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Perfect 3 Day Yellowstone Itinerary and Map for First Time Visitors

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Last Updated on July 1, 2024 by Sarah Puckett

This 3-day Yellowstone National Park itinerary is your perfect guide for a short and immersive trip through America’s first National Park!

Drawing from my own experiences of exploring Yellowstone with my husband Tim three times in the last decade, I’ve crafted an itinerary that balances the park’s must-see attractions with some hidden gems, ensuring you make the most out of your visit.

Whether you’re an avid hiker, a photography enthusiast, or simply someone who loves the great outdoors, this 3 day Yellowstone itinerary will help you experience the best that Yellowstone has to offer.

Follow the seven Leave No Trace principles: plan your hike in advance, stick to designated trails, carry out all your belongings, dispose of waste properly, leave natural areas untouched, minimize the impact of campfires, show consideration for fellow hikers, and avoid approaching or feeding wildlife.

3 Day Yellowstone National Park Itinerary At-A-Glance

Day 1: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

  • Arrive in Yellowstone
  • Walk the Paved Trail to the Brink of the Lower Falls
  • Lookout Point and Red Rock Point
  • Hike the Clear Lake Artist Point Loop
  • Get Dinner in Canyon Village

Day 2: Wildlife Safari and Mammoth Hot Springs

  • Wildlife tracking/Lamar Valley
  • Explore Tower Junction
  • Walk the Mammoth Hot Springs Boardwalk
  • Explore Fort Yellowstone
  • Grab a Drink at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel
  • Visit the Iconic Roosevelt Arch
  • Dinner in Gardiner

Day 3: Geyser Country

  • Explore the Norris Geyser Basin
  • See Gibbon Falls
  • Hike to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook
  • Watch Old Faithful Erupt
  • Lunch at the Old Faithful Inn
  • Grant Visitor Center at Yellowstone Lake

About This 3 Day Yellowstone Itinerary

This itinerary is based on a camping trip Tim and I went on in June 2024. We had 3 days in the park and this is basically what we did! This 3 day Yellowstone National Park itinerary is perfect for seeing the best of the park in an efficient and low-stress way.

Prior to our June 2024, Tim and I also visited the park two other times: for a weekend in 2015 and a (very hectic) day in 2021. I’m bringing everything I learned on these trips to the table to make this the most helpful 3 day Yellowstone National Park itinerary you’ll find!

Don’t want to go it alone? Consider a tour.

If you are the kind of traveler who likes to get off the beaten path and make new friends, but hate to plan the logistics and don’t want to worry about parking, campsites, etc. then WeVenture’s Rocky Mountain Immersion tour is perfect for you!

Click the button below and use code SARAHANDTIM10 for 10% off any tour!

Yellowstone National Park 3 Day Itinerary Day-by-Day

Day 1: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Arrive in Yellowstone

To account for the time it takes to fly in and drive to Yellowstone, you should plan for just a half day on your first day in the park. Here’s how to spend an afternoon in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone region in the heart of the park.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is one of the most impressive sights in Yellowstone National Park. The 1000ft-deep canyon snakes for 20 miles through the park, making it truly grand indeed!

Walk the Paved Trail to the Brink of the Lower Falls

For a unique view over the Lower Falls, a short paved trail leads to the Brink of the Lower Falls, where you can stare directly down to its splash zone in the Yellowstone River 308 feet below.

Brink of the Lower Falls Trail Info:

  • Distance: 0.7 miles
  • Elevation: 265 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • AllTrails Link

Lookout Point and Red Rock Point

Lookout Point offers a view of the Lower Falls from a distance so that you can fully appreciate their 308 feet height. For another vantage point, it’s just a short, paved walk downhill to the Red Rock Point, but note that it is a bit steep coming back up.

Hike the Clear Lake Artist Point Loop

This is by far my favorite hike I’ve ever done in Yellowstone National Park! The Clear Lake Artist Point Loop trail features a bit of everything, from a turquoise lake, to a geothermal field of fumeroles, to spectacular views of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone at Artist Point, and wrapping up with a beautiful view of the Upper Falls. ALL of this in ONE hike!? Sign me up!


