Yellowstone has wonderful things to offer for every type of traveler and if you are visiting Yellowstone National Park, you should plan for at least five days. Here is an extensive Yellowstone itinerary that covers everything you need to do.
Yellowstone has so much to offer for every visitor, making it one of the best national parks in the United States (and potentially in the entire world).
It is home to many animal species including antelopes, bison, wolves, elk, and bear. A visit to the park will introduce you to different aspects of nature and will give you a chance to explore the same at your pace and convenience.
Yellowstone National Park is a top-notch national park and tourist destination. As a result, Yellowstone is frequented by many tourists throughout the year. It is a must-visit no matter if you are outdoorsy or not. This iconic national park should hold a spot on your list of bucket-list destinations.
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If you are wondering how to plan your trip, this 5-day Yellowstone itinerary will get you to all the absolute must-see places in Yellowstone National Park, packing tips, preparation, places to stay, and a day-by-day breakdown of where to go.
Tips for Planning a Trip to Yellowstone National Park
First, let’s break down some of the key items before you arrive at Yellowstone National Park.
How to get to Yellowstone National Park
Located in the Northwest corner of Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park can be easily reached between 2 to 5 hours in a flight from most U.S. cities.
Yellowstone Airport is the closest airport to Yellowstone National Park. If you arrive at this airport, you will enter via West Yellowstone at the west entrance.
The most notable way to fly into this airport is via Delta Air Lines since they have daily connections to and from Salt Lake City, Utah. Check the cheapest flights to see if you can fly to this airport from your location.
Outside of that, the next closest airport is Jackson Hole Airport, which will provide you with direct access to the south entrance. Plus, Jackson Hole is a great stop on your Yellowstone trip as it’s a legendary western mountain town and it provides easy access if you want to do both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park.
If this sounds interesting to you, check the cheapest flights into Jackson Hole to lock in your trip. The Bozeman-Yellowstone International Airport is 90 miles from the north and west entrances. You will need a vehicle to visit the park. We recommend that you can a rent car at the airport in Bozeman since it’s right on site and very easy to get in and go from there.
If you fly into Bozeman-Yellowstone International Airport, you’ll access Yellowstone via the north entrance. Flying in Bozeman gives you a great chance to visit and see Montana.
However, if you want to visit both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, this is in the opposite direction. If this sounds interesting to you, check the cheapest flights into Bozeman to lock in your trip.
Best Places to Stay in Yellowstone
There are some great accommodation options in Yellowstone ranging from campgrounds to luxurious resorts. When it comes to choosing the best places to stay in Yellowstone, the main factors are location and affordability.
Here are some of my favorites to choose from.
West Yellowstone is located at the gateway to Yellowstone National Park and offers affordable accommodations with great proximity to the park (15 minutes). The most popular choices in West Yellowstone are Lake Yellowstone Hotel & Cabins, Yellowstone Lodge, Rodeway Inn, and the historic Yellowstone Park Hotel.
I also recommend staying in Cody which is located on the eastern side of Yellowstone with great proximity to Lamar Valley (20 minutes). When it comes to choosing the best places to stay in Cody, I recommend either Buffalo Cabin Village or the Historic Irma Hotel. Other options include The Cody and Cody Yellowstone Holiday Inn.
Grand Teton National Park is a neighboring park to Yellowstone and offers great proximity to the Tetons (20 minutes) with affordable accommodation alternatives such as Campground Bedroll & Breakfast, Colter Bay Village, and Cowboy Village Resort. If you stay there you’ll access the national park via the south entrance.
The Best Time to Visit Yellowstone
The best time to visit Yellowstone largely depends on what you want to do and see. The summer months (June – August) offer great opportunities for hikers with a higher chance of spotting wildlife. If you are going to stay within the park during the winter, I recommend going mid-December – early January (at the latest) when there is less risk of extreme weather conditions.
