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Yellowstone National Park One Day Itinerary

Yellowstone National Park seems to be on everyone’s bucket list. In this blog, I’m highlighting the best things to see in Yellowstone National Park if you only have one day to visit.

Getting to explore the very first national park and experiencing the incredible geothermal activity at Yellowstone National Park is pretty amazing. Although I have to be honest, Yellowstone is not one of my top national parks to visit.

While it has many different ecosystems, I’m a sharp, jagged mountain kinda gal and Yellowstone is a bit flat for me. That’s not to say I couldn’t spend a whole lot of time here exploring, but Yellowstone can be hot and crowded in summer, however, you have to see Yellowstone National Park at least once in your life.

Yellowstone Itinerary One Day

What makes Yellowstone so popular is the abundance of wildlife and geothermal activity.

There is a good chance that even if you are only in the park for one day, you will encounter a deer, moose, bison, or possibly a bear.

Grand Teton to Yellowstone to Glacier National Parks Road Trip Bison

The geothermal activity here is spectacular! Geysers are shooting up water all around and the gorgeous colors of the different hot springs are something you will never forget.

Grand Teton to Yellowstone to Glacier National Parks Road Trip Norris Basin

How often do you get to see geysers and bison?!

In summer, it really can feel like Disneyland so you don’t want to sleep in. Get up early and get to the off-the-beaten-path places to make your one-day Yellowstone National Park trip a memorable one.

This itinerary is going to help you make the most of your limited time in the park. Of course, you aren’t going to be able to see everything in one day, but this is what I would recommend if you only had one day.  

If you are planning on spending more than one day in Yellowstone, you should click over and read my blog Grand Teton to Yellowstone to Glacier National Parks Road Trip. It has a complete guide to everything you should do in Yellowstone if you have time, plus information on how to see Grand Teton NP, which is one of my favorite national parks.

Pro Tip: Travel between different sections of Yellowstone often exceeds Google Maps estimates due to heavy traffic and ongoing road construction.

Map of Yellowstone National Park

Best Time To Visit Yellowstone

All the roads in Yellowstone are closed from approximately the beginning of November to about mid-May except the northeast corner from Mammoth Hot Springs (near Gardiner, MT) to the Tower Roosevelt area (along Highway 21 to Silver Gate).

You can still visit Yellowstone in winter but have to have your snowmobile or sign up for a tour. Popular things to do in Yellowstone in winter include cross-country skiing to Old Faithful, snowshoeing, snowmobile tours, or watching the wolves up in Lamar Valley.

The best time to visit Yellowstone is September and October, although May and June are nice too.

If you have to visit in the summer, this Yellowstone one-day itinerary will help you be efficient and avoid a lot of the crowds.

Summer often brings thunderstorms so even more of a reason to get up early to explore Yellowstone National Park

If you are lucky enough to see wild animals while visiting Yellowstone, remember to stay 2 bus lengths distance away from moose and bison and 8 bus lengths away from bears and wolves. Also, stay on boardwalks. Geysers have injured many people and we don’t want it to be you 🙂

One Day Yellowstone Itinerary: West Entrance to South Entrance

Highlights: Grand Prismatic Spring, Old Faithful and Geyser Basin, Yellowstone Lake and West Thumb

Tip: You can easily do this itinerary in reverse, however, we felt that seeing Grand Prismatic as early as possible (like at sunrise) is the best.  Plus, if you drive out the south entrance, you can catch the sunset over the Grand Tetons, which is a spectacular way to end the day.

West Yellowstone

While it’s a cute town, unless you want to drop a lot of money on food, in my opinion, it can be skipped or hurried through.  If you have kids, try to stop at the West Yellowstone visitor center and get a junior ranger book (or you can pick one up at the visitor center at Old Faithful).  The junior ranger books at this park now cost $3. If it’s your first trip to a national park, then it’s worth the money to make the visit more fun and educational for your kids.  If you’ve done the junior ranger thing a lot, then I’d skip it.

Grand Prismatic Spring

The colors of the hot spring are incredible and something you have to see for yourself.  It can get really crowded so try to get here early.  Plus, your photos will come out better in the early morning light.  

Yellowstone national park one day itinerary-Grand Prismatic
Park and hike from Fairy Falls Trailhead to get the best views of Grand Prismatic.

The view and pictures of the Grand Prismatic Spring are much better from the overlook so park at the Fairy Falls Trailhead and hike the short half mile to the overlook.  

Drive Firehole Lake Loop

You want to prioritize Grand Prismatic so once you are done there, backtrack just a bit to drive the 3.3-mile Firehole Road. It’s a scenic loop with several unique thermal features. Park in any of the pull-off lots and walk out on the boardwalks to get an up-close view. This is one of the hidden gems in Yosemite where you’ll find solitude and quietness. Unfortunately, there are vehicle size restrictions that wouldn’t allow us to drive in this area with our RV :/

Hike Fairy Falls

Next, head back to the Fairy Falls trailhead and hike the 4.9 round trip trail to Fairy Falls.  This hike is easy and only gains 213 feet of elevation. 

