Yellowstone National Park holds some of the most stunning natural wonders in the United States. Located just outside Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the national park is known for its powerful geysers, picturesque hot springs, waterfalls, lakes, and wildlife.
With so many unique things to do in Yellowstone National Park, it can be overwhelming to decide where to start when planning your visit.
From hiking to hot springs, this travel guide to the best things to do in Yellowstone National Park will make planning your visit easier. With endless opportunities for exploration and adventure, we are providing suggested itineraries for both one day in Yellowstone and 2 days in Yellowstone.
Yellowstone National Park at a Glance
Admission Cost: $35 or included with the America the Beautiful National Park Pass
Best Time to Visit: early June or early September to avoid peak crowds yet still have pleasant weather
Best Place to Stay: Old Faithful Inn
Our personal experience visiting Yellowstone National Park
As US citizens and residents, we have traveled much of the United States, but this part of the country, which includes Wyoming and Montana, is our favorite.
Having visited Yellowstone several times in various seasons, we’ve been able to see and experience many of the top attractions in Yellowstone National Park personally.
We’ve hiked many of the popular hiking trails in Yellowstone, and done most of the best things to do in the United States’ first national park.
While we don’t consider ourselves experts on the park, we would consider ourselves fairly knowledgeable in Yellowstone’s best things to do.
About Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park attracts millions of visitors every year with its breathtaking landscapes, diverse wildlife, and fascinating geothermal features. In fact, it is one of the most visited national parks in the United States and one of the most popular US destinations for first-time visitors to the country.
Yellowstone became a national park in 1872, when President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act, making it the first national park in the country.
This precedence established the concept of public land conservation and the national park service. Since then, Yellowstone has become a beloved national treasure and more than 400 other parks have been created and protected for future generations.
Best known for its unique geothermal features, like geysers, hot springs, and boiling mud pots, Yellowstone is practically a hands-on science lesson.
It is, without question, one of the best places in the world to learn about the earth’s composition.
FIND AND BOOK A GUIDED TOUR IN YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK HERE.
Tips for visiting Yellowstone National Park
Before we jump into the top things to see in Yellowstone, here are a few tips to help plan a fun and safe trip.
- Plan your route in advance. Yellowstone is a very big national park. It covers more than 3,472 square miles! While it’s nice to not feel too scheduled, you should still have a good idea of what you want to see and the route to take. (Don’t worry! We make routing the stops extremely easy for you below.)
- You will be driving a lot. The top attractions in Yellowstone can often be an hour’s drive from each other.
- Prepare to stay in the park longer than you expected. Traffic often moves slow as other motorists stop or slow down to take photos. Bison on the roads commonly cause serious delays, as well.
- Wear tennis shoes and don’t be afraid to hike. Most of the best sights in Yellowstone are not visible by car. So, while you will drive a lot, you will also need to get out and explore the park on foot.
- Slow down and enjoy the sights. You simply cannot see all of the best things to do in Yellowstone in one day. So give yourself a couple of days, if possible. (We’ve laid out a 1 and 2 day itinerary for Yellowstone below that you can follow.)
- Keep young children within arms length when around geothermal features, and never let them stray from the boardwalks or marked trails.
- Carry bear spray when hiking in the park, particularly in the northernmost areas where bear activity is highest.
Best things to do in Yellowstone National Park
While there are a ton of awesome things to do in Yellowstone, you can’t possibly do or see it all unless you have at least one week in Yellowstone. That’s why we’ve narrowed our list down to our favorite sights.
Old Faithful Geyser
Old Faithful is perhaps one of Yellowstone’s main claims to fame. The geyser has been erupting like clockwork since it was first discovered in the late 1800s.
The predictable geyser draws crowds of people every 60-125 minutes eager to witness its eruption.
Although one of the most notable things to do in Yellowstone, seeing Old Faithful erupt is actually one of least exciting things to see on this list. Still, watching Old Faithful spew water high into the air is a must when in Yellowstone.
Tips for visiting Old Faithful: Waiting for Old Faithful’s predicted eruption time can get very crowded. So, if you want a front row seat plan to hang out and sit for about 30 minutes before the geyser actually erupts.
You can check the estimated eruption schedule online to help plan out your Yellowstone itinerary. The schedule is also posted at the Old Faithful Visitor’s Center on the way to the geyser.
