Looking for a quick visit to Yellowstone National Park? This is a great itinerary that will hit up some of our favorite sites and provide an introduction to Yellowstone by visiting a lot of the top attractions in just three days.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
BUFFALO BILL SCENIC BYWAY
Day 1: For this trip, we arrived to Yellowstone via the East Entrance. Leaving from Cody, Wyoming drive along the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway which follows the Shoshone River thru the Shoshone National Forest. This was a beautiful drive and if you are a fisherman, this area provided some great locations to stop and fish the North Fork of the Shoshone River. We also lucked out and saw quite a few bighorn sheep as we spent time fishing along the Shoshone River.
A great stop along the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway is the Pahaska Tepee, which was Buffalo Bill's original hunting lodge built in 1904, just outside the East Entrance of Yellowstone. The original lodge has been preserved on the National Historic Register and is a great place to wander thru a bit of history. The resort itself offers a variety of cabins accommodations and looks to be a great place to stay just outside the East Entrance of Yellowstone.
EAST ENTRANCE OF YELLOWSTONE
Upon reaching the East Entrance, we spent the rest of the day exploring the areas around Fishing Bridge and Canyon Village junctions. After driving thru Sylvan Pass at 8530 feet in elevation, we stopped at Sylvan Lake to have a picnic lunch. We then stopped at a number of great viewpoints as we headed towards Fishing Bridge Junction, including driving the short side road to the Lake Butte Rd Overlook which provides a view of Lake Yellowstone and on a clear day, you can even see the Tetons from here.
Following the road towards Fishing Bridge, you will drive along the shoreline of Lake Yellowstone, there are some great spots to pull over and enjoy the lake. We spent some time throwing rocks here and even saw our first buffalo of the trip. We then stopped for a quick walk at the Pelican Creek Nature Trail (1 mile roundtrip) and enjoyed walking along the northern shoreline of Yellowstone Lake.
FISHING BRIDGE VISITOR CENTER & LEHARDY RAPIDS
We then headed to the Fishing Bridge Museum & Visitor Center and spent some time enjoying the exhibits about the area. As we headed north from Fishing Bridge towards Canyon Village we made a couple more stops at LeHardy Rapids, Mud Volcano Area and the Hayden Valley. LeHardy's Rapids is a great stop along the Yellowstone River where the river drops a bit and creates the rapids. A short set of stairs connects to a boardwalk along the river providing views of the rapids.
MUD VOLCANO AREA
Our next stop of the day was the Mud Volcano Area, a thermal area that includes features such as bubbling mud pots and a hot springs named Dragon Mouth Springs along a quick 0.6 mile trail. Across the street is the Sulfur Cauldron that can be seen from a quick roadside stop - these areas are a bit smelly, but worth the stop to see these unique features.
We then continued our drive north towards Canyon Village to the Canyon Village Campground. Along the way you drive thru the beautiful Hayden Valley which is known for it's wonderful wildlife viewing opportunities. This open vast meadow is one of the best spots to stop and enjoy watching the buffalo - iconic Yellowstone! After enjoying the buffalo for awhile, we continued towards our campsite at Canyon Village Campground.
CANYON VILLAGE CAMPGROUND
Canyon Village Campground lies at 7,900 feet in elevation among a Lodgepole Pine forest. Even in the summer months, the evenings can still be quite cold at this elevation, so make sure and bring some warm clothes! This is one of the more popular campgrounds in Yellowstone and it is highly recommended to get your reservations early - you can book up to 1 year in advance.
CANYON VILLAGE & GRAND CANYON OF THE YELLOWSTONE
Day 2: Spend the day exploring Canyon Village Area. First stop of the day was at the Canyon Visitor Center before heading off to hike along the North Rim of the Yellowstone Grand Canyon. One of our favorite things to visit in Yellowstone is the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, with canyons up to 4000 feet wide and 1200 feet deep, it is simply breath-taking. Having been to Yellowstone before, the North Rim Trail was at the top of our list upon returning to Yellowstone.
We began at Inspiration Point, heading towards Grandview (1 mile), then we headed to Lookout Point (0.3 miles). At Lookout Point you get your first great view of Lower Falls. Lower Falls is an astounding 308 feet tall which is twice the height of Niagara Falls. Also from Lookout Point, there is a wonderful side spur trail to Red Rock Point (0.3 miles) along a steep path that drops about 500 feet to our favorite view of the Lower Falls - absolutely breathtaking!
By this point, we we decided it was time to turn around and head back, giving us a total of 3.2 miles roundtrip that we hiked along the North Rim Trail. With a baby on our backs, that seemed to be plenty for the day. To hike the entire North Rim Trail, continue onto the Brink of the Lower Falls and Brink of the Upper Falls before the trail ends near the Chittenden Bridge making the total distance of the North Rim Trail about 6.4 miles roundtrip.
FISHING ON THE GIBBON RIVER
After letting Brecken have a quick nap in the car, we headed towards the Norris Junction to the Gibbon River to try our hands at some fishing. There is almost nothing in the world that is better than teaching your child to fish while in Yellowstone National Park! We even caught a few, all quite small, but it was fun nevertheless!
