I got the chance to see Yellowstone in 2 days this summer during a big road trip from Yellowstone to Glacier National Park that started in Bozeman and also made a stop in Grand Teton. It was a whirlwind of a trip, but the two days in Yellowstone were exceptional. I can’t wait to tell you all about the incredible things we got to see and do while we were there!
Yellowstone, along with Glacier National Park, has been on my bucket list since I was a kid. Yellowstone is the first national park in the world, and I remember learning about it back in school and just imagining what it would be like. It ended up being different than I imagined, but every bit still as magical. Every summer, people swarm to Yellowstone, and for good reason! It’s the best time to visit Yellowstone.
There are more than 2 million acres of protected mountain wilderness, impressive geysers, and vibrant landscapes for future generations to enjoy.
As mentioned above, Yellowstone is the first national park in the world. President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act into law in March of 1872, marking the official beginning of Yellowstone National Park and the National Park System. Yellowstone is huge, and you can drive it all in one day, but I would not recommend trying.
Yellowstone’s main roads go in one giant loop (although parts of that loop are sometimes closed), with smaller loops in the center making it easier to visit the top attractions in the park. Before going, check Yellowstone National Park’s website to see what is open and closed.
Yellowstone National Park has half the world’s hydrothermal features; you’ll find hot springs, mud pots, fumaroles, travertine terraces, and — of course — geysers. Microorganisms called thermophiles — meaning “heat-loving” — live in these features and give the park brilliant colors. It’s a giant volcano which is why so many cool hydrothermal features are here. However, this isn’t all you should plan on seeing in the park!
Yellowstone is home to the largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48. This includes grizzly bears, wolves, lynx, fox, moose, and elk. You should never approach them. Park rules state that you must stay at least 100 yards from bears and wolves and at least 25 yards from other large animals.
Where to Stay
Lodging for visiting Yellowstone is limited. However, there are three areas I’d recommend depending on where you fly in and how far in advance you look.
As you can see, there are not many options, so book ahead and be prepared to pay a lot if you don’t. We waited too late to book a hotel in Bozeman for our second night, and so even the Motel 6 was $120 a night.
While there, we heard people complaining they paid $250 for the room when usually Motel 6 is like $60-$80. They asked for a refund/discount, to which the guy said, “Sorry, this is the rate. We’re in the highest demand months of the year (June/July), and it won’t be any cheaper anywhere else.” Wild!
Day 1 of Yellowstone in 2 Days
We started our day off early. Leaving from Bozeman around 6 am on a Friday. We got to the Yellowstone entrance around 8:30 am, quickly going in thanks to my National Park Pass. If you don’t have one – you need one! Only $80 and will get you in to any national park in the US.
Yellowstone has the highest concentration of wildlife in the lower 48, making it an incredibly unique place to visit and the perfect spot to find wildlife. Lamar Valley is where you want to see the wildlife, and morning/evening are when the animals are most active, so it’s the perfect spot to start your day! PS bring binoculars for this if you can!
We arrived to Lamar Valley around 9:30 am and immediately began seeing animals! We spend about 2 1/2 hours driving, stopping, and enjoying seeing various animals in the park. Bison roam all over in large heard here. We also saw a brown bear and lots of pronghorn. It was beyond magical to see these animals in the wild!
If you start driving along the road in Lamar Valley, it will quickly become apparent where the animals are. People will pull over their cars on the side of the road constantly to look for wildlife. So you’ll need to plan to drive slowly, make frequent stops, and watch for people stopping suddenly.
Lunch and Mammoth Hot Springs
After a morning of wildlife watching, it’s time to head to the other side of the park. Albright Visitor Center has a lodge, restaurant, store, and more to see. However, just like with Glacier National Park, the lines for food can be insane! Bring your own food and save your time for exploring the park. There are picnic tables and plenty of space for parking here.
Right by Albright Visitor Center is Mammoth Hot Springs. Take a walk through these vast and smelly hot springs! There’s a lower and higher viewing point for these, with pathways all around these hot springs. Mammoth Hot Springs are unique for their white color and cascading falls look all over the mountains. The view from the top was stunning.
Grand Loop Road from Mammoth to Grand Prismatic Spring
Spend the rest of your day stopping at different geysers, waterfalls, and lakes. The stops we made on day 1 are below.
Nymph Lake, Norris Geyser Basin, Gibbon Falls, Fountain Paint Pots, Firehole Canyon Drive, Meyer Geyser Basin (and walkway for Grand Prismatic Spring)
These stops involved minimal walking and were right off Grand Loop Road except Meyer Geyser Basin and Grand Prismatic Spring. Grand Prismatic Spring is the most vibrant in color of all the thermal springs and a really popular stop.
