3 Days in Yellowstone
Yellowstone was the world’s first National Park, and it’s one of the United States most famous parks. There are so many geothermal sights to see like colorful hot springs, erupting geysers, and bubbling mud pots. Bison, bears, elk and wolves are some of the many animals that you can see roaming this interesting terrain. In this post, I’ll give you a great itinerary for if you have 3 full days in the park to explore. This itinerary takes you to all the infamous spots of Yellowstone, and adds in a thing or too that isn’t on the master list.
Where to stay
Camp at centrally located Canyon Campgrounds or book a room at Canyon Lodge
Canyon Campgrounds is named for it’s proximity to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, only a mile away. The location of these campgrounds and lodges are great because they’re central to the park and all the prime sights. The campgrounds have clean restrooms, a dishwashing station, large bear lockers and showers. The area has a general store, RV dump and fill stations , a gas station, and a few eateries. It was really a great stay here.
Headwaters Lodge & Cabins at Flagg Ranch is another hotel inside the park.
Stay at the Old Faithful Inn, a National Historic Landmark built in 1903
It would be amazing to stay in this historic lodge, right next to the infamous Old Faithful Geyser that spurts hot water high into the air about 20 times a day. This area also has some great hikes and eateries.
Note: Keep in mind that’s it’s quite the drive to the upper loop from here, so going to see places like Mammoth Hot Springs and Lamar Valley will take some time.
(This could also be broken up into 4 days, it’s a pretty aggressive 3-day itinerary)
Day 1: Yellowstone National Park
Hike the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
There are several stunning lookout points at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. We drove to the Artist’s Point Parking lot for a spectacular view of the Lower Falls looking down the canyon, then hiked along the canyon 1.1 miles to view the Upper Falls.
If you want a closer look of the Lower Falls, go to the north side of the canyon’s “Lookout Point” and walk down the stairs to “Lower Lookout Point” where you can see the falls from a low vantage point.
If you prefer to lean more about the area, you can go on a tour like the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone Rim and Loop Hike with Lunch from Viator.
Go on a Sunset Kayak Tour on Yellowstone Lake with Geyser Kayak Tours
Make sure you eat dinner before this 3-hour journey on Yellowstone Lake. My arms were pretty tired and I work out regularly. Along the way you’ll see the smoking geysers along the water’s edge, and maybe some ducks. If you’re really lucky you might see an elk! It’s very peaceful paddling along as the sun begins to set over the water. On the return the sky lit up in soft blues, pinks and purples.
Day 2: Yellowstone National Park
We mapped this day out to explore the Lower Loop sights of Yellowstone National Park. The Lower Loop is a circular drive in the southern part of the park where most of the more infamous sights of Yellowstone are. Along this route you’ll see the rainbow colors of the Grand Prismatic Spring, the rocketing geyser Old Faithful, gurgling mud pots, and bison roaming Hayden Valley.
Explore the Fountain Paint Pots Trail (Lower Geyser Basin)
Park at the Fountain Paint Pot Trail Parking Lot. This is a short .06 boardwalk trail to see several hydrothermal features. It’s a great introduction to all the sights of the Lower Loop.
Tip: Never touch any of these thermal features or go off the boardwalk, some are hot enough to easily give you 3rd degree burns
Check Out Midway Geyser Basin: Grand Prismatic Spring
Start at the Grand Prismatic Spring Parking lot and walk the .08 mile boardwalk loop. You first crossover the Firehole River to see the stunning site below of bright orange microorganisms from the springs.
After crossing the river, you see the large Excelsior Geyser Crater, a dormant geyser basin and vibrant steaming spring pool.
Next stop is the arguably the coolest feature of the park, the Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in the United States. The colors of the spring are rich and match most of the colors seen in a rainbow. It’s otherworldly! Don’t leave Yellowstone without seeing this natural wonder.
After the boardwalk, drive to the Fairy Falls Trail Parking Lot and hike about .08 miles to check out the Grand Prismatic Spring from a high vantage point. Looking at the spring from above, you can see the display of color more holistically.
Go See Old Faithful & Old Faithful Inn
Old Faithful has its name because it goes off on a somewhat regular schedule and more often than other geysers. This way you can time your trip to view it as it’s pumps water high into the air. This area is also a great place to grab a bite to eat since it will be lunch or late lunch by now. There are a few restaurants and general stores in this area. Also try a huckleberry beer or seltzer!
We were informed by the rangers that there are some other geysers in the park that go off regularly and shoot much higher, but they are less frequent so you have to plan your day accordingly. This can be tough because you never know if some bison might hold up traffic along the way.
The Old Faithful Inn has been around since 1903 and is now a National Historic Landmark hat you can visit or stay at.
Walk the Mud Volcano Trail
After Old Faithful and some lunch, continue the lower loop to the Mud Volcano Trail. There’s a 0.6-mile trail to see the bubbling mud pots of Yellowstone. These are worth seeing since they’re really different in appearance from the colorful clear hot springs. These mud pots are thick, dark, bubbling cauldrons that emit steam from the boiling mud.
View Bison in Hayden Valley
On you way back you’ll drive through Hayden Valley completing the loop. You can stop at pone of the many turnouts or parking lots along the way to take in the sights of all the roaming bison. There are frequent traffic jams here due to bison crossings. Try to keep on rolling if you see a single bison, you are sure to see herds along the way that are more worth the stop.
Note: Be courteous and don’t stop suddenly in the middle of the road unless there are bison crossing, several people stop to take photos on the one lane highway and it causes major traffic jams.
Day 3: Yellowstone National Park
Explore Mammoth Hot Springs
The travertine terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs are really a unique sight. It’s a large array of hot springs that were created over thousands of years as hot water from the spring cooled and deposited calcium carbonate giving it a snow-like appearance.
Map yourself to Liberty Cap and there are several parking areas here. The boardwalk is 1.75 miles with 300 feet of elevation. It should take about an hour, depending on how often you stop to take in the sights.
Dine at Mammoth Hot Springs or Pack a picnic
There are a few restaurants at Mammoth Hot Springs and a general store. Dine in or pack a picnic before you head to Lamar Valley where there aren’t any food sources. We packed a picnic and went to Yellowstone River Picnic Area where we ate sandwiches while watching the bison across the road. There were also a few scavenging chipmunks around.
Drive or Hike through Lamar Valley to see bison
Lamar Valley is another place that has a lot of bison to see, and a beautiful green valley to view with the Lamar River snaking its way through. We took a long walk though the meadows then relaxed riverside before the long drive back to Canyon Campgrounds.
Tip: Keep your distance from Bison, they are especially aggressive during their mating season in late July and August, and calving season in April and May. They can charge you and they are fast and weigh up to 2,000 pounds.
Hike the Norris Geyser Basin boardwalk
If yo have time or energy at the end of the day or the next morning, take the 2 1/4 miles of boardwalk trails to explore the hottest and most changeable thermal area in Yellowstone. This Geyser Basin is centrally located so you can add it to your upper or lower loop days depending on how timing works out. I would try to work it into your itinerary because it’s pretty spectacular and we almost missed it.
Steamboat geyser (below) is currently the world’s most “currently-active” geyser. When we came upon it it was spurting up water here and there with a small audience hoping for a glimpse of the 300 to 400 foot eruption.
I hope this post helps you plan your trip to Yellowstone! If you have any additional tips or great places people should see please leave them in the comments below.
Are you planning a trip soon? These are some of my favorite sites for finding places to stay, book tours, and more: