Rough Draft: 3 Day Itinerary for Yellowstone National Park

May 2020

Rough Draft: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Due to the COVID quarantine, I am creating rough draft, “off the shelf” travel itineraries for when travel resumes normal operations so we do not waste any time getting out and exploring!

One of the biggest request from you guys was itineraries for visiting the National Parks which happened to be one of my 2020 goals. This may have to be a 2021 goal as I think everyone (EVERYONE) will be flocking to National Parks as a post-COVID escape plan. Many of the photographers we traveled with on our storm chasing trip frequent the country’s National Parks capturing unbelievable pictures and they could not speak more highly about visiting these areas. I have not hit many of the iconic National Parks so I will be taking the next couple itineraries to discovery them.

Off to Yellowstone National Park!

Right after we landed and swooped away by our naturalist guide in Galapagos, one of the first conversations was how much he loved Yellowstone for the density of nature that rivals the Galapagos Islands. Fighting words as discovering the Galapagos Islands was simply magical but I did file that away in my noggin for later.

When to visit

Anytime from the spring to the fall seem to be good times to visit. While the summer months are ideal, it is the most crowded so going on shoulder season in April/May or Sept/Oct may offer less crowds and less heat.

How to get there

There seem to be a few airport options if you are not in driving distance. Since Yellowstone spans over the three states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, there are more choices. There is also a small airport right outside of the park simply named Yellowstone Airport (WYS) that transfer from Salt Lake City. From there, a car rental will be essential to getting around the park as it is enormous at 2 million acres. 

Where to stay

While I know there are many types of accommodations for National Park trips, one that I am so excited to try is Under Canvas. My cousin (thank you!) introduced me to this kind of glamping style camping that looks just amazing! There are tons of camp grounds with varying amenities at various parts of the park. This seems like the type of trip that if you are able to be mobile, take advantage of staying in different spots to avoid double back on drive times since the driving route are two big circles (make a figure 8). One of the most popular spots to stay is Old Faithful Inn. Built in 1903, this is a must stop on your trip even if you do not stay there – you need to book up to