Five days is a great amount of time in which to visit Yellowstone National Park. You’ll have plenty of time to visit the major attractions, including Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, and the Lamar and Hayden Valleys. Plus, you’ll even have a little legroom to fit in some optional extras!
You can check out our Yellowstone 5 day itinerary that will help guide you through the National Park and ensure you get the most out of your trip.
Your Yellowstone 5 Day Itinerary – What You Need To See
We’ve planned the following itinerary so that you’re visiting destinations that are located close to each other before moving on to other areas of the park. It makes sense to stay in central accommodation near Canyon Village, such as the Canyon Lodge and Cabins, for the entire five days.
Alternatively, you can change accommodations during your trip to reduce your traveling time between destinations.
If you’d like to change accommodation halfway through, we recommend staying on the western side of the park for the first two days before moving to more central accommodation for the last three days of the trip.
Our itinerary is designed to be flexible, so you can also swap around the days to suit your accommodation choices.
Morning: Old Faithful and Upper Geyser Basin
Old Faithful is the best place to start your five-day itinerary of Yellowstone, whether you’re staying in the heart of the park or on the western side.
Old Faithful is a famous geyser located in the Upper Geyser Basin, where you’ll also find 150 other geothermal attractions. The best part about visiting Old Faithful (and the inspiration behind its name) is that it always erupts at the same time: on average, every 79 minutes (check a video explaining the timing here).
Viewing an Old Faithful eruption is a Yellowstone experience you don’t want to miss. There are a few key places to watch the jet, the most popular being the boardwalk in front of the geyser, where seating is available.
However, keep in mind that Old Faithful is one of the most popular destinations in the park and it always attracts large crowds.
Your best chance of getting a seat on the boardwalk is arriving early in the morning, which is why we’ve listed Old Faithful as first on the itinerary. Once you arrive in the area, head straight to the boardwalk and secure a seat or a standing spot if this is where you’d like to watch the eruption.
Alternatively, you can watch the eruption from the designated observation point, which is around a 45-minute hike away. The views from the elevated observation point may be clearer, but you might also lose the impact of seeing the eruption up close.
Another place to view the Old Faithful eruption is the Old Faithful Inn, which has a special viewing deck.
This five-day itinerary also allows time for exploring the rest of the Upper Geyser Basin, which boasts landmarks like Grand Geyser, Castle Geyser, Riverside Geyser, and Daisy Geyser, amongst other exciting geothermal sights.
Head to the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center to find out when other geysers are erupting, as many of them are predictable.
You can spend anywhere from a few hours to the whole day in the basin, waiting for the various geysers to erupt. For the purposes of this itinerary, plan to leave the area around midday and head to your next destination.
Afternoon: Grand Prismatic Spring and Midway Geyser Basin
Grand Prismatic Spring is another famous Yellowstone attraction and the next stop on your itinerary. You’ve almost certainly seen photos of the spring before, famous for its rainbow colors. This breathtaking hot spring is one of the largest in the world.
Expect to wait around 30 minutes for a space in the parking lot, especially if you’re visiting Yellowstone during the busy summer months. From there, follow the signs to reach the boardwalk, which will take you to the spring.
Though the boardwalk boasts spectacular views, never step off the marked trail. Remember that the Midway Geyser Basin is a geothermal area; treading in prohibited areas can result in significant injury or death.
If you’re up for a short hike, you can walk up to the Grand Prismatic Spring Viewing Platform for a bird’s eye view of the spring. You can access the hike via the Fairy Falls parking lot, just to the south of the basin, and the entire trail should take around half an hour to complete.
Speaking of the Fairy Falls, this famous waterfall is also worth seeing, and you can easily incorporate it into your itinerary while hiking to the Grand Prismatic Spring Viewing Platform.
Getting to the falls and back takes anywhere from 2.5 to 3.5 hours, so adding this landmark to your itinerary can mean that you extend your time in the area to fill out the entire afternoon.
Once you’ve arrived at the viewing platform, turn right and re-join the Fairy Falls trail, then continue on to the falls, paying careful attention to the signs directing you to the falls.
The walk is mostly flat and made up of easy terrain. The waterfall itself, which is nearly 200 feet high, is a great place to stop for a snack.
Depending on how long you want to spend taking in the stunning Grand Prismatic Spring, and if you want to visit Fairy Falls or not, you can also check out the other attractions in the Midway Geyser Basin, including Excelsior Geyser Crater.
Morning: Norris Geyser Basin
The Norris Geyser Basin is another captivating thermal area in the park, nestled on the western side. Though not quite a hidden gem, it tends to receive fewer visitors than the Upper and Midway Geyser Basins.
Norris is the hottest thermal area in Yellowstone, and also the oldest, and is sure to impress every traveler with its strange sights.
You can take the Grand Loop Road to the Visitor Center, from which you can explore both the Porcelain Basin and the Back Basin. The Porcelain Basin is the more popular of the two, but this itinerary allows time for both.