Upper Falls View

Note that this trail goes near cliff edges so isn’t suitable if you have vertigo or for small children who may wander too close to the edge.

PRO TIP: You can add views of roaming bison in the Hayden Valley to your hike by starting and ending at the Wapiti Lake Trailhead instead of the Upper Falls parking area. This adds about 1.5 miles to the hike.

Hayden Valley from the Wapiti Lake Trail

Clear Lake Artist Point Loop Trail Info:

  • Distance: 3.9 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 423 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Time: 1.5 hours
  • AllTrails Link

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Get Dinner in Canyon Village

After exploring the sights and short hikes around the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, it’s time for dinner! For a fun diner-like environment, I recommend the Canyon Fountain and Grill. You’ll feel like you stepped back in time!

Day 2: Wildlife Safari and Mammoth Hot Springs

Wildlife Tracking and Lamar Valley

Start the day early by rising when the wildlife do at 4 am to see if you can spot some of Yellowstone’s diverse animal residents.

Lamar Valley in Roosevelt Country is the best area to spot wildlife, in particular wolves, bison, elk, coyotes, pronghorns, and bears.

I recommend hiring a wildlife guide this morning. Based on personal experience, I can assure you that going with a guide is the difference between seeing wolves hunt a group of elk and seeing nothing at all.

Because expert guides know exactly where to see animals in Yellowstone, you will have the best shot at actually spotting them. Plus, guides have high-powered scopes that allow you to see a close-up view of the animals despite them being a mile away.

There is no way we would have seen hardly any of the animals we did without our guide Evan and his scope!

If you decide not to hire a guide, here are some locations known for being good options for spotting wildlife.

  • Lamar Valley
  • Hayden Valley
  • Tower-Roosevelt Area
  • Geyser Basins
  • Mammoth Hot Springs

TIP: Bring a pair of binoculars in order to better see the animals.

Explore Tower Junction

Stop at the Caclite Springs Overlook for a spectacular view over the so-called “Narrows” of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Calcite Springs Overlook

Next, stop at Tower Fall to see the stunning 132-foot waterfall plunging from Tower Creek. The best views of the waterfall are along a short paved trail to a viewpoint.

Tower Fall

This is a great place for a coffee and bathroom break. Take advantage of it!

Walk the Mammoth Hot Springs Boardwalk

The stunning step terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs are the result of dissolved underground limestone. You can think of it like the earth turning itself inside out, depositing travertine by the ton annually as it spouts mineral-rich waters.

Though the limestone terraces are naturally white, you’ll notice a lot of orange in the rock. This is the result of bacteria and algae that thrive in the hot spring water.

Plan to spend about an hour strolling the boardwalks of the Lower and Upper Terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs. The most notable features to check out are Palette Springs, Minerva Terrace, and Canary Springs.

Explore Fort Yellowstone

From 1886 to 1918, Mammoth Hot Springs was known as Fort Yellowstone. During this time, the US Army managed the park from the historic buildings along Officers Row.

The area is worth a stroll, as is the Albright Visitor Center and Museum located in the historic fort boundaries.

Grab a Drink at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel

There’s no better way to end your second day in Yellowstone National Park than with a happy hour cocktail at the Map Room Bar in the historic Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel.

The Map Room owes its name to the massive wall map of the US, which is made from 15 different types of wood from all over the world.

Visit the Iconic Roosevelt Arch

Head to the north entrance of the park to Gardiner, Montana, and check out the iconic Roosevelt Arch.

Dinner in Gardiner

While you’re in town, you may as well grab dinner in Gardiner! Bursting with small-town, old-west energy, Gardiner is a pleasant place to shop and dine. We didn’t get a chance to eat here, but we did pop into some of the cute boutiques and antique shops. It’s a fun place to walk around!

For a bite to eat, these restaurants are highly rated:

  • The Corral
  • Yellowstone Pizza Company
  • Justine’s Chicago Hot Dogs

Day 3: Geyser Country

Explore the Norris Geyser Basin

Start your final day in Yellowstone National Park at the Norris Geyser Basin, which is home to the majority of all acidic geysers in the WORLD.

