Yellowstone National Park is one of America’s greatest natural landmarks. Spreading into three states, the park is home to several attractions, from hydrothermal features to mountain hikes to sparkling lakes.
Below, we’ve planned a flexible Yellowstone National Park 7-Day itinerary to help you see the best of the park in just a week.
Guide to the Perfect Yellowstone National Park 7-Day Itinerary
Note: 2022 has brought unprecedented flooding to Yellowstone National Park, and as a result, some roads and attractions are closed until further notice. This itinerary works on the basis that all attractions will eventually open again. Please check with the official website as to whether each road and destination is open to the public.
For a period of seven days, you can either stay in the same accommodation for your whole trip to Yellowstone or move hotels to minimize your driving time between landmarks.
If you plan on staying in the same location for your whole trip, we recommend staying centrally near the Canyon Village area of the park. This gives you the closest proximity to all the destinations in the park overall. In particular, we recommend staying at the Canyon Lodge & Cabins.
We have planned the itinerary so that you’ll be visiting attractions close to one another on the same days, making it easier to plan your accommodation in relation to your schedule.
The first two days feature destinations on the western side of the park. Days three, four, and five feature mostly central and southern locations. And days six and seven will take you to the north and northeast.
If you would like to switch up accommodation, you can stay either inside the park or in the gateway communities around the perimeters of Yellowstone that are in closer proximity to each attraction.
Morning: Old Faithful and Upper Geyser Basin
Located in Upper Geyser Basin on the western side of the park, Old Faithful is one of the most famous sights in Yellowstone. We’ve listed this as your first stop so that your trip is guaranteed to get off to a breathtaking start!
An impressive active geyser, Old Faithful erupts every 79 minutes, on average. While you might be waiting slightly longer, or for slightly less time, it’s easy to plan your visit to coincide with the next eruption. You can find out about the upcoming eruption times at the Visitor Center.
Once you arrive in the area, secure your place on the boardwalk to watch the eruption. This usually fills up fast, especially in the summer months, but you should be able to beat the crowds by arriving early in the morning.
If you don’t want to watch the jet from the boardwalk, you can view it from the designated observation point, which is about a 45-minute hike from the boardwalk.
Alternatively, you can view the eruption from the Old Faithful Inn, a historic hotel in the area that dates back to the earliest days of the park. The Inn is worth visiting, even if you’re not planning on watching the eruption from the observation deck, due to its impressive architecture.
In total, there are 150 geothermal attractions to view in the Upper Geyser Basin, so spend the rest of your morning taking in landmarks like Riverside Geyser, Castle Geyser, and Grand Geyser, the eruption times of which park rangers are able to predict.
Early Afternoon: Grand Prismatic Spring and Midway Geyser Basin
The next stop on your itinerary is equally as impressive as Old Faithful, and just as famous: the Grand Prismatic Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin, located between the Upper Geyser Basin and the Lower Geyser Basin. The hot spring appears in many signature photos of Yellowstone thanks to its otherworldly features.
Known for its rainbow colors, the Grand Prismatic Spring is one of the largest hot springs in the world. Despite its pool of mesmerizing colors, the hot spring is boiling and can easily cause significant injury or death. For this reason, it’s crucial to stay on the marked boardwalk while exploring the area.
The Grand Prismatic Spring gets just as busy as Old Faithful, but we recommend visiting the spring later in the day because the morning mist that covers the pool will be gone by then, allowing for premium views. In general, you can expect to wait up to 30 minutes for a space in the parking lot (via Roads and Destinations).
You can either view the spring from the boardwalk or the viewing platform, the latter of which is a half-hour hike away from the nearby Fairy Falls parking lot, five miles south of the basin.
There are other attractions to view in the area too, including Excelsior Geyser Basin, Opal Pool, and Turquoise Pool. You’ll have plenty of time to explore these features at a leisurely pace before heading to the Lower Geyser Basin for the last part of the day.
