Yellowstone is the oldest national park in the US and is often regarded as the oldest park in the world. The huge park sprawls across an area of more than 2.2 million acres and is one of the most visited national parks in the country. Yellowstone National Park is famed for its hydrothermal features, with more than 10,000 active features including geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles. Apart from these geothermal wonders, the park is rich in megafauna, scenic vistas, beautiful trails, and wonderful forests. Most of the park’s area falls in Wyoming, though it also covers some areas in Montana and Idaho.
What’s the best time to visit Yellowstone?
Late spring and summer are the most popular times to visit Yellowstone National Park, since mid-May to early October sees the highest number of visitors to the park. With the winter chill gone, the park throngs with activity and visitors. Mild to warm temperatures of the summer present an excellent opportunity to explore the wonders of this park and observe its celebrated wildlife.
It is possible to visit the park in the winter as well, but the services are limited, most roads are closed, and most campgrounds are shut down. The only road that remains open is between the northeast entrance and Mammoth Hot Springs. Snowmobile or snowcoach services are available to some popular destinations like the Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
A Few Facts About Yellowstone
It is estimated that half of the world’s geysers and hydrothermal features are in Yellowstone. These features depend on the ongoing volcanic activity in the area, connected to the Yellowstone Caldera. This is also the largest super-volcano on the continent and is currently considered dormant. An explosion of the Yellowstone super-volcano could have potentially world-altering implications.
Some of the most notable wildlife species in the park include the bison, black bear, elk, snowshoe hare, Canada lynx, and montane vole. Animals freely roam the park and can also be seen near popular boardwalks like those near the Old Faithful.
Animals have the right of way, and that sometimes results in a phenomenon termed bear jam. Usually, this means there are bears on the road and a traffic jam is caused by tourists stopping to look at the bears while the animals leisurely make their way through the road. If you should run into such a situation, the park recommends you stay inside your vehicle or very close to it.
One Day in Yellowstone National Park Itinerary
There is a lot to do and see here, but if you have only one day in Yellowstone, the aim should be to enjoy the most popular and unique locations on offer. As such, you’re going to spend a lot of time in the car, but with enough time to enjoy the wonders of Yellowstone. Food is readily available at most of these locations, but it is a good idea to carry some no-cook meals and snacks that can be enjoyed in the car or at a picnic spot. This can also save you long waiting times at the park’s busy restaurants and food joints.
Wear nice and comfortable shoes to negotiate some trails or at least a walk on the boardwalk. Also, carry your patience along! There can be traffic jams or aforementioned bear jams. So rather than having a packed itinerary, be flexible and give yourself time to enjoy the park, rather than whirlwind through it!
Leverage the long summer days, so arrive early and stay late. The sun does not set until 9 pm, so there’s a lot of time to enjoy.
The South Entrance
The south entrance offers an excellent path to the Yellowstone loop. It also takes the road to another magnificent natural wonder, the Grand Teton National Park. The smart move is to start early and try to beat the crowds. Rush hour for the entrances usually goes from 9 am to 11 am. Managing to beat this morning rush means you’ll spend less time standing in lines and face fewer traffic jams.
During summers, gates are often left open and people may enter/exit the park at will 24×7. If in doubt, call ahead to the park for confirmation. You should be able to beat the morning rush hour. In case you’re starting from Jackson city, consider leaving at 5:30 am or 6 am.
West Thumb Geyser Basin
It takes about 30-40 minutes to cover the 22-mile distance from the south entrance to the West Thumb Geyser Basin. This is a wonderful area along the shores of Yellowstone Lake. The basin is an excellent introduction to the park, with its boardwalk loop trails offering great views of the mud pots and steaming lakeside cones.
It’s a great introduction to the hydrothermal features of Yellowstone. Turquoise blue waters of the Abyss Pool look stunning, and the Fishing Cone hot spring is a wonderful neighbor.
The cabin near the parking here is the summer visitor information station. You can visit here to confirm the time of the next Old Faithful eruption. That way, you can better plan the timing of your next stop.