This basin is also North America’s most erratic and oldest continuously active geothermal area. It’s been in existence for 115,000 years! Three intersecting fault lines lay less than 2 miles beneath the Norris Geyser Basin, making it the location of the hottest temperatures on record in Yellowstone.

If you are staying in Mammoth or Gardiner and driving south on 89, stop at scenic Rustic Falls on your way.

Rustic Falls

Once parked at the Norris Geyser Basin, I recommend hiking the complete loop, which includes both the Back Basin and Porcelain Basin loops.

There are literally dozens of geysers to look at here, but here are some notable ones not to miss:

  • Emerald Spring: one of the prettiest geysers in Yellowstone, with a striking blue-green color; Back Basin.
  • Steamboat Geyser: the world’s tallest active geyser, reaching over 400 feet when it erupts. It is unknown when it will next erupt; Back Basin.
  • Porcelain Terrace Overlook: view of the basin from a vantage point near the Norris Museum; Porceline Basin.

Norris Geyser Basin Complete Loop Trail Info:

  • Distance: 2.9 miles
  • Elevation: 190 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Time: 2 hours with stops
  • AllTrails Link

See Gibbon Falls

Leaving Norris, head to Madison Junction by way of Gibbon Falls. This beautiful waterfall sits right on the Yellowstone volcano caldera boundary. For the best views, walk the paved path south from the main viewing area.

Gibbon Falls

Hike to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook

Located in the Midway Geyser Basin, the Grand Prismatic Spring is arguably the most beautiful geothermal feature in all of Yellowstone National Park and possibly the world. At 370 feet wide and 121 feet deep, it’s the park’s largest and deepest hot spring.

With its vibrant blue core and rings of yellow, orange, and red surrounding it, this hot spring is a must-see!

The best way to see the Grand Prismatic Spring is at the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook. While you can get much closer to the spring on the boardwalk alongside it, you will actually be too close to see anything more than steam. From the overlook, on the other hand, you have a picture-perfect view of the entire spring and all its colorful glory!

To get to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook, park at the Fairy Falls trailhead and follow the trail for about half of a mile. To your left will be a trail leading up to a ridge. The overlook sits on a platform with a fence around it, so it’s very easy to find. You can’t miss it!

Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook Trail Info

  • Distance: 1.5 miles
  • Elevation: 200 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Time: 1-1.5 hours
  • AllTrails Link

Watch Old Faithful Erupt

Old Faithful is the most famous geyser in Yellowstone National Park and is essentially the icon of the park! Plus, this 180ft tall geyser reliably erupts every 90 minutes (or so), earning Old Faithful its name. Because it erupts routinely, pretty much every visitor has an opportunity to watch the geyser spew 8000 gallons of water into the air.

There are three places you can watch Old Faithful erupt:

  1. Close up on the benches directly in front of the geyser
  2. From above from the upper-floor balcony of the Old Faithful Inn
  3. From a distance at Observation Point

Having watched Old Faithful erupt from both the benches and from Observation Point, I think just grabbing a front row seat at the benches is the best, and easiest, way to see Old Faithful erupt!

If you want to hike to Observation Point, it’s 1.6 miles round trip. Allow at least a half hour to hike to the point from the Old Faithful Inn before the next eruption.

Estimated eruption times are on display in the Inn, plus or minus 10 minutes. When we visited in June 2024, it erupted at the earliest moment within our window, so be prepared for it to blow!

Lunch at the Old Faithful Inn

After watching Old Faithful erupt (which lasts about 5 minutes), head back inside the Old Faithful Inn for a quick and easy lunch in the historic cafeteria.

Grant Visitor Center at Yellowstone Lake

After lunch, and maybe a coffee, drive south to Yellowstone Lake. At an elevation of 7733 feet, this is one of the world’s largest alpine lakes.

It’s worth a quick stop at the Grant Visitor Center. If you walk straight in to the Visitor Center and out the doors in the back, you get a great view over the lake. There’s also a path that goes down to the shore.

This works especially well if you are leaving the park via the South Entrance. If so, a visit to nearby Grand Teton National Park is a great addition to your Yellowstone trip!

