Are you looking for a Yellowstone itinerary for 3 or fewer days? If you want to make the most out of a short three-day trip to the park, this 3-day itinerary for Yellowstone National Park is for you!
Our family visited Yellowstone during a three-week-long road trip to Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado. We only had a few days in Yellowstone, so we wanted to make the most of it. We couldn't decide between visiting Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Park, but Yellowstone is so unique, it won out.
A trip to Yellowstone National Park vacation is a dream trip for families. As America's (and the world's) first national park, it is quite a special place.
It's A Great National Park for Kids
Yellowstone is a fascinating park, with entrances coming from several neighboring states. It's a great lesson in science for kids, with a range of terrain, inhabitants, and natural phenomena not commonly seen in most parts of the United States.
In fact, Yellowstone itself is a volcano, and you can see many vents and geothermal activities happening before your very eyes. It is one of the best national parks to visit with kids.
From the animals in the Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley to the Old Faithful Geiser, the Grand Prismatic Spring to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone National Park, it could take weeks to explore Yellowstone in its entirety. I recommend at least giving yourself a few days in Yellowstone to maximize your Yellowstone trip.
But, not to worry. There are so many fun things to do at Yellowstone that this three-day Yellowstone itinerary is just what you need.
You will get the best tips for visiting Yellowstone National Park, top things to do in the park, where to stay, and what to bring. And, it will help you maximize your time for each Yellowstone day.
This post contains affiliate links which means I receive a commission at no cost to you if you make a purchase using this link. See my disclosures.
A note about reservations for Yellowstone National Park
No Reservations Required
Unlike some of the other National Parks (like Glacier National Park for instance,) Yellowstone National Park is not requiring advanced entrance reservations. But you can expect it to be crowded so you should plan to arrive early.
If you are camping or planning to stay inside the park at one of the lodges, you will need reservations for those. If you are staying near the West Entrance, there are several hotels outside the park.
Yellowstone National Park Entrance Fees
The single-car fee for seven consecutive days is $35. But if you have a National Park Pass (well worth it if you are visiting other National Parks or historic sites in the USA this year), you can get the annual pass for just $80.
Finally, if you have a 4th-grade student, you can enter the park for free with a special program by the National Park Service.
One final note about entrance fees. Guests coming into Yellowstone from the South entrance will be entering the park through Grand Teton National Park. There are two separate entrance fees you will have to pay (one for Grand Teton and one for Yellowstone.)
Why Visit Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park has gorgeous scenery that spans three states. There are plenty of great lookouts and viewpoints to take in the scenery.
It's a great escape from everyday life with views and wildlife experiences unlike any other place in the world. Sunrises and sunsets are magical here. It's one of the best places to take pictures of nature in the country.
The park is great for hikers at all experience levels, whether you're backcountry hiking, day hiking, or hiking with your family.
Yellowstone is perfectly situated in the United States near some amazing National Parks. So you can really make quite a vacation visiting quite a few areas.
In fact, a Pacific Northwest itinerary from Portland to Yellowstone is on my bucket list. This would hit some incredible parks and some of the country's most beautiful areas.
Towns like West Yellowstone offer an outdoor paradise with biking, rafting, camping, and more. There are many things to enjoy in the natural beauty of the area.
And there are unique excursions and activities that you can only do at Yellowstone, like mule trips and historic walking tours. Plus, you'll love the various historical sites such as Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District and museums spread throughout the park.
About Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone became America's first national park (and the first national park in the world) on March 1, 1872. It's 2.2 million acres spread across Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana.
When you plan your Yellowstone National Park itinerary, you will want to note where you want to come into the park. There are 5 entrances to Yellowstone National Park – North, Northeast, East, South Entrance, and West Entrance. Only one is open year-round (so note the time of year you plan your Yellowstone trip.)
- The North Entrance comes in from Gardiner, Montana and brings you into the park right near Mammoth Hot Springs. It is the only entrance open year round. The park headquarters and main visitor center is located here, but there are eight visitor centers in total (seven inside) at the park.
- The Northeast Entrance comes in from Cook City, Montana. This will bring you into the heart of the park's wildlife as you are close to Lamar Valley here. To get the best view of the wildlife, enter the park in the early morning when the animals are most active.
