Yellowstone is the most famous USA national park, protecting some of the best nature attractions in the World that you can visit in an unforgettable 3 days road trip
Yellowstone isn’t any park, it’s THE PARK. Home to more than 10,000 geothermal nature features that include hot springs, thermal pools and geysers, plus one the largest canyons in the World, many stunning waterfalls and amazing local wildlife. I will give you 7 great reasons why Yellowstone is a must see when doing a road trip in the US and a travel itinerary to explore it all in a self drive tour.
The very minimum duration of a road trip to Yellowstone it’s 3 days at least as the park is really huge and you have low speed limits. You can easily extend this travel itinerary to 5 days, by slowing the pace and taking more time by each of the attractions or even do more hiking activities for example. So to start with, where is actually Yellowstone National Park?
It’s basically split in 3 states, but 96% is in Wyoming, whilst Montana has 3% and Idaho 1% of the almost 9000 square meters (to compare the most reachable Yosemite national Park is “only 3000sqm).
WHEN TO GO
The best time of the year go to Yellowstone is from April to September, when all roads and lodges will be open again and wildlife starts to become more active after Winter. Also temperatires will be much milder reaching mid 20’s degrees celsius during the day. NIghts will śtill be quite fresh with 10 degrees or even less. To avoid the biggest crowds try to go in April – May or in September.
HOW TO GET THERE
The quickest way to get there is to fly to any of the surrounding airports and rent a car do rive through the park. There a few good options like Bozeman (Montana) or West Yellowstone. Both are about 1 hour away from the North and Western Entrances respectively.
You can also drive by car from the West Coast (12 hours from Portland, Oregon or from Seattle, Washington) or the South ( 5-6 hours from Salt Lake City, Utah or 12 hours from Las Vegas, Nevada). Of course renting a car or a RV camper is a great option and fortunately there are plenty of camping sites and lodges in Yellowstone to book.
WHERE TO SLEEP IN YELLOWSTONE
You should stay ideally inside the national park grounds, booking in advance any of the available lodges around the main Yellowstone attractions or then book a place in one of the many available campgrounds (see map below), Each of the Yellowstone lodges also offers food & beverages plus small convenience supermarkets. Note that these lodges and campsites operate mainly from June to September. Do have a look to www.yellowstonepark.com/where-to-stay-camp-eat and to the national park services site for opening times, availability and prices.
In case nothing is available inside the Yellowstone National Park, do look for accommodation near any of the main gates. It’s important that you stay as close as possible to the next stage of your Yellowstone road trip. My preferred entry is the West Gate, as its the closest to the to the biggest geysers and hot springs and pools, mostly located on this part of the park. In the North you can immediately start with the Mammoth Hot Springs. Northeast, East and South will take more time to get you to the grand loop road but they also have some nice landscapes on the way. Check the map below, for the top things to do in Yellowstone (Official US National park services map).
My itinerary recommendation should be depending on your entrance gate. As I entered through the West gate, I started with the main hot springs, pools and geysers, of the Norris Basin before heading to the southern area of the park near Yellowstone lake, then to Mammoth Hot Springs in the North Gate. You can adapt your itinerary as needed.
DAY 1: ENTER PARK, GEYSER BASINS, OLD FAITHFUL AND GRAND PRISMATIC SPRING
Entering the Park is for me a highlight . Its the moment you finally cross the gate and enter Yellowstone. Entering here just feels surreal as the landscapes seem taken from a Planet Earth documentary!
The hot springs, pools and geysers are distributed among 9 different basins, with the most important being the Upper Geyser Basin (410), Lower Geyser Basin (283), Norris Geyser Basin (193). An important note is that a hot spring is a discharge of hot (>35–40°C) water from a vent at the Earth’s surface, whilst a geyser is a hot spring with intermittent, turbulent discharges of boiling water and steam. So hot springs are usually more quiet in terms of activity coming usually on a round shape and with different colors as hot bacteria that surround them will make them change their tonalities as well as the sunlight reflections.
Having said this these are for me the most beautiful geothermal features of the whole park. The fact that there are boardwalks going all the way around the main hot springs does make the experience unforgettable. Also there are some trails leading to some viewpoints, with the most amazing being the one that gives you an almost a panoramic of the stunning Grand Prismatic Spring.
Having a meal at one of the many lodges in Yellowstone is a must do experience, for its history and decoration. I liked the Old Faithful Inn (in the pictures) but also the Yellowstone Lake Lodge. Food will be different by restaurant but expect great quality and a very good service. Even if you are vegetarian or vegan, there are good alternatives to the more meaty dishes or even fish, that I highly recommend.