Yellowstone National Park 3 Day Itinerary Map

How to Get to Yellowstone National Park

Despite being one of the most popular national parks to visit, Yellowstone is surprisingly hard to get to. It’s in a very remote area of northwest Wyoming, spilling over into small parts of Idaho and Montana as well.

In general, there are 5 airports you can reasonably fly into to get to Yellowstone National Park.

AirportDistance from Closest Entrance
Jackson Hole (JAC)1 hr 5 min (49 miles) from South Entrance
Yellowstone Airport (WYS)7 min (3 miles) from West Entrance
Bozeman Airport (BZN)1 hr 34 min (88 miles) from North Entrance
Billings Airport (BIL)2 hr 38 min (130 miles) from Northeast Entrance
Yellowstone Regional Airport (COD)1 hr 9 min (55 miles) from East Entrance

Use the search box below or click here to find your flight to Yellowstone!

Regardless of which airport you choose, you will definitely need to arrange a rental car to get around, unless you are taking a guided tour for the entirety of your trip and don’t need to drive.

Use the search box below or click here to find your rental car.

Yellowstone National Park Entrance Fees

The entrance fee for Yellowstone National Park is $35. If you are entering at the South Entrance, you will first need to drive through Grand Teton National Park, which also has its own entrance fee of $35.

We recommend buying a National Parks pass like the America the Beautiful Pass if you plan on visiting both national parks, since it will save you money if you visit even just one more national park in the same 12 month period.

Save Money at National Parks

Get a National Parks Pass

Entry to all US national parks at no additional cost for 12 months

America The Beautiful National Parks Pass at REI

What is the best entrance to Yellowstone National Park?

The best entrance to Yellowstone National Park depends on where you’re coming from! Depending on which airport you fly into, different entrances will be closest to you.

In general, Bozeman, Billings, and Jackson Hole will have the most flight options. The Yellowstone Airport and Yellowstone Regional Airport in Cody are both smaller airports and flight schedules are limited and fares generally high.

To Enter Yellowstone at…Fly Into…
South EntranceJackson Hole Airport (JAC)
West EntranceYellowstone Airport (WYS) 
North EntranceBozeman Airport (BZN)
Northeast EntranceBillings Airport (BIL)
East EntranceYellowstone Regional Airport (COD)

Map of Yellowstone Airports and Entrances

Getting Around Yellowstone National Park

You will need a car to get around Yellowstone National Park’s 3472 square miles. Yellowstone is large, so it’s important to plan your itinerary with distances between attractions in mind!

It’s helpful to think of the park’s roads like a figure-8 that circle each of Yellowstone’s seven regions. I designed this 3-day Yellowstone itinerary to be the most efficient route possible so you aren’t having to repeat a ton of the same drives every day.

How long does it take to drive completely around Yellowstone?

To drive both the Upper and Lower Loops of Yellowstone National Park, you should plan to spend at least 5 hours driving. If you add stops, expect the drive to take all day and to feel very rushed.

That’s why I recommend spending more than just one day exploring Yellowstone National Park.

Is three days enough time to see Yellowstone National Park?

If you follow this itinerary, three days is exactly enough time to see Yellowstone National Park!

Three days is an ideal amount of time to see all of the highlights of Yellowstone National park without feeling rushed. By focusing each day on a different region of the park, you can explore the best attractions at a natural pace.

What is the best way to see Yellowstone?

The best way to see Yellowstone National Park is by car. The park is large and sprawling, so having a car is really the only way to get around. The other option would be to book a guided tour which would take care of all of the logistics for you!

The other advantage to taking a guided tour of Yellowstone National Park is not having to worry about accomodations. Campgrounds and hotels within and near the park book up many months in advance, so it can be tricky to find affordable options that aren’t hours away!

Best Time to Visit Yellowstone National Park

Spring (April to May)

Pros:

  • Fewer crowds, offering a more peaceful experience.
  • Wildlife watching is excellent as animals, including bears, emerge from hibernation.
  • Beautiful blooming wildflowers and newborn animals.

Cons:

  • Weather can be unpredictable with lingering snow and occasional road closures.
  • Some facilities and roads may not be fully open until late May.