- West Yellowstone, a town in southeastern Montana, will bring you into the park on the West Entrance. We began our Yellowstone 3-day itinerary here. It brings you right into the Geyser area, and this is the best entrance to see Old Faithful, the historic Old Faithful Inn, the Lower Geyser Basin, the Norris Geyser Basin, and the Fountain Paint Pot Trail. The Grand Prismatic Spring. Yellowstone's largest hot spring is also in this area and one you definitely want to see on your 3-day itinerary for Yellowstone.
- The South Entrance is the one you want to note if your Yellowstone trip itinerary includes a trip before or afterward to Grand Teton National Park. You can enter the park this way if you are staying in Jackson, Wyoming.
- The East Entrance is nearest to Cody, Wyoming. This is the best entrance to visit Yellowstone Lake, if that is part of your 3 day Yellowstone itinerary.
Driving In Yellowstone
Yellowstone Grand Loop Road is the main thoroughfare through the park, and it runs in a figure 8 shape. It's 142 miles long, and it can take as long as 7 to 8 hours to complete if you drive the whole thing all at once.
The top part of the Grand Loop is called the Northern Loop or North Rim, and it includes:
- Upper Falls and Lower Falls
- Inspiration Point
- Grand View
- Artist Point
- Canyon Village
- Mammoth Hot Springs
- Roosevelt Arch
- Virginia Cascades
- Fire Exhibit
- Grand Canyon
- Lookout Point
- Lamar Valley
The bottom part of the Loop is called the Southern Loop or South Rim and includes:
- Grand Prismatic Spring
- Hayden Valley
- Mather Point
- Yavapai Museum of Geology
- The Trail of Time
- Hermit Road
- South Rim Trail
- Bright Angel Trail
- Indian Garden
- South Kaibab Trail
- Old Faithful
My Yellowstone itinerary for 3 days includes many of the most popular attractions, but as you can see, there are so many places to go that you won’t cover them all in just a few days.
Epic Things to Do in Yellowstone
Before we get to my Yellowstone trip itinerary, here are some of the best things to add to your Yellowstone Itinerary for 3 days.
Yellowstone is known for its unique hydrothermal features such as:
- Hot Springs
- Gysers and Geyser Basins
- Travertine Terraces
- Mud Pots
- Mud Volcano
- Steam Vents
The park has more than 10,000 thermal features that are the visible expression of the underlying magma storage and hot ground in the hydrothermal system below the surface.
Old Faithful is probably the most famous attraction in the whole park. But many other geysers, mud pots, steam vents, and fumaroles are popular sites too. And while you are visiting Old Faithful Geyser, be sure to check out the historic Old Faithful Inn as well.
FUN FACT: It is actually the structure that Disney's Wildnerness Lodge Resort at Walt Disney World is themed after!
The kids will love watching the various animals on your Yellowstone itinerary for 3 days. Some of the animals you may see include:
- Bears (including Grizzly Bears!)
And more. If you visit the Lamar Valley or Hayden Valley early in the morning, you will get the best opportunity to see the most animal sightings. Do be sure to leave extra driving time as many times cars get stuck for a while in Bison crossing the road traffic!
With more than 900 miles of hiking trails, it's no wonder why people visit the park just for hiking alone. Two things to remember are that:
- Many of Yellowstone's trails are over 700 feet above sea level.
- And, many places remain snow-covered until the end of May or early June.
This National Park website page has more information on the hikes in Yellowstone.
Horseback Riding or Mule or Llama Trips
There's no better way to experience the park than on a horse or mule. You'll find plenty of guided trips you can add to your Yellowstone itinerary for 3 days.
People are also allowed to bring their own horses to ride in the park, but you need to plan your trip carefully if you want to do this.
And unlike many other national parks, you can take mule or llama trips through the park. How neat would it be to ride on a mule, like in the old days? Let's be real: I'm sure no one you know has taken a llama trip in the park where the llamas carry your gear (hint, hint, bragging rights!)
