At more than 3,400 square miles, you could spend a lifetime exploring Yellowstone National Park. But what if you only have two days? We’ve put together an incredible 2-day itinerary that packs in incredible hiking, wildlife watching, geyser viewing and more to make sure you can see Yellowstone’s best in just one weekend.
Watch Bison, Grizzlies and Wolves in Lamar Valley
Called “America’s Serengeti,” this grassy valley supports huge numbers of bison, grizzly bears, elk, coyotes, wolves, moose and bald eagles. For your best chance of seeing a wolf, get up before sunrise and head to Lamar Valley in the park’s northeast corner. Use binoculars or a spotting scope at pullouts. Remember to always stay at least 100 yards from predators like bears and wolves, and at least 25 yards from other animals like bison and elk.
Tip: The Yellowstone area is home to many dedicated wolf watchers. If you see multiple people at the same pullout early in the morning, you’ve probably found them and, subsequently, some of the park’s wolves.
Stroll the Boardwalks of Mammoth Hot Springs
Near the park’s north entrance, stop at Mammoth Hot Springs where you can see colorful travertine terraces. These terraces are formed by hot springs rising to the surface and depositing dissolved limestone in dramatic patterns. Mammoth Hot Springs is composed of two loops. If you do them both, you’ll see approximately 50 hot springs as you follow the boardwalks for 1.75 miles. There are a few sets of stairs on these boardwalks.
Hike to Mystic Falls
Head to the Biscuit Basin trailhead to hike the easy and picturesque trail to Mystic Falls. The 2.4-mile trail starts on the boardwalk through Biscuit Basin where you can see several thermal features before splitting off into the forest. The trail follows the Little Firehole River and ends at a beautiful 70-foot waterfall that’s well worth the hike.
From the falls, you can turn around and go back the way you came, or you can continue on the trail to add another mile to the hike and do a loop which will bring you to an overlook where you can see Upper Geyser Basin, home to Old Faithful.
Dine at Old Faithful Inn
A trip to Yellowstone wouldn’t be complete without seeing the largest log structure in the world. Built from 1903-04, the Old Faithful Inn is a stunning hotel worth visiting if for no other reason than to experience its lobby and check out its architecture.
The inn’s flagship restaurant, the Old Faithful Inn Dining Room, is only taking reservations for those staying in the park at any hotel or campground in 2022. Non-lodging guests can check in with the host stand for same-day availability, though don’t count on there being room in this popular restaurant. If you can’t get a table, there are several other dining options in the complex that don’t take reservations, including the Old Faithful Snow Lodge Obsidian Dining Room.
Hike Beyond Old Faithful
Chances are, seeing Old Faithful erupt is at the top of your park bucket list. Start the morning by watching this incredible geyser erupt. If you’re up before the visitor center opens, check the predictions on the next eruption at www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/exploreoldfaithful.htm. Old Faithful usually erupts every 60-110 minutes.
After seeing the park’s most famous geyser, follow the boardwalks into Upper Geyser Basin. You can walk up to 6 miles through the highest concentration of geysers in the world here. Along the way you’ll pass stunning blue, orange and yellow hot pools, have to duck from the mist of erupting geysers and get to watch the Firehole River steam. Once you get away from Old Faithful, the crowds tend to disappear. Keep your eyes peeled for animals like bison and elk. Walk as far as you like before turning back towards the parking area.
See Grand Prismatic
Head to Midway Geyser Basin and walk along the boardwalk to see one of the world’s largest, deepest hot springs, Grand Prismatic Spring. It’s larger than a football field at 370 feet across and deeper than a 10-story building at 125 feet. Its colors are spectacular and range from deep blue in the center to green to yellow and orange on the edges. The pool gets its coloring from different species of heat-loving bacteria that thrive at different temperatures. Stroll the boardwalks in this area to see several other pools.
Tip: If you want an elevated view, take the Fairy Falls trail 0.5 miles to an overlook where you can see out over the spring. It will give you a totally different perspective from seeing it from the boardwalks.
Picnic Alongside Yellowstone Lake
When your stomach starts growling, beeline for Yellowstone Lake, the largest high elevation lake in North America with 141 miles of shoreline. Thirteen picnic areas line the lake’s shores but if you’re coming from Grand Prismatic, the West Thumb or Grant Village picnic areas are the closest spot to have lunch with a view of the lake. Break out the cooler to enjoy a serene picnic. The lake is so big, that it feels like you’re looking out over the ocean complete with the sound of waves lapping against the shore.
Tip: If you didn’t bring your own lunch, stop by Grant Village Camper Services for sandwiches, snacks and drinks. It’s open 7 a.m. – 10 p.m. daily.
Get information about all picnic areas in Yellowstone at www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/picnic.htm.
See Giant Waterfalls
Did you know Yellowstone has its own Grand Canyon? The powerful Yellowstone River formed the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone which is home to three incredible waterfalls: Upper, Lower and Crystal falls. Seeing the waterfalls in the late afternoon or early evening light is breathtaking. While they are at their peak in the spring, they flow all year long.
Lower Falls is 308 feet tall and the energy that comes from its crashing course over yellow and orange canyon walls is palpable. The Lower Falls are visible from Red Rock Point, Artist Point and Lookout Point. If you want to stand on top of the falls, hike the 0.75 mile steep, roundtrip trail to Brink of Lower Falls to witness the water the moment it plunges down the canyon.
Upper Falls is shorter at 109 feet, but still impressive. Head to Brink of Upper Falls overlook, which is accessible via a short paved path, to see this waterfall. You can also see Upper Falls from Uncle Tom’s Point.
The smaller, lesser-known Crystal Falls can be seen from the South Rim Trail which is a great hike to see all three falls.