Here is our 3 day Yellowstone National Park Road Trip Itinerary. 3 days is the minimum you will need to really get a feel for the park and see the highlights. You could easily spend longer here without visiting the same attractions more than once.
Yellowstone National Park is the oldest National Park in the USA. Located in Wyoming it is a drive or short flight from most major cities. However Yellowstone is surrounded by spectacular scenery, so definitely consider driving from further afield such as Seattle or Denver if you have the time.
Over three days following our Yellowstone National Park Road Trip Itinerary you can cover the following circuit. This route allows time to stop for wildlife viewing and waiting on timed eruptions of geysers. You wouldn’t want to go all the way to Yellowstone and not see Old Faithful right?
Day 1 – Gardiner to Fishing Bridge
Enter Yellowstone National Park from the northern entrance. Here you will find the famous Roosevelt Arch. This iconic arch is located right outside the Yellowstone Forever building at the northern entrance in Gardiner.
It’s worth heading into the Yellowstone Forever building as it works as a tourist information centre. They can tell you where road works are on going so you can be prepared for the hold ups. Road works are almost guaranteed for your visit to Yellowstone as they can only do the work during peak visiting season. From late October to April the park is mostly covered in snow.
The first big stop of our Yellowstone National Park Road Trip Itinerary is Mammoth Hot Springs. This is a huge area, plan to spend around an hour here to walk up to the top of the boardwalks and take in the views.
Leaving Mammoth Hot Springs head towards Lamar Valley for some wildlife viewing. There is plenty to see on the way though so keep an eye on the side of the road.
A short way past Mammoth you will find parking for Undine Falls which is worth a stop. We found this area was pretty quiet as it’s not one of the main stops but it looks pretty impressive all the same.
You can’t get lost on the road at this point to Lamar Valley, keep heading the same direction. Expect the journey to take around an hour and a half plus time for stops. Google maps underestimates driving times within the park so be aware of this if you are using Google as your satnav here.
Lamar Valley is one of the best places for wildlife viewing in all of Yellowstone National Park. It is located on the north eastern edge of the park. What animals are here will depend on the time of year you’re visiting. In spring we didn’t see any bears but we did see a lot of bison, including baby bison aka red dogs – due to their red fur. We also seen plenty of elk, pronghorn and bighorn sheep in this area.
You will need to leave Lamar Valley the same way you got into this section of the park. It’s easy enough to turn around in the road to return the way you came. When you get back to Tower Junction you will turn left and head towards Dunraven Pass rather than back towards Mammoth Hot Springs.
Keep watching for wildlife while you’re driving. Along the side of the road between Tower Junction and Dunraven pass we spotted black bears and even more bison, one right in the middle of the road.
Heading south from Tower Junction will take you over Dunraven Pass which is typically accessible from late May to September. Outside of this window it’s closed due to snow. In late May there was still plenty of snow around at these high elevations but the pass had been cleared and we were able to access this route. Dunraven Pass is one of our favourite drives within Yellowstone. It is a do not miss if you visit during the warmer months.
After you have completed the drive over Dunraven Pass make a stop at Canyon Village for any supplies you might need. There is a store here for food and souvenirs if you need any other than your photographs.
Nearby Canyon Village is your next stop, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. This is an amazing sight to see and there are different viewing points you will want to check out.
Take in the northern view points on the north rim drive first since you will be travelling from the north. Even if you just do the first couple of view points it’s worth it. The short trail from Lookout Point will take you to the top of Lower Falls and the roar of the water is incredible.
The south rim drive offers even better views, particularly from Artist Point. This is where you will get the iconic view of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. It’s from here you can see why it got its name.
From the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone head south through Hayden Valley. Hayden Valley has a similar reputation to Lamar Valley for wildlife spotting. So again keep checking the sides of the road, you never know what you will spot.
The last stops of day 1 introduce you to the more geothermal areas of the park in the south. Sulphur Caldron is a quick stop on your left. It’s an easy pull off into a lay-by and you won’t need long here. It looks great but the smell is very strong, hence the name.
Almost sighting distance from Sulphur Caldron, but on the other side of the road, is Mud Volcano. At Mud Volcano you can find Dragon Mouth Spring and Sour Lake. It’s another quick stop but worth a look while you’re on route. This area is also a bit quieter than the major stops so finding a parking space will be easier. It will also be easier to get those photographs without other people in the background.
Continue south towards Fishing Bridge and Lake Yellowstone where you should stay for the night. In this area you will find places to eat, refuel and a choice of accommodation, including the only full service RV park within Yellowstone National Park.
Book your in park lodging through the National Park Service website.