The Old Faithful Basin
Old Faithful is the best-known geyser in the world. It erupts approximately every 90 minutes. Generally speaking, the eruption may have a variance of up to 10 minutes from the predicted eruption time. Each eruption can send up to 8,400 gallons of scalding water almost 184 feet into the air. It is located about 17 miles from the West Thumb Basin and it can take about 30 minutes to reach here. The area has a lot to offer, and it is worthwhile to spend some time here to fully appreciate it.
Apart from viewing the famous geyser, take some time to stroll on the boardwalk and enjoy other hydrothermal locations. The area around Old Faithful, the upper geyser basin is home to about 150 geysers. It’s an awe-inspiring geological wonder. Taking the trail to the upper geyser basin will take you to locations like the Morning Glory Pool. If you’re short on time or prefer smaller walks, the Geyser Loop walk is a good option as well.
Also, visit the visitor education center and Old Faithful Inn. The inn is open for historical tours at fixed times, starting from 9:30 am. There is a lot of knowledge to be gained about geothermal and hydrothermal activity in this region.
Peak visitation at the Old Faithful is from 10 am to 3 pm. It’s tough to beat the crowds here, but starting early can give you the advantage of exploring this in a relatively less crowded setting.
Grand Prismatic Spring
Driving seven miles from Old Faithful will bring you to another popular attraction for Yellowstone National Park. Midway Geyser Basin is home to the largest hot water spring in the United States. The bright turquoise water is well accompanied by other colors on its shores, which include red, orange, yellow, and green. All of these colors are seen in rainbow dispersion of light by an optical prism, which became the inspiration for naming the spring.
The area is also known as Hell’s Half Acre. It includes hot water gushing from geothermal pools to the Firehole River. Walking the half-mile boardwalk loop gives you great views and a wonderful experience.
It takes about 30 minutes to cover the 17 miles from the Grand Prismatic Spring to Gibbon Falls. If you have time and are looking for a more scenic route, consider going through the Firehole Lake Drive that goes through a region with several geysers and springs. It adds about 20-30 minutes to the journey, but the views are well worth it.
This is the sight where Gibbon River tumbles 84 feet in a majestic waterfall. The location is accessible and can be enjoyed by people of all ages, so it would be a shame not to include it on your one day in Yellowstone.
Norris Geyser Basin
Norris Geyser Basin 9 miles from Gibbon Falls and takes about 15 minutes to reach. This basin is home to Steamboat Geyser, which is currently the tallest active geyser in the world. Geothermal activity in this area is quite interesting and the trails and boardwalk open the gateway to colorful thermals. New geysers and hot springs show up in this area often, while others go dormant.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
A distance of 12 miles covered in a 30-minute drive will take you to Canyon Village. Many visitors make the mistake of turning around after seeing the Old Faithful and Lower Basin Geysers at Yellowstone. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is a gratifying location.
Yellowstone River cuts through the rhyolite rock softened by hydrothermal activity. The rocks here have multiple hues and colors that so wonderfully mark the various features of Yellowstone National Park. The canyon includes two falls, the 308-foot (93 m) Lower Falls and 109-foot (33 m) Upper Falls.
Canyon Village is also an excellent location to buy souvenirs, have some food, and visit the Visitor Education Center.
As you leave Canyon Village, you’ll soon find yourselves on the shores of Yellowstone Lake. This area is also popular with the megafauna of the park, and you will likely see bison spending time by the shores of the lake.
Once you complete the drive of this area, you’ll find yourself back at West Thumb, having completed a loop. Now take the scenic route back to the South Entrance and head to the campground. If you manage to complete the trip in the evening and plan to drive to Jackson, the scenic route is invitation enough. Driving with the setting sun along Grand Teton National Park is quite an experience in itself!
Top Things To Do In Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
The most popular things to do in the park are visits to the Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring. These two locations and the associated hydrothermal activity are the hallmarks of the national park and are a must visit during your one day in Yellowstone. However, do not limit yourself to only these locations. The views here are amazing and you should make time to complete the park’s loop, even if it is a quick drive.
