Yellowstone 3-Day Itinerary (the Complete Yellowstone National Park Experience in Just 3 Days)

Yellowstone 3 Day Itinerary

Discover the Hidden Treasures of America’s Most Iconic National Park

“National park” seems inadequate to describe the vast grandeur of Yellowstone National Park. For one thing, Yellowstone spans 3,472 square miles! It stretches over parts of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. If you only have a few days to spend exploring this magnificent park, you need the right plan. That is why I put together this exciting Yellowstone 3-day itinerary.   

As well as its gigantic size, Yellowstone National Park is remarkable for its long history. It dates all the way back to 1872, when President Ulysses S. Grant signed its preservation and protection into law. Of course, for thousands of years Native American people lived and thrived on this land. 

One of Yellowstone National Park’s most exciting features is its abundant wildlife. There are around 300 bird species and 67 mammals in the park. Not to mention 16 types of fish. 

Moose, elk, bison, and even wolves and grizzly bears are among the impressive animals you just might spot in the park. 

Yellowstone National Park Wildlife

If you’re like many visitors, you’re especially keen to see the bison. Yellowstone National Park has always had populations of this magnificent animal since prehistoric times.  

Also, half of the hydrothermal features on the planet are found in this legendary park.

Yellowstone contains at least 10,000 hydrothermal features. These include the geysers and (dangerously acidic) hot springs for which the park is famous, as well as travertine terraces, mudpots, and fumaroles. 

Here is an important safety warning: hot springs in Yellowstone are acidic and dangerous. In fact, several years ago a visitor fell into one of the park’s hot springs and was killed. The acidity dissolved his body within days. Also, they may emit noxious gases. 

But on a (much) more cheerful note, keep reading to find my 3-day Yellowstone National Park itinerary. Remember, this schedule isn’t set in stone, and I encourage you to make whatever adjustments fit your needs and preferences. 

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Getting to (and Around) Yellowstone National Park 

Of course, how you get to the National Park for your 3-day Yellowstone itinerary will vary depending on where you’re coming from. If you’re outside of the United States (for example, in Europe) and have to fly in, you will probably have to initially land at an international airport and then fly to a regional airport near the park

The regional airports that people often fly to in order to visit Yellowstone National Park are Jackson Hole Airport, Yellowstone Regional Airport, West Yellowstone Airport, and Idaho Falls Regional Airport. 

Jackson Hole Airport in Wyoming is the most popular regional airport for incoming Yellowstone National Park visitors. However, West Yellowstone Airport in Montana is in closest proximity to the park. Many visitors like flying into this regional airport because it means that you get a spectacular view of the park before you land. 

If you live in the United States or even Canada, you might decide that you will drive (instead of fly) to Yellowstone National Park. Whether this is practical depends on how far away you are and whether or not you’re open to a road trip. 

Traveling To and Around Yellowstone National Park (getting there by air or by car)

Regardless of where you’re traveling from or how you’re getting to Yellowstone National Park, make sure you have personal transportation for making your way around the park. If you’re driving to the park, you will already have your vehicle. But if you’re flying, make sure to arrange for a vehicle rental for your trip

Many people drive their RV to Yellowstone, so they can stay in that on the campgrounds and use it for driving around the park. 

Car Rental Booking Sites I Use & Recommend

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Yellowstone Park Entrances 

As Yellowstone National Park is such a vast space, it has several different entrances. Here they are below. 

Yellowstone National Park Entrance

North Entrance 

The North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park is the only entrance that stays open all year long. You’ll find this entrance in Gardiner, Montana. 

Entering the park at the North Entrance makes it easy for you to start your itinerary in the Lamar Valley. 

Northeast Entrance 

The Northeast Entrance is close to Cooke City, Montana (as well as Silver Gate, known as its sister village).

This entrance is the most convenient for visiting the Lamar Valley, which is where there are large populations of wolves, black bears, and grizzly bears. It’s closed in the winter. 