Also, you should know that each season has its pros and cons. For example, the fall is an especially great time to visit Yellowstone because of the changing colors of the trees however it can also be extremely busy which means harder spotting wildlife and longer waiting times at popular attractions.
If you want to build the absolute best Yellowstone itinerary on a budget, the top options are to visit during the shoulder seasons (spring and fall).
The weather is generally mild, the park isn’t unbearably busy, wildlife spotting is fantastic throughout the year and you get to take advantage of lower accommodation rates.
A Word of Warning…
Even though Yellowstone has some great hotels it can be difficult getting a room during peak season (June – August) as well as on national holidays such as Labor Day and Thanksgiving.
If possible, I recommend making your hotel bookings ahead of time. However, if this is not an option you may have to resort to camping or settle for more affordable options outside of the park which can limit your activities and attraction choices.
Yellow Packing List: What to Include in Your Yellowstone Trip Itinerary
Yellowstone is one of the best destinations to explore in America, and to start an expedition to such beauty is to pack all the travel necessities.
You may want to consider packing light depending on when you visit Yellowstone and the duration of your stay. If you are indeed spending 5-days in Yellowstone, make sure that you pack with flexibility in mind as the weather can be variable.
Here’s what we’ve organized on your packing essentials for Yellowstone:
- Sunscreen (must not forget if you are traveling in the summer)
- Hat or Visor
- Sleeping Bag (for camping)
- Tent (for camping)
- Bear spray
- Raincoat (in case it will rain)
- Waterproof phone case
- Comfortable waterproof shoes
- Tank tops
- Light clothing for variable temperatures (for men, for women)
- Quick-dry towel
- Camping cookware
- First aid kit
- Portable charger
- Hiking wool socks
- Bug Spray
For more information on what to pack, you can visit the park’s website which provides a comprehensive list of items you will need while visiting Yellowstone National Park.
Also, if you like having additional preparation tools for visiting Yellowstone, download our free printable travel planner.
Best Places to Eat in Yellowstone
There are some great eateries in and around Yellowstone National Park. I recommend trying as many of them as possible so you can experience the best food this region has to offer.
Here are some of my favorite restaurants in or near Yellowstone;
- Tower-Roosevelt General Store – This is a convenience store located on the way to Tower Fall with great panoramic views of the Yellowstone River as well as a great little deli that offers delicious sandwiches and wraps.
- Colter Bay Village Market – This grocery store is located inside the Colter Bay Village with a good selection of groceries, snacks, camping supplies, and more.
- Lake Yellowstone Hotel Dining Room – This restaurant is located at one end of Lake Yellowstone Hotel and offers great food in a relaxed atmosphere.
- The Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel Dining Room – This restaurant is located inside the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and offers fine dining in a room with panoramic views.
- Canyon Lodge Food Court – This location has multiple food outlets serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner year-round.
- Lake Yellowstone Hotel Food Cart – If you are looking for a quick meal or snack then look no further than this food cart located outside Lake Yellowstone Hotel.
- Lake Lodge Dining Room – This restaurant features an Asian-style buffet available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Best Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone has countless attractions and activities to offer its visitors. However, it can be difficult to sort through all of the options available which is why I have put together this list of my favorite things to do in Yellowstone.
There are numerous hiking trails that are accessible year-round within the park including Jenny Lake Trailhead, Cascade Corner & Indian Pond Trailhead, Bechler River Trailhead, Observation Peak Trail, Mt Washburn Trailhead, Summit Lake & Swan Lake Flats, Huckleberry Hot Springs, and more.
Yellowstone National Park Lodges Sightseeing Tours – If you are short on time then I recommend one of the many sightseeing tours offered by the park lodges.
Check out these top-rated tours to make your excursion that much easier. They even have a full 4-day nature tour that includes lodging (one of the best tours for both Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park.
There are five lakes located within the park boundaries and all of them offer boating activities such as fishing, kayaking, canoeing, and more. These lakes include Yellowstone Lake, Lewis Lake, Heart Lake, Jenny Lake, and String Lake.
