Yellowstone National Park Itinerary in 2 Days
If you plan on visiting any National Parks this year, Yellowstone is a perfect place to start! With over 3,400 square miles within 3 states (Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming), there is plenty to explore! In this Yellowstone itinerary, I am covering the best attractions to see self-driving with 2 days in Yellowstone National Park!
Did you know Yellowstone is actually the United States’ first National Park which happened in March 1, 1872? Yellowstone is also an active supervolcano!
Disclaimer*Please note this post contains affiliate links which I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Yellowstone National Park Itinerary in 2 Days
- How Many Days Do You Need in Yellowstone
- Best Time To Visit Yellowstone National Park
- Getting Around Yellowstone
- Day 1 in Yellowstone: Bottom Loop
- Fountain Paint Pot
- Midway Geyser Basin
- Old Faithful
- West Thumb Geyser Basin and Yellowstone Lake
- Mud Volcano
- Drive through Haydens Valley
- Lower Falls of Yellowstone Lookout Point
- Artist Paintpots Trail
- Day 2 in Yellowstone: Lamar Valley and Mammoth Hot Springs
- Lamar Valley
- Mammoth Hot Springs
- How To Get To Yellowstone
- Yellowstone Entrance Costs
- Where to Stay in Yellowstone National Park
- 2 Days Yellowstone National Park Itinerary Wrap-up
How Many Days Do You Need in Yellowstone
How many days you will need in Yellowstone really depends on your travel style, however, 2 days in Yellowstone is a good place to start. If you start your days very early (8 am), you can easily see the most prominent attractions in the park and some.
If you prefer moving at a slower pace, want to camp, or plan on hiking lengthy trails, you might want to spread out this itinerary to 3 or 4 days.
We went with a large family group to Yellowstone so the below 2 day itinerary will be perfect for just about any age.
Alternatively, if you plan on just doing a road trip through Yellowstone, you can still hit some major attractions in just 1 day.
Also, if you are concerned about not seeing wildlife (like me), don’t worry! There will be plenty of opportunities to see wildlife throughout the park.
Wildlife you are likely to see in abundance are American Buffalo and Elk. Other animal sitings include Black Bear, Grizzly Bear, Coyotes, and Wolves (more-likely to see in winter months).
Have less then 2 days in Yellowstone National Park? Here are the Must-See Things in Yellowstone!
FYI- All spots were vetted by our Airbnb host who was a Park Ranger at Yellowstone for over 15 years!
Best Time To Visit Yellowstone National Park
The best time to visit Yellowstone National Park is from May to October. This is because November through April might have too much snowfall, leaving roads closed.
Depending on the experience you want, it’s still possible to visit during the winter, but you will not be able to freely roam the park, like in the summer months.
If you are interested in seeing baby wildlife in Yellowstone, the best time is May- June.
July through August will be the busiest time in Yellowstone. We visited early July and by mid-day popular stops were crowded.
September through October in Yellowstone will see fewer crowds than mid-summer and you will have an opportunity to experience Yellowstone’s Elk rut (mating season).
Getting Around Yellowstone
The best way to get around Yellowstone National park is to rent a car and for this itinerary, you will definitely want to do just that. By renting a car you will get to see Yellowstone on your terms and be able to avoid crowds if you’re visiting during high season.
The next important thing to know is that there is very little cellphone reception in Yellowstone. If you have an Andriod, however, you might have better luck.
In our group, my husband was the only one with an Android (the rest of us are iPhone users) and he was the only one getting a weak single and the rest of us have zero service.
Because of this, you might also want to consider getting one of those old school car GPS that runs on satellite.
You can also utilize Yellowstone’s app. They provide an interactive map and alerts if you have service. If you download the map from their app ahead of time, it should continue to work without the internet! It will also let you know if there are any road closures which will be very important in making sure your day goes smoothly!
I will also include an interactive google map below with all Yellowstone stops in this itinerary!
Day 1 in Yellowstone: Bottom Loop
Yellowstone is generally broken up into 2 loops, the upper and bottom loop which covers most of the main attractions.
We stayed in an Airbnb right outside the West Entrance of Yellowstone. FYI, when it comes to booking anything for Yellowstone, it’s best to do everything well in advance because it books up like crazy!
Your entrance can differ depending on where you choose to Lodge, but overall the loop attractions will be the same, but just in a different order.
I’d recommend starting at the Yellowstone West Entrance because it is closest to a lot of main attractions and has a cute town with a lot of hotels.
Additionally, an early start is the best way to avoid some of the crowds. However, traffic can happen at any time when wildlife decides they want to hang out on the road.
When visiting the park, please leave no traces, meaning anything you take into the park, TAKE BACK OUT including litter. Also please follow all the park guidelines. These include staying on the trails and staying at a safe distance from wildlife. Many people have been seriously injured by breaking these rules.
The map above covers each stop you to add to your Yellowstone Itinerary. You can save it to your Google maps to use for later!
