Welcome back, everyone! If you are looking for a weekend getaway in the great outdoors, I would highly recommend visiting Yellowstone National Park! I have put together a 3-day itinerary to serve as an easy guide to hit all the must-sees.
Yellowstone National Park is located in the Northwestern United States. It is largely in Wyoming but stretches into Idaho and Montana, as well. It covers a whopping 3,400 square miles leaving much to be explored! Yellowstone has a wide variety of natural beauty, including massive waterfalls, long rolling hills as far as the eye can see, big plains, rivers, and of course is most famous for its geysers.
When to go and how to get there
The best time to visit Yellowstone National Park is in the summer months when it’s warmer and everything is green. With this gorgeous weather it can be very busy in the summer with everyone wanting to see this beautiful time of year, so keep that in mind when deciding when to go. The temperatures in the summer are a balmy 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit, but can dip to the 40’s and 50’s at night.
The rest of the year the park is absolutely beautiful, with snowy mountains and crisp clear blue skies, but you’ll have to bring much warmer clothes and camping might be a little trickier. The altitude will play a big part in the weather, as the weather in the park can change drastically from section to section.
We opted to go in the fall thinking that the crowds might be less and it wouldn’t be too cold yet. We definitely had to bundle up, but it was great weather and we dodged the summer crowds a bit. All of the roads were still open so we still got to maneuver around the park easily as the snow hadn’t posed travel problems yet.
You can get to and enter Yellowstone National Park in 6 different locations depending on where you are coming from. There are entrances to the north, south, east, and west making it easy to fly into Wyoming, Idaho, or Montana. My brother and I flew into Jackson, WY and our drive to the park from the airport was a little under 2 hours and the drive was gorgeous.
You could stay weeks in this park and still not see everything, but in three days you can certainly see the highlights and get a feel for the vastness and the stunning beauty of the park. I would recommend downloading the Yellowstone National Park app to help navigate through the park.
Day 1: Old Faithful and the Geysers
If you’ve heard of Yellowstone you have probably heard of Old Faithful. Old Faithful is the most famous geyser in the United States and gets its name by being, you guessed it, faithful. It has erupted every two hours or less for the last 20 years! Talk about reliability.
It’s nothing like I have ever seen before. Boiling water shoots approximately 150ft into the air and continues for 2-5 minutes. We went there on our own accord, but if you’re looking for a tour, BrushBuck Tours is a top-notch company.
We had a late lunch at Old Faithful Dining Room, which is located right by the geyser along with The Old Faithful Inn if you’re interested in dozing off to the serene sounds of the geyser.
After we completed this trail we headed to Grand Prismatic, which is the largest hot spring in the United States. The craziest thing about this spring is that it is full of unique minerals and bacteria making the colors unlike anything you have ever seen. The middle is a vivid turquoise and the edge of the spring is an array of different shades of yellow. This is one of the most picturesque places on the trip, so make sure you check out my post on how to take aesthetic photos before you go.
We got there towards the end of the day and parking was no problem. There are long boardwalks that take you right out to the edge. It was hot and steamy against the chilly October air and very dramatic. To see the colors pop the most, I would recommend going around mid-day.
After a long first day, we headed for the hotel. I will admit, we splurged a bit on our accommodation, but sometimes you have to! We stayed at the Explorer Cabins which were stand-alone cabins in the woods. The cabins were rustic, but it felt perfect for where we were. I always try to get a feel for the local vibes as much as possible.
Day 2: Mammoth Spring, Boiling River, and Lamar Valley
We had a leisurely morning and breakfast at our quaint cabin in the woods before heading off for our day-two explorations. Our first stop was Mammoth Spring, which was about an hour’s drive. Mammoth Spring is a complex of hot springs on the side of a big hill that was formed over thousands of years. It looks like pools spilling into pools. This is from the calcium carbonate from the hot springs cooling and becoming hardened. Fun fact: the hot water at Mammoth Spring comes from Norris Geyser Basin traveling underground to get there!
Mammoth Spring is a very unique sight and completely worth the visit. After spending a couple of hours taking in the sights we headed just a short distance down the road to Boiling River. This is a great mid-day stop to get some swimming in. This swimming hole is off the beaten path a bit which makes it less crowded and very relaxing.
The swimming spot is a bit of a walk from the parking lot, but it’s always nice to park and explore. The river is a mix of The Gardner river and run-off from Mammoth Springs making it a perfect mix of hot and cold. Despite the chilly fall weather, we jumped in anyway and had a nice warm swim.
For lunch, we headed back to the Mammoth Spring Dining Room, as it was the closest spot around for a quick bite. The food is nothing too special, but it’s a perfect, easy spot for lunch.
Our next adventure for the day was Lamar Valley. We were told the best wildlife sighting for Lamar Valley would be early in the morning or around dusk as that’s when the animals are most active. It was about an hour down the road from Mammoth Spring. We arrived around 330 which was perfect to get ourselves into a good spot for wildlife viewing. You’ll take a gorgeous drive on Grand Loop Road to get there.
Lamar Valley is like the Serengeti of The United States with its large plains and rolling hills in the valley. The Lamar River runs through it providing the water needed for the extensive wildlife. Here, if you’re lucky you can see wolves, bears, bison, hundreds of species of birds, deer, and coyotes.
You can keep driving and spot wildlife as you go or you can stop at one of the many gorgeous viewpoints and watch the animals graze. We saw hundreds of bison, a bald eagle, and some deer; we weren’t lucky enough for a wolf, but the bison were stunning massive creatures. This was truly an amazing sight as there is so much wildlife unafraid of the passing humans. A must for your 3-day itinerary.
We stayed in the area until the sun started to set in the valley and then made our way to our accommodations for the evening. We booked a room at Crevice Mountain Lodge, which was a rustic bed and breakfast and old hunting lodge. It was family-style meals and there were campfire hangouts at night. It was exactly what we were looking for to get a feel for life in Yellowstone.
Day 3: The Grand Canyon in Yellowstone and Hayden Valley
Crevice Mountain Lodge was a bit out of the way, but we didn’t mind. All of the attractions we had planned for day 3 were about an hour and a half south, but the drive was gorgeous, as you can imagine. Our first stop was the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone which is a deep crevice with the Yellowstone River running through it. The walls of the canyon have geothermal features making it a unique sight.
There are two steep falls called the Upper falls and the Lower Falls. You can see each of these with viewpoints above looking down in the canyon. You can hike in on Uncle Tom’s Point Trail to get to the Lower Falls. It’s about a half a mile trail and when we hiked it the trail was open but very muddy; be careful! The water is rushing so fast and powerfully against geothermal rocks formed over hundreds of thousands of years. The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is worth seeing!
For our next stop, we headed to Hayden Valley just down the road. Hayden Valley is an old lakebed that is now a grassy flatland. We didn’t spend a lot of time in the valley but enjoyed the stunning views while driving by. Some wildlife can be seen here, but it is also known for its mud volcanoes which bubble up like geothermal springs through the mud.
We finished our day at Yellowstone Lake which is the largest body of water in Yellowstone National Park. We stopped at yet another one of the favorite dining halls of Yellowstone: Yellowstone Lake Dining Hall. We sat and enjoyed our last meal in the park while overlooking the beautiful lake.
While we only had three short days in Yellowstone, I feel like we made the most of it exploring the top sights and staying at some cool lodging. My recommendation is to plan out exactly what you want to see on a short trip so that you don’t miss anything. Pro tip: I also always ask other tourists if they can recommend anything too. If you’re looking for other short trips in the United States check out my 4-day New Orleans itinerary! Talk to you guys after my next trip!