East Entrance 

Do you want to enter Yellowstone National Park from Wyoming, specifically near the town of Cody? The East Entrance is a good choice. This Yellowstone entrance is usually available between May and October. 

One advantage of the East Entrance is how close it is to the shores of Yellowstone Lake. This is an enormous mountain lake, and there are several geothermal features close to it. 

South Entrance 

Are you thinking about staying in Jackson, Wyoming? The South Entrance is probably the best entrance for you. 

One downside of this entrance, however, is that you have to drive for so long (more than 20 miles) after entering the park before you see any geothermal attractions. 

West Entrance 

Yellowstone visitors who are most excited about seeing the geysers often like using the West Entrance. This is an incredibly busy entrance, and it features plenty of shopping and dining opportunities nearby. 

You’ll find the West Entrance in Montana, near the Wyoming border. 

When Should You Visit Yellowstone National Park? 

As with any adventure in the great outdoors, the time of year you choose for a visit is key.

When it comes to Yellowstone National Park, the early spring and the fall are good times to explore this legendary protected territory in the United States. 

When to Visit Yellowstone National Park

April, September, and October tend to be excellent times to visit Yellowstone. They’re great times to see a lot of wildlife. 

Also, the park doesn’t tend to be as crowded. Peak season stretches from late April to the middle of September.

The park is especially busy between May and the end of August

Where to Stay During Your Yellowstone National Park Trip 

Are you traveling to Yellowstone in an RV? You’ll probably want to stay in one of the park’s 2,000 campgrounds. 

With most of these campsites, you have to book them in advance. The earlier you can get your booking, the better. 

You can find information on the dates for each campground and where you can book them at the National Park Service site.    

Yellowstone Campgrounds

One campground that (between October 15 and April 1) has a first-come, first-served policy is Mammoth Campground. 

Campgrounds at Yellowstone National Park

On the National Park Service site, you will see that you can book some of the campsites through the Yellowstone National Park Lodges site. Others, however, require you to book through

Check the rules for each camping site, as they each have their own guidelines. For example, some of them have rules for how large of an RV you can bring. 

But what about tents? Yes, you can sleep in a tent in Yellowstone (as long as you choose a campground that allows them, of course). 

Make sure that your tent is sturdy and take extra safety precautions overall. Remember, there are grizzly bears and wolves in the park. 

If you’re using a tent, stay away from campsites that are near potentially hazardous sites, such as rivers and canyons. 

Some campsites are for tents only, while others are only for RVs. There are also sites available that allow both tents and RVs. 

It’s affordable to stay in a Yellowstone campground. For most of them, you can expect to pay between $20 and $39 (plus taxes) a night. The Fishing Bridge RV Park is a bit more expensive, though. That campground costs between $89 and $99 (plus taxes) per night. 

Think about what features and amenities you want in your campground. Be aware that not all of them have flush toilets. If you’re in an RV with its own bathroom facilities, however, that may not be a worry for you. 

Check out the charts on the Yellowstone page on the National Park Service site to learn about what amenities each campground offers.

Hotels, Lodges, and Cabins  

If you’re like me, you’ll prefer to stay in a hotel, lodge, or cabin in or near the park. There are more than 1,300 hotels that are inside or near Yellowstone National Park. 

Let’s talk about some of the hotel, lodge, and cabin accommodations that are inside the park. 

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Canyon Lodge & Cabins 

Canyon Lodge & Cabins is a 3-star accommodation option located inside Yellowstone National Park. It has a 24-hour front desk, as well as two restaurants for your convenience. 

This hotel offers amenities such as laundry facilities and a grocery/convenience store on the premises. You can enjoy a hearty breakfast for between $8 and $20 per person.

If you’d like to stay in the mountains, Canyon Lodge & Cabins is a great pick. You’ll feel cozy and at home from the minute you step into the lobby with its glowing fireplace. 

You can either book a room in the lodge or a cabin. 

Roosevelt Lodge & Cabins

Another lodge and cabin option is Roosevelt Lodge & Cabins. It features a restaurant and bar, as well as a 24/7 front desk. This accommodation option is just a 4-minute drive from Calcite Springs Overlook and a 13-minute drive from Trout Lake Trail. 