Also, be sure to stay on the boardwalk and designated trails around Old Faithful and any of the other geysers or hot springs. The ground is fragile in these areas, and the water underneath is scalding. Keep children close at all times!
Old Faithful Inn
Adjacent to Old Faithful you’ll find a beautiful hotel and restaurant with a log cabin feel. Old Faithful Inn is a National Historic Landmark and is worth stopping in to see the massive stone fireplace and rustic architecture.
Built in the early 1900s using materials primarily gathered from inside the park, it is one of the few log hotels remaining in the United States.
Old Faithful Inn is a great place to stop for lunch before or after viewing Old Faithful blow.
Tip for visiting Old Faithful Inn: If you want to stay at Old Faithful Inn, or at any of the lodging facilities within Yellowstone National Park, book as early as you possibly can. The hotels and cabins inside the park fill up fast!
Morning Glory Pool
A walkway around Old Faithful will take you past several other smaller and beautiful hot springs and geysers that are not to be missed.
If you have extra time, take a stroll down the 1.2 mile paved path to Morning Glory, a natural hot spring that tops the highlights in this area called Upper Geyser Basin.
The deep hot spring also tells a sad story about the destructiveness of tourism. Once a vibrant blue color, the center of the spring is now a more faded shade of green due to tourists throwing things in the pool and clogging the springs.
Tip for visiting Morning Glory (or any of the hot springs): Don’t throw things in the water. Just don’t.
Grand Prismatic Spring
The Grand Prismatic Spring is the most colorful place in all of Yellowstone. It is the largest hot spring in the United States and is one of the top things to see in Yellowstone National Park.
Located in Midway Geyser Basin, there are two vantage points from which to see the Grand Prismatic Spring.
There is an overlook accessible via a short hike from the Fairy Falls Trailhead. This trail is called Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook. This will give you a birds eye view of the colorful spring.
For a closer look at the spring there is a walkway which takes you directly up to the spring. The Midway Geyser Basin boardwalks also take you past Excelsior Geyser, a beautiful blue dormant geyser.
Tip for visiting Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone: Grand Prismatic is best viewed in the heat of the afternoon. In cooler temperatures, the steam from the hot spring clouds the view of the colorful wonder.
Lower Falls and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Lower Falls is the most majestic waterfall in Yellowstone, if not in the entire United States. In fact, it is twice the height of Niagara Falls!
There are three awesome vantage points to see Lower Falls, all of which involve a somewhat challenging hike and can consist of numerous switchbacks and stairs.
The best view of Lower Falls, in our opinion, is the Grand View Lookout point off the Red Rock Point Trail. This lookout point gives you a head on view of the amazing waterfall.
To get to the Grand View Lookout, you’ll follow the Red Rock Point Trail, which is one of the best hikes in the park.
Located off North Rim Drive, hikers descend 260 feet into the canyon to reach the Grand View. You’ll follow a series of paved paths, wooden stairs, and often steep switchbacks for .7 miles.
For those who want to catch a glimpse of this magnificent 308-foot waterfall without all the effort, there is a canyon lookout point just a short distance from the parking lot, as well.
Other hikes to Yellowstone Lower Falls
Uncle Tom’s Trail is another shorter hike that offers a good view of the canyon and the Lower Falls. This is a steep hike down 328 steps, and offers a side view of the falls.
Finally, if you want to see the power of water a little closer, you can also hike to the Brink of Lower Falls which allows you to look directly over the edge of the tallest waterfall in Yellowstone.
The canyon around Lower Falls is equally beautiful. Known as the “Grand Canyon of Yellowstone” you will be amazed at the red rock walls of this deep canyon carved by water.
A lovely waterfall in the Northern region of Yellowstone near Tower Junction and the Lamar Valley, Tower Fall lives up to its name.
Plunging 132 feet from the top of the brink, the waterfall viewpoint is easily accessible via a short walk.
Tower Fall gets its name from the tower-like rock columns north of the waterfall. The nearby Lamar Valley is an incredible place to spot wildlife, particularly around the sunrise and sunset hours.
Located in the Northwest corner of Yellowstone, Mammoth Springs is somewhat far removed from some of the other top things to see in Yellowstone. But a visit to the Mammoth Springs area of the park is definitely worth visiting if you have more than one day in Yellowstone.