There are a total of nine campgrounds located throughout the park including Bridge Bay, Canyon, Fishing Bridge RV Park & Campground, Grant Village, Madison, Mammoth Hot Springs, Norris, Old Faithful Snow Lodge, and Tower-Roosevelt.
Yellowstone National Park Fishing
Fishing is permitted year-round in the park at both day-use areas and designated fishing sites. There are also many rivers located within the park boundaries where fishing is allowed as well. Some of these rivers include the Yellowstone River, Gardner River, Slough Creek, Lamar River, and more.
Check out this private Yellowstone fishing trip that will take you into the backcountry with a guide.
Ranger-led programs take place year-round at many locations throughout the park including Old Faithful Visitor Education Center & Geyser Link Educational Program, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and Mammoth Hot Springs Year-Round Ranger Station.
Several locations throughout the park offer campfire programs such as Upper Geyser Basin Fire Circle, Madison Campground Amphitheater, Bridge Bay Marina Amphitheater, Fishing Bridge RV Park & Campground Amphitheater, and Tower Fall Campground Amphitheater.
Yellowstone National Park offers one of the best backpacking experiences in North America. There are two ways to access the backcountry including hiking or by boat/raft down the Yellowstone River.
Yellowstone Wildlife Viewing
Yellowstone is home to an abundance of wildlife so it is definitely worth taking your binoculars and spotting scopes with you.
Some of the animals you may see include black bears, grizzly bears, bison, elk, moose, wolves, coyotes, bighorn sheep & mountain goats, trumpeter swans & other waterfowl, beavers/river otters, golden & bald eagles, sandhill cranes, and osprey.
Mammoth Hot Springs
The park’s largest thermal feature is located near the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park and offers a unique experience for visitors to learn about this interesting area.
The best time to visit Yellowstone National Park for all of the above-mentioned activities and tourist attractions is during June when you can witness incredible displays of wildflowers in addition to all of the other exciting attractions at the park.
The best place to view these beautiful flowers is on Firehole Lake Drive which is located near Madison Junction on the west side of Yellowstone National Park.
See Related: Ultimate Grand Circle Road Trip Itinerary
5-Days in Yellowstone Itinerary
Now that you know the lay of the land and some of the best things to do in Yellowstone. Let’s get into this epic Yellowstone itinerary in a breakdown of each day.
Day 1 -Southwest Section
The best way to start your Yellowstone National Park itinerary is by exploring the largest active volcano system in the world. Not many are aware of the fact that the entire park sits on top of a supervolcano.
Start your Yellowstone itinerary on the southwest side of the park. Start your day as early as you can and do visit the Old Faithful.
It is usually filled with tourists and is very popular. If you arrive early, you can avoid the crowd. Start your day by 7:30 am and make the first stop at the Visitor Center. You will be able to find out the exact eruption time and plan accordingly.
It usually blows every 90 minutes and if you have time on hand, catch the short film in the theater which introduces the park.
After the explosion, walk through the Upper Geyser Basin. It is home to some of the largest active geysers in the world. Walk past the hot spring and bubbling geysers just a few inches away from your feet.
After you are done with the Geyser Basin Walk, walk to the Old Faithful Inn. It was built in the 1900s and is known as the largest log structure in the world.
You will notice the huge stone fireplace, iron clock, and pine railings inside. It is elegant and rustic, a delight for architecture lovers.
The Old Faithful Inn is the crown jewel of Yellowstone National Park and is the jewel of the entire National Park System as a whole. It is a must in your Yellowstone itinerary.
The famous geyser is well known across the world and it shoots over 200 feet in the air. The geyser erupts every 90 minutes.
You will find a crowd here whenever you visit. The crowd is here for a reason, to watch an incredible sight in the entire United States.
The eruption times will be called out on signs around the parking lot and the hiking trails. You will see the geyser starts bubbling before the eruption and it is a sight that you will remember for the rest of your life.