On this first day, we chose to walk close through the geyser on a platform. We wanted to see both views of Grand Prismatic Spring, but after seeing so many other things this day, it was easier to add the hike to the viewpoint on day two. It also broke up the views and gave us something to look forward to on day 2 in Yellowstone!
We had no issues parking anywhere else and could visit each spot we wanted to with minimal waits. Since everything we did on this day was a pretty quick stop, it meant people were constantly leaving and coming.
At this point, we were close to the West Entrance of the park where West Yellowstone is and definitely would have been a great spot to stay overnight if possible. Unfortunately, West Yellowstone was almost sold out by the time we were booking, and prices were extremely high. Definitely recommend staying here if you can though!
Day 2 of Yellowstone in 2 Days
Bear and her cubs
Depending on where you stay, you may enter the park on day 2 from the North or the West entrance. Either way, I recommend starting your day in Lamar Valley if you want a chance to spot more wildlife. On our first day in the park, we only saw bison from a distance.
On the second day, herds were close to the road, and actually on the road, that classic Yellowstone vibe! We also saw a large bear this day, wolves, and eagles. It was a great second morning
Either way, make sure you have an early start and get into the park before 9 am when tour buses and larger groups arrive.
If you are not that into wildlife or satisfied with what you saw the previous day, you could skip this part and head directly to Grand Canyon Village.
Lamar Valley to the Grand Canyon via Tower Village
We chose to drive from Lamar Valley to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. The road loops around nicely south from Lamar Valley to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone through Tower Village. Visiting the Grand Canyon was something I knew I wanted to fit into our visit because I once saw a famous painting in the Smithsonian National Gallery of Art here in DC and was just in awe of what it looked like. I needed to see it in person!
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is roughly 20 miles long, measured from the Upper Falls to the Tower Fall area. The 109-foot Upper Falls is upstream of the Lower Falls and can be seen from the Brink of the Upper Falls Trail and Upper Falls Viewpoints. The 308-foot Lower Falls can be viewed from Lookout Point, Red Rock Point, Artist Point, Brink of the Lower Falls Trail, and various South Rim Trail points.
We did have to wait in line and traffic for this. We got there midday, and it was jam-packed but completely worth it.
The Brink of the Lower Falls Trail is incredible. It’s a steep trail. Going down is no problem, but you make the 300 feet of elevation in just .7 miles. It’s all uphill on the way back, so be prepared with some good shoes and water at the end!
Grand Canyon to Grand Prismatic Spring via Grand Loop
The other hike you want to do on day two is to the overlook of Grand Prismatic Spring. To fully appreciate the colors of this hot spring, you have to see it from above! Unlike yesterday when you parked at Meyer Geyser Basin, you’ll park at the Fairy Falls Trailhead.
The Fairy Falls Trailhead takes you to an excellent view of Grand Prismatic Spring as well as, you guessed it, Fairy Falls. It’s 1.2 miles round trip and is very well paved. We saw people in wheelchairs and with crutches doing this hike, although that’s not something I would recommend doing on your own. The other thing to consider here is minimal tree cover, and there’s boiling water coming out of springs plus a lot of time spent in the sun. It can get hot!
Just 6.5 miles south of Grand Prismatic Spring is Old Faithful. It did feel like a trip to Yellowstone would be incomplete without this, so we had to do it! We got there about 20 minutes after it had last erupted. It’s the world’s most famous geyser and currently erupts around 20 times a day. The mathematical average between eruptions of Old Faithful is currently 74 minutes, but it doesn’t like to act average! Intervals can range from 60-110 minutes.
So, as you can imagine, we prepared for a long wait. There’s a lodge, cafe, store, and visitors center on-site. Since we came pretty soon after the last eruption, we had good luck parking quickly. We tried to pick a spot strategically to be able to leave swiftly as well. Highly recommend this so you can go quickly after the eruption is over!
We got a seat on the benches, again in the sun, and sat down to wait. I went into the lodge and waited in line a good 25 minutes for the bathroom and then some ice cream for us to cool off while we waited. All in all, we ended up waiting over an hour before it finally erupted. Did we consider leaving or giving up? For sure! Could we give up on this lifelong dream when finally, for once in our lives, we were in Wyoming? No. We couldn’t!
Old Faithful felt more like a Disney attraction than seeing a natural wonder, but it was cool to see it erupt, and I’m glad we did it.
Old Faithful to West Thumb
After Old Faithful, we continued south to the southernmost part of the park, the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake. It was a quick stop for us to take in another great view of the park and a nice view on our way south to Jackson for the next day’s adventures in Grand Teton.