Late Afternoon: Lower Geyser Basin
The Lower Geyser Basin is home to a plethora of attractions. While none are as famous as Grand Prismatic Spring or Old Faithful, they are still worth visiting. The beauty of a longer itinerary is that you have time to visit the less renowned destinations in the park that travelers often leave out when they’re in a hurry.
Follow the Fountain Pot Trail through the geyser, which will take you past the majority of the basin’s landmarks. Overall, it takes around half an hour to walk the trail, though it will undoubtedly take longer if you stop at every attraction to take photos and absorb the beauty.
Along the trail, you’ll pass the bubbling Fountain Paint Pots, which are arguably the most famous feature of the area, along with Great Fountain Geyser. You can drive up to the latter and view the geyser’s eruption from your car. Additionally, you’ll also see Silex Spring, Leather Pool, Red Spouter, and Celestine Pool on the trail.
Take your time exploring the landmarks of the basin before heading back to your accommodation for the night.
Morning: Norris Geyser Basin
The hottest and oldest geyser basin in Yellowstone, Norris Geyser Basin is worth visiting when you’re not strapped for time. Located on the western side of the park, the basin is home to the Porcelain Basin and the Back Basin, both of which you’ll have time to explore on this itinerary.
Follow the Grand Loop Road to the Visitor Center, from which you can access the Porcelain and Back basins. The Porcelain Trail Loop stretches for one mile and takes most visitors around half an hour to an hour to complete, while the Back Trail Loop is a little longer at 1.7 miles and will take you past sights like the Steamboat Geyser.
Unfortunately, you can’t time the eruptions of Steamboat Geyser as you can with Old Faithful. But you might be lucky to catch an eruption while you’re in the area. There will also be fewer crowds than usual if you arrive early in the morning.
Late Morning: Artist Paint Pots and Gibbon Geyser Basin
Gibbon Geyser Basin lies three miles to the south of Norris Geyser Basin and is home to yet more thermal features waiting to be discovered. One of the most famous is the Artists Paint Pots—a collection of more than 50 springs, geysers, and mud pots in a range of exciting colors.
An easy trail stretches for just over half a mile through the basin and takes you past the main sights of the Artists Paint Pots. The short trail features a minor climb and descent as you traverse the hillside overlooking the basin, but is level ground most of the way.
Afternoon: Madison Valley
Since you have ample time during your seven days in Yellowstone, you can enjoy the privilege of spending the afternoon in Madison. Madison is also located on the western side of the park, close to the Norris and Gibbon Geyser Basins, so this is a natural last stop on your second day.
Be sure to look out for wildlife in the Madison Valley, especially around dusk. There tend to be fewer people here compared to the more famous Lamar and Hayden Valleys, so if there are any exciting views, you’re likely to have them to yourself.
It’s also worth strolling along the Madison River, which was named by Lewis and Clark after the then-Secretary of State, who went on to become the President of the United States.
Look out for Mount Haynes and National Park Mountain, and you can also visit the information station at the Madison Junction Parking Lot.
Additionally, you can visit Firehole Canyon and the Firehole Falls. Swimming is normally allowed in the Firehole River, which is home to a strong current.
However, be sure to check the updated safety guidelines following the 2022 flooding of Yellowstone.
All Day: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is another of the park’s most renowned sights.
On shorter itineraries, you could spend only a few hours here and see the main sights. But with the luxury of a seven-day itinerary, it’s worth taking your time to see the entire canyon properly. It’s easy to spend an entire day here and still feel like you haven’t seen enough of the canyon!
There are several trails that run along the canyon. Some of the most popular include Brink of the Lower Falls, which is a .7 mile round trip hike, Seven Mile Hole Trail, which is actually just over 10 miles in length, and Point Sublime Trail, which is an easy hike at just over a mile long.
The Seven Mile Hole Trail is the only trail that leads to the bottom of the canyon and takes most visitors all day to complete from start to finish. However, you could also do a few shorter trails, one in the morning and one after lunch.
Additionally, there are overlooks that you can reach by car which boast fantastic views of the canyon and falls. From the North Rim Drive, you can take in the views from Lookout Point, Red Rock Point, Grand View, and Inspiration Point. Meanwhile, you can visit Uncle Tom’s Point and the famous Artist Point from South Rim Drive.
