With so many landmarks and natural attractions, Yellowstone National Park is the type of destination where you can spend an entire week or more.
However, it’s still possible to visit most of the best sites in as little as two days. Check out our Yellowstone 2-day itinerary below for some inspiration!
Yellowstone National Park Basics
Best Time to Visit Yellowstone
The summer months between May and October are the best time to visit Yellowstone. Though the park is technically open year-round, most roads and entrances close in the winter. The North Entrance at Gardiner is the only entrance open during winter.
In 2022, unprecedented flooding has also led to road closures, and other areas of the park is prohibited. Always be sure to consult the official website prior to departure to find out exactly what entrances and roads are open.
There are five entrances to Yellowstone National Park:
- West Entrance (West Yellowstone, MT)
- North Entrance (Gardiner, MT)
- South Entrance (Jackson Hole, WY)
- East Entrance (nearest city is Cody, WY)
- North East Entrance (near Cooke City, MT)
Yellowstone admits entrance for $35 USD per vehicle. Individuals with bicycles or skis can enter for $20, while motorcycles and snowmobiles can enter for $30.
- Old Faithful Visitor Education Center
- West Yellowstone Visitor Center
- West Thumb Information Station
- Madison Information Station
- Grant Visitor Center
- Albright Visitor Center
- Canyon Visitor Education Center
- Fishing Bridge Visitor Center
- Norris Geyser Basin Museum
- National Park Ranger
How to get to Yellowstone National Park
The closest major airport to Yellowstone National Park is Bozeman International Airport in Montana, which connects to 21 domestic airports. The airport is around a two-hour drive from Yellowstone, though the driving time can be affected by which entrance you choose.
Additionally, you can fly into Jackson Hole Airport, which is only 45 minutes south of the park and gives you easy access to Grand Teton National Park as well as Yellowstone.
Though guided tours to Yellowstone are available, renting your own car or RV puts you in control of your schedule, particularly if you have limited time.
Where to stay
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing accommodation for your Yellowstone trip. There’s a range of options both in the park and in the surrounding towns and communities.
In general, the most central accommodation options within the park will be located near the Canyon Village area, which is closest to the heart of the park. One of the best accommodation lodges in the area is Canyon Lodge and Cabins.
However, if you’re only staying in the park for a day or two, the most central accommodation might not be the best choice. If you’re only visiting a handful of attractions, you won’t need to traverse the whole park.
For the purposes of the following itinerary, which includes as many of the most prominent landmarks in the park as possible, it makes the most sense to stay on the western side of the park. Within Yellowstone, you might want to book accommodation at:
You could also consider staying outside the park in West Yellowstone, which boasts several hotels and inns.
Yellowstone 2-Day Itinerary
Arguably the most popular and impressive highlights at Yellowstone, though there are many, are the geysers on the western side of the park. So if you only have limited time, it makes sense to start there.
Morning: Old Faithful
Start your itinerary in the Upper Geyser Basin, home to the famous Old Faithful geyser.
The geyser erupts every 60 to 110 minutes, so exactly how long you’ll need to stay may depend on how long after the last eruption you arrive. It can sometimes take two hours for the next eruption to take place, though this is rare.
If you are staying at the Old Faithful Inn, you will be able to view the eruption of the geyser from the hotel. Otherwise, you can watch it from the boardwalk, where there’s seating, or from the observation point, which requires a short but strenuous hike.
The boardwalk gets extremely crowded, particularly during summer. The earlier you get there, the better your chance of scoring a seat. If you do want to hike to the observation area to get a view, allow an extra 45 minutes at least.
There are 150 other geothermal features to see in the Upper Geyser Basin. Depending on how long you have to wait for Old Faithful to erupt, you may have time to view a few of these before moving on to the next destination on your itinerary.
Late Morning/Midday: Midway Geyser Basin and Grand Prismatic Spring
With its kaleidoscope of colors, Grand Prismatic Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin is one of Yellowstone’s greatest attractions.
The third largest spring in the world, Grand Prismatic features a rainbow of colors because of the varying temperatures within the spring, which lend themselves to different bacteria.
You can spend anywhere from an hour to two hours at Grand Prismatic Spring, though it’s preferable to visit in the afternoon rather than in the early morning. Although the spring is a popular destination and will likely get busier as the day goes on, in the morning it tends to be covered in mist, which conceals its famous colors.
Full Suitcase advises that you may be waiting up to 30 minutes for a parking spot if visiting after 10:30 a.m. in the summer. The walk to the boardwalk surrounding the spring is just a few minutes from the car park.
You can also hike to the Grand Prismatic Viewing Platform, which is accessed via the trailhead at the Fairy Falls parking lot, around five minutes south of the basin.
The overlook trail may take around 30 minutes to complete there and back, but make sure you allow time to absorb the amazing views at the top!
Never step off the marked boardwalk when visiting Grand Prismatic Spring, or any of the geothermal areas in Yellowstone National Park. Doing so is extremely dangerous, as falling into a hot spring is likely to result in death or horrific injuries.
There are also steep penalties for walking through prohibited areas in the park, including significant fines and jail time.
There are other points of interest in the Midway Geyser Basin too, including the hot spring known as Excelsior Geyser, the Opal Pool, and the Turquoise Pool. You can easily see these on your way to or from the Grand Prismatic Spring.
Early Afternoon: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Another must-see sight in the park is the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. There are lots of hiking trails around the canyon, all offering unique views. You could spend anywhere from one hour to a full day here.
There are three main sections to the canyon: the North Rim, the South Rim, and the Brink of the Upper Falls. All sections boast their own spectacular views, but the most famous vantage point is known as Artist Point, which you can access from the South Rim.
