Yellowstone 2 Day Itinerary: A Complete Guide

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Yellowstone National Park is the epitome of the Western United States- sweeping mountain landscapes, fields of free roaming bison, and epic adventure waiting for you around every turn.  But with a footprint of almost 3,500 square miles, it can be challenging to know where to start- especially if you only have two days to explore all the park has to offer.

After completing my second stay in the park this summer on a road trip around the Western United States, I’ve crafted the perfect Yellowstone 2 day itinerary. This guide covers it all, from where to stay, what to pack, and the not-to-be-missed sites.

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Table of Contents


What is Yellowstone National Park?

If you’re a U.S. National Park nerd like my husband, Justin, and me, Yellowstone is kind of a special place. It was the very first national park, founded on March 1, 1872 by Ulysess S. Grant!

The park, which sprawls across parts of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, is the sixth most visited one in the beloved National Park System, surely due, in part, to the plentiful geysers (over half of the geysers on the planet call Yellowstone home!), eye-poppingly colorful hot springs, and wildlife galore.

The park’s location on top of the Yellowstone Caldera, North America’s largest supervolcano, is the reason for the park’s approximately ten THOUSAND geothermal features, like the world-famous Old Faithful or the Grand Prismatic Spring. 

Hot spring with a mountain in the background in Yellowstone National Park

If I had to take a guess as to why Yellowstone is so popular, it would likely be because of how family-friendly it is. Most of the park’s attractions are accessible via trails along flat, wooden boardwalks that are usually under two miles roundtrip, making this the perfect place for everyone, regardless of your hiking ability.

How to Get to Yellowstone National Park

Note: Since Yellowstone is HUGE. Accordingly, the distances noted in this post, unless otherwise noted, will be based on mileage to the Canyon Visitor Education Center, the visitor center located near the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, one of the park’s most popular attractions and centrally located(ish) in the park.

Unfortunately, Yellowstone National Park isn’t easily accessible from any major airports.

For most travelers, flying into Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport in Bozeman, Montana, will be your best bet, given its proximity to the park (129 miles away) and its relative size as compared to the rest of the park.

Woman spinning in the road with the Grand Teton Mountains in the background in Grand Teton National Park

Alternatively, if you plan on tacking your trip to Yellowstone on to your Grand Teton itinerary, flying into Jackson Hole Airport (the only U.S. airport that’s actually inside of a national park!) is probably your best bet (driving distance: 107 miles).

If you’re flying in, you’ll need to rent a car to get around the park as, unlike some other national parks, there is no centralized shuttle system.

When to Visit Yellowstone

The best time to visit Yellowstone is May through October, with July and August being the busiest months (and the best months for comfortable camping weather).

If it’s wildlife viewing you’re after, I’d recommend heading there in September or October, when animals, who generally seek refuge in the higher elevations of the park during the hotter summer months, return to the park’s meadows and valleys to plump up before winter.

Green mountains and valley with a river running through it in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone usually has rather extreme winters, getting upwards of ten feet of snow in some areas of the park annually. That being said, if you don’t mind treacherous road conditions and freezing temperatures, this is certainly a great time to have the park all to yourself!

Yellowstone National Park 2 Day Itinerary

My favorite aspect of Yellowstone is how diverse it is. From alpine meadows, to technicolor hot springs, steaming geysers, and jaw dropping waterfalls, Yellowstone truly has it all!

A trip to Yellowstone can definitely be customized to your interests, whether you’re a solo traveler or a family, have a mobility problem or are an experienced hiker. Accordingly, I’m suggesting a possible two-day itinerary, with optional add-ons and activities between the park’s main attractions.

Day 1

1. Old Faithful

Start the day off bright and early at the world’s most famous geyser- Old Faithful! Given that this is hands-down the most popular spot in the park, it’s great to visit during the more calm and quiet morning hours. 