Many families love camping in Yellowstone because of the beautiful scenery and many locations to stay, such as:
- Madison Campground
- Grant Village Campground
- Fishing Bridge RV Park
- Bridge Bay Campground
- Canyon Campground
Swimming in Yellowstone National Park
Many places in the park are closed to swimming because of the geothermal activity, but there is at least one place you can swim and soak in the hot springs.
Mr. Bubbles is located deep in the backcountry of Yellowstone, and it gets its name because of the pockets of air that an underwater fumarole releases. The scenery is unique here, too, with travertine towers streaked with green algae and bacteria.
*Note – Boiling River and the Firehole Swim Area used to be open to the public, but they are currently closed until further notice.
Boating is another great way to tour the park. The most popular ways are kayaking, canoeing, and riding in small boats. There is a ban on certain boats, so check this page for the regulations if you want to bring your own.
Yellowstone National Park Lodges provides boat rentals and guided boat trips at the Bridge Bay Marina on Yellowstone Lake. Other companies offer guided boat, kayak, and canoe tours.
Fishing in Yellowstone National Park
Fishing is one of the most popular attractions in the park and has been for a century. While the park's main purpose is to preserve natural environments, fishing can help support this cause.
Fishers 16 years and older must have a valid Yellowstone National Park fishing permit to fish in the park. You can do flyfishing in the Yellowstone River.
Become a Junior Ranger
Becoming a Junior Ranger is one of the most fun things to do in Yellowstone for children. The program introduces kids to the various natural wonders in the park.
To become a Junior Ranger, kids must complete activities in the workbook, attend a ranger-led program, and hike on a park boardwalk or trail.
Historic Walking Tours at Fort Yellowstone
The historic walking tours at Fort Yellowstone are one of the activities that set Yellowstone apart from other national parks.
The West Yellowstone Historic Walking Tour is a self-guided tour that leads you through the town. You get to explore the historic sites along the way.
Areas of interest include the Forest Service Cabins, Buffalo Roam Statues, Smith & Chandler, Oregon Short Line Terminus District, and the Madison Hotel.
Tips For Visiting Yellowstone National Park
Maximizing Your Time
- Get to the park early to avoid the crowds – The park is the most crowded at peak times – 10 AM to 6 PM. It will be hard to find a parking spot in the parking lot for many of the attractions, and you could get caught in a traffic jam, so the earlier you visit the park, the better. The park also does NOT require advanced entrance reservations, so plan for extra crowds.
- Get to Larmar or Hayden Valley to see the animals before 8 AM.
- If you only have one day, be sure to follow the one-day itinerary. If you have a few days, pick a theme for each one. Like, day one could be the geothermal features, and day 2 could be hiking and animal watching, etc.
- Stay a safe distance from animals. Remember, they are wild. Try to keep your kids at least 100 yards from bears and wolves and 25 yards from other animals. While it is tempting to get close to take a picture, the animals can and will charge and you risk injury by not keeping your distance.
- Drive Safely near the animals and drive slowly.
- Bring bear spray with you. There are bears in the park, and you should have this if you plan to do any camping or hiking.
- Stay on the pathways. If you are near any of the geothermal features, be careful and be sure to stay on the boardwalks.
Take Time To Enjoy The Park
- Be sure to take plenty of time for hiking, fishing, horseback riding, etc., if you have a few days. People tend to rush through without truly taking time to enjoy the outdoor activities the park has to offer. And remember some of the lookout stops along the way.
- If you're visiting for 2 or 3 days, make sure you take your time to capture the beauty of Yellowstone by taking photos, drawing pictures, etc.
- Be sure to stop at a National Park Service to get the kids Junior Ranger kits and booklets.
- Download the Yellowstone National Park App – It provides a lot of helpful information about the park. It will also give you the predicted times for Old Faithful's next eruption although you should be prepared to wait. Google maps and paper maps can be very helpful too.
What You Need to Know Before You Visit Yellowstone
Here are some things you need to know before visiting Yellowstone Park.
For lodge and campground reservations, see the information on this National Park Service page. It also has information on recreational permits for fishing, boating, special use permits, and backcountry camping.
National Park Entrance Fee
The entrance fees fund critical park projects that help protect the natural resources and improve the various park services. There are free entrance days throughout the year.
