The Perfect 3 to 4 Days in Yellowstone Itinerary

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by Audrey Webster

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Planning a thorough 3 to 4 days in Yellowstone itinerary is essential when visiting this gorgeous natural area straddling Wyoming and Montana. As one of popular parks in the US (and the first created) it is for good reason. Powerful geysers, colorful hot springs, wildlife, and more all await visitors upon their arrival to Yellowstone.

There is a lot to see and do in this iconic national park so this guide will take you through all of the essential information that you need to know before visiting Yellowstone.

How Many Days in Yellowstone?

Yellowstone is a huge park. There are countless features and areas to explore. If you’re wondering how many days to spend in Yellowstone, three to four days is the minimum amount.

With 3 days, you’re going to be able to see a good portion of the Park’s highlights and have enough time to explore them. If you can spend 4 days, this will give you more time to dig deeper and enjoy America’s oldest national park even more!

A three-day or four-day visit is generally packed solid with activities. If you can make it happen, it’s ideal to spend 5 days in Yellowstone or even longer in the park as there’s always more to explore in Yellowstone.

Yellowstone is a popular park with lots of things to do, but it can be hard to decide between visiting here or other nearby parks, such as Yellowstone or Glacier or even Yellowstone or Grand Teton. If you decide to visit any of them, just make sure you budget enough time.

Excelsior Geyser Crater in Yellowstone
Excelsior Geyser Crater in Yellowstone

Getting To & Around Yellowstone

Yellowstone is located in the northwest corner of Wyoming, with parts of the park extending into Montana.

If you’re visiting from far away, the nearest major airport is Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport. Here you can rent a car to drive throughout the park. There are several main entrances to the park where you’ll be able to purchase a park pass, one per vehicle. 

The main entrances of Yellowstone are each near a major section of the park, so try to create a trip that begins in the area of the park you reach first to save yourself some driving time.

The North Entrance is closest to Mammoth Hot Springs, West Entrance is closest to the geyser basin, South Entrance is closest to Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole, East Entrance takes you to Yellowstone Lake, and the Northeast Entrance is nearest to the valleys known for their wildlife spotting.

The best way to see Yellowstone is by car. There is no public transportation throughout the park, so having a car at your disposal for transportation is necessary. This is especially true if you visit any of the valleys known for wildlife sightings. The roads are easily accessible and marked with clear signage. 

If you need to rent a car for this trip, you can browse which shows prices from many car hire suppliers. Alternatively, you can look at renting an RV or campervan from Outdoorsy which could be a good option if travelling to Yellowstone from further away such as from Denver or driving from Seattle.

RV Road Trip Through Yellowstone
RV Road Trip Through Yellowstone

Yellowstone experiences a dramatic change between seasons. While visiting any time of year grants you exceptional views, you should make sure to pack accordingly. A visit in winter warrants winter boots, a large jacket, and other supplies to keep you warm.

You might also consider bringing tire chains or installing winter traction tires on your vehicle. Summers are comfortable and warm. Pack comfortable walking shoes, as you’ll be spending a lot of time on your feet exploring the various hot spring and geyser areas, and clothes you’re comfortable moving around in. 

Lodging in Yellowstone comes in several forms. During the summer months, you should consider camping in one of the park’s many fitted campgrounds. Make sure you book a campsite as far in advance as possible.

Yellowstone is popular and campgrounds fill up months in advance. If camping is not your desired overnight accommodation, consider staying in a yurt or lodge instead. You can also choose to stay just outside the park for a slightly more affordable option.

The Black Pool at West Thumb Geyser Basin
The Black Pool at West Thumb Geyser Basin

3 to 4-Day Yellowstone Itinerary

Keep in mind that your Yellowstone trip can be as personalized as you want. The best places highlighted here are suggested favorites throughout the park to inspire your trip planning. Yellowstone has a little something to offer everyone and you should take advantage. 

Day 1 – Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Hot Spring & More

West Thumb Geyser Basin

Kick off day one at the West Thumb Geyser Basin and you’ll be hooked on Yellowstone. Located along Yellowstone Lake, there is a great contrast between the sprawling lake and the steaming colorful pools of water side by side.

Some of the area’s most impressive features lie close to the lakeshore: Abyss Pool and Black Pool. Both pools are vibrantly blue and deep, inspiring their names. The Fishing Cone, also known as Hot Spring Cone, is another favorite feature of the West Thumb Geyser Basin.

Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin

After exploring the West Thumb, head over to the postcard image of Yellowstone National Park: Old Faithful. This geyser was discovered in 1870. It drew attention because of its predictable and frequent eruptions, unlike other geysers in the park and is one of the most popular and best things to do in Yellowstone.

You can sit back and relax on the porch of the Old Faithful Lodge while enjoying these regular eruptions. Don’t leave the area when you’re done at Old Faithful. Stay to explore the Upper Geyser Basin. The Sponge Geyser, Castle Geyser, Beehive Geyser, and much more all await your discovery. 

Tourists watching the Old Faithful Geyser
Tourists watching the Old Faithful Geyser

Midway Geyser Basin

The Midway Geyser Basin might have few hot springs, but the ones it does boast are huge. Here you’ll find the Excelsior Geyser, a 200 by 300-foot crater that pushes out over 4,000 gallons of water per minute.

There are a variety of hot springs, ranging in size, color, and temperature. Walk the boardwalk through this geyser basin to enjoy its impressive sites. Don’t forget to pay a visit to the Grand Prismatic. 

Grand Prismatic Hot Spring

You’ve most likely seen photos of the Grand Prismatic Spring. It’s one of the most well known and impressive hot springs in the entire park.

Grand Prismatic is the largest spring in the park and third largest in the world, you most likely won’t be able to see the opposite side through the steam while visiting. The pool’s water travels 121 feet to reach the surface. It’s a cannot-miss site when you visit Yellowstone National Park. 

Grand Prismatic Hot Spring
Grand Prismatic Hot Spring

Day 2 – More Geysers & Hot Springs

Lower Geyser Basin

On day two, continue your journey through the park’s thermal sites by starting at the Lower Geyser Basin. Here you’ll find an array of hot springs and geysers. There are two trails you can choose from to explore the area: Morning Mist Springs and the Quagmire Group or Sentinel Meadows.

Make sure to visit the nearby Fountain Paint Pots, where you’ll find several vents pushing through thick mud. The SIlex Springs and Celestine Pool are two popular hot springs.

Lower Geyser Basin
Lower Geyser Basin

Norris Geyser Basin

Norris is known for being the oldest and hottest geyser basin in Yellowstone. It’s located outside the caldera that composes Yellowstone and on the intersections of some major faultlines, making it one of the most active areas in the park.

The most popular attraction is the Steamboat Geyser, also known as the tallest geyser in the world. However, it only erupts once every 5 to 21 days. You can explore both the Back Basin and Porcelain Basin while here.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs was created over thousands of years as calcium carbonate flowed from the ground and hardened. Today, these stark white travertines cascade down the hillside, pouring steam and boiling water from their cracks.

Like Norris, Mammoth Hot Springs is located outside the caldera but is fueled by the same geothermal energy that powers the rest of Yellowstone. While visiting the area, keep an eye out for elk resting in the travertine hot springs. 

Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs

Boiling River Hot Spring

The colorful hot springs throughout the park look enticing to jump in, but their intense temperatures prevent it. However, there is one place where you can soak in water heated by the Yellowstone caldera.

The Boiling River is where water from a large hot spring feeds into the Gardner River, mixing the river’s cool water with the spring’s boiling temperature to create a pleasantly warm section. A portion of the river is blocked off by a rock wall to create small soaking pools aside from the river’s rapids. 

Day 3 – Tower Falls, Lamar Valley & Blacktail Plateau

Tower Fall

This 132-foot waterfall is tucked back in a canyon yet easily accessible. Iconic photos of the waterfall show the pinnacles that stand above where the waterfall begins to cascade down. They were formed by a lava flow that cracked and parted as it cooled.

If you’re looking for an easy hike to warm up on day three, this is it. There is a paved trail leading 150 yards to an overlook of the waterfall. 

Tower Fall
Tower Fall

Lamar Valley

If spotting wildlife is a favorite activity of yours, a visit to Lamar Valley should be high on your Yellowstone road trip. The best time to visit the valley is in the early morning or late evening as this is when most animals are out searching for food.

Keep your eyes peeled for elk, bears, coyotes, and bison throughout the valley. You’ll want to have your binoculars and camera ready. Make sure to drive carefully as animals frequently dart across the road. 

