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Your 3-Day Itinerary for Yellowstone National Park


fishing bridge at Yellowstone

I understand why some people say Yellowstone National Park is overrated. However, I don't think I would use the term "overrated." Instead, I would say it's just gotten a little "too touristy."


There are people from all over the world during the on-season (aka the summer). The "typical" families travel by car and usually have no idea where they're going because they can't read a physical map and their GPS has no signal. The international families travel on a group tour bus, so you'll consistently get stuck behind a line of people crossing the road from the parking lot. And the road trip families travel by campervan and like to park where they're not supposed to or in as many parking spots as possible. (*Insert facepalm emoji here.)


While it is a bummer that there can be a lot of hectic visitors at one time in Yellowstone, I still believe everyone should go to this national park at least once. Why? Because there are features that will make you think you've landed on another planet. There is an interesting history that goes along with the park because it was the first to become a national park. And it provides a safe opportunity to see a variety of amazing wildlife fairly up close.


Besides, in just three days, it's possible to see the highlights of the park and a little more ... if you know where to go, what to see and when to see it.



What You'll Find In This Post:


 

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nature in Yellowstone

Before you read this Yellowstone itinerary blog post, there are a few things to keep in mind:


  • You should have an overall understanding of the layout of the park before you go. Yes, you'll receive a physical map at the entrances to the park, but you won't want to waste time trying to understand where you are and where you're wanting to go. So before your trip, as you read through this blog post and plan your travel, take a look at this map of the park online. This will also help you understand the routes I've shared below.


  • You will be staying at a different location every night. And this is for a reason. It takes a long time to drive to certain parts of Yellowstone, especially if there's a lot of traffic, and backtracking to get to your previous lodgings every day wastes a lot of time that you don't have. It's much more efficient to always be traveling to a new rest stop so that you can see new features along the way as well.


  • You can do this itinerary backward. The trip I went on was a road trip, and we were coming from the Eastern side of Yellowstone, so it made sense for us to start there. However, if you're flying into Jackson Hole, it makes more sense to do this itinerary backward (or go from the South Entrance to the West to the North and then to the East). This could also be a better route if you're trying to beat the crowds at the Old Faithful site and need to stop there on your first day. Both of these itineraries (in a condensed form) are shared in the following section.


  • You can add days if you have more vacation time. I suggest sticking to just 3-4 days in Yellowstone National Park and then going outside of the park to fill up the other days you have available. You'll likely be satisfied after three days in the park (four could even be too much time there depending on if you have young kids with you, how tired you are, how much you were able to see during the previous days, etc.). However, there are some other fun things to do past the park, which I've expanded on at the end of this blog post.


  • You probably want to check out my 22 Yellowstone tips as you plan your trip. These tips will help you beat the crowds, prepare for your vacation and make the most of your time in the park. Click here to read the post.


Lookout Point in Yellowstone

Two 3-Day Itinerary Routes (Condensed)

I chose just two routes because these are the ones that will help you not waste as much time, and the only portions of Yellowstone that they'll bypass are some of the less interesting ones as far as tourist attractions go. You'll be traveling a few of these roads more than once, so if you don't have enough time on the first day to see the sights along it, then you can do it the next morning.


Remember, this itinerary is mainly showing you the route you'll want to go on each day. Between these major park landmarks are still a lot of different pull-off spots and sights that you can enjoy, and I suggest stopping whenever you can.


Also keep in mind that the road between Tower Fall (Tower-Roosevelt) and Canyon Village is closed from October to the end of May, and you still might have difficulty driving it in some other months. If it is closed, you'll simply have to go the Canyon Village to Norris to Mammoth Springs route, but be sure to still check out the route from Mammoth Hot Springs to Tower-Roosevelt if you have time.


*Use this online map as a visual as you continue reading.