If you’re interested in staying in a cabin for your Yellowstone experience, consider one of the cabins provided by Roosevelt Lodge & Cabins. Keep an eye out for which ones include a bath, though. 

Grant Village 

Grant Village is another hotel found within Yellowstone National Park. It features a waterfront location, so if that is what you had in mind, you could think about booking here. 

This hotel is located near Yellowstone Lake and the Grant Village Visitor Center. The West Thumb Geyser Basin is only an 8-minute drive away. 

West Thumb Geyser Basin
West Thumb Geyser Basin

Grant Village has two restaurants nearby: Grant Village Dining Room and Lake House Restaurant. This hotel is also close to several Yellowstone attractions, including Yellowstone Lake, Grant Village Visitor Center, and Grant Village Campground. 

Lake Lodge Cabins

Located near Yellowstone Lake and Pelican Valley Trail, Lake Lodge Cabins is another accommodation option in the park. Enjoy some meals at Wylie’s Canteen at Lake Lodge 

Enjoy a delicious breakfast with a cooked-to-order breakfast for a small additional charge. There is also a gift shop on the premises. Lake Lodge Cabins also offers free parking, as well as tour and ticket assistance. 

Lake Yellowstone Hotel & Cabins 

Looking for something a little more upscale? Think about booking a room at Lake Yellowstone Hotel & Cabins. This hotel has a rich history and even features a business center. 

Lake Yellowstone Hotel

It’s located near Yellowstone Lake, Pelican Valley Trail, and Fishing Bridge, as well as Pelican Creek Nature Trail Trailhead. 

There are hiking and bicycling opportunities nearby, as well as boat tours. If you stay at Lake Yellowstone Hotel & Cabins, enjoy dinner at the fine-dining restaurant that is found onsite. 

Lake Yellowstone Hotel & Cabins also offers free self-parking, as well as valet parking. Of course, you can pay for a cooked-to-order breakfast. This hotel also offers a 24-hour front desk, and even a bellhop/porter. 

Old Faithful Inn 

Old Faithful Inn is another historic hotel in Yellowstone National Park. It features a 24-hour front desk as well as two restaurants. 

Old Faithful Inn

As you’d guess from its name, Old Faithful Inn is located near the Old Faithful geyser, which is situated in the park’s Upper Geyser Basin. Remember to visit the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center. 

Like other hotels in Yellowstone, Old Faithful Inn offers a cooked-to-order breakfast for a reasonable fee. You’ll also discover a coffee shop on the hotel’s premises. 

Mammoth Hot Springs & Cabins 

Mammoth Hot Springs & Cabins is a pleasant Yellowstone National Park hotel. It has an inviting exterior and the interiors will meet your expectations. 

This hotel is within walking distance of Fort Yellowstone Historic District and Osprey Falls Trail. It’s also close-by Albright Visitor Center, Mammoth Hot Springs, and Beaver Ponds Loop Trail. 

Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs

You can purchase a tasty breakfast here at Mammoth Hot Springs & Cabins. There are also several restaurants within a reasonable driving distance. For example, you can reach Wonderland Cafe & Lodge in a 13-minute drive, and Outlaws Pizza with a 17-minute drive. 

Itinerary for 3 Days in Yellowstone National Park 

Here is our exciting 3-day itinerary for Yellowstone that truly gives you the complete Yellowstone National Park experience. 

It will work best if you enter the park at its North Entrance in Gardiner, Montana (as I talked about earlier). Of course, if you’re using one of the other entrances, you can make adjustments for your ease and convenience. 

Day 1: Mammoth Hot Springs and the Lamar Valley 

Before we get started, I just want to remind you of what I said earlier about the dangers of Yellowstone hot springs. Please, be careful! Don’t take any unnecessary risks. 

Now, with that being said, let’s talk about what you can do on your first day in Yellowstone National Park. 