Or…Hike Mystic Falls

Right before you get to the Old Faithful area you can park in the pullouts just south of the Biscuit Basin area and walk 0.5 miles north along the Upper Geyser Basin–Biscuit Basin Trail to the trailhead (or hike from the Old Faithful area– see below). From the trailhead it’s a 2.4 mile out and back trail that you can extend a mile and a half more to get to a gorgeous overlook.

Old Faithful

The Old Faithful area is very educational so you should plan on spending a few hours here (or overnight– see below). The upper geyser basin is where you’ll find Old Faithful and is home to over 150 geysers. I had no idea before going here how interesting the area was and I wish I had done more research beforehand. If you have kids, I highly recommend doing some geology lessons ahead of time to make the experience richer.

Then make time to take it all in when you arrive. The visitor center has great displays, and the ranger talks are wonderful at cementing all this newfound knowledge together.  Click here to learn some fun facts about the geysers and hot springs ahead of time.

Grand Teton to Yellowstone to Glacier National Parks Road Trip
Views of Old Faithful as seen from above at the overlook.

You can’t go to Yellowstone without watching Old Faithful erupt, which occurs approximately every hour and a half.  Observation Point gives you a bird’s eye view of Old Faithful erupting. If you time it right, watch it erupt from directly in front, walk the boardwalks along Upper Geyser Basin, and then try to catch a second eruption from the observation point. 

Observation Point

We chose to watch it erupt from the viewpoint. It was a pleasant hike to the overlook, but if your legs are tired the up close view of Old Faithful erupting is incredible too.

Upper Geyser Basin

Old Faithful isn’t the only geyser here. There are numerous hot springs and geysers to explore here. Be sure to download this app so you can plan your time at Old Faithful and still see some of the other geysers erupt.  You’ll want to set aside at least an hour to walk the Upper Geyer Basin Trail to experience all the different geysers and hot springs here.

Yellowstone national park one day itinerary-walking to see the geysers

If you have a few hours, continue on the Upper Geyser Basin Trail to the Biscuit Basin Trail and then hike the 2.5-mile loop to Mystic Falls (or you can drive to it). You will have to backtrack Biscuit Basin and Upper Geyser Basin but hopefully, you’ll get to see some more eruptions along the way.

Grand Teton to Yellowstone to Glacier National Parks Road Trip Norris Basin
Make time to walk the entire path so you can see all the various colors of hot springs.

Mud Pools (West Thumb)

This is an optional stop if you ask me.  The mud pools are worth seeing once, but they are nowhere as amazing as the other attractions you saw today.  If you are short on time, I would spend longer taking in the Old Faithful area and skipping this or doing this section quickly at the end of your day. The good thing is that it is easy to park here, you not only get to see mud pools but more hot springs and Yellowstone Lake, and it is a very short hike.

Grand Teton to Yellowstone to Glacier National Parks Road Trip Norris Basin
The shade of turquoise of many hot springs is unreal. I wish this picture did it justice 😉

Photograph Lewis Falls

On your way heading toward the south entrance, you will pass Lewis Lake. Right after, but before the bridge, there is a parking area. Walk toward the bridge and follow one of the paths for about five minutes to the falls. Be careful walking down the hill to the shore where you can take more pictures of Lewis Falls.

South Entrance

Grand Teton to Yellowstone to Glacier National Parks Road Trip Lamar Valley
Views from one of the many pullouts near the south entrance of Yellowstone

The drive from West Thumb to the south entrance is pretty and there are many pullouts where you can stop to take it in. I recommend giving yourself a little time to explore and take pictures.

Grand Tetons

Grand Teton to Yellowstone to Glacier National Parks Road Trip Grand Tetons

The Tetons are one of my favorite mountain ranges and watching the sun set over them will make your soul happy. Getting to look at them any time is wonderful.

If you have time (maybe the next day), drive to Teton Park Road and stop at Jenny Lake. There’s a visitor center or you can hike around the lake. Parking here with an RV is difficult though.

Yellowstone national park one day itinerary- hiking Delta lake
Delta Lake is our favorite day hike in the Tetons.

If you want to experience an epic hike, go to Delta Lake. One of our all-time favorite hikes. This 7-mile out-and-back hike will take you to a gorgeous alpine lake. Get all the details here. Or if you’re ambitious, find out how to hike to the top of Middle Teton.

