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Yellowstone National Park was the first national park in the United States, and it’s the 8th largest. Because it’s such a huge park, having at least a few days to visit is necessary. With this 3 Days in Yellowstone National Park Itinerary you will get the most out of Yellowstone in just 3 days!
This itinerary for 3 days in Yellowstone is perfect for your first visit to the park because it has you seeing all the highlights.
You will see the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, every type of geothermal activity including Old Faithful, go hiking, and see all the best wildlife viewing spots in just 3 days while in Yellowstone National Park!
Before diving into the full itinerary, let’s dive into some logistics of visiting Yellowstone first.
Where to Stay in Yellowstone
Deciding where to stay in Yellowstone can be difficult because the park is massive!
Our recommendation is to stay within the park at one of the campgrounds or lodges, depending on whether you prefer camping or staying in a hotel.
Make sure to book these in advance! Yellowstone is a super popular national park to visit, so they will fill up. This is especially true if you want to stay in the same place for your 3 days in Yellowstone.
If you cannot get all 3 days in Yellowstone reserved within the park, you can stay outside of it too. Some of the most popular spots to stay outside of Yellowstone, but still close, are Gardiner and West Yellowstone.
There are campgrounds near there as well as hotels and Airbnbs in both of these cities. Gardiner and West Yellowstone are very close to the park, but beware that lines of cars to get into Yellowstone can be long at peak times during peak seasons. This is why staying in the park is the best option!
If you’re not down for camping in a tent, check out How to Do a Car to Camper Conversion for Any Car and How to Convert Your Honda Fit into a Camper. Making your car into a camper is a super easy way to travel and camp without the hassle of a tent!
Remember t that when visiting Yellowstone, you will also need to purchase a US National Parks Pass. They are $80 for an annual pass that is valid for one year from the date of purchase.
Now, let’s get into the itinerary for your 3 days in Yellowstone!
Day 1 in Yellowstone: Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic, and Much More Geothermal Features!
Your first day in Yellowstone, where, and when you start out will depend on what time you get to the park and which gate you enter through.
It’s best to get aquatinted with the park and take your time driving in on the first of your 3 days in Yellowstone National Park. Pull over at anything interesting you see, get out, take some photos, walk around, and just enjoy what Yellowstone has to offer.
Yellowstone’s Grand Loop Road makes a big loop through the entire park and will drop you off at essentially all of the major sites. Norris Canyon Road cuts through the middle of the loop making it a figure 8. It’s easy and quick to get around unless a bison decides it wants to ‘play car,’ in which case a traffic jam will occur.
The first day of this 3 day itinerary focuses on the southwest side of the Grand Loop. This is where most of the geothermal activity in the park is located.
In fact, Yellowstone is the only place on Earth with all 4 types of geothermal features: hot springs, geysers, fumaroles (steam vents), and mud pots! And in this part of Yellowstone you can see all 4!
Old Faithful is obviously the most popular of all the geothermal features at Yellowstone. Yes, it’s predictable. Yes, it’s eruption is pretty high. And yes, it is super crowded.
Visiting Old Faithful is something you will probably do at Yellowstone, but in our honest opinion, it’s not really worth it…Other geysers were much more interesting and not nearly as touristy. Sometimes we were the only ones by them when they erupted!
Again, Old Faithful is something of a national landmark, so if you have time and want to guarantee seeing a geyser eruption, visit, but be prepared for crowds.
After seeing Old Faithful in the Upper Geyser Basin, head north on the Grand Loop Road to the other geyser basins: Midway, Lower, and Norris.
Grand Prismatic Spring and the Midway Geyser Basin
On your way north to the Midway Geyser Basin, stop at the Fairy Falls Trailhead parking lot. This will be your best view of Grand Prismatic Spring!
You will have to hike to the Grand Prismatic overlook, but the hike is easy and absolutely worth it! It’s a 1.2 mile Roundtrip hike and was about 105 feet of elevation gain. Hiking to the overlook of Grand Prismatic is one of the top things to do during your 3 days in Yellowstone.
If you are questioning whether to do the hike or not, we recommend that you do it. It’s actually better than walking on the boardwalk next to the grand Prismatic Spring because it’s so large you can’t really see it all from up close.
After the hike, drive the couple minutes to the Midway Geyser Basin and walk the boardwalk around it. You will see Excelsior Geyser, Opal Pool, and, of course, Grand Prismatic Spring.
While the Excelsior Geyser and Opal Pool are impressive, it’s really the Grand Prismatic Spring that steals the show. Its radiant colors and massive size set it apart.
Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in the United States and the 3rd largest in the world! It’s 370 feet in diameter and over 120 feet deep with temperatures up to 205°F.
Firehole Lake Drive
Continuing north on the Grand Loop Road, take a small detour on a one-way road called Firehold Lake Drive. This one-way road will bring you up close and personal with a handful of other geysers that many visitors miss because they don’t venture of the main road.
The geysers here include Broken Egg Spring, Firehole Spring, Great Fountain Geyser, White Dome Geyser, Pink Cone Geyser, and Firehole Lake.
It’s a quick detour that won’t really add much time to your drive but allows you to see so many more unique features of Yellowstone!
Lower Geyser Basin: Fountain Paint Pots
The Lower Geyser Basin is where you’ll get a chance to see mud pots for the first time during your 3 days in Yellowstone.
On the short boardwalk in the Lower Geyser Basin, you will see all 4 types of geothermal features in minutes! During this short walk, you can see hot springs, geysers, fumaroles, and mud pots.