Old Faithful exploding in Yellowstone National Park

This geyser has been “faithfully” erupting approximately every 92 minutes for several decades, making it easy to catch her in action. Since the predicted eruption times vary per day, you can check when you should visit Old Faithful during your visit at Geyser Times

There are three options for viewing Old Faithful:

  • you can sit on the benches along a 0.7 mile wooden boardwalk loop around the geyser;
  • you can make the 1.6 mile roundtrip hike to the Old Faithful Observation Point, taking you some 250 feet above the geyser (and the boardwalk’s crowds); or
  • if you happen to go a bit later in the day, you can snag a seat on the patio at the Old Faithful Inn Dining Room to watch the eruptions, cold beer in hand!

2. Upper Geyser Basin

Keep walking past Old Faithful’s boardwalk to explore the rest of its geyser basin and the world’s largest single concentration of hot springs, the Upper Geyser Basin. There’s over 150 geysers in this one square mile area so truthfully, if you wanted to hit them all, you could easily spend all day moseying around here.

Hot spring in the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park

But if you’re looking for just the highlights here, I’d recommend walking the 2.8 mile roundtrip wheelchair accessible trail to arguably one of the most stunning sites in the park, the Morning Glory Pool, a stunning brilliantly blue-colored hot spring. Along the way, you’ll get to see many of the highlights of the Upper Geyser Basin, including Geyser Hill, Grand Geyser, and Riverside Geyser areas in about a leisurely two hour hike.

3. Grand Prismatic Spring

Next up, make the 6.5 mile drive to one of the coolest spots I’ve ever laid eyes on (and the main reason I wanted to visit Yellowstone in the first place)- the Grand Prismatic Spring, a vibrantly-colored hot spring of blue, orange, and yellow, spanning a massive area larger than a football field. It’s so large, in fact, that it’s the biggest hot spring in the United States and third largest in the entire world!

Woman looking at the Grand Prismatic Spring along the Fairy Falls Trail in Yellowstone National Park

The spring is named after its rainbow colors, which it gets from different species of heat-loving bacteria living in the progressively cooler water around the spring.  You can enjoy the spring by walking on top and over it, via more wooden boardwalks, or get an eagle’s eye view from above.

Grand Prismatic Spring Boardwalk

First up- the 0.8 mile flat boardwalk over the spring.

Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park

While this walking path can get pretty crowded by midday, I’d actually suggest trying to time your visit then, which can get pretty crowded, especially in the middle of the day. The spring is shrouded in a cloud of steam in the morning and the later afternoon, so, by visiting in the later morning through mid-afternoon (at which time, the steam “burns off”), you’ll have the best chance of seeing the spring in all of its technicolor glory (this is true for most of the springs in the park).

Given the popularity of this site, though, and the ridiculously tiny parking lot, you may have to wait about 15 minutes or so to find a parking spot.  In my opinion, it’s totally worth the wait- there’s no other way that you can get up close and personal to see the sights of this epic beauty.

Fairy Falls Trail

Next up, to see the springs from above, drive about a mile to the Fairy Falls trailhead. Although this parking lot is less ridiculously tiny than the Grand Prismatic Spring one, you may still be required to wait a bit before finding a spot.

The Grand Prismatic Spring from the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook Trail in Yellowstone National Park

From the parking lot, you’ll hike along a mostly flat gravel trail for about 0.6 miles, where the trail will split into a fork. Continue along the trail to the left for a strenuous climb uphill for the last 0.2 miles up to the viewpoint, where you’ll be afforded a jaw-dropping view of the spring.

Once you’ve managed to pick your jaw up off the ground, you can either return back to your car via the route you came or, if you’re up for more of a challenge, you can turn right at the viewing platform to continue along the Fairy Falls trail, to see one of the tallest waterfalls in Yellowstone (almost 200 feet!). Roundtrip, this will add an additional 3.3 miles to your hike.

While I would absolutely recommend doing both the boardwalk and the overlook, if you absolutely only have time to do one, I’d probably pick the overlook. It’s easier to appreciate the massive size and contrasting colors of the springs from above.