Firehole Falls was our first stop from the West Gate Entrance of Yellowstone. It is a nice spot to take a minute to stretch your legs and view the falls. They are not terribly huge but still nice to view.
Fountain Paint Pot
Next, stop at Fountain Paint Pot, which will be the first geothermal attraction of many. This short trail brings you in a loop of petrified trees and various hydrothermal features including geysers and mud pots.
The trail is a .5 mile loop bringing you around the boardwalk with mud pots and geysers surrounding you. You can also find restrooms here.
Midway Geyser Basin
Midway Geyser is one of the best Yellowstone attractions in my opinion so I would highly recommend this stop. Here you will get to explore one of the top attractions, Grand Prismatic Hot Springs.
Grand Prismatic Hot Springs is the 3rd largest hot spring in the world stretching 370 ft in diameter. It’s as deep as a 10 story building and the colors are insanely gorgeous rainbows of blues, oranges, and golds!
If you have extra time, you might also want to consider seeing Grand Prismatic Springs from above which would give you the best view of the spring. To get there, you must hike from Fairy Falls Trailhead. The hike there and back is a total of 1.2 miles. It’s one of the best easy hikes in Yellowstone and the most rewarding.
While there, you can also see smaller features including the Opal Pool, Turquoise Pool, and Excelsior Geyser. With even less than 2 days on your Yellowstone itinerary, Grand Prismatic Springs should be at the top of your list!
Old Faithful is probably the most famous feature of Yellowstone and a must-see with 2 days in Yellowstone. With that being said, it will also be one of the most crowded places.
Old faithful gets its name for, well being faithful in terms of eruptions. This geyser erupts 22 times a day for about 1-5 minutes. The height of the geyser can reach 100 – 180 ft and temperatures have clocked in over 350 F.
The Yellowstone app should tell you when they are predicting the next eruption.
This is also a good rest stop for food and restrooms while waiting for Old Faithful to erupt.
West Thumb Geyser Basin and Yellowstone Lake
Next, head to Thumb Geyser next to Yellowstone Lake. Walk around the boardwalk loop to see tons of geysers and Yellowstone Lake. Did you know Yellowstone Lake is the largest high elevation lake in the USA at over 7,000 ft. elevation?
Yellowstone Lake also is known to have the largest population of wild cutthroat trout in North America. As you make your way around the boardwalk, some of the most notable features include Abyss Pool, Painted Pool, and Lakeshore Geyser. You will also find restrooms here and have the possibility to see wildlife. During our visit, we saw elk!
Mud Volcano is actually one of the most acidic features in the park. At this point, I am sure you are used to the smell of rotten eggs, and you will get loads of that wif here! There are a couple of cool features here with a .6 mile boardwalk loop you can check out if you’re doing ok on time.
Drive through Haydens Valley
From the Mud Volcano, you will continue driving up towards Lookout Point. Lucky for you, this drive brings you right through Haydens Valley! Plan to see tons of buffalo, beautiful landscapes, and even have the possibility to see grizzly bears and coyotes.
Lower Falls of Yellowstone Lookout Point
The Canyon Village area is one of my favorite places in Yellowstone! If you can, this area is just amazing around golden hour/sunset! From here, you can see a beautiful waterfall and what is known as the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
There are several lookout spots and hikes you can check out depending on how you are doing on time.
No matter how you view this area, just know it is beautiful!
Artist Paintpots Trail
If you still have daylight left, then make your way to the Artist Paintpots Trail. It’s a short hike to see more geysers and hot springs with an area to overlook the landscape. If you are geyser’ed out at this point, or tired, you could probably skip this one.
For us, it was on our way back to the West Gate where we needed to exit, so we figured we’d take a break to stretch our legs. To give you an idea of how long it took us to do the lower loop of Yellowstone, we got into the park at 9 am and left the park at 7:30 pm.
Day 2 in Yellowstone: Lamar Valley and Mammoth Hot Springs
So we have made it to day 2 of our Yellowstone Itinerary! Most of the excitement in Yellowstone is definitely in the lower loop, so if you only have one day in your itinerary, I’d recommend spending it there.
The upper loop has more scenic views and lots of Buffalo! You will also be driving through elevations over 8,000 FT, which is pretty cool if you ask me!
To give you an idea of how long it took to do the upper loop; we got into Yellowstone at 8:30 am, arrived at Lamar Valley around 10 am, and then left Mammoth Hot Springs around 12:30 – 1 pm.
Again we started from the West Gate and headed East, back towards Canyon Village. From there, we drove up the right side of the Upper Loop to Lamar Valley. The best wildlife spottings are generally known to be in the morning or late afternoon so we got into the park by around 8 am.
Update: The east side of the Grand Loop is currently closed as of July 2021. This is the road we took to Lamar Valley coming from the West Gate. Depending on where you are coming from, it could take a longer time to get to Lamar Valley. Double-check to see if the road has reopened. Please see the map below for reference.