You can also find other things to see and do in the area, including at the Canyon Visitor Center, where you can check out the interactive multimedia exhibits or join a ranger talk.
There’s also a restaurant, deli, cafeteria, gift shop, general store, and gas station in Canyon Village, near the North Rim of the canyon.
Morning: Yellowstone Lake
With a seven-day itinerary, you have the privilege of seeing Yellowstone’s attractions at a leisurely pace and taking some time to relax at each attraction.
We recommend spending the entire day recharging at Yellowstone Lake and the West Thumb Geyser Basin, which are located in the park’s south
Yellowstone Lake is one of the park’s premier destinations for boating and fishing, and you can rent boats from the nearby Bridge Bay Marina. The lake is home to a large trout population, but if you don’t want to fish, you could also boat the lake to simply enjoy the marvelous views.
Travelers are welcome to bring their own boats or drive rented boats. Alternatively, there are guided boating tours available on the lake.
Additionally, there are several great trails that meander around the lake, many of them boasting sweeping views of the area. Some of the most well-known trails in the area include Storm Point Nature Trail and Pelican Creek Trail.
For specular views of the lake, hike the Elephant Back Trail, which is a slightly more strenuous experience with elevation gains of 800 feet. You’ll have lots of time to recuperate at the summit, though, where you’re likely to spot some waterfowl.
Unfortunately, swimming in Yellowstone Lake is prohibited due to the water being extremely cold, even in summer. However, guests are welcome to stroll along the shore or enjoy a relaxed picnic overlooking the water.
Late Afternoon: West Thumb Geyser Basin
The West Thumb Geyser Basin straddles the western shore of Yellowstone Lake, so be sure to go and explore this thermal area at some point during your day at the lake. You’ll find fewer crowds early in the morning or later in the afternoon.
There’s a boardwalk that will take you through the basin, which takes most travelers around half an hour to follow. From here, you’ll see a selection of mud pots, geysers, and hot springs, including Lakeshore Geyser and the Thumb Paint Pots.
In general, there’s not much shade in the basin, so if you are visiting in the middle of the day, it’s a good idea to bring plenty of water and sun protection.
Morning: Mt. Washburn Hike
Hiking is one of the most popular Yellowstone pastimes. One of the best hikes in the park is Mt. Washburn at Dunraven Pass, which is located north of Canyon Junction in the heart of the park. Head to the Dunraven Pass parking lot, where you can access the trailhead for the hike.
The Mt. Washburn trail is a six-mile loop that begins and ends at the trailhead. You’ll gain an elevation of over 1800 feet on this hike, and depending on your fitness level, you may find the hike to be strenuous.
However, this itinerary allows you time to stop at multiple points along the hike to catch your breath and simply enjoy the sights. Bighorn sheep have been known to graze in the pockets of wildflowers along the trail.
Bring plenty of drinking water on the hike, as there’s nowhere to replenish until you return to the trailhead. If you are hiking in summer, which is the best time to hike, also remember your sun protection. Though hiking in the fall is cooler, you’re more likely to encounter grizzly bears here during September and October.
If you do visit Yellowstone in the fall, be sure to carry bear spray as you hike the trail, and always travel in groups of more than four people.
In general, park safety rules state that you have to keep at least 25 yards away from all animals, and 100 yards from wolves and bears.
Depending on how long you take to climb the mountain and the amount of time you spend enjoying the vista at the summit, it can take up to six hours to hike Mt. Washburn.
Plan to leave by late afternoon so you can arrive at your next destination by dusk.
Afternoon: Hayden Valley
The Hayden Valley, which also lies in the heart of the park, is one of Yellowstone’s premier wildlife-viewing locations.
Experts advise visiting the valley early in the morning or around dusk for the best chances of seeing active wildlife, so we recommend passing through the valley after your Mt. Washburn hike.
You may see wolves, bears, elk, bison, and other animals in the Hayden Valley. There are numerous pullouts along the Grand Loop Road where you can stop.