Summer (June to August)

Pros:

  • All park facilities, roads, and services are open.
  • Ideal for hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities.
  • Warm weather and long daylight hours.

Cons:

  • The busiest and most crowded time of year.
  • Popular sites can be crowded, and accommodations fill up quickly.

Fall (September to October)

Pros:

  • Spectacular fall foliage with fewer crowds than summer.
  • Cool, crisp weather is ideal for hiking.
  • Wildlife, including elk, is more active during the mating season.

Cons:

  • Some facilities and roads start closing in mid-October.
  • Cooler temperatures, especially at night.

Winter (November to March)

Pros:

  • A unique and serene experience with very few visitors.
  • Opportunities for snow sports like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
  • Stunning snowy landscapes and geothermal features in a winter setting.

Cons:

  • Limited access to the park, with many roads closed to cars (only accessible by snowcoach or snowmobile).
  • Extreme cold weather conditions.

Best Time Overall

For most visitors, late spring (late May to early June) and early fall (September) are the best times to visit. These periods offer a balance between good weather, fewer crowds, and the chance to see wildlife and scenic landscapes.

If you prefer a more tranquil experience and don’t mind colder weather, visiting in late spring or fall is ideal. However, if you want the full range of activities and amenities, summer is the best choice, despite the crowds. Winter is perfect for those seeking a unique, snowy adventure with limited access and solitude.

Where to Stay in Yellowstone

If you can, try to stay within Yellowstone National Park. Because the park is so large and remote, staying in any towns will result in lengthier drives every day.

Hotels in the Park

Yellowstone National Park has a number of historic lodges and inns in the park. Rooms book up fast, so plan ahead. You can make reservations at Yellowstone hotels here.

  • Canyon Lodge and Cabins
  • Grant Village Lodge
  • Lake Hotel and Cabins
  • Lake Lodge Cabins
  • Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins
  • Old Faithful Inn
  • Old Faithful Lodge
  • Old Faithful Snow Lodge
  • Roosevelt Lodge

Camping in the Park

If you have an RV or a tent, camping is a great way to stay within the park on a budget. The campsites are far from luxurious, but they have flushing toilets and great views. And of course, you can’t beat the locations.

Like the hotels within the park, the campsites in Yellowstone National Park also book up fast. You can make check campsite availability and make reservations here.

Where to Stay Outside the Park

West Yellowstone

Jackson

Gardiner

Cody

Note that we stayed at the Mammoth Campsite near Mammoth Hot Springs, so this itinerary is written from that perspective!

What to Pack for 3 Days in Yellowstone National Park

Layering Basics:

Daily Wear:

  • T-shirts or long-sleeve shirts: Opt for moisture-wicking and quick-drying materials.
  • Convertible hiking pants or hiking shorts: Versatile options for changing weather conditions.
  • Hiking socks: Cushioned and moisture-wicking to keep your feet comfortable on long hikes.
  • Underwear: Comfortable and breathable.
  • Comfortable sleepwear: For a good night’s rest after a day of adventure.

Cold Weather Additions:

  • Warm hat: A beanie or knit cap to keep your head warm.
  • Gloves: Lightweight yet warm to protect your hands from the cold.

Footwear:

  • Sturdy, waterproof hiking boots: Essential for support and protection on rugged trails.
  • Lightweight camp shoes or sandals: Perfect for relaxing at the end of the day.

Accessories

Gear

  • Map and compass/GPS: Critical for navigation and ensuring you stay on track.
  • Bear Spray: Carry and use in the event of a bear attack.
  • First aid kit: Basic supplies for treating minor injuries.
  • Insect repellent: To keep pesky bugs at bay.
  • Sunscreen (SPF 30+): Protects your skin from harmful UV rays.
  • Personal hygiene items: Toothbrush, toothpaste, wet wipes, and other essentials.

Food and Hydration

  • Water bottles or hydration system: Ensure you have at least 2 liters per person per day.
  • High-energy trail snacks: Nuts, dried fruit, and granola bars to keep you fueled.
  • Bear-resistant food storage: Required in many areas to keep your food safe from wildlife.
Sarah and Tim at Ooh Aah Point In grand canyon national park

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Check out our ultimate national park packing list!

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