You can purchase a 7-day pass for $35 for each private vehicle. There's also a Yellowstone National Park Annual Pass that you can purchase for $70.
If you visit national parks throughout the year, an America the Beautiful Pass is the most cost-effective option. It covers entrance fees to U.S. Fish and Wildlife and National Park Service sites. The annual pass is $80.
The Annual Senior Pass is $20, and the Annual Military Pass is free.
There are plenty of lodging options inside and near the park, but you need to make reservations ahead of time. The popular places to stay like Canyon Lodge and Cabins and Old Faithful Inn fill up fast, especially during peak times.
As there are plenty of things to do near Yellowstone, too, so many people stay outside the park.
Road Trip Food
While there are a few places to eat inside the park, consider bringing your own road trip food and snacks.
Map of Yellowstone National Park
The Best of Yellowstone Itinerary in 3 Days
Now, let's get you into Yellowstone National Park! Here is a detailed 3 days in Yellowstone Itinerary designed to help you maximize your time.
These days can certainly be changed up. And if you are only needing a Yellowstone 1 day itinerary or if you need longer like a Yellowstone 4 or 5 day itinerary, you can certainly modify this. But my itinerary is intended to help you see as much as possible that this incredible national park has to offer on your Yellowstone trip.
Yellowstone Itinerary 1 Day
- Visit Old Faithful, Old Faithful Lodge, Geysers and Hot Springs
- Grand Prismatic Spring
- Fairy Falls
- Fountain Paint Pots
- Gibbon Falls
- Norris Geyser Basin (there are two trails: Porcelain Basin and Back Basin)
- West Thumb Geyser Basin
Old Faithful Lodge Area
Day 1 can be the day you tour the hot springs geysers like Old Faithful -the famous geyser everyone has heard of. It is a predictable geyser that erupts regularly like Grand Geyser.
This parking lot is very busy and in fact, you will see tour buses in this area. If you get there and there is a gathered crowd, you can expect Old Faithful might erupt soon (plus you can check the app for estimated times.)
There are others in Yellowstone that aren't predictable, like Steamboat Geyser and Excelsior Geyser. But the Old Faithful Geyser is more generally predictable, at least near an estimated time.
PRO TIP: If the area around Old Faithful is empty, it's a signal that it recently erupted and you may have some time to wait until the next one. The area is generally pretty crowded close to eruption time.
Old Faithful Inn
This is a good time to take a peek inside Old Faithful Inn, walk around the area, or stop in the visitor's center. This inn is a National Historic Landmark and definitely worth a visit.
Additional Geysers and Hot Springs
The Yellowstone National Park App will let you know an approximate geyser eruption time. But you could wait an hour or more.
If the Old Faithful geyser isn't erupting hot water for a while, at least visit Upper Geyser Basin Yellowstone. And you can also see the Morning Glory Pool about 1.5 miles from Old Faithful.
Morning Glory Pool is located near the Black Sand Basin, named after the obsidian sand there. It's one of the most colorful areas in the park.
Grand Prismatic Spring and Fairy Falls
The Grand Prismatic Overlook is spectacular and is located about 6 miles north of the Old Faithful area. You can access it off Fairy Falls Trail.
This is where you will get an amazing view of one of the most photographed geothermal features in Yellowstone, the Grand Prismatic Spring. Its fascinating due to the rainbow of colors (which come from bacteria living on it) and it is the third-largest spring in the world. It is well worth the stop!
The parking lot for the Grand Prismatic Overlook is very small. It is recommended you park at the Fairy Falls parking lot, about a mile from the Midway Geyser Basin, and walk about .6-.8miles to see the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook.
Midway Geyser Basin
If you have more than 3 days to spend in the park, consider exploring more of the Midway Geyser Basin on this day. Midway Geyser Basin is where Excelsior Geyser is located as well as Firehole River and Grand Prismatic Spring.
Fountain Paint Pots
You can then stop at Fountain Paint Pots or other mud spots, boomer rolls, and geysers. Fountain Paint Pots is worth a visit as it showcases Yellowstone's still active volcano with bubbling brown, grey and pink mud pots. This is an active hydrothermal area, so be careful and walk only on the boardwalk.
