In summer 2020 my husband and I found ourselves in Wyoming – we were driving from Georgia to Washington and were trying to see as many sights as we could without going too far off route. We decided to take a little detour and explore Yellowstone National Park, a spot we’d both been wanting to visit, but hadn’t yet gotten the opportunity to. The only catch was that we had a single day to explore the park which boasts a whopping 2.2 million acres of land. It took a good bit of planning and some clever scheduling to make it happen, but we managed to see almost all the major sights Yellowstone has to offer in just one day of exploring. If you find yourself in a similar situation and want to know exactly how to tackle the park, this travel guide is perfect for you!
6:00am – breakfast offsite in Teton Village
We stayed outside of the park because most of the lodging options inside were either booked up or a bit more expensive than we were wanting to spend. Instead, we stayed in Teton Village, a town about an hour and a half south of Yellowstone. It definitely wasn’t ideal to be this far from the park, but it made the most sense for our particular situation. As a bonus, we got to explore Grand Teton National Park the day before as well (stay tuned for that travel guide)!
7:30-8:00am – arrive at Yellowstone
We tried to make it to the park fairly early in the morning to beat some of the crowds and ended up entering through the South Entrance a little before 8:00am. Starting early also meant we had cooler temperatures to walk around and explore, which made it a lot more enjoyable.
9:00am – Old Faithful
Our first stop was Old Faithful, probably one of the most iconic features in the park. We kept a close eye on the National Park Service website to see when the next predicted eruption would be, and in the meantime walked along the boardwalks of the Upper Geyser Basin. Seeing Old Faithful erupt was absolutely spectacular, and well worth the crowds. As soon as the show ended, we made our way back to the car to head on before there was a massive rush of people trying to leave.
10:30am – Grand Prismatic Spring
Another icon of Yellowstone, Grand Prismatic Spring is located just about 15 minutes up the road from Old Faithful. Unfortunately, we got a little lost while hiking around the area which meant there were some serious crowds once we actually made it to Grand Prismatic. Despite this, Grand Prismatic was absolutely worth the stop, and it was one of the most gorgeous sights we saw the whole day.
1:00pm – Mammoth Hot Springs
We were a little hesitant to visit Mammoth Hot Springs considering it is at the very northwestern point of the park, but we were so glad we ended up making the drive. I didn’t expect to be super wowed by this area considering how dramatic Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic were, but I was pleasantly impressed by how beautiful the Mammoth Hot Springs area was and how different it looked from the southern part of the park. The crowds were also a little better which made strolling through more enjoyable.
3:00pm – Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Unfortunately, the road connecting Mammoth Hot Springs to the Tower-Roosevelt portion of the park was closed, so we instead opted to head south and then east to explore the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. We checked out both Artist Point and Inspiration Point, and this was one of my favorite areas in the whole park. The Yellowstone River is absolutely stunning, and the waterfalls were some of the biggest I’ve ever seen.
4:30pm – Hayden Valley
We opted to take the long way out of the park by heading south from Canyon Village so we could drive through Hayden Valley and past Yellowstone Lake. Hayden Valley did not disappoint as we encountered a massive herd of buffalo. I’ve seen buffalo before in other states, but it never ceases to be an amazing experience. We pulled off the road and watched the herd for quite some time before continuing on past the lake. We didn’t make any stops in this area, but it was a beautiful drive as the sun slowly began to set. We passed by the South Entrance we originally came in, as well as Old Faithful, before exiting through the West Entrance and even seeing some elk on our way out.
7:00pm – dinner in West Yellowstone
Once exiting Yellowstone, we got some dinner and spent the night in West Yellowstone, a Montana town not far outside the park. This town is a great option if you want to be close to the park but not actually stay within park boundaries. It was the perfect spot to rest up and enjoy some bison chili after a full day of adventuring!
I would definitely recommend eating meals outside of the park if possible, because food inside Yellowstone tends to be overpriced and a bit limited – we snacked on PB&J sandwiches and other snacks which saved us both time and money!
And there you have it folks! Yellowstone has so much to offer that I would definitely recommend taking more than just one day to explore it, but it can be done if you’re willing to do a good bit of driving! I’m so glad we made the detour to check out the park and I can’t wait for our next visit.