Hot springs along the Fairy Falls in Yellowstone National Park
Insider tip: If you REALLY hate crowds, I’d recommend considering stopping at Black Sand Basin as an alternative (or if you just can’t get enough hot springs, as an add-on) to the Grand Prismatic Spring immediately after your time exploring the Upper Geyser Basin. 

It’s sort of a hidden gem (if anything in Yellowstone can be considered one)- WAY less crowded, offers similar geothermal features, like the Rainbow Pool (albeit on a smaller scale), as the Grand Prismatic Spring, and offers some other points of interest, like colorful hot pots. The boardwalk is only about 0.5 miles long, so plan on budgeting about half an hour for this stop.

4. Mammoth Hot Springs

Make the hour-long drive north to Mammoth Hot Springs, one of the most unusual features in the park (I feel like I keep saying that, but IT’S TRUE. Yellowstone is wild, y’all!).

Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park

These step-like springs are made from travertine, a kind of limestone formed by calcium deposits. And, fun fact- Mammoth is actually home to the largest known calcium-depositing spring in the world.

Given that the minerals from these springs are continuously building the terraces, the landscape here is constantly changing.

Travertine terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park

There are two areas of Mammoth: the Upper Terraces and Lower Terraces. Each have their own wooden boardwalks, which are connected by staircases (walking both boardwalks will clock in at 1.75 miles). Note that, there are quite a bit of stairs between the two terraces, so if you have limited mobility or are dealing with a stroller, you may want to move your car between the two areas (which each have their own parking lots).

Insider tip: While Mammoth Hot Springs are quite a sight in and of themselves, keep your eyes peeled for some new elk friends in the nearby parking lots- they LOVE this area for some reason. 

5. Head back to your accommodations

Given the prevalence of wildlife on the road, I would advise against driving around Yellowstone too much after dark. So hit the hay, cuz we got a bright and early start tomorrow!

Day 2

1. Lamar Valley

If you’re a real go-getter, try to get a head start and catch the early morning hours in the Lamar Valley, about a one and a half hour drive from Gardiner.

Bison in the Hayden Valley in Yellowstone National Park

The Lamar Valley is easily the best place in the park to spot wildlife, like bison, elk, moose, and more elusive critters, like wolves and bears, which are usually only spotted around sunrise or sunset.

As noted above, I would advise against driving in Yellowstone in the dark (or at most, driving exceedingly slowly), as animals tend to use the park’s roadways to get around (animals- they’re just like us!). Many of them, especially bison, can REALLY be hard to see at night, with over 75 large animals struck and killed in the park every year by motorists.

Bison laying on the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park

Since Lamar Valley is a bit out of the way from many other attractions in the park, you may want to consider skipping this stop if you prefer exploring at a more leisurely pace (i.e., if you want to sleep in) or you’re visiting during a time of the year where the days are a bit shorter. 

2. Grand Canyon

Did you know that Yellowstone has its very own Grand Canyon, some 1,000 feet deep (like I said above, this park truly has it all!)? Along with the rugged and colorful canyon walls, which span 1,500 to 4,000 feet wide, the canyon is home to the tallest waterfall in the park, the 308-feet tall Lower Falls.

Lower Falls from Artist's Point in Yellowstone National Park

Brink of the Lower Falls Trail

The best way to explore this area is on foot through one of the many trails in the area- I’d recommend checking out the Brink of the Lower Falls trail, a steep 0.7 mile hike that will lead you to a point literally on top of the falls (you’ll literally get misted in the face as the water tumbles hundreds of feet into the canyon below!).

Artist’s Point

While the Brink of the Lower Falls will put you up close and personal with the falls, you won’t be able to see them in all their glory, so next up, head to Artist’s Point, one of the marquee overlooks over the canyon (about a mile from the falls). Once you hit this viewpoint, you’ll totally understand the name- it’s easily one of the most photographed spots in the park.

Woman sitting at Artist's Point at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park

Point Sublime Trail

If you want to keep taking in the views, continue walking along the Point Sublime trail, a flat, 2.7-mile roundtrip hike providing spectacular overlooks of the canyon below.