Mud Pots in Yellowstone

3-Day Itinerary Starting At The East Entrance


Day 1 - East Entrance/Cody, WY

  • Fishing Bridge

  • Canyon Village

  • Tower Roosevelt

  • Mammoth Hot Springs

  • Gardiner, MT

Day 2 - North Entrance/Gardiner, MT

  • Mammoth Hot Springs

  • Norris

  • Madison

  • West Yellowstone

Day 3 - West Entrance/West Yellowstone

  • Madison

  • Old Faithful

  • West Thumb

  • Grand Teton National Park/Jackson Hole


Sour Lake in Yellowstone

3-Day Itinerary Starting At The South Entrance


Day 1 - South Entrance/Grand Teton/Jackson Hole

  • West Thumb

  • Old Faithful

  • Madison

  • West Yellowstone

Day 2 - West Entrance/

  • Madison

  • Norris

  • Mammoth Hot Springs

  • Gardiner, MT

Day 3 - North Entrance

  • Mammoth Hot Springs

  • Tower Roosevelt

  • Canyon Village

  • Fishing Bridge

  • Cody, WY


Yellowstone Lake

Day 1: East Entrance (Cody, WY) to North Entrance (Gardiner, MT)

This is probably the most chill day because you don't have to do as much walking as the other days if you don't want to and there are fewer super popular tourist attractions on this route. However, this will show you more of the untouched beauty in the park such as the lake, the canyon and many different waterfalls.


Where To Go: After you pass through the East Entrance, travel the road until you get to the Fishing Bridge. From there, go north to Canyon Village. Then you have a choice. If the road is open to the North, take it up to Tower Roosevelt, and then go West to Mammoth Springs. (The issue with this northern road is that it's usually closed unless it's summer, and sometimes there are major delays in the summer when you take it as well.) The other route you can take from Canyon Village is the western one to Norris and then up to Mammoth Hot Springs. If you go North from Mammoth Springs, you'll arrive at Gardiner, Montana, your rest stop for the night. (These directions will be opposite if this is your third day and you started at the South Entrance.)



Must-See Yellowstone Spots:

  • LeHardys Rapids: I found this to be a beautiful natural area! The boardwalk and trails go through some woods and follow the Yellowstone River. Plus, if you're there in June and July, you might be able to see the trout jumping up from the water!

  • Mud Volcano: I enjoyed this area, as it wasn't a long walk and was a great intro to hot springs and mud pots. My favorite sight was Dragon's Mouth Spring, which is right by the parking lot. However, rather than it looking like a dragon's mouth to me, I thought it looked more like a cave with a dragon living inside of it.

  • Artist Point (South Rim of Grand Canyon): Here the yellow, orange and pink hues of the canyon walls can be seen, and the colorful view is beautiful! There's also a great spot on the other side of this point to get a photo with the big waterfall and canyon behind you.

  • Lower Falls (North Rim of Grand Canyon): Take the trail on the right down and you'll find an overlook with a gorgeous view of the canyon! Hands down, this was one of my favorite photo spots in Yellowstone. We even saw a rainbow while we were there because it had just rained. (FYI, the trail is around 2 miles to the overlook and back and can be a little steep, so wear the right shoes. I suggest hiking shoes if you own them.)


Roosevelt Arch in Yellowstone

Things To Do In Gardiner:


Gardiner, Montana, was my favorite rest stop town during our trip as it's not as touristy as some of the other places like West Yellowstone and Jackson and has a cute mountain town vibe.

  • Visit The Roosevelt Arch: Although this isn't a park entrance anymore, this arch and memorial was built in 1903 at the North Entrance, which was the first main entrance to the park. It's historic and a fun spot to take videos and photos.

  • Eat Huckleberry Ice Cream at Yellowstone Perk: You can get huckleberry ice cream at a variety of places in and around Yellowstone because the berries grow in the area. But we really loved it at Yellowstone Perk in Gardiner.

  • Watch a herd of Elk: There was a gang of Elk hanging out right next to the North Entrance in Gardiner when we arrived in the evening and even when we left in the morning. Apparently, this is extremely common!


Things To Do In Cody:


We only spent the night in Cody, Wyoming, and didn't have time to do any of the local activities. However, there are several museums there, a night rodeo and multiple nature spots, from a dam to a forest. So do your research if you have time to kill in the area.


Lower Terraces Mammoth Springs Yellowstone

Day 2: North Entrance (Gardiner, MT) to West Entrance (West Yellowstone, MT)

On this day, you'll often feel like you've landed on a different planet due to all of the hot springs and geysers. Every stop also involves a lot of walking, so be prepared to get your exercise in.


Where To Go: Leave Gardiner and go South to Mammoth Springs then South some more to Norris. Take the southwestern road to Madison after that before heading West to West Yellowstone, which is your rest stop for the night. (These directions will be opposite if you started at the South Entrance.)