Mammoth Hot Springs 

A short drive from the North Entrance, Mammoth Hot Springs is a small town named after the hot springs geothermal feature found within it. It’s great to start your Yellowstone adventures here, as it is the location of the park’s headquarters. There is a visitor’s center here, too. 

Visit Mammoth Hot Springs

Also, as you approach the Mammoth Hot Springs, you will see a landmark called Roosevelt Arch. Engraved at the top of this monument is the message, “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” This refers to Yellowstone National Park as a whole. 

Like other towns and villages in Yellowstone National Park, Mammoth Hot Springs will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. It offers several historic buildings. On top of that, you are likely to spot some elk. 

The Springs of Mammoth Hot Springs

Now let’s get to seeing the hot springs in Mammoth Hot Springs. You achieve this by following the trails and boardwalks that have been built especially for this purpose. Wear your hiking shoes, as you’ll probably walk at least a couple of miles. 

Seeing the springs here will be your first taste of how extraordinary Yellowstone National Park is in its unique landscape and geological features. Almost everywhere you look, you will see unusual colors and stone formations called terraces. 

Explore Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park

There are several different hot springs here, and each has its own special features and attractions. Depending on where you start, near the end of your boardwalk excursion, you may see Canary Spring. It has white sediment that strikes a memorable appearance behind the steam rising from the water. 

Like with the other hot springs in Yellowstone, it’s the landscape around the springs as well as the springs themselves that are the attractions. 

You’ll probably want to spend a couple of hours hiking on the boardwalk areas that allow visitors to safely view the springs and the geothermal area as a whole. 

Lunch at Wonderland Cafe & Lodge

Once you’ve worked up an appetite exploring Mammoth Hot Springs, take the short drive back to Gardiner and enjoy lunch at Wonderland Cafe & Lodge. There are some great sandwiches and burgers here, so pick the one you think looks tastiest. 

The Lamar Valley 

After lunch, it’s time to experience the Lamar Valley. If you’re excited to see wildlife, driving and/or hiking around the Lamar Valley will be an unforgettable experience for you. It’s often called The American Serengeti, and for good reason. 

Bison in the Lamar Valley

Be respectful of the animals, making sure you don’t get too close to them. Exercise reasonable caution, as there are predators here, such as grizzly bears and wolves. 

This valley is famous for its bison. That’s right, there are enormous bison in the Lamar Valley. And they can be a little grumpy, so watch your Ps and Qs. 

Dinner Yellowstone Pizza Company 

If you’re staying in Gardiner for the night, think about having dinner there at Yellowstone Pizza Company. This popular local restaurant has a range of pizzas for you to choose from, including ones with a Yellowstone theme.

End the First Day of our 3 Day Yellowstone Itinerary with Dinner at Yellowstone Pizza Company

How does the Yellowstone Pizza with ground bison meat sound?

I think it sounds like a great way to end the first day of your 3 day Yellowstone itinerary.

Day 2: Upper and Midway Geyser Basins 

You’ll spend plenty of time driving on the Grand Loop Road during your time in Yellowstone National Park. It’s the park’s primary interior roadway. 

For Day 2 of this 3 day Yellowstone itinerary, take the Grand Loop Road for your trip to the Upper Geyser Basin.

On Day 2 of Our 3 Day Yellowstone Itinerary Take the Grand Loop Road in Yellowstone National Park

As well as being an efficient route, this road is surrounded by spectacular scenery and natural features, making it a big part of the Yellowstone experience. 

The Upper Geyser Basin 

It may take as little as 45 minutes to drive from Gardiner, Montana (or the Lamar Valley, if that is where you are) to the Upper Geyser Basin

Upper Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park

As you can guess from its name, the Upper Geyser Basin features many geysers. In fact, it contains at least 150 of these geothermal features. 

Wear your hiking shoes! There is a lot of walking to be done here. You can easily spend half of your day making your way along the full loop path. It’s a little over 6 miles. 

It’s best to begin your adventure at the Old Faithful Visitor Center. Once you’ve visited this resource, go behind the center and find the path. 