The Travertine Terraces at Mammoth Springs are a series of limestone terraces that have a white appearance due to the unique interaction of water and limestone.
The Lower Terraces are accessible by a looped boardwalk trail that is approximately 1 mile long.
Abyss is another beautiful hot spring found within Yellowstone. It is located in the West Thumb Geyser Basin near Yellowstone Lake.
It is one of the deepest hot springs in Yellowstone and a primary feature in West Thumb. The basin is also home to bubbling mud pots, another one of the popular things to see in Yellowstone.
One of the best things to do in Yellowstone is to simply take in the natural habitat. Yellowstone is home to 200 different animal species, including bears, moose, and bison.
There is always a chance you will spot wildlife while inside the park, but there are a few places where your chances increase.
You’re almost sure to see bison in Hayden Valley, an area of the national park between Canyon Village and Yellowstone Lake. In fact, the herds often cause traffic jams in the area when crossing or lingering on the road.
Bears are also quite prevalent in the park. Your chances of seeing bears in their natural habitat increase as you head north toward the Wyoming/Montana border and around rivers and lakes.
Park rangers try to keep them away from the roads, so it is typically while hiking or doing other outdoor activities in Jackson Hole and the national parks that you might see or encounter a bear.
Tips for observing wildlife in Yellowstone: Always use caution when observing wild animals. It’s best to stay in your car or keep a safe distance as wildlife can and will charge if they feel threatened.
Bear spray is also recommended when hiking in Yellowstone.
Yellowstone Itineraries and Map of Things to Do in Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park is big. Covering nearly 3,500 square miles, it is larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. Naturally, it is good to have a route and itinerary planned before you visit.
You could spend days exploring the park, hiking, camping, and taking in the sights, but realistically, most people give themselves one or two days in Yellowstone.
One day Yellowstone itinerary (includes most of the top attractions in Yellowstone)
If arriving from the south entrance which first takes you through Grand Teton National Park, you’ll drive the lower loop, hitting 7 of our 9 favorite places in Yellowstone.
- Start your day early at West Thumb Geyser Basin, where you will see Abyss, Yellowstone Lake, and some cool mud pots.
- Head north through Hayden Valley, where you are most likely to spot herds of bison grazing in the fields, and even along the road.
- Stop at Lower Falls and do one of the three hikes mentioned above.
- Lunch in Canyon Village.
- After lunch, drive to Grand Prismatic Spring to get a ground level perspective of the colorful hot spring.
- Next, turn off at Fairy Falls and make the short hike to the Grand Prismatic Overlook.
- Stop to view Morning Glory in the Upper Geyser Basin.
- End your day watching Old Faithful erupt and have dinner (or stay the night) at Old Faithful Inn.
Two day Yellowstone itinerary (includes ALL of the top attractions in Yellowstone)
If you plan to spend more than one day in Yellowstone, this two day itinerary will allow you to see all of the top attractions in Yellowstone. You’ll also be able to slow down and enjoy the experience a bit more.
This itinerary is great for those who are traveling with grandparents or seniors who are exploring independently. Really, anyone who just likes to take their time and not rush through a national park will enjoy this itinerary.
Once again, assuming you’ll arrive through the south entrance, this two day Yellowstone itinerary takes you along the Grand Loop Road through the park.
- Start at West Thumb Geyser Basin – see Abyss, Yellowstone Lake, and the mud pots.
- Check out the herds of bison in Hayden Valley.
- Hike to one of the three lookout points of Lower Falls.
- Lunch in Canyon Village.
- Drive north to Tower Fall, where you will do a shorter hike to the lookout point and see more wildlife in Lamar Valley.
- Next, head to Mammoth Hot Springs to see the limestone terraces.
- Dinner and spend the night at Mammoth Hot Springs Cabins.
- Drive south, stopping at Norris Geyser Basin to see the Steamboat Geyser, the world’s tallest active geyser. Your chances of seeing it erupt aren’t great because it isn’t predictable like Old Faithful, but it’s worth a stop to say you’ve seen it.
- Head to Grand Prismatic Spring next for a ground-level view.
- Next, stop at Fairy Falls and hike to the Grand Prismatic Spring overlook.
- Proceed to Old Faithful and have a late lunch at Old Faithful Inn.
- After lunch, watch Old Faithful erupt and hike the long route around Upper Geyser Basin to see Morning Glory and many other beautiful hot springs in the area.