The Porcelain Basin can be explored via the one-mile Porcelain Trail Loop, which takes between half an hour and one full hour to complete.
One of the most famous sights in the Norris Geyser Basin is the Steamboat Geyser. You can view this from the Back Trail Loop, which runs for 1.7 miles.
Steamboat is actually the largest active geyser in the park (and the world), but its eruptions aren’t predictable. However, you might be lucky enough to witness one of its breathtaking eruptions during your visit.
Afternoon: Mammoth Hot Springs
After a leisurely morning exploring both areas of the Norris Geyser Basin, make your way via the Grand Loop Road to Mammoth Hot Springs. Located in the northwest area of the park, the bubbling hot springs are a sight to behold.
Though the area known as Mammoth Hot Springs is quite expansive and comprises the Albright Visitor Center, the springs themselves are home to the Upper and Lower Terraces.
The Upper Terraces tend to be less busy, so it’s worth looking in the area’s two parking lots for a parking space first before searching through the five parking lots of the Lower Terraces.
Our itinerary allows enough time to explore both terraces. You can explore the Upper Terraces in your car via the 1.5-mile Upper Terrace Drive, which will bring you past sights such as Angel Terrace and New Highland Terrace.
Meanwhile, you can explore the Lower Terraces, home to Canary Spring and Minerva Terrace, by following the boardwalk on foot.
Just as with any area of the park, never step off the marked boardwalk. When visiting during summer, the trail can get unpleasantly hot, so be sure to bring sun protection and drinking water with you.
Most people can explore the whole hot springs in two hours, though you may take more time if you want to visit the Albright Visitor Center.
The center is worth seeing if you do have time, as it contains lots of interesting displays and information about the history of the park.
Late Afternoon: The Roosevelt Arch
This is the only time you’ll be in the northern area of the park on this itinerary, so take the opportunity to visit the North Entrance and view the famous Roosevelt Arch.
A short drive from Mammoth Hot Springs, the arch is a marvelous sight and provides an iconic photo opportunity.
The arch is also interesting to see if you’re a history buff, as it was dedicated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, when it was only partially constructed. To this day, no one knows exactly who designed the arch, which took around six months to construct from native columnar basalt.
It will only take a few minutes to view the arch and stop for a photo, so you can do this at the end of your day before heading back to your accommodation.
Morning: Lamar Valley
Most people traveling to Yellowstone want to witness the majestic wildlife that calls the park home. One of the best places to do this, if not the best place, is America’s Serengeti, otherwise known as the Lamar Valley.
Some park guests are reluctant to visit the valley due to its far-flung location in the northeast area of the park. If you are planning on switching accommodation during your stay, remember that central lodging is your best bet when visiting the valley (in conjunction with other destinations on the itinerary), as opposed to staying on the western side of the park.
It’s best to visit the Lamar Valley early in the morning, as most animals will be more present and active during this time. The valley can also get busy with cars, so you’re less likely to deal with traffic at this time.
That said, animal traffic jams, caused by bison and other animals venturing onto the road, can happen at any time and can significantly slow you down.
Take the Grand Loop Road to the Northeast Entrance Road, which will take you straight into the valley. Unless you encounter an animal traffic jam, don’t stop on the road to view wildlife. Instead, you can pull over in the designated pullouts along the road.
Bison are particularly common in the valley, but you might also see bears, elk, moose, and wolves, among other creatures.
While you’re in the northeastern area of the park, it’s worth hiking one or a few of the trails nearby. Due to the location being a reasonable distance from famous landmarks such as Old Faithful, this side of the park tends to be quieter.
There are several amazing trails near the valley, and the best one for you depends on how long you’d like to spend hiking. They include:
- Garnet Hill Trail: 4-5 hours
- Hellroaring Trail: 3-5 hours
- Lost Lake Trail: 1-2 hours
- Slough Creek Trail: 2-5 hours
- Specimen Ridge Day Hike Trail: 2-4 hours
- Trout Lake Trail: 1-2 hours
- Yellowstone River Picnic Area Trail: 2-3 hours
No two trails at Yellowstone are the same, so if you have time, you could do a combination of the smaller trails.
If you end up staying longer in the Lamar Valley, you could hike one shorter trail, such as the Lost Lake Trail or the Trout Lake Trail.
Similarly, if you leave the valley early, you might like to hike one of the longer trails, such as the Hellroaring Trail, and stop along the way for a picnic lunch.
Late Afternoon: Tower Fall
The stunning Tower Fall waterfall is also located in the park’s northeast and is a great way to end your third day in Yellowstone. Plummeting over 130 feet, the waterfall is located near Tower Junction.
You can reach it by driving south of Tower-Roosevelt Junction for just over two miles. From the parking area, you can walk 100 yards to the viewpoint. The Tower Fall overlook boasts exquisite views of the waterfall, which also tends to attract bighorn sheep and a range of bird species.
Hiking to the base of the waterfall is no longer permitted, but the walk to the overlook is easy and usually takes around half an hour. If you visit in the late afternoon, there is also likely to be fewer crowds to share the view with.