Yellowstone Lake and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone are somewhat lesser known, but they are amazing in terms of the views they offer. The wildlife is remarkably rich and the park’s megafauna is celebrated. The bear and bison are a staple, but the park has also won accolades for its reintroduction of wolves and the remarkable effect they’ve had on the local environment. And of course, just like other national parks, Yellowstone is an ideal location for backcountry camping, hiking, and trekking.
If you encounter areas of geothermal or hydrothermal activity, remember to stay on the established path.
Spending a day in Yellowstone and not gaining any knowledge of the geothermal and hydrothermal forces that created its wonders would be a waste! Visit the information centers in the park and enjoy their very well made displays and presentations on the remarkable phenomena that shaped the geography here.
Where To Stay In Yellowstone National Park?
There are 12 campgrounds in Yellowstone National Park. Although these can hold a fair number of travelers, they fill up rather quickly. Visitors can consider staying in nearby cities and towns. Picking a location close to the South Entrance offers convenient access to Yellowstone as well as Grand Teton. Jackson Hole Airport and Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport provide connectivity to travelers. Keep in mind that this area is a popular vacation spot and can be very busy in summer. Make your reservations well ahead of time!
104 South Canyon Street, West Yellowstone
Kelly Inn in West Yellowstone, Montana is a convenient stop for visiting Yellowstone. Driving from the inn to the West Entrance of the park barely takes five minutes. The convenient location is further enhanced by available amenities. The inn has spacious air-conditioned rooms, an indoor pool and hot tub, free parking, and WiFi. It is located close to the National Geographic IMAX Theater and is 90 miles from the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport.
Elk Country Inn
480 West Pearl Street, Jackson, WY 83001
Elk Country Inn is a great place to spend the night, south of Grand Teton in the mountain resort of Jackson Hole. It is located in a wonderful wooden building and the inside is very warm and cozy. Outdoor barbecue and a great picnic area allow for some wonderful gatherings while enjoying excellent food, plus there’s also a fitness centre in the inn if you want to stay in shape. During the winter, the inn is fantastically connected to all the main ski resorts and even offers complimentary ski shuttles if you need them.
3315 Village Drive, Teton Village, WY 83025
The Hostel, is well, a hostel located in Teton Village. Close to Jackson City, it offers easy access to Grand Teton National Park and traveling a bit further gets you to the south entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Visitors can pick from private or shared rooms. The Hostel has modern furnishings, a game room, community room, and on-site laundry facility. The game room includes board games, shuffleboards, and a pool table.
Day Trips From Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone itself is full of wonders and includes several amazing places and locations to put in your itinerary. Once you go beyond the park, there are limited options. West Yellowstone is a quaint and nice town a few minutes from the park’s West Entrance. However, this small town can be quickly explored, and the food prices are astonishing.
Those looking for a more urban experience can drive a couple of hours from the South Gate to Jackson Hole. This city has more to offer by way of urban life, though it remains largely dependent on tourists making their stop on their way to Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Park.
Grand Teton is a small distance from the South Entrance of Yellowstone. It’s best to take your time and plan your trip well. However, if you want to make a quick visit, you could enjoy some of the wonders of this beautiful park by visiting from Yellowstone National Park.
Extra Tips For Visiting Yellowstone National Park
Large swathes of Yellowstone National Park have geothermal/ hydrothermal activity. No matter which things you do here, stay on the boardwalk or the established trail. Even what appears like solid ground may end up being a small crust that gives way under pressure. Pools can be extremely hot and/or acidic, even if they appear calm on the surface. Keep children close and do not allow them to run. If you have pets, keep them on a leash and ensure they stay on the boardwalk and trail.
During the peak season, there may be traffic jams. Visitors should expect them and remain calm. If you see any wildlife along the road that you want to observe, responsibly park your vehicle on the side to ensure traffic is not obstructed. Do not approach or feed animals, and stay close to your vehicle.
Pin for later!
If you have any other propositions for this One Day in Yellowstone National Park Itinerary, feel free to share it in the comments below!