- Dinner (or stay the night) at Old Faithful Inn.
Where to stay when visiting Yellowstone National Park
If you plan to spend two days in Yellowstone or more, I’d recommend spending the night in the national park. There are nine different lodges or cabins located within the park where you can stay.
A word of warning, these book up quickly and are not available year round, since many of the roads into the park are inaccessible during winter in the Yellowstone and Jackson Hole region.
- Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Cabins
- Canyon Lodge and Cabins
- Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins
- Old Faithful Snow Lodge
- Old Faithful Inn
- Grant Village
- Lake Lodge Cabins
- Old Faithful Lodge Cabins
- Roosevelt Lodge and Cabins
Camping in Yellowstone is another popular option. There are numerous designated campsites throughout the national park that would make for a fun experience under the stars. However, these also must be reserved well in advance because they book up quickly
PLANNING TO CAMP? CHECK OUT OUR LIST OF CAMPING ESSENTIALS.
The times we have visited Yellowstone, we’ve stayed at one of the hotels in Jackson, Wyoming for at least one night. Jackson is located about 100 miles away, but it is an adorable Wild West town with plenty to do, great places to eat, and a lot more options when it comes to hotels.
FAQs about the best things to do in Yellowstone National Park
When planning a visit to Yellowstone National Park, it is only natural to have some questions. From dangers lurking in the park to the often harsh weather in this part of the country, here are some of the most frequently asked questions about visiting Yellowstone.
When is the best time to visit Yellowstone National Park?
Summer is the most popular time for visitors to Yellowstone National Park. Between June and August, the weather is most pleasant for outdoor activities and camping. Summer temperatures are typically in the mid- to upper-70s.
Shoulder season, which we consider spring and fall, is a quieter time in Yellowstone. You can experience slower crowds and lower prices for accommodations. However, temperatures are cooler, and you could even experience snow.
Winter is an interesting time to visit Yellowstone, but not if you plan to follow our Yellowstone itinerary. We’ve visited the park in winter, and while it is great for snowshoeing and even a winter safari, many of the main roads and facilities in the park are closed, and some of the park’s famous animals are in hibernation.
Still, Yellowstone in winter is so quiet and empty, everything is covered in untouched snow, and it truly feels surreal to see the typically busy park so still.
What is the best way to explore Yellowstone?
While walking and hiking are the best ways to explore Yellowstone, you will also need a car. A self-drive through the park gives you the freedom to stop when and where you want and adjust your Yellowstone itinerary along the way.
You can take a guided tour of Yellowstone, if you would feel more comfortable leaving the driving to someone else. THIS one day guided tour from Jackson comes highly recommended.
What should I be careful of in Yellowstone?
There are two main dangers to look out for in Yellowstone National Park. One, the ground near thermal features is fragile and the thermal waters are scalding. People have died from leaving the trail and falling through the soft ground.
As long as you stay on the trails this won’t be a danger, but if visiting Yellowstone with kids, you will want to watch them closely, explain the dangers to older children and keep young children at arm’s length.
The second danger in Yellowstone National Park is the wildlife. Wild animals can become aggressive if they feel threatened, startled, or humans get too close. Never approach wildlife in the park, keep a safe distance and always hike with bear spray.
How do you get to Yellowstone National Park?
Yellowstone National Park is located primarily in Wyoming, but parts of the massive national park extend into Montana and Idaho. There are a few ways to get to Yellowstone National Park depending on your starting location and mode of transportation.
The closest airport to Yellowstone is the Jackson Hole Airport in Wyoming followed by the Bozeman Yellowstone Airport in Montana. There are five entrances to the park. The most popular entrances are the south entrance from Jackson, and the west entrance near West Yellowstone, Montana.
If entering from West Yellowstone, be sure to include the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center as part of your visit. There you can get an up-close look at some of Yellowstone’s wildlife now living in the refuge.
How many days do you need for Yellowstone?
Most people give themselves about 2-3 days to explore Yellowstone, although you could easily spend a week in the national park. If you plan a weeklong trip to the area, you can see both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park.
Have a question about Yellowstone National Park or want to share your favorite things to do in Yellowstone? We’d love to hear from you! Leave your thoughts or suggestions in the comments below.
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This guide to the best things to do in Yellowstone National Park was first written in September 2018 and was updated in March 2023 for accuracy and current park information.