After this stop, you can stop at Gibbon Falls, a roadside waterfall with beautiful park views.
Norris Geyser Basin
The Norris Geyser Basin is worth visiting as it is the hottest and oldest of Yellowstone's hydrothermal features, and it is very dynamic.
The Porcelain Basin is more barren but with a lot of colors and smells and sounds to take in. The Back Basin is wooded, with features scattered throughout. Both trails are .75 mile and 1.5 miles respectively, with boardwalks to walk around.
West Thumb Geyser Basin
The West Thumb Geyser Basin is located on the shores of Yellowstone Lake. It is considered one of the most beautiful on this side of the park and is a bit lest crowded than the many other geyser basins or even Fountain Paint Pots. There is a .6-mile boardwalk you can walk around for a leisurely stroll.
Yellowstone Itinerary 2 Days
- Start your day in Lamar Valley (before 8 AM) to see the animals
- Stop by Undine Falls
- Mammoth Hot Springs
- Mammoth Hot Springs Village and Historic District
- Boiling River – If you have time
- Tower Roosevelt Area
- The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone National Park and Canyon Village
- Artist Point
There are several places to visit in a 2-day Yellowstone itinerary. Begin your day early, before 8 AM, to see some of Yellowstone's inhabitants like buffalo, elk, possibly wolves, and bears to name a few.
Drive slowly, and do not approach the animals from outside your car. You may get stuck in a four-legged traffic jam, so bring your patience and your camera.
On your way toward Mammoth Hot Springs, stop to see Undine Falls, which is over a 60-foot roadside waterfall into Lava Creek. There is also a 1.8-mile easy trail out and back, but if you don't want to do that, you can see the falls from the road.
Mammoth Springs Area
The Mammoth Springs is one of the highlights of this day, and you can visit the Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District which includes Fort Yellowstone. The fort includes 35 buildings from the 1890s to the early 1900s. If you have time, see Boiling River
Another place to visit, Tower Roosevelt, is the 132-foot drop that's framed by volcanic pinnacles. Artist Thomas Moran's famous painting of Tower Roosevelt was vital in establishing Yellowstone as a national park in 1872.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone National Park
You will then want to see the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone National Park. This is a great opportunity to take some photos of this spectacular natural occurrence that the Yellowstone River created. There are a few walks and lookouts from which you can view the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone National Park, but do check the app as some of the trails may be closed.
There are also some hikes around the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone National Park.
You can also stop in Canyon Village here, which includes a visitor's center and a place to get food. If you are in this area during dinner time, this is a good place to stop.
Finally, you can stop at Artist Point afterward, which is one of the marquees that overlooks the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Here you will see the impressive 308-foot waterfall into the Yellowstone River.
Yellowstone Itinerary 3 Days
- Visit Yellowstone’s Lakes and Valleys
- Start in Hayden Valley Before 8:30 to See the Animals
- Mud Volcano
- Yellowstone Lake
- Anything You Missed in the Lower Loop
When you start day 3 of your Yellowstone itinerary, start in Hayden Valley as early as possible, so you have a better chance of seeing the animals. The nice thing about having 3 days in Yellowstone is you have more time to spend looking for animals. This is good, because you may find yourself stuck in a buffalo traffic jam!
You will also want to stop and see the Mud Volcano afterward on your way to enjoy the valleys and lakes of Yellowstone like Lake Yellowstone. Mud Volcano is one of the most popular geothermal features in Yellowstone.
It is a short .6-mile trail with boardwalks that go over the bubbling mud pots and stinky sulfur vents. The swirls of greys and blacks are a spectacular sight. The Mud Volcano Area also has great views of the Hayden Valley.
Other Highlights of Yellowstone
If you are interested in seeing some of the other highlights of Yellowstone, make sure to add it to your list for day 3. You can also take the opportunity to go on some of the hikes you may have missed in the lower loop like Inspiration Point or Uncle Tom's Trail.
Then head towards Yellowstone Lake to enjoy a boating activity or picnic lunch along the lake. Other things to do at Yellowstone Lake are fishing, swimming, or taking a ranger-led kayak tour.