The Old Faithful Geyser and the nearby geysers are one of those nature wonders that you will never forget. The Old Faithful is the biggest highlight in this area – eruptions every 35 to 100 minutes (not every hour!), it reaches up to 50 mts high. Its steam cloud is simply overwhelming! And of its a kind of sun & clouds weather, the contrasts are just perfect. ideally go here towards the evening/ dusk time, to see some great images of how mother Nature can be so powerful. The nearby Old Faithful Inn offers good meals, nice views of the geyser basin and some good lodging possibilities,
DAY 2: GRAND CANYON OF YELLOWSTONE AND YELLOWSTONE LAKE VISIT
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is one of those wonders that will leave you speechless. Firstly , because it’s really huge and secondly, the power of the Yellowstone River and waterfalls are absolutely stunning. Interesting to know that the name Yellowstone has its origin on the canyon yellow canyon colors . The canyon is approximately 39 km long, between 240 and 370 meters deep and almost 1.210 meters wide. The best thing about this Canyon is that you have great viewpoints to see the canyon and the waterfalls from both the North and the South Rim. All are accessible from the nearby parking lots.
The best viewpoints of the Yellowstone Grand Canyon are:
- Artist Point, for the perfect view of the Lower Falls
- Brink of the Lower Falls, to feel the ultimate power of these 94 meters waterfalls
- Upper Falls viewpoint, that allows you to see how these 33 meters look as powerful as its much higher neighbor Lower Falls
- Lookout Point North Rim, for a great perspective of the Lower Falls and the Canyon
- 5) Inspiration Point, that will give you a wonderful canyon view , namely from the pink Palette and the green part of this canyon.
Here is an official US National parks map showing how to find the different viewpoints alongside the canyon:
Yellowstone Lake area should be your next stop after midday. With a vast lake extension of 350 km2 and being at almost an impressive 2357 meters high, is one the biggest freshwater lakes in North America. The reason why of being so high is that a part from it belongs to the caldera of the super volcano that originated Yellowstone. That’s why on the West thumb you can see a huge collection of hot springs, geysers and fumaroles. Due its geothermal activity, no boats are allowed but admiring it from the shore is already wonderful! Plus the Lake lodge is a great place to eat and enjoy the views,
One of the nicest addresses in Yellowstone, I really liked the Anglers Lodge near Yellowstone Lake. Not only is the location unbeatable, also the food is excellent in terms of fish variety and great service in a cozy environment. I didn’t sleep here, but I am sure the quality is also great as near the lake it’s very quiet and quite near the geyser fields around the lake.
DAY 3: MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS
Mammoth Hot Springs seems to be one of those places taken from a different planet or the inside of a cave inside out if you prefer something more earthly. What i liked most is that you can use the walkways to see the Upper and Lower hot springs Terrasses in 3 to 4 hours, with plenty of time to take pictures and appreciate this beautiful place. If you are entering the park via the North entrance, this is the first sight you will have to but in my case as I was leaving the park, it was the last one . I also had the chance to look for some wildlife on the nearby valleys and dwindling Yellowstone River. . The fact that I stayed overnight at the Mammoth Hot Springs cabins was great as I could start my day there immediately, so highly recommend it.
The cabins in Mammoth Hot Springs are extremely near the site and you can go easily to the lower and higher terrasses on foot. The cabins are large enough and good to sleep in but expect to hear some noise from the outside. Some of the cabins have a private toilet. You can book this via the official website, ideally in advance here: https://www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/stay/plan/reservations/ . Do note that lodges have seasonal operating times, so do take into accoun!
A Final about the Wildlife & Landscapes in Yellowstone National Park, that you can see across the park. It was for me but wonderful highlight to see Bisons and Wolfs, Reindeers and Elks plus Bears roaming free here.
Hope you have now a good overview of the amazing Yellowstone National Park and you can visit it soon! Enjoy the Yellowstone road trip! And if you have any questions, please send me a message
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My name is Renato Azambujo. I live currently in Hamburg, but was born and raised in sunny capital of Portugal, Lisbon. I also lived in Switzerland for some years, before settling in Germany for the last years.
I am huge passionate about travel, photographer and a global explorer, always looking to the next destination.
I have so far visited over 70 countries across the 5 continents, because I really love knowing about new places, interact with different cultures and get to know myself better after each journey.