The views of Lamar’s Valley are incredibly picturesque. The East side of the Upper Loop also has better chances for Black bears and bighorn sheep spottings!
Once we got to Lamar Valley, we saw a crazy amount of Buffalo in the distance, I mean herds!
I am a huge animal lover/ photographer, so driving all the way to Lamar Valley was very worth it to me, however, if you feel fulfilled with the amount of wildlife you have seen, you can consider skipping Lamar Valley.
If Lamar Valley is too far, consider checking out Tower Fall (near Tower Junction), a 132 ft waterfall and Calcite springs overlook.
Mammoth Hot Springs
After, watching the buffalo play, we headed back to Mammoth Hot Springs, another very popular feature of Yellowstone National Park. Again, this is one I would definitely add to my Yellowstone itinerary because it’s really unique!
The area itself is like a little town. You can go to the Albright visitors center, see the Mammoth Chapel, Fort Yellowstone, and of course, the springs!
The terraces of the spring look like the inside of a cave. The only difficult part is trying to find parking here, but it’s worth it!
If you still have time left, also consider swimming at Boiling River, a Hydrothermal swimming hole. The Boiling River is a hot spring that flows into the cold river water, one of the very few places you are actually allowed to swim.
Boiling River opens after the snowmelt floods which happen in spring. Therefore, Summer is the best time to go but always double-check to make sure it’s open before driving all the way there.
Elk in front of the Albright Visitors Center
How To Get To Yellowstone
Depending on where you live, getting to Yellowstone can be a little tricky. Coming from New York, it was easiest to fly into Bozeman, Montana (BZN).
Other options are Cody, Wyoming(COD), Billings, Montana(BIL), and Jackson, Wyoming(JAC). There is also a limited seasonal service to West Yellowstone, Montana(WYS).
We headed to Bozeman from the West Gates after our visit to Yellowstone National Park, so it made the most sense for us.
Yellowstone Entrance Costs
Visiting Yellowstone National Park comes with a small price tag. It costs $35 USD per private vehicle for a 7-day pass. This does not include driving through Grand Teton. Tickets can be given upon entrance.
If you plan on visiting more often, you can also get an annual pass for $70 USD. However, for 80 USD you can get the America the Beautiful pass which will allow you entrance into all national parks and federal recreational land.
America the Beautiful passes can be purchased here, or at your local REI.
Where to Stay in Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone has lodges inside the park including Old Faithful Inn, Canyon Lodge and Cabins, and Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Cottages. All Yellowstone Lodging can be booked directly of Yellowstone’s Official Website.
If you are planning to stay in Yellowstone National Park, you should look into booking your accommodations a year out. Especially now more than ever, National Park vacations have been at an all-time high, so accommodations are limited.
Alternatively, you can also camp inside the park. Use Yellowstone’s official website for campgrounds and RV lots!
Staying in West Yellowstone
Rather stay outside of Yellowstone National Park? There are tons of hotels and Airbnb’s that surround the park. Again, these go quickly, so you will want to book your stay ASAP since there has been such an uptick in National Park visits.
We came from Bozeman, Montana, so we decided to stay in West Yellowstone in Montana.
The town is really cute with tons of places to eat and just about 5-10 minutes from the West Yellowstone Gate Entrance. This gate is also closest to most of Yellowstone’s main attractions, which makes this one of the best and most popular areas to stay in.
Some lodges to consider in West Yellowstone include:
Crosswinds Inn is one Booking(dot)com’s top picks with over 1.5k reviews! The lodge features a pool, complimentary breakfast, located .9 miles from the West Yellowstone Entrance, and just 30 minutes from Old Faithful! As a bonus, they are also pet-friendly.
Kelly Inn West Yellowstone is another top-rated hotel located in West Yellowstone. This hotel offers complimentary breakfast, an indoor pool, a hot tub, and a sauna. Kelly Inn is also pet-friendly and just a 3-minute drive from the Yellowstone entrance!
Best Western Weston Inn is located .9 miles from the West Yellowstone entrance, has a pool and hot tub, complimentary breakfast, and pet-friendly.
Alternatively, you can consider staying in Gardiner, Montana. It is located North of Mammoth Springs and a good option if you are coming from Glacier National Park. View available lodging at: Booking.com | Hotels.com
Additionally, if you have planned to do a whole West Coast National Park road trip through Yellowstone to Grand Teton National Park, you might also want to look in Jackson Hole for additional accommodation.
2 Days Yellowstone National Park Itinerary Wrap-up
Well, that was a mouthful, but I hope this itinerary helps you plan your perfect trip to Yellowstone! Of course, with just 2 days you won’t be able to see EVERYTHING, but as you can tell, 2 days is more than enough to get an idea of the park!
If tours happen to be your jam, check out Get Your Guide Yellowstone options.
Additionally, you can find more Yellowstone guides and itineraries on this Wyoming travel page.