While all are unique and interesting to see in their own way, the highlight here is Fountain Paint Pots.
From the Lower Geyser Basin, continue to head north of the Grand Loop Road. When you hit Madison Junction, you should continue north to Gibbon Falls, where you can get out to see the waterfall.
Along the road as you continue north, you can get out and see Artist Paintpots. There’s a collection of geysers and mud pots here. It’s not a must-see, but a place you can stop if you want to see some more colorful geothermal features.
Continuing north, the next, and last stop for Day 1, is Norris Geyser Basin.
Norris Geyser Basin
The Norris Geyser Basin is actually made up of two basins: Porcelain Basin and Back Basin. You can see both from the same entry point.
Back Basin has more geysers, and Porcelain basin has more hot springs, fumaroles, and pools. Depending on how you’re feeling, you can do one or the other. If you don’t feel like walking around the entire boardwalk, at least walk down a little to an overlook where you can see the majority of each side.
You might be totally done with geothermal features at this point, which is understandable. Head back to your campsite or wherever you are staying and rest up for Day 2 of 3 in Yellowstone.
Day 2 in Yellowstone: Hiking and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
While the Grand Loop Road will get you to so many places in Yellowstone, getting off the road, away from others, and into nature will really let you see parts of the park most miss by sticking to the road.
There are many opportunities of hiking in Yellowstone, but to explore a different part of the park on this 3 day itinerary, you are going to head to the east side of the Grand Loop Road.
Here, there are a few trails you can choose from. Depending on your fitness level, there are lots of options. Check out AllTrails.com for full descriptions and reviews of hikes in Yellowstone.
If you are curious about what to pack on a day hike in Yellowstone, check out our Complete Day Hike Packing List to be totally prepared for whatever mother nature has in store for you!
The Mt. Washburn hike will take you up to the top of Mt. Washburn, whereas the Seven Mile to Hole Trail will take you all the way down into the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone to the Yellowstone River at the bottom. It’s a fantastic hike if you don’t mind a few steeps cliffs and a steep hike back out of the canyon.
You will also want a quality hiking backpack. While you probably don’t need a bigger backcountry hiking backpack, you will want a quality daypack with a water reservoir. This way you won’t run out of water!
After hiking whichever one you chose—or maybe multiple hikes—you will probably be exhausted! Take the rest of the day to drive around and get some views by the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, another must-see!
As it gets later and the sun begins to set on Yellowstone, slowly drive around Hayden Valley along the Yellowstone River to try to spot some animals.
Dusk is one of the best times to see wildlife in Yellowstone, so make sure you take the time to drive around this area at sunset. Chances are you will see at least some wildlife, be it bison, elk, black bears, or even a grizzly bear.
Day 3 in Yellowstone: Mammoth Spring and Lamar Valley
For the last of your 3 days in Yellowstone National Park, you will be exploring the last part of the Grand Loop on the northern side.
Mammoth Spring will be your first stop. There are two parking areas you can stop at, but it’s all connected by a walkway. If you want to walk the whole loop, which isn’t strenuous at all, just park at one and come back to your car. You could obviously, park and walk half of it, drive, park again, and walk the other half, but that seems like a lot of extra work.
Yellowstone’s Mammoth Springs are different from the springs you saw on Day 1 of this itinerary because they have more of a terraced style of deposits. These terraces give you spectacular colors and pools with water cascading down the terraces.
As you walk around the various hot springs at Mammoth Springs, you will see the travertine limestone build up that is deposited by the springs. This builds up day after day here from the activity of the springs. It actually builds up almost 2 tons per day!
Optional Stops South of Mammoth Springs
After Mammoth Springs, you could continue east through Lamar Valley, but if you want you could go south on the Grand Loop Road towards Norris Geyser Basin. Here you can see a little bit more of the park.
Some of the highlighted stops here include Roaring Mountain fumaroles, Sheepeater Cliff, Apollinaris Spring, Obsidian Cliff, Golden Gate Canyon, and Bunsen Peak (named after the inventor of the Bunsen burner!).
Whether you choose to do the optional drive south of Mammoth Springs or not, you should head east of Mammoth Springs to Lamar Valley.
Lamar Valley is one of the best places in Yellowstone to see wildlife. Bison, bears, wolves, elk, and so many more animals can all be seen here.
The drive through Lamar Valley has lots of pullouts for photos, hikes, and a few things to see, like the Petrified Tree. If you are feeling up for a hike here, check out AllTrails.com again for the best hikes in Lamar Valley. Otherwise, enjoy the views and the wildlife that call Lamar Valley home.
Lamar Valley is one of the most scenic parts of the park and the perfect place to spend your last of 3 days in Yellowstone National Park.
If you are leaving from here, the best drive out of Yellowstone is through the Beartooth Highway. This road has you exiting Yellowstone in the northeast part of the park and takes you up through the Beartooth Mountains to Red Lodge, Montana.
It is 100% worth leaving Yellowstone this way! The drive is remarkable as it winds up to about 11,000 feet before bringing you back down switchbacks to Red Lodge, Montana. This is the perfect way to leave Yellowstone, especially if you are headed to Billings or back east to the Dakotas or other national parks, like Badlands or Theodore Roosevelt.
While you could easily spend a few weeks in Yellowstone and still not get to everything, this itinerary for 3 days in Yellowstone National Park allows you to see some of the best places in Yellowstone with getting to more than just the basic highlights everyone sees.