This trail is the epitome of the “it’s all about the journey, not the destination” cliche (read: while the views along the trail are great, the endpoint is slightly lackluster), so once you’ve had your fill, feel free to turn back at any point along the trail. 

3. Hayden Valley

Continue heading south to the Hayden Valley, the second best spot in the park to see wildlife. While sunset and sunrise are allegedly the best times to catch large mammals here, you shouldn’t have a problem spotting some regardless of the time of day you visit- both times I’ve been to Yellowstone, we’ve had “traffic jams” driving behind bison moseying down the road (ya know, as one does in Wyoming)!

Bison walking down the road in the Hayden Valley in Yellowstone National Park

There’s tons of pull-offs along the road that you can park at to take in the panoramic views of the valley and observe Yellowstone’s wildlife from a safe distance.

4. Mud Volcano Trail

Make a pit stop at the odoriferous Mud Volcano trail, which offers some boiling mud pots, a neat hot spring that spews steam and “growls” (fittingly called the “Dragon’s Mouth”), and some other features with fun names like “Churning Caldron” and “Black Dragon’s Cauldron.” While the springs here are less colorful than the ones on the western half of the park, they’re still unique and the 0.8-mile boardwalk is the perfect place to stretch your legs. 

5. Yellowstone Lake

Keep driving south, on the banks of Yellowstone Lake (with plenty of picnic spots with epic views on along the way). Yellowstone Lake is quite a sight in and of itself, spanning 136 square miles and also holding the title of the highest elevation lake in North America.

Man overlooking Yellowstone Lake with mountains in the background in Yellowstone National Park

6. West Thumb Geyser Basin

Eventually, end your day at West Thumb Geyser Basin, with bubbling mud pots and steaming hot springs. While it’s one of the smallest geyser basins in the park, it’s easily one of the most picturesque, with the lake and the far-off Rocky Mountains as the gorgeous backdrop.

Turquoise hot spring at the West Thumb Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park

Got more time in Yellowstone? Here’s some other ideas of things to see and do:

  • Take a one-mile hike along more colorful hot springs at the Artist Paintpots.
  • Hike the Dunraven Pass trail, a 6.8 mile out-and-back trail, where you have a good chance of spotting wildflowers and bighorn sheep and are afforded sweeping panoramic views from the top of Mount Washburn, one of the tallest peaks in Yellowstone.
  • Kayak or stand-up paddleboard around Yellowstone Lake (note that there are no rentals within the park, so you’ll need to rent one in the neighboring towns and obtain a permit from the Lewis Lake Ranger Station, Grant Village Visitor Center, Bridge Bay Marina and the Lake Ranger Station. It was too much of a hassle for us for our short stay, but the lake looks like it’s begging to be paddleboarding in!).
  • Take a rafting tour down the Yellowstone River in Gardiner.
  • Go for a (chilly) dip in the Firehole River Swim Area.
  • Take a 2.4 mile hike through a conifer forest to the 70-foot Mystic Falls.
Colorful hot spring in the West Thumb Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park

Is 2 Days Enough in Yellowstone National Park?

While I’m sure you could spend months exploring Yellowstone, two days is sufficient to see a LOT of the main highlights of the park. Thanks to most of the attractions being easily accessible via short and easy trails, it’s pretty easy to squeeze in most of the best things to do in Yellowstone National Park in just a 2 day itinerary.

That being said, depending on how long you want to stay at each stop and if you want to do any longer hikes along the way, you may have to cherry pick the sites that most interest you.

Where to Stay when Visiting Yellowstone

As noted above, Yellowstone is not particularly close to any major cities, so that leaves you with two options- either staying in the park itself or staying in the two closest towns to Yellowstone- Gardiner and West Yellowstone.

Given the remoteness and the popularity of the park, you should expect to pay higher than normal prices for accommodations here, unless you opt to camp.