You’ll also have the chance to explore the valley on foot, though if you’re going to follow the trails into the valley, it’s crucial to practice Yellowstone’s animal safety guidelines.
Morning: Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs is another crowded destination in the park, so it’s a good idea to visit early in the morning. The area lies in the park’s northwest, which is where the entire day will be based. The main sights here are the Upper and Lower Terraces of the hot springs.
Both terraces have parking lots, and you can explore the Upper Terraces via the Upper Terrace Drive, which will bring you to Angel Terrace and New Highland Terrace.
However, you’ll have to take in the sights of the Lower Terraces, including Canary Spring, by following the boardwalk.
It takes most visitors around two hours to explore the hot springs, but if you’re looking for more to do in the area, it’s worth checking out the Albright Visitor Center, which contains informational displays about the history of the area.
Afternoon: Roosevelt Arch
While you’re in the northern area of Yellowstone, drive up to the North Entrance and visit the iconic Roosevelt Arch—one of the park’s greatest photo opportunities.
The arch, constructed from native columnar basalt, is named after President Theodore Roosevelt, who dedicated it when he visited in 1903.
It won’t take long to view the arch, but this is a great place to stop for lunch. There’s a picnic area with five picnic tables, one fire grate, and restroom facilities.
If you want to spend more time at Mammoth Hot Springs, you could also visit the arch later and stop in the picnic area for an afternoon snack.
Late Afternoon: Blacktail Plateau Drive
When you have seven days in Yellowstone National Park, it’s worth doing the Blacktail Plateau Drive. The six-mile dirt road is one of the most remote and unfrequented drives in the park and will showcase the rural wilderness of Yellowstone. It’s located between Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower Junction, off the Grand Loop Road.
Most visitors complete the drive in 20 to 30 minutes but feel free to stop along the way and take some photos.
You’re likely to spot wildlife in this quieter location, which is off the beaten track. RVs, buses, and trailers are not permitted on the road, which is quite bendy. Take your time and stay alert, particularly if driving after sunset.
Morning: Tower Fall
On your final day in Yellowstone, the itinerary will take you to the scenic Lamar Valley, but not until dusk, when the animals are most active. Head to the northeast area of the park and start your day with a visit to Tower Fall.
Tower Fall is just south of the Tower-Roosevelt Junction and is one of the prettiest sights in the park. The waterfall cascades more than 130 feet and can be viewed from the overlook, which you can access from the parking area via a short walk.
Though Tower Fall tends to be busy in the summer, you can beat the crowds by heading here first thing in the morning.
Afternoon: Hiking in the Park’s Northeast
There are several trails in the area, many of them quieter than those on the busier western side of the park. The most popular trails near the Lamar Valley 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
All the trails offer unique views and provide opportunities to bask in the park’s beauty. You might like to hike a few shorter trails or one longer trail before making your way to the Lamar Valley.
Late Afternoon: Lamar Valley
The Lamar Valley serves as one of Yellowstone’s best locations to view wildlife, but many people staying in the park for shorter amounts of time tend to leave it off their itinerary.
With a whole seven days in Yellowstone, you have plenty of time to trek out to the park’s remote east to take in this picturesque animal haven, home to bison, bears, wolves, elk, and moose.
We’ve purposely left this stop until last because the animals tend to be more active around dusk. Alternatively, you could visit first thing in the morning, and then complete a hike and visit Tower Fall later, as animals are also active at sunrise.
You can enter the valley via the Northeast Entrance Road, which can be accessed from the Grand Loop Road.
There are several pull-outs in the valley where you can stop to take photos of any animals you see, though you should expect delays as you travel through the valley, both from car traffic and animals venturing onto the road.
If driving back to your accommodation after dark, be sure to drive slowly as animals can be difficult to spot in the dark, and there’s little artificial light in the valley.
If you’re lucky enough to have seven days in Yellowstone, you can view the wonders of the park at your own leisurely pace by following our adaptable itinerary.
This schedule will allow you to see the best of the park and have time to rest in between the action-packed moments.