Now, let’s talk about the geysers you can see in the Upper Geyser Basin. We’ll begin with the most famous one of all: Old Faithful. 

Old Faithful 

Even if you’ve never been to Yellowstone National Park, you’ve probably heard of Old Faithful. It’s a geyser that creates enormous eruptions. These eruptions happen quite frequently, and in many cases they can even be predicted. 

Old Faithful Geyser

Keep a safe distance from Old Faithful, as it could technically erupt at any time. The water that erupts from this geyser is extremely hot (around 204°F), and it creates steam that may reach 350°F or higher. 

Old Faithful Geyser

Stay safe and keep your feet on the boardwalk at all times. 

As Old Faithful is so popular, it usually attracts a crowd. This geyser usually erupts 20 times each and every day. Every hour to 95 minutes, Old Faithful will spring into action. 

When it erupts, a hot water column reaching between 100 and 130 feet high shoots into the air. And when I say hot, I mean hot. It’s 244°F degrees Fahrenheit! 

Once you’ve viewed an Old Faithful eruption, go ahead and continue on the designated boardwalk paths. There are boardwalks behind Old Faithful that you can go on. They travel in a right-ward direction and take you over the Firehold River. 

Once you go over the River, you can choose which direction to go. Find the fork in the trail and decide whether to go left or right, keeping an eye out for all relevant signs and directions. 

If you stay on the left, consider making a circle around Geyser Hill. Keep an eye out for Beehive Geyser as well as Heart Spring. The latter gets its name from the fact that its pool is heart-shaped. 

If you go right, check for the signs that lead you to Observation Point. You’ll need to do a bit of a climb, but once you do, you’ll have a great view of the entire basin. 

Lunch at Old Faithful Snow Lodge Geyser Grill 

Old Faithful Snow Lodge Geyser Grill opens at 11 a.m. from April 21 to October 31. It closes for the winter on November 1.

Lunch at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge Geyser Grill (in the background)

It’s first come, first served, and the friendly staff here will be happy to rustle up a hearty lunch for you and your family or companions. 

Midway Geyser Basin 

Hop in the car and drive to the Midway Geyser Basin, which is just about 15 minutes away from Old Faithful. It’s quite a bit smaller than the Upper Geyser Basin, but it’s still well worth a visit. 

Let’s take a look at some of the natural features you can see in this part of Yellowstone National Park. 

Grand Prismatic Spring 

Like Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring is among Yellowstone’s most famous attractions.

Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park

It’s a simply enormous hot spring, the third largest on the entire planet. It features bright blue water with a curiously colorful ring of algae. 

To view Grand Prismatic Spring, stay at a safe distance on the designated boardwalk nearby. You can also see it from a small hill nearby. 

Grand Prismatic Spring
Excelsior Geyser Crater 

One of the most impressive natural formations you’ll ever see, the Excelsior Geyser Crater is a crater that spans 200 by 300 feet.

Excelsior Geyser Crater in Yellowstone National Park

Day and night, this crater is always discharging thousands of gallons of hot water into the nearby Firehold River.

Fountain Paint Pot 

As well as geysers and hot springs, Yellowstone also has plenty of paint pots. Paint pots are a type of natural geothermal feature, and as you’d guess from the name, they resemble an enormous pot of paint (or mud). 

Fountain Paint Pot, Yellowstone

Fountain Paint Pot is fascinating to look at (from a safe distance on the boardwalk, of course), as the mud is continually bubbling at extraordinarily high temperatures. 

Dinner at Grant Village Lake House Restaurant 

If you feel like a relaxing dinner, think about driving about 40 minutes to Grant Village Lake House Restaurant. This restaurant is inside the park and like most of the eating establishments in Yellowstone, it has a casual, laid-back dress code. 

Day 3:  The Yellowstone Canyon Area

A visit to Yellowstone Canyon and other attractions around it is the perfect way to cap off your time in the park. It will probably take a little over an hour to drive to Yellowstone Canyon from the Midway Geyser Basin. 