Accommodations inside Yellowstone

If you’re looking to stay in the park, there are nine accommodations within the park (only two of which stay open in the wintertime), ranging from upscale hotels to rustic cabins and each with corresponding price points.

If you’re a budget traveler, one of the most affordable options is Roughrider Cabins at the Roosevelt Lodge– small, sparsely decorated cabins, heated only by a wood-burning stove and with shared bathrooms (starting at $125 for two adults per night).

Justin and I stayed in a Roughrider Cabin during our first time in the park and it felt like a cozy, romantic cabin in the woods- would definitely recommend!

Roughrider Cabin at the Roosevelt Lodge at Yellowstone National Park

On the other end of the spectrum, the Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Cottages is the most luxurious option (starting at around $250 for two adults per night), with a big cozy fireplace in the lobby to cozy up to at night and thoughtful amenities, like in-room coffeemakers.

Alternatively, if you’re looking to get even a bit more rustic, Yellowstone offers 12 campgrounds, with over 2,000 sites!

Canvas tent in Yellowstone National Park at dusk

You can only make reservations at five of them- Fishing Bridge RV Park, Madison Campground, Grant Village Campground, Canyon Campground (probably the most popular option in the park due to its central location), and Bridge Bay Campground; the rest of the campgrounds are all open on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Most of these campgrounds allow RVs, subject to varying size restrictions, but the only campground with full hookups is the Fishing Bridge RV Park. It’s also important to note that almost all of the campgrounds are closed in the wintertime.

Tent opening to a forest

If you’re truly a grizzly outdoorsperson, backcountry camping in Yellowstone seems like an EPIC experience. No matter what time of year you go, you’ll need to pick up a backcountry camping permit- you can either apply for advance backcountry reservations or pick up a permit at the park’s backcountry offices no earlier than two days before your trip.

Pssst... if you're new to backcountry camping, be sure to check out our backpacking gear list for beginners! 

Accommodations Outside of Yellowstone

The two best options for staying outside of Yellowstone are either Gardiner, Montana, to the north of the park (about an hour and a half drive from the Canyon Visitor Education Center) or West Yellowstone, to the, well, west of the park (about a 45 minute drive).

Mountains near Gardiner, Montana in Yellowstone National Park
Insider tip: You’d think that, given the fact that Grand Teton neighbors Yellowstone, that you’d be able to stay in Jackson, Wyoming during your time in the park, but in reality, this would be about a four hour plus roundtrip drive each day. 

Where to stay in Gardiner, Montana

Gardiner, Montana is a super cute town with plenty of mom and pop coffee shops and cafes, guides offering rafting and hiking excursions, and, in my opinion, just a more fun vibe as compared to West Yellowstone. Some decent options to stay here are:

Where to stay in West Yellowstone

West Yellowstone, on the other hand, is a small town, with Wild West undertones and a bit more of a rustic feeling than Gardiner.

I’d recommend checking out:

If you’re having a tough time choosing where to stay, I’d recommend looking at your itinerary and seeing if one of the locations makes more sense for what you plan to see and do in the park. If you follow our itinerary suggested above, I’d recommend staying in Gardiner the first night and West Yellowstone the second.

What to Pack for Yellowstone

I assume you’ll have the toothbrush and undies part of your packing list covered, but what about the odds and ends that will make your trip to Yellowstone a bit better? Here’s some of the extras I’d recommend bringing along for your trip:

Binoculars

Undoubtedly, one of the coolest parts of Yellowstone is all of its wildlife, from the elk, who seem to like to casually hang around in parking lots to the plethora of bison.

While sometimes you get lucky and have a furry creature right by the road (both bears that I saw in the park were literally on the shoulder of the road), you’ll probably need binoculars or a spotting scope to see more elusive animals like wolves (which, frankly, is a good thing- friendly reminder that you should always view bears and wolves from at least 100 yards away and all other animals from at least 25 yards away).

Coyote walking through the snow in Yellowstone National Park in winter

Sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat

The park can be surprisingly sunny and warm outside of the winter season. Be sure to bring along plenty of sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat for protection from the sun.