You will never be disappointed here and you will have a story to tell when you head home.
See Related: The Ultimate Colorado Springs Itinerary
Day 2- Central and South Section
Start your second day of Yellowstone itinerary at the park with West Thumb Geyser Basin.
You will notice a broad walk that runs along the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake and has spouts bubbling underneath the lake. Yellowstone Lake has crystal clear water and bright colors showing off sporadically.
There are 80 different geysers and Hot Spring pools here. Each pool has a different color ranging from blue to red to white and green. You will see awesome geysers at the West Thumb Geyser Basin like the Bluebell pool, the Fishing Cone geyser, and the Black pool.
With a 1 mile drive to the Lake Butte Overlook, you will see stunning views of Yellowstone Lake. After this, start to explore the central part of the park.
There is a 1200-foot-deep canyon that is cut in the rocks and it is picture-perfect. This place is a must-visit and can only be experienced in person. No amount of pictures or words can do justice to its beauty.
After this, take a 24-mile drive along the Yellowstone River and stop off at the seven overlooks to get the best view of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is not on the same level as THE Grand Canyon. However, sometimes smaller is better.
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone features the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River which Grand Canyon National Park doesn’t have. These rushing waterfalls are a must-see when you visit Yellowstone National Park.
A lot of the scenic viewpoints can be reached on foot but the walks can be slightly steep. It can be about seven miles of total walking. If you want to have lunch, there are several picnic areas you can choose from.
Take a detour to the Mud Volcano, also known as the smelliest part of Yellowstone. You will notice that the air is reeking of sulfur here.
Take a short trek to the Dragon’s Mouth Spring. It is a hot spring with a cavernous mouth, which is why it is named Dragon’s Mouth Spring.
You will notice the water rhythmically sloshing in and out of the cavern which gives an impression of a large overflow but the actual discharge is much smaller.
Carry your binoculars with you throughout the day. Head to the Hayden Valley which is between the upper and lower falls and is one of the best areas to see in Yellowstone. It has the best wildlife and you will find yourself taking pictures of packs of wolves, bison, grizzly bear, and more.
See Related: Grand Canyon National Park Itinerary
Day 3- Hiking
Explore the beautiful park on foot today. You can take fantastic hikes in Yellowstone.
Choose from the below-mentioned hiking options:
- Mount Washburn Trail– The 6.4-mile round trip has excellent panoramic views at the lookout. It is one of the most popular day hikes in the park. There are 1,400 feet of moderate climb and you will be able to enjoy open views along the way with diverse plant life. The 10,243-foot summit gives an endless panorama of Yellowstone and the peak has a fire lookout tower with an enclosed deck.
- Purple Mountain Trail – It is a 6-mile trail with moderate difficulty and has wonderful views of the valley in West Yellowstone. You will climb 1,500 feet to a panoramic view of rivers. The trail is slightly strenuous and not ideal for those with underlying health conditions. You should carry bear spray for this hiking trail.
- Fairy Falls Trail – The 5-mile trek is easy and will take you to a cascading waterfall. It is Yellowstone’s tallest waterfall and you can combine the hike to the falls with the Grand Prismatic Spring overlook.
- Avalanche Peak Trail – Another 5-mile trek. It is a steep hike along the ridgeline. The trail is heavily trafficked out and features a lake. This trail is rated as difficult and there are many activity options available here from May to September.
If you are not keen on hiking, you can head over to the Grand Teton National Park. It is located at a distance of 10 miles south of Yellowstone National Park.
The national park includes several major peaks of the Teton Range and the Northern section of Jackson Hole.
It is an ideal destination for hiking, mountaineering, fishing, and many other forms of recreation. You have an opportunity to drive in more than 1,000 campsites of hiking trails that give access to camping areas.