End your day 3 of the Yellowstone itinerary by visiting anything you may have missed in the lower loop. You could also choose to spend more time in an area that you really enjoyed and explore it more.
There are plenty of things to do at Yellowstone, so you won't be bored! If you have time, stop and see anything you missed in the Lower Loop before heading back out of the park.
When To Visit Yellowstone
The best time to visit Yellowstone National Park is between late April to May or September to early October. The weather is milder, there are fewer crowds, and you can still see the animals.
Keep in mind that some roads and trails may be closed, so check the road and trail conditions before you go. The Yellowstone app is also great for keeping up with what is open and closed.
What To Pack For A 3 Day Yellowstone Itinerary
- Phone/Portable Phone Charger
- Water bottle
- Bear horn or bear spray
- Hiking boots
- First Aid Kit
- Hiking Poles (optional)
- Rain Jacket
- Thermal Layers
- Check the weather before you go so you know what to pack for your trip. You can find the current conditions and forecast on the Yellowstone app or website.
Where To Stay in Yellowstone
There are plenty of lodging options in Yellowstone National Park, but some of the most popular are:
- A National Historic Landmark: The Old Faithful Inn
- Old Faithful Snow Lodge
- The Old Faithful Lodge Cabins
- Lake Lodge Cabins at Yellowstone Lake
- Canyon Lodge and Cabins in Canyon Village
- Grant Village at Yellowstone Lake
- Roosevelt Lodge Cabins
- Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins
You can also camp at the parks and campgrounds I listed above.
How To Get to Yellowstone
One of the most popular ways to get to the park is to fly into a nearby airport. The two closest airports to Yellowstone are Bozeman and Jackson Hole.
The easiest airport to get to Yellowstone National Park from is Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport. Allow two hours to drive from Bozeman Airport to Yellowstone, depending on the weather, traffic, and which park entrance you're using.
You can also fly into the Yellowstone Regional Airport, that's just two miles away from the park, or Jackson Hole Airport, that's located 45 miles from the park.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you see Yellowstone in 3 days?
Since Yellowstone is so big, you definitely won't be able to see the entire park in three days. However, you can see many of the most popular attractions in 2 to 3 days if you can't take a 4-day or longer Yellowstone vacation.
My Yellowstone Itinerary for 3 days includes some of the park's highlights that you don't want to miss.
How can I tackle Yellowstone in 3 days?
My Yellowstone Itinerary for 3 days can help you tackle Yellowstone in just a few days. Your best strategy is to choose one loop to focus on for your 3-day trip. You can focus on the majority of either the North or South Rim and fill in the areas you missed on your last day.
How many days do you need at Yellowstone?
You should try to spend at least 2 – 3 days in Yellowstone but the longer you can stay, the better as you'll be able to hit more attractions. You could visit Yellowstone for 1 day, in which case I would stick to day 1 of this 3 days in Yellowstone itinerary.
If you only have 1 day, I would highly recommend seeing the Old Faithful Geyser as one of the priorities on this day. If you want to catch a few highlights, I would recommend Old Faithful Geyser, Grand Prismatic Spring, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and if possible, a drive through Lamar Valley in case you can spot a few animals.
How long does it take to drive the loop in Yellowstone National Park?
Depending on the time of year, it takes 4 to 8 hours to drive the loop from start to finish, without stops
Final Thoughts on Yellowstone Itinerary in 3 Days
Now you have a 3 day Yellowstone itinerary to help you maximize your visit to this beloved National Park. You can still see plenty of Yellowstone National Park in only a few days, and you can definitely visit some of the most popular spots in the park.
From scenic drives to hiking the backcountry to visiting the park's famous Old Faithful Geyser and geothermal features to its own Grand Canyon not to mention its wildlife spotting opportunities – there's so much to do in a trip to Yellowstone National Park in 3 days. It's an epic outdoor adventure your whole family will love.
If you are planning a longer road trip in this area, I highly recommend continuing on to Grand Teton National Park or Glacier National Park from Yellowstone.
It will be a memorable trip your kids will love!
Like This Post? You Might Also Like These
If you're looking for other great places to hike and ski, check out these other articles on the best places to go hiking with your family:
National Parks With Kids
Road Trips With Kids
Other Family Adventures