I have to be honest, Yellowstone is not one of my favorite national parks. 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 exporing, but every time we pass by our nations first national park, it happens to be hot and crowded. I love solitude and gettting off the beaten path, so this one day itinerary is going to help you do that as much as possible. Because let’s face it, you have to see Yellowstone at least once in your life.
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 or two days. This itinerary will allow you to see three marque attractions– Grand Prismatic, Old Faithful, and West Thumb, while also squeezing in some nice hikes and great photo opportunities.
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. Plus, the geothemal activity here is unreal. Geysers are shooting up water all around and the gorgeous colors of the different hot springs are something you will never forget.
Yellowstone is HUGE
It takes a long time to drive from one section of Yellowstone to another and the traffic during the busy summer months can make you feel like you are at Disneyland. Also, be prepared for a lot of construction on the roads and account for more time than Google maps might tell you.
Best Time To Visit Yellowstone
The roads from West Yellowstone to the South Entrance are closed from approximately the beginning of November to about May 10 so visiting this section of Yellowstone in winter is out of the question. Although, cross country skiing around Old Faithful is now on my bucket list as is watching the wolves up in Lamar Valley in the Winter.
The best time to visit is the shoulder season, either May to June or even better, September to October. I understand that sometimes summer is the only time you can get there so if you have to visit in the summer, this is the best way to see Yellowstone in one day and avoid a lot of the crowds.
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.
One Day Yellowstone Itinerary
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 personally 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.
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 really 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 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.
The Old Faithful area is a very educational so you should definitely 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 expereince richer.
Then make time to really take it all in when you arrive. The visitor center has great displays, and the ranger talks are wonderful at cementing all this great newfound knowledge together. Click here to learn some fun facts about the geysers and hot springs ahead of time.
You can’t go to Yellowstone without watching Old Faithful erupt, which occurs approximately every hour and a half. Observation Point gives you a birds 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 observation point.
We chose to watch it erupt from the viewpoint. It was a pleasant hike to the overlook, but if you’re legs are tired the upclose 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 expereince all the different geysers and hot springs here.
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.
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 for 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.
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.
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.
The Tetons are one of my favorite mountain ranges and watching the sun set over them will make your soul happy. Actually, getting to look at them any time is wonderful.
If you have time (maybe the next day), drive 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.
Where To Stay In Yellowstone
Camping is a great way to experience the National Parks. The campgrounds in Yellowstone fill up way in advance. For a one day itinerary, camping at Grant’s Village or Madison campground would give you quick access to Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic.
National Park Campgrounds
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 RV’s up to , allows generators, has paid showers, ranger programs, stores, restaurants, and is right on Yellowstone Lake.
Near South Entrance
Lewis Lake Campground is 8 miles from the south entrance; first come first serve; RV’s up to 25 foot. 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 pull outs between Grand Teton NP and Yellowstone NP are not patrolled as much as the 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
If camping isn’t your thing, there are lodges at Old Faithful and Grant Village. We always camp so you’ll have to click here to get all the lodging details, but if I had the money, I’d definitely stay at Old Faithful so you can see multiple geysers erupt. Yellowstone Inn is only open May 7- Oct 7.
For more information on the best campgrounds in the Yellowstone area, check out my friends at GlamGranola
Where to Eat in Yellowstone
There are restaurants in the Old Faithful and Grant Village area. Personally, we always bring our own 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 shoppig list.
If you are lucky (or unlucky) 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 🙂
National Parks are epic. Seriously, I’m lucky enough that I’v been to a lot of them so I can be picky. But it was only a few years ago that I hadn’t been to a single one. If you are curious about Yellowstone, then GO. It’s rad. I mean, how often do you get to see geysers and bison? But it really is like Disneyland where you don’t want to sleep in and follow the crowds. Get up early and get to the off the beaten path places and make your trip memorable.
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