Day 2 – Fishing Bridge to West Yellowstone
Day 2 of our Yellowstone National Park Road Trip Itinerary continues south from Fishing Bridge following the banks of Lake Yellowstone to the West Thumb Geyser Basin. Here you get your first experience of geothermal features of the day. Not the biggest geyser basin in Yellowstone but one of our favourites. It’s not as busy as the bigger ones either which is a bonus.
Expect to spend up to two hours here to walk around all of the boardwalks and spend some times taking in the views. There are some exceptional views out over the West Thumb of Lake Yellowstone from here.
From the West Thumb Geyser Basin you have the option to keep heading south which will take you out of Yellowstone National Park and onto Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole.
This is the ideal time to fit in touring Grand Teton if you plan to visit both parks. You will need another two days to visit the Grand Teton National Park and nearby Jackson – a wild west town.
If you are not planning on heading to Grand Teton it’s still worth heading south for a detour to see Lewis Lake and Lewis Falls which are just south of West Thumb Geyser Basin. After seeing Lewis Falls you can turn around to head north again and onwards to Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin.
Including a detour to Lewis Falls, between the West Thumb Geyser Basin and the Upper Geyser Basin, expect the driving time to be approximately an hour and a half.
The parking at the Upper Geyser Basin, home of Old Faithful geyser and lodge, is a huge expanse of car parks. It’s one of the busiest areas of the park and even though the parking area is enormous don’t expect to find a space straight away.
Head straight for the visitors centre where they display the eruption times for Old Faithful. They can predict the eruption to within a 15 to 20 minute window and it takes place approximately every 90 minutes.
If you have just missed it make your way around the other geothermal features in the Upper Geyser Basin first. If Old Faithful is expected to erupt in less than 45 minutes don’t go too far, do the other geothermal features afterwards.
Leaving the Upper Geyser Basin continue north and onto some more impressive geothermal features. The next big one is Grand Prismatic Spring and it’s a very popular spot. In late May, which isn’t peak season, the queue of cars waiting to get into the car park here totally put us off and we skipped it. If you do have the time to wait to enter or you find there is no queue on your visit then this is the point in our itinerary when you will be passing by.
Continue north to your accommodation for the night. For those camping Maddison Campground makes an ideal spot to stay for the night. For hotels there is a variety of options in nearby West Yellowstone just outside of the park. The pass you bought when entering from Gardiner the day before allows you to access the park for a week so you can come in and out of the park without buying another pass.
Find your West Yellowstone hotel at Booking.com.
Day 3 – West Yellowstone to Gardiner
The last day of our Yellowstone National Park Road Trip Itinerary will focus on more geothermal features, some of the hottest in the park. If you choose to stay in West Yellowstone then get an early start and head back into the park the same way you left. From Maddison Campground continue in the same direction of travel as the previous day towards Norris Geyser Basin.
Norris Geyser Basin covers a huge area and has some of the largest and hottest geysers in Yellowstone National Park. Expect to spend about two hours here to hike around all of the board walks which split into different areas.
If you’re lucky you may get to catch some of the large geysers erupting in this area. Although the geysers in this area are not as predictable as Old Faithful if you are lucky enough to be in the right area at the right time they will be more impressive. We missed Steamboat Geyser erupting by 8 hours and the resulting steam it gave off was still going at an impressive rate.
There are two walking loops within Norris Geyser Basin, the larger loop is about 2 miles long and will take over an hour by the time you have stopped at all the viewing points. Norris Geyser Basin really makes you feel like you’ve stepped into Jurassic Park.
You can expect to see pretty much all of the different types of thermal feature Yellowstone has to offer within Norris Geyser Basin. Brightly coloured thermal pools, geysers and mud pits.
This area of the park, as well as the Upper Geyser Basin, is located within the Yellowstone Caldera. Yellowstone is a super volcano which is why all the geothermal activity is there. A caldera is the crater or mouth of a volcano and so the most active geothermal features in the park are located within the Yellowstone Caldera, the southern section of the park.
There is a second walking loop within Norris Geyser Basin, smaller than the one described already but still worth the walk if you have the time. Both loops start at the same point so you will complete one before starting the other.
The shorter loop is just under a mile long and should take between half an hour and 45 minutes to complete while stopping at the viewing points.
Leaving Norris Geyser Basin head north, which will be a left turn out of the car park. This road will take you back to Mammoth Hot Springs. If you missed seeing them on your way into the park this is a great opportunity to see more of the area of your way out of the park.
Yellowstone is a huge National Park and shouldn’t be rushed. If you have less than three days to spend in the park something will need to be cut from the must see list. If you don’t have the time on this visit though it’s a perfect opportunity to keep Yellowstone on your to visit list to go back and see the sights you missed!
Have you visited Yellowstone National Park? Which area was your favourite? Let us know in the comments.