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.
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.
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!
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.
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
8:30PM – Drove out of Yellowstone via West Yellowstone exit. Encountered number of different wildlife including bison, elk and moose while driving out.
Morning (Day 2)
9:45AM – Arrived at Yellowstone National Park West entrance. Headed to Norris Geyser Basin via Gibbon Falls.
11:30AM – Hiked to Steamboat Geyser after seeing Emerald Spring in Norris Geyser Basin. Also took in panoramic views of Porcelain Basin.
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.
3:00PM – Old Faithful for a second time – saw the eruption shortly after 3:15PM which was more impressive than previous day!
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.
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.
We ended up doing Yosemite in one day (on a tour) last year and it was such a whirlwind! This reminds me so much of that; we wanted to fit in Yosemite during our trip to San Francisco but only had minimal time to play with! So glad we did it but there is still so much more that we’ll have to explore another time.
We’ve been exploring a lot of national parks this summer, and most have had to fit into a day as well. It’s hard to have such limited time, but like you guys, sometimes it just has to happen! I’d rather spend a day somewhere than not be able to visit at all–plus it’s amazing how much can actually be fit into a day! Great guide–planning and research helps so much and it looks like you did a great job. Looks like a fantastic day! Hopefully we can visit Yellowstone soon!
Wow you guys were certainly busy to have explore all of that in just a weekend! lol I’ve always wanted to visit Yellowstone (and will soon, now being based out of Denver) but I think I’ll wait until I have a solid week or two to do so. The plethora of backcountry hiking, camping, and photographic opportunities certainly call for it!! 😀
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What breathtaking scenery. Incredible how much you can see of the vast area in a day.
Wow! I thought we were ambitious because we did Yellowstone in two days! One day or two days it’s still so unique and fun to visit!
Oh wow… what great shots. And yes my head is spinning! I so wanted to visit when I was there but just not enough time to do everything 🙁
Yellowstone in a day is ambitious. We spent two days there a few years ago and felt we needed more time. It sounds like you had a great time though.
In all honesty I would never recommend doing Yellowstone in just a day but if you are short on time, your suggestions are spot on. We had the pleasure of being here for 2.5 days but that also had a lot of hiking in it which kept us pretty busy. It was a fair bit of a drive for us from Denver (and a flight from Amsterdam haha) and we combined it with the Tetons … Yellowstone definitely requires a bit more planning than the average park but it’s such an incredible place … you can’t die without having been there 😉
I think there is a lot to be said about going places even for one day only: I used to think ‘it’s not worth it’ , while now I have a completely different approach: if a short time is all you have, that is surely better than no time at all. 🙂
I haven’t quite found the time for Yellowstone yet but every client I have sent there comes back with rave reviews. Your amazing photos just reinforce the fact that I am missing out on something special by not having been there.
I do think I will need more than a day though.
How wonderful! We have never been to Yellowstone however the opportunity to come face-to-face with a bison seems like an awesome experience!
Thanks for this guide – Yellowstone sure is one massively huge park, so I would probably recommend a little more than a day, though it surpises me how many travelers don’t do their research and do rock up just thinking they can wing it and take everything in. So thankyou for promoting the importance of research, beacuse it definitely takes people by surprise, and when there’s so much amazing nature to see you don’t want to be wasting time figuring out where to start. Prior planning is always the best way to go 🙂
So glad you enjoyed your time, I really am impressed at everything you fitted into a short visit!
My husband is from America and when we eventually move there I know he is desperate to take me to Yellowstone National Park; I think he must have spent some time there as a child and has so many great memories! Definitely pinnning this for future use!
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Your photos look great!Love all the animal sightings! I’m sure it was hard to do Yellowstone in a day. Sometimes, though, it’s nice to make a quick visit and get a sense for the place so that a longer trip in the future will be easier to plan.
This looks absolutely amazing!! I love US national parks and have yet to visit Yellowstone.
We loved Yellowstone when we went last year! the park is huge – I think this is a great way to cover a lot of territory in a day. We had kids in tow though and between the snack breaks and the potty breaks we weren’t going as fast!
It’s very ambitious to spend only a short period of time there, but sometimes we’ve got to make the most of the days/hours we have and it’s definitely better than not going at all! Thanks for the run-down of what you guys did and saw, I’d love to go there someday!
This sounds like a perfect day! Friends of mine have been to Yellowstone recently and when I saw their pictures I wanted to pack my bags and go there right away! And your pictures and description just proves it. I want to go there so badly now!
Well I can only guess how big Yellostone is! When you have only one day you definitely have to prioritize! Thanks for the tips!
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!
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!
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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!!
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.