Bear spray

As mentioned above, Yellowstone is home to both black and grizzly bears- super cool to observe from a safe distance, not so cool (or safe) to observe up close and personal.

Bears are generally not aggressive, but may act aggressively if their young is near or if you have startled them. Because of this risk, we always take bear spray with us whenever we go hiking in bear country. Note that you cannot take bear spray on airplanes, so if you’re flying to get to Yellowstone, I suggest renting a can at Canyon Village in the park. 

Bear walking down the road in Yellowstone National Park in winter

A swimsuit

There are actually a few awesome swimming spots in Yellowstone, like the Firehole River swim area, located two miles south of Madison Junction.

Unlike some other springs in the Western United States, clothing is required here, so make sure to pack a suit!

I’d also suggest bringing along a pair of water shoes to provide traction and support on the slippery river rocks, like our beloved Tevas (I have this pair and Justin has this pair).

Important reminder: NEVER go swimming or soaking in areas of the park where it isn’t explicitly permitted. The Gardner River’s current can be incredibly strong and dangerous in lots of areas and equally (or more) terrifyingly, dozens of people have died or sustained life-threatening burns by purposefully or accidentally jumping into the park’s hot springs.

Not. Worth. It.
Boiling River hot springs in Yellowstone National Park in winter

Travel towel

If you’re planning on swimming in the park.

A cooler

If you want to save money on overpriced food or don’t want to spend your limited time in the park driving around to the park’s restaurants (check out their menus, hours, and locations here), I’d suggest bringing along a cooler to pack along some easy lunches to enjoy while you’re exploring the park.

Offline maps

A lot of the park has spotty, at best, cell coverage, so I definitely recommend downloading offline maps on the Google Maps app before heading here.

River surrounded by pine trees in Yellowstone National Park

America the Beautiful Pass

For one car, it costs $35 for a one-week pass into the park. However, if you have plans to stop by a couple of U.S. National Parks within a year span, these fees are included if you pick up an America the Beautiful Pass, an annual pass that costs just $80 and gets you into more than 2,000 U.S. national parks, forests, shorelines (and on and on). 

Where to Eat in Yellowstone

As I mentioned above, there are several dining options in the park, but they’re often crowded, incredibly expensive (while being of disappointing quality), and have incredibly limited options if you have any kind of dietary restrictions.

And unfortunately, seeking out dining options outside of the park usually isn’t a great option either as most restaurants are a good hour-plus roundtrip drive away from any of Yellowstone’s attractions. As such, I would strongly recommend packing a cooler for your meals in the park and bringing along snacks.

Aerial view of breakfast at Roosevelt Dining Room in Yellowstone National Park

Nevertheless, if you’re looking for places to get some grub, here are my recommendations:

Where to eat inside Yellowstone National Park

  • Old Faithful Inn Dining Room: Sit-down dining experience with Western fare, offered in a gorgeous historic lodge. Make a reservation in advance if you can- it gets CROWDED!
  • Mammoth Dining Room: More modern restaurant, dishing up more Western fare (but this time, with some Italian twists), with a focus on sustainability (it’s the first 4-star certified Green Restaurant in the National Park system… whatever that means!).
  • Roosevelt Dining Room: Rustic and historic lodge near a beloved spot of Theodore Roosevelt, serving (you guessed it!) Wild Western-themed food, with friendly service.

Where to eat in Gardiner, Montana

  • Wonderland Cafe: An eatery serving up creative eats and microbrews (they have beer flights, so you know they’re good in my book!), in a Montana-meets-hipster environment.
  • Tumbleweeds Bookstore and Cafe: Homey and inviting bookstore/coffee shop/cafe; expect simple options (wraps, salads, and soups) with fresh ingredients.

Where to eat in West Yellowstone


Now you know everything you need to have an amazing two days in Yellowstone. Now go forth and enjoy all the bison!

Yellowstone National Park

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