One Day Yellowstone Itinerary: East Entrance to North Entrance

Highlights: Norris Geyser Basin, Mammoth Hot Springs, & Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River

Norris Geyser Basin

I loved Norris Geyser Basin. Each of the pools are such unique shades of blues and greens. It’s actually in the center of Yellowstone and will require a bit of a detour from If you come in from the east (Cody)

Mammoth Hot Springs

Another gorgeous geothermal formation in Yellowstone that you have to see!

Yellowstone Falls

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River Here you’ll be able to view the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River. While you’re here you may also want to hike Uncle Tom’s Trail or South Rim Trail.

One Day Yellowstone Itinerary: Northeast Entrance to North Entrance

Highlights: Lamar Valley, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, and Mammoth Hot Springs

Lamar Valley

This is where you’ll hopefully get lucky and see the dozens of wolves that live in Lamar Valley.

Grand Teton to Yellowstone to Glacier National Parks Road Trip Lamar Valley

Where To Stay In Yellowstone

There are 9 different lodges or cabins in Yellowstone National Park that are open late spring through fall. 2 of these are even open in the winter. You can click here to see lodge locations, if they are open, and recent fill times. I would love to stay at Yellowstone Inn one day. It’s right next to Old Faithful so you can see multiple geysers erupt. Yellowstone Inn is only open May 7- Oct 7.

Image from Nps.gov

Camping in Yellowstone National Park

There are 12 campgrounds in Yellowstone National Park and over 2,000 sites yet we never seem to be able to book one! If you want to camp in Yellowstone, you can reserve 5 of the campgrounds at Yellowstone National Park Lodges and the other 7 through recreation.gov.  

Image from Nps.gov
Image from Nps.gov

Near West Entrance

There are great free camping opportunities on the drive from Bozeman to West Yellowstone.  The only downside is that it will take you a lot longer to get to Grand Prismatic and you might not be able to beat the crowds.

If you can, reserve a night at Madison Campground, which is open from the end of April to mid-October so that you can quickly pack up in the morning and be at Grand Prismatic before the rush of people.  This is a popular campground but they do take reservations.

Near Yellowstone Lake

If you want to extend your stay in Yellowstone one more day, camp at Grant Village, which is next to West Thumb. The nice thing about this campground is that it is reservable, takes RVs up to, allows generators, has paid showers, ranger programs, stores, and restaurants, and is right on Yellowstone Lake.

Grand Teton to Yellowstone to Glacier National Parks Road Trip Norris Basin

Near South Entrance

Lewis Lake Campground is 8 miles from the south entrance; first come first serve; RV’s up to 25 feet. You can free camp at Snake River which is also close to the south entrance. Get details here on Campendium.com.

Free Camping does not exist inside Yellowstone National Park.  However, the pullouts between Grand Teton NP and Yellowstone NP are not patrolled as much as when you are in the more popular areas of the park. If you are discrete and in the outskirts, there is a good chance you can pull it off.

You can free camp by the south entrance on the Snake River. Check out FreeCampsites.net for all the details.

Related Blog: Free Camping in the USA

Where to Eat in Yellowstone

There are restaurants in the Old Faithful and Grant Village areas. We always bring our food and picnic along the way. Just know you will have limited access to grocery stores on this section of your road trip so stock up in Bozeman or Jackson Hole. Click here to see our Costco road trip shopping list.

Related Blog: Grand Teton To Yellowstone To Glacier National Park Road Trip Itinerary

Other National Parks Blogs:

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Yellowstone Itinerary One Day

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Camilo Cruz

Friday 1st of March 2024

Gabi: I was looking for a road trip with my wife and was so inspired by your blog that I thought, I want to do the whole thing: Take 10 days or more to get from Florida to Denver, rent a car, go to the tetons, then yellowstone and then mount rushmore, and back to denver. Is it possible?? Are we nuts?? If not, what do you suggest? I'm and author. I saw your Napoleon Hill Quote and it warmed my heart, because that is what I do. In fact I have a book signed by him. Well, my wife and I are a couple of teenagers in their 60's hahaha. Warm regards,

Camilo

Gabi

Sunday 17th of March 2024

Definitely possible! I think you should absolutely go for it! We've driven Montana to Florida a few times and though you wanna drive fast through the "boring states," it's doable and a long road trip to the Rockies will no doubt be amazing. P.S. So cool you have an originally signed book, we are big Napoleon Hill fans!

Little Flo

Monday 31st of August 2020

Thank you for your concise summary. We’re planning on visiting on our way home from Alaska Cruise landing in Vancouver. Sounds like a perfect day’s activity to break up our long drive home to Kentucky.

Jess

Sunday 12th of July 2020

Do you happen to have a map version of this? We are entering from Idaho and only have one day. Thank you for this awesome itinerary

Gabi

Sunday 19th of July 2020

Just updated the blog with a newly added map! Let me know if that helps and if you have any other questions.

Brenda

Wednesday 2nd of October 2019

Thank you! This is very helpful. Going this weekend!

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