plan out a rough itinerary of what we want to see and experience during any trip, but visiting Yellowstone I knew that we needed to be a little more meticulous when figuring out the key elements and landmarks that we wanted to see.

yellowstone in a day

Let’s start by putting Yellowstone into perspective if you have no geographical knowledge or perception on this historic national park. At almost 3,500 square miles, it is one of the largest national parks in the contiguous US and sits atop a volcanic hot spot.

Research is critical before visiting Yellowstone because even if you are interested in visiting only the top tourist attractions, you will certainly not have enough time with just one day! Careful consideration on what you are hoping to achieve at Yellowstone is crucial. Determine what type of trip you want this to be.

yellowstone in a day

Are you interested in experiencing Yellowstone’s wildlife? Perhaps you want to learn more about the hydrothermal activity in the various Geyser Basins? Or maybe breathtaking views across the dramatic canyons and deep forestry are more aligned with your interests?

As you pass through the entrance to Yellowstone (I cannot emphasize the value in purchasing an annual America is Beautiful Pass for $80), the park ranger will hand you a map of the park but if you leave it until this point to try and plan your route…well it may be a little too late! Fortunately these maps are readily available everywhere on the Internet so be sure to research this and at least have a list of landmarks that you want to visit in mind.

Explore Yellowstone With Us

If you followed the above advice and arrived at a decision over which Yellowstone experience you want to follow…let me tell you about our trip because we pretty much threw all of that out of the window and went “A Brit and A Southerner’s” way.

Essentially we combined a mixture of all the above into one epic road trip around Yellowstone and left with a pretty awesome experience that makes us ready to go back in a heartbeat.

Here is a quick rundown of what we encountered along our trip:

  • Encountered the eruption of Old Faithful not once, but twice!
  • Saw the Beehive Geyser erupt which only occurs usually once each day.
  • Close run-in with a myriad of wildlife…more to come (don’t want to spoil it just yet!)
  • Stunning views at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
  • Toured the Norris Geyser Basin, home of Steamboat Geyser aka “world’s largest active geyser”
  • Drove the Scenic Drive aka Grand Loop Road.
  • Experienced a number of gorgeous waterfalls and cascades

As you can see, we experienced A LOT during a short amount of time. Yes it’s tiring, yes it’s time consuming to get from one attraction to the other but most importantly it is a breathtaking experience that you will enjoy!

Yellowstone in a Day – No Problem!

Quick-Guide Itinerary

Still not convinced that you can achieve all of this in a day? I will try and put this into context based on our schedule and how we experienced all the above attractions. As I mentioned earlier, our experience at Yellowstone was split across two days which likely helped because it enabled us to recharge our batteries in between. However, I maintain that if you arrived at Yellowstone early, you could experience all of the above.

Afternoon (Day 1)

4PM – Arrived at Yellowstone National Park South entrance. Visited Lewis Falls en route to Old Faithful.

lewis falls yellowstone in a day

6:30PM – Old Faithful erupted at 6:38 which we missed but spent time walking around Upper Geyser Basin – Beehive Geyser erupted at 7:30PM and Old Faithful at 8:15

yellowstone national park old faithful

8:30PM – Drove out of Yellowstone via West Yellowstone exit. Encountered number of different wildlife including bison, elk and moose while driving out.

wildlife in yellowstone

Morning (Day 2)

9:45AM – Arrived at Yellowstone National Park West entrance. Headed to Norris Geyser Basin via Gibbon Falls.

gibbon falls yellowstone in a day

11:30AM – Hiked to Steamboat Geyser after seeing Emerald Spring in Norris Geyser Basin. Also took in panoramic views of Porcelain Basin.

steamboat geyser

12:30PM – Arrived at Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, took the North Rim Scenic drive and made stops at various overlooks across Lower/Upper Falls and the canyon.

grand canyon of yellowstone

3:00PM – Old Faithful for a second time – saw the eruption shortly after 3:15PM which was more impressive than previous day!

old faithful geyser yellowstone

3:30PM – Headed out of Yellowstone but had a face-to-face encounter with two bison on the road which delayed us a while, but provided awesome photographs.

wildlife encounter yellowstone

Summary

Are you exhausted just reading about our experience in Yellowstone National Park? It was incredible and honestly I would reiterate that even though its feasible to see all of what we did, I would encourage you to spend more time inside the park if you are able to. This is by far the most breathtaking of all national parks we have visited, including the likes of Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Arches and Zion.

There are so many different natural landscapes on display throughout the park so be sure to know exactly what you are looking for. If you are visiting for the first time, the above itinerary to explore Yellowstone in a day may just be the perfect tonic to inspire you to check out more of what this beautiful location has to offer!

From Mammoth Hot Springs to the Artist’s Paint Pots, there is still a number of attractions that we didn’t have time to visit…but all this does is provide extra incentive to return in the future.

Weekend Wanderlust


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Laura

Monday 26th of December 2016

I am heading to Yellowstone mid-May as part of a roadtrip and like you have only an evening and half a day to explore as much of the park as possible! This guide is perfect, thank you so much!!

Chris

Wednesday 28th of December 2016

Thanks so much for your kind comments Laura! I hope you have an awesome trip to Yellowstone, I am sure you will! Merry Christmas and hope you have a Happy New Year. Please let us know if you need any further advice or ideas on your trip.

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Priya

Wednesday 23rd of September 2015

Wow, Great pictures! Yellowstone, Arches and Zion park are on our bucket list for a long time. Looks like you optimized your trip really well!

Natalie

Monday 21st of September 2015

I've never been to the U.S. but I've seen a lot of blog posts about Yellowstone, it's definitely somewhere I wish to visit. And yes I agree it would be crazy to think you could experience such a beautiful place in a day- I would leave feeling disappointed!

Anna

Monday 21st of September 2015

Well I can only guess how big Yellostone is! When you have only one day you definitely have to prioritize! Thanks for the tips!