Yellowstone Canyon 

You might hear people refer to the Yellowstone Canyon in Wyoming as the “Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.” Don’t get confused with the actual Grand Canyon, which is almost 600 miles away in Arizona. 

If you’ve ever been to or seen the Grand Canyon in Arizona, you have a general idea of what a canyon is. However, like the Arizona canyon, the Yellowstone Canyon has its own characteristics and geology. 

Yellowstone Canyon

The Yellowstone Canyon formed as the ultimate result of an enormous volcanic eruption that happened around 630,000 years ago. 

One of the most beautiful features of this canyon is its spectacular waterfalls. The canyon has a multitude of hydrothermal features that are found within its walls. 

There are several different overlooks you can use for viewing the canyon, as well as various trails you can follow around the area. As long as you follow one of these walkways, you may be able to safely make your way down into part of the canyon. 

A View of the Waterfall in Yellowstone Canyon

Like with most other places in Yellowstone National Park, make sure you wear your hiking shoes for your visit to this canyon and the surrounding area. 

There are some great drives you can take to explore the rims of the Yellowstone Canyon. These are the North Rim Drive and the South Rim Drive. 

If you want to try the South Rim Drive, head about 2.3 miles to the south of Canyon Junction. This drive will bring you to Upper Falls Viewpoints, where you can see great vistas of the Upper Falls. 

Also check out Artist Point, where you can admire the canyon and Lower Falls. 

Artist Point, Yellowstone Canyon

The North Rim Drive starts at around 1.2 miles to the south of Canyon Junction. Be aware that this is a one-way road, but it will bring you to several excellent canyon views. 

Lunch at Canyon Lodge Eatery 

Consider having a tasty lunch at Canyon Lodge Eatery. It’ll set you up for your hike on Mount Washburn. There are simple soup and sandwich options on offer. Macaroni and cheese is a popular side dish.  

Mount Washburn

If you like hiking, you’ll want to hike to the peak of Mount Washburn.

Mount Washburn, Yellowstone

This mountain is in hot demand with visitors, so it’s not something you will want to miss out on. 

Mount Washburn climbs all the way up to 10,243 feet. As you can easily imagine, it provides absolutely astonishing vistas stretching for 20 or even 50 miles. 

Mount Washburn Summit, Yellowstone National Park

To find Mount Washburn, make your way a few miles to the north of Canyon Village. As well as the excitement and feeling of accomplishment of getting to the top of the mountain, you will discover interpretive exhibits that have been set up there. 

Canyon Village 

You should also take some time exploring and enjoying Canyon Village and its surrounding area. 

Head over to the Canyon Visitor Education Center. You can find it in the Canyon Village complex. You’ll find information displays and exhibits there. You might even find that there are films being shown in the theatre. 

Dinner at Canyon Lodge & Cabins 

Canyon Lodge & Cabins is just a few minutes drive from Canyon Village.

It’s situated to the east of the park, right beside the Yellowstone Canyon.

If you’re looking for somewhere to stay for the night, think about booking a room here in advance, too. 

I Hope You Enjoy Your Yellowstone 3-Day Itinerary

Yellowstone Itinerary

Whether you decide to follow this Yellowstone itinerary to a tee or make adjustments to suit your needs and preferences, you’re sure to have a great time in this legendary national park. 

Like with any other adventure, do your research and find all the extra information you can about all the places you want to visit in Yellowstone.

Get prepared and pack practical clothes and shoes.

Remember, no matter what you do in Yellowstone, you’re sure to do a lot of walking!

Have a great time in Yellowstone! Take lots of pictures and make memories to last a lifetime. 

And if you’re looking for more inspiring places to visit and explore in America, check out our other US trip ideas right here.

Samantha Lord

A seasoned freelance writer, Samantha Lord has written on pretty much every topic under the sun, but travel is one of her favorites. With an adventurous spirit, Samantha loves to learn about new and fascinating places, sharing her discoveries with readers. She lives in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.