Morning: Yellowstone Lake
After the hiking on Day 3 (and the hiking that’s coming up on Day 5!), we recommend taking the fourth day of your itinerary to relax and partake in more leisurely activities in the park.
It’s generally best to wake up around sunrise and head to your first stop for the day as early as possible, but if you’re in need of a sleep-in, this is the day to do it.
Yellowstone Lake is great to visit at all times of the day, and you can spend a whole day there if you take things slowly. There are lots to do at the lake, from boating, either with your own boat or a rented boat, to fishing the lake’s immense trout population.
The serene atmosphere makes the lake a wonderful location for a picnic lunch or a carefree stroll along the shore. Swimming is not allowed in the lake, even during summer, as the waters are too cold and the wind can sometimes result in large, dangerous waves.
There are several fantastic trails to explore near the lake, all of them offering spectacular views of the water. Among the most popular is the Pelican Creek Trail, which is a very short loop that you can do in less than an hour.
There’s also Storm Point Nature Trail, which extends for two miles from Indian Pond.
If you’re in the mood for a more strenuous hike, you can take the Elephant Back Trail, which ascends 800 feet and offers breathtaking views at the summit. This is also a good spot to see waterfowl, including Canadian geese.
Late Afternoon: West Thumb Geyser Basin
The western shores of Yellowstone Lake brush up against the West Thumb Geyser Basin, the largest geyser basin in the park. You’ll find more interesting thermal features here, including steaming geysers.
The boardwalk through the basin area takes around half an hour, but you can take even more time if your goal is to relax and recuperate for the rest of your trip.
We’ve listed this geyser basin at the end of the day since there will be fewer crowds here at sunset. You might also enjoy taking in the sight of the sun setting over the lake and the geysers.
However, you can also visit the West Thumb Geyser Basin at any point during the day, and then return to the lake.
You might like to walk around the lake shores in the morning, explore the geyser basin in the middle of the day (though there are likely to be larger crowds at this time), and then return to finish your day with a boat tour of the lake.
Morning: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Seeing the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is a must, and visiting in the morning will help you to avoid the major crowds that this destination attracts. The canyon lies in the center of the park and is a short drive from central lodging.
Stretching across 20 miles, the canyon features trails along its North and South Rims, which you can hike to get unique views of this geological marvel. It takes around two to four hours to explore both rims, and it’s worth waking up early to fit in both rims before lunch.
However, if for whatever reason you run into a delay and only have time to explore one rim, let it be the South. This is home to the renowned Artist Point, which boasts the most famous view of the canyon.
Other viewpoints along the South Rim include Point Sublime Hike, Uncle Tom’s Point Trail, and the Upper Falls Viewpoint.
If all goes to plan, you’ll have enough time to see both rims, and along the North, you can take in views from the Brinks of the Upper and Lower Falls, Lookout Point, Grand View, Inspiration Point, and Silver Cord Cascade Overlook. Ideally, you should visit the South Rim first, as it attracts more crowds.
When it hits late morning, you can start making your way to Dunraven Pass to hike Mt. Washburn.
Late Morning: Mt. Washburn Hike
Mt. Washburn at Dunraven Pass is one of the park’s most popular hikes. Head five miles north of Canyon Junction, where you’ll find the Dunraven Pass parking lot. From there, you can access the trailhead, which leads to a six-mile loop trail.
The hike contains an elevation of more than 1800 feet between the base and the summit, so you might need to rest at various points along the way.
However, the views from the top are definitely worth it! And the trail itself tends to offer charming vistas of colorful flowers and grazing bighorn sheep.
This trail is best suited to the summer months when the weather is pleasant—just be sure to bring plenty of water as you won’t have access to any on the trail.
All in all, it takes most people between three and six hours to complete the hike in its entirety.
Late Afternoon: Hayden Valley
Why not save the best for last? The Hayden Valley is Yellowstone’s other premier destination for wildlife viewing. Centrally located, the valley is ideal to pass through on your way back to your accommodation and makes a great final stop.
As with the Lamar Valley, the Hayden Valley is best visited early in the morning or at dusk for the best chances of spotting animals.
Wolves, bears, and elk all call the valley home, and if you’re lucky, you can get great views of them from the pullouts over the valley, along Grand Loop Road.
You can hike into the Hayden Valley along a designated trail, but keep in mind that bears frequent the area. If you do want to walk through the valley, always practice animal safety as determined by the National Park Service.
This includes carrying bear spray, making noise, and traveling in groups of more than four. If you do see a bear or any other animal up close, remember that it’s against park rules to approach or feed an animal.
As tempting as it is, remembers that all animals in the park are wild and their behavior is unpredictable. Keep 100 yards away from bears and wolves at all times, and 25 yards away from all other animals.
Five days is a great amount of time in which to explore Yellowstone National Park. You’ll have the chance to visit the major landmarks and also fit in some extra time to rest and recharge following glorious days spent hiking and driving.