NORRIS GEYSER BASIN
With a bit of time left in our day, our last stop of the day was the Norris Geyser Basin. Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest, most unstable basin found in Yellowstone and contains a wonderful variety of geothermal features. Due to how active the area is, new features appear almost yearly and other simply disappear. There are two main areas - the Back Basin (1.5 mile boardwalk) and the Porcelain Basin (0.75 mile boardwalk). With time running a bit short, we opted to walk the Porcelain Basin.
MIDWAY GEYSER BASIN
Day 3: Geysers & Hot Springs: We began our morning by heading to the Midway Geyser Basin where the Grand Prismatic Spring is located. The Grand Prismatic is the 3rd largest hot spring in the world and the largest in Yellowstone and features a stunning palette of colors that makes it the most photographed thermal feature in the park. Due to it's popularity, it is highly recommended to arrive early in the morning to the Midway Geyser Basin as parking is limited and wait times are common by mid-morning. The Midway Geyser Basin is a smaller area that includes a 0.8 mile boardwalk and includes other wonderful thermal features such as Excelsior Geyser, Opal Pool & Turquoise Pool - but the definite highlight is the Grand Prismatic.
GRAND PRISMATIC OVERLOOK
The Grand Prismatic is our absolute favorite thing to visit in Yellowstone, and we were super excited to find out a new hike had been created to an overlook to view the Grand Prismatic from above. The Grand Prismatic Overlook hike (1.2 miles roundtrip) allows for an elevated view over the spring - it was fantastic! To get to this location, drive about 5 minutes south of the Midway Geyser Basin parking lot to the Fairy Falls parking lot. Seeing the Grand Prismatic from above is truly breathtaking!
OLD FAITHFUL & THE UPPER GEYSER BASIN
After enjoying this wonderful area, we drove over to Old Faithful and Upper Geyser Basin - a trip to Yellowstone wouldn't be complete with stopping to see Old Faithful! Of the nearly 500 geysers in Yellowstone, only about six are predicable and Old Faithful erupts on intervals of 35 minutes to 2 hours. Getting to enjoy this iconic feature with our 1 1/2 year old son was a true treat and he even learned to say 'geyser' as we explored the Upper Geyser Basin after watching Old Faithful erupt.
While the Upper Geyser Basin is famous for hosting Old Faithful, there is a ton to see in this area. The Upper Geyser Basin actually is home to the largest concentration of geysers in the world. The boardwalk here runs out 1.5 miles to Morning Glory Pool but there are also side spur trails to reach other features of interest - plan on an average of 2 hours each way if you are trying to see everything. And if you spend time waiting at certain areas for geysers to erupt, viewing this area can turn into an all day adventure. As we were exploring with a baby, we decided to focus on exploring Old Faithful and the nearby Geyser Hill portion of the trail.
Geyser Hill itself has over 40 geysers, as well as vents and pools. The largest geysers in this group are the Beehive and Giantess Geysers which erupt twice daily. Another quite active geyser is a group called the Lion Group Geysers and it consists of Little Cub, Lioness, Big Cub and Lion Geyser, we happened to get lucky and see Lion Geyser erupt as we were passing by! As these geysers erupt it is accompanied by a roaring sound, hence the name Lion Geyser.
LEWIS FALLS & MOOSE FALLS
With our time in Yellowstone coming to an end, we continued south thru the South Entrance as we headed to Grand Teton National Park. Along the way we did make a couple stops at Lewis Falls and Moose Falls before leaving Yellowstone National Park. Easily seen from the road, Lewis Falls is a 30 foot high waterfall that is worth a quick stop. At also 30 feet tall, Moose Falls is a quick 0.2 miles roundtrip walk to view the falls.
Interested in planning your own trip to Yellowstone National Park? Below is our summarized itinerary for you to follow or adjust to your own preferences. ENJOY!
Day 1: Drive to Yellowstone, Drive Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway through Shoshone National Forest, Fish North Fork of the Shoshone River, Pahaska Tepee, East Entrance to Yellowstone, Sylvan Pass, Sylvan Lake, Teton Point Turnout, Teton Overlook, Lake Butte Rd Overlook, Steamboat Point, Holmes Point, Pelican Creek Nature Trail (1 mile loop), Fishing Bridge Visitor Center, Fishing Bridge, Hayden Valley wildlife viewing, LeHardy Rapids, Mud Volcano Area
Day 2: Yellowstone: Canyon Visitor Center, Hike the North Rim of Yellowstone Grand Canyon (Inspiration Point to Red Rock Point 3.2 miles roundtrip), Fish along the Gibbon River near the Norris Junction, then explore the Norris Geyser Basin, for a shorter walk do the Porcelain Basin, if more time, explore both the Back Basin and Porcelain Basin (about 1.1 miles total).
Day 3: Yellowstone: Midway Geyser Basin, then Grand Prismatic Hike (1.2 miles roundtrip), Old Faithful/Upper Geyser Basin. *If continuing onto Grand Teton National Park - stop along the south entrance of Yellowstone at Lewis Falls and Moose Falls (both just off side of road, with parking).