See Related: Joshua Tree National Park Itinerary
Day 4 – Northwest Section
Spot the best wildlife in the Northwest part of Yellowstone. You will get a chance to see some of the most elusive wildlife like wolves, and grizzly bears. Lamar Valley is the main location. Make sure to start your day early, keep the binoculars handy, and carry bear spray.
There is a chance you will see bald eagles, badgers, bison, pronghorn, coyotes, or deer. There are more than 100 bison roaming here and you will notice many species that you might not be able to recognize.
Lamar Valley is a must-do on your Yellowstone trip itinerary.
Drive to the Tower Fall from here. It is the most popular waterfall in Yellowstone and a must in your Yellowstone itinerary map. Head to the base of the fall on a half-mile hike or take in the views from an overlook.
It is a 132-foot waterfall that falls on a huge cliffside and flows into the river. It is not a huge hike down and is recommended to all.
You will see an exposed cliff side of the sulfuric rock which is a shade of yellow and probably the reason why Yellowstone is known as the Yellowstone National Park.
See Related: Best National Parks to Visit in November
Day 5- Northwest section
On the fifth day of the best Yellowstone itinerary go explore Mammoth Hot Springs. The area is usually packed with tourists and remains congested.
Hence, get up early and head out. Your drive to Mammoth Hot Springs will be different with big boulders on each side of the road to guide you to the area.
Once you reach, take the boardwalk to the Terraces. It has uniquely layered calcium deposits that are leftover from the hot springs.
Many of the different Mammoth Hot Springs are different shades of yellow, red, and orange.
You will notice a splendid contrast in their color counterparts. The smell, sight, and sounds will take your breath away when you walk through the boardwalk.
There is a 1-mile short hike at Wraith falls and a 4.6-mile moderate round trip hike at Bunsen Peak. It has a 1,300-foot climb. You will find the tallest active geyser at Norris Geyser Basin.
The Steamboat Geyser is very popular amongst tourists. Its eruptions are few and far between but you will see some gurgling. This valley has some of the hottest and oldest pools in the park.
On the last day of the Yellowstone National Park itinerary 5 days, take a detour outside the park. The Beartooth Highway is considered to be one of the most scenic drives in the United States and it is right outside the Northwest gate.
This is one of the most comprehensive itineraries for Yellowstone for you to plan your trip. It includes everything you must do when you are at this beautiful destination.
Before you head to Yellowstone, plan your days and include every must-see and must-do. You do not want to miss out on anything at this beautiful destination.
Yellowstone National Park has something to offer to every traveler’s personality and you will never get bored here. Whether you are an adventure enthusiast or a wildlife lover, there is something for you at this unique destination.
No amount of time is enough at Yellowstone but it is best to start with 5 days in order to cover every part of the park. Take your time and explore the various hot springs and rivers in the park. Start planning your holiday by keeping our Yellowstone itinerary in mind.
Are 5 days enough to see Yellowstone?
Yes, 5 days is enough to see the highlights of Yellowstone National Park. There are plenty of things to do and see in the park, so you’ll want to make sure you have a plan for what you want to do and see. You can our personal Yellowstone itinerary as a guide.
How many days do you need in Yellowstone National Park?
You should plan to spend three to four days in Yellowstone National Park. There’s a lot to see and do in the park, so it’s best to plan your visit ahead of time and make sure you hit all the highlights. You may want to spend more or less time depending on what interests you most such as spotting the vast number of wild animals, Mammoth Hot Springs, Morning Glory Pool, or the Old Faithful Geyser.
How do I plan a trip to Yellowstone?
Start by building out what you want to see and do, you can use our Yellowstone itinerary to start framing your needs versus wants. Then, determine how many days you want to spend and start booking flights and accommodations for your trip.
Yellowstone can be easy to visit because all the attractions are generally in a similar location, and there are many guided tours that allow you to explore the park without having to drive yourself. Tour operators pick up guests from hotels and airports, driving them from place to place without worrying about navigation or getting lost.
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