Must-See Yellowstone Spots:

  • Albright Visitor Center: The museum inside tells you about the history of the park, which is pretty fascinating. You can also learn about where each type of wildlife in the park might be roaming during your visit. And if you love history, simply walk outside after going to the visitor center, walk around Mammoth Springs and check out the historic buildings.

  • Mammoth Hot Springs: Both the Upper Terraces and Lower Terraces are worth it because there are some bizarre formations at each spot. (Ready to go to Mars?) And you can either park on one side and walk the whole thing, or park on one side and see the Lower Terraces and then park on the other side and see the Upper Terraces for less walking.

  • Norris Geyser Basin: Yes, this will show you more geysers, but the tallest active geyser in the world is also here: Steamboat Geyser. Its biggest eruptions are 300 feet tall. Although it's unlikely that you'll be there when the geyser is active, it is still cool to see the unfortunate damage that occurs to the nature around the geyser when it does erupt because you can get a glimpse into how big this eruption really can be.


Things To Do in West Yellowstone:


West Yellowstone was busy! Since it's one of the most popular entrances to the park, I guess a lot of people like to stay there too. We didn't have time to do much while we were there except take a look at some of the shops. However, there is a Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center where you can learn about bears and wolves and view them too as well as the Museum of the Yellowstone and various theatres.


Grand Prismatic Spring

Day 3: West Entrance (West Yellowstone, MT) to South Entrance (Grand Teton)

This is the day you will be able to view all of those famous Yellowstone features that you've seen pictures of or have heard about, including Old Faithful and the colorful pools and springs. This means that will also be in the areas of the park that are usually the most crowded, so be strategic with your time.


Where To Go: From West Yellowstone, head East to Madison and then South to Old Faithful. After you visit the features there, continue on that route until you reach West Thumb, and then follow the southern road down to the South Entrance and out of the park into Grand Teton National Park, which will also take you through to Jackson Hole. (These directions will be opposite if you started at the South Entrance, and this would be your first day in the park.)



Must-See Yellowstone Spots:

  • Grand Prismatic Spring: Located in the Midway Geyser Basin area, this is one of the coolest features in the park because it's a long spring that emits the colors of the rainbow. It's also a great place to take fascinating photos, despite the boardwalks being rather skinny.

  • Old Faithful Geyser: This feature is located right next to the Visitor Education Center. Be sure to look up its possible eruption times. (You can learn more about seeing this geyser in this blog post.)

  • Morning Glory Pool: From Old Faithful, walk the path that leads to all of the other pools and geysers in the area. If you keep straight and walk all the way to the end of this path, you'll find this colorful pool, which is another great spot to take a photo.

  • Old Faithful Inn: This historic national landmark is located next to the visitor center and Old Faithful. Not only was it built in 1903/1904, but it's also one of the largest log-style structures in the world. Many people request this lodging, but it's much cheaper to simply visit it. You can enjoy the stone fireplace and inn seating, hear live music sometimes, eat at its restaurant or peruse the gift shop inside.


Grand Teton National Park

Extra Days: Grand Teton and/or Jackson Hole

If you have one or two more days of vacation before heading home or at the beginning of your trip, you can always explore more of Yellowstone National Park. However, since you can see most of the sights there in three days, I suggest moving on to Grand Teton National Park and/or Jackson Hole for the remainder of your travel.


In Grand Teton, you can fish, float, hike and more. It would be a good adventure in nature with fewer people than Yellowstone. Jackson Hole is more of a tourist trap spot and is known for its ski resorts among other more expensive activities. That said, you can also spend a day there doing totally free activities. Check out this blog post to learn more about them.


If you have time, enjoy this other national park AND Jackson Hole. If you only have a day, it's up to you to decide which adventure better fits your vacation. For example, if you're pretty tired after your three days of walking in Yellowstone, doing more relaxing things in Jackson Hole might be best. Or, for instance, if you'd like to continue being in nature as much as possible, stick to Grand Teton.


Deer in Yellowstone

Don't let the busyness of Yellowstone stop you from visiting. Rather, use this itinerary and try to follow the tips from this blog post and others to make the most of your experience at the first U.S. national park. The features and animals are worth it ... even if you have to wait for all of those international tourists to get off the bus.


 

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