Blacktail Plateau

For a drive that’s off the beaten path (literally), check out Blacktail Plateau. This 6-mile one-way dirt road zigzags through the backwoods and meadows of the Mammoth Hot Springs region.

It’s another great opportunity to spot wildlife in action but without the crowds you’ll most likely find at Lamar Valley. Make sure you research the road conditions ahead of your visit and bear in mind that RVs, buses, and trailers aren’t allowed. 

Blacktail Plateau Drive
Blacktail Plateau Drive

Day 4 – Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Mud Volcanoes & More

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Your fourth and final day in Yellowstone begins with a visit to one of the park’s most iconic destinations. The yellow-tinted walls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone inspired the park’s name. Here is where you’ll find the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River.

You can hike along the south rim of the canyon, but make sure to walk carefully and wear good hiking shoes as there are places where there’s no trail barrier. 

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Hayden Valley

This expansive sub-alpine valley is another favorite destination for wildlife spotting in Yellowstone National Park. The valley floor is an ancient lake bed. Here you’ll find buffalo, elk, wolves, coyotes, and grizzly bears.

Like Lamar Valley, make sure you visit in the early morning or evening. If you want to catch the wildlife and avoid the crowds, try the morning. Anticipate running into traffic if you visit in the evening. 

Mud Volcano

Yellowstone is filled with vibrant and colorful pools, but it also has boiling pots of mud. The mud volcanoes contrast the tranquil hot springs with their brown, smelly, and bubbling mud that nearly blend in with the landscape if it weren’t for the steam and bubbles.

The Sulfur Caldron is a favorite – a site you’ll smell before you see. A walk through the mud volcano area during your 4 days in Yellowstone NP will round out your entire trip to the park. 

Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone Lake is the largest high elevation lake, sitting at 7,733 feet above sea level. It has 110 miles of shoreline for you to explore. The historic Yellowstone Lodge sits right alongside the lake and provides a quiet resting place after a long day of exploring the park. If you want to experience the lake up close, consider rowing or kayaking. 

Wooden home on Yellowstone Lake
Wooden home on Yellowstone Lake

Where to Stay Near Yellowstone

If you’re spending 3 days in Yellowstone or if you have time for 4, then you’re going to need to find a great place to stay that’s located close to the national park.

Bentwood Inn – This luxury hotel is a fantastic option if you’re looking for a place to stay that is within easy reach of Yellowstone. Located in Wilson, WY, they have countless plush rooms on offer, breakfast included each morning, and they even offer wine and cheese for guests in the evenings.

Yellowstone Park Hotel – Located in West Yellowstone, Mt, this mid-range hotel is an excellent choice. Located close to Yellowstone NP’s western entrance, they have a number of great rooms available and even have an on-site swimming pool.

Private Rental – A private rental — like this cabin close to the Park’s west entrance — is a great option if you’re after a bit of privacy or want your own self-catering option while visiting the park. There are countless properties to choose from that will suit most budgets and tastes.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Yellowstone hotels!

Yellowstone National Park Wildflowers
Yellowstone National Park Wildflowers

Your time in Yellowstone National Park will be well spent no matter how you structure your days. It’s most important that you craft a trip that fits your interests. Take this route as inspiration while creating your itinerary for Yellowstone. 

Are you planning a trip to Yellowstone? Have any questions about visiting this national park? Let us know in the comments!

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Audrey Webster is a writer for The World Was Here First. She is an Oregon native who has visited countries across the globe and currently spends her weekends exploring the Pacific Northwest and surrounding states. Her approach to traveling combines exploring famous tourist sites and wandering off the beaten path to discover new destinations.


  1. A wonderful itinerary for a short visit! However, due to maintenance work and road closures any routes cannot be completed as planned, especially if planning a trip in late spring and summer. My husband and I have had the good fortune to have visited Yellowstone several times on longer trips, staying outside the Park, i. e West Yellowstone, Cody, WY. and Red Lodge, MT which provided access from different entrances. Also a drive to the Park via the Bear Tooth Highway (from Red Lodge) is a must see. In addition to road closures and maintenance work, one has to factor in time lost due to backups on roadways due to animal sightings and animals on the roads.

  2. thanks for the post Audrey,, just too man variations and options for yellowstone.. I think we’ll use this as a foot hold and plan around it !!!


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