There tend to be smaller crowds in the morning, and the light is often better for photographs. But when you have a tight schedule, it’s still fine to visit the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone in the afternoon.
To visit both the North and South Rims, you’ll need to allow two to four hours. With limited time, Artist Point on the South Rim is the best place to visit.
Late Afternoon/Dusk: Hayden Valley
The Hayden Valley offers some of the best wildlife viewings in Yellowstone. Animals tend to be the most active early in the morning or at dusk, so it makes sense to finish off your day with a trip to the valley. Alternatively, you can start in the valley early in the morning and do the outlined itinerary in reverse.
The valley sprawls across nearly 8,000 feet and attracts a wide range of animals, including bison, grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, and elk. You may still see many of the same animals in the winter, though you’ll need to access the valley via snow coach.
There are numerous points along the Grand Loop Road where you can stop to watch the animals in the valley, including Grizzly Overlook, near the north end of the valley. Yellowstone Guidelines recommend stopping at the parking area at Trout Creek, south of Sulphur Mountain, or at the pullouts at the north end of the valley.
It is possible to hike the valley along the Mary Mountain Trail, but be aware that there’s a high chance of encountering a grizzly bear if you venture into the valley on foot. If you do wish to hike here, always carry bear spray and travel in groups of more than four people.
No matter how calm the animals in Yellowstone appear to be, they are wild and their behavior is therefore unpredictable.
Never approach wildlife that you encounter in the valley, or anywhere in the park. Keep at least 100 yards away from wolves and bears, and 25 yards away from bison and elk. Never feed animals in the park.
Morning: Norris Geyser Basin
The Norris Geyser Basin might not be as impressive as Old Faithful or Grand Prismatic Spring, and it tends to be lower on the priority list than other attractions at Yellowstone.
But if traveling from West Yellowstone or the Old Faithful area, you could pass through on your way to the other stops on the second day of your itinerary. You could spend anywhere from one hour to half a day here
The hydrothermal area is divided into two basins: the Porcelain Basin, and the Back Basin, the latter of which is home to the famous Steamboat Geyser. Unlike Old Faithful, however, this geyser erupts without prediction, so you won’t be able to time your visit to see the jet. It will just come down to luck!
When you enter the basin, you’ll see a small visitor center, and from there you can either travel north to Porcelain Basin or south to Back Basin. The Porcelain trail is a one-mile loop that can take you anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, while the Back trail is around 1.7 miles long.
If you get a late start or would like to shorten your time in the basin and only walk one trail, the Porcelain tends to offer more unusual sights. Alternatively, you could do both trails, as there is a shortcut on the Back Basin trail that will bring you quickly back to the visitor center.
Late Morning: Mammoth Hot Springs
After visiting the Norris Geyser Basin, start making your way to Mammoth Hot Springs in the northwestern area of the park. Most people spend one to two hours at the hot springs, which are divided into two areas: the Upper Terraces and the Lower Terraces.
While both are interesting, the Lower Terraces tend to offer the more captivating sights, including Canary Spring, Palette Spring, and Minerva Terrace. Meanwhile, the Upper Terraces consist of landmarks like Angel Terrace, New Highland Terrace, and Orange Spring Mound.
The Upper Terrace Drive takes about 10 minutes by car, while it will take at least half an hour to walk the path across the Lower Terrace area, which is marked by a wooden boardwalk.
However, it will take you even longer if you want to stop and take pictures. The walk across the Lower Terrace area in particular can get very hot in summer, so be sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen. Keep in mind that swimming at Mammoth Springs is completely prohibited.
Travel in the USA recommends first looking for a car park in the Upper Terraces, where you’ll find two small parking lots. If you don’t find any parking spaces, there are also five parking lots at the Lower Terraces.
Afternoon: Lamar Valley
Lamar Valley is one of the most remote areas of Yellowstone, tucked away in the northeast section of the park. However, the wildlife viewing opportunities make it one of the best places to visit, and well worth the drive.
From Mammoth Hot Springs, travel east towards the valley. You will have to exit the Grand Loop Road to reach Lamar Valley, and then there are about 29 miles of road that pass through the area, which you can drive slowly as you take in the surrounding wildlife, including wolves, elk, grizzly and black bears, bighorn sheep, moose, deer, and of course, bison.
Allow plenty of time to reach the valley and drive through it, as animal traffic jams are extremely common and can add more than an hour to your trek. If you do find a herd of bison surrounding your car as you drive through the valley, be patient and allow them to pass.
Again, it’s important not to approach or feed any animal in Yellowstone. Also, refrain from stopping on the road in the valley unless you have to due to a traffic jam. For photos and viewing opportunities, make use of the many pullouts.
Animals are most active at dawn and dusk, so if you time your visit to pass through the valley in the late afternoon to early evening, you’ll increase your chances of the best views.
That said, try to leave the valley before total darkness hits, as bison eyes do not glow in the dark, and these creatures can be difficult to spot at night.
Things to pack for a 2-day trip to Yellowstone
There are a few essentials to bring on any Yellowstone vacation. These include:
- Sun protection (hat, glasses, sunscreen)
- Rain jacket (even in summer)
- Warmer clothing you can layer
- A few water bottles
- Binoculars (especially for wildlife viewing in the Lamar and Hayden Valleys)
- Bear spray
- Good hiking boots
- Bug spray
By following a carefully planned itinerary, you can easily see some of the most popular attractions in Yellowstone in just two days.
A short trip like this will also give you a taste of what the park has to offer, and hopefully, inspire you to book another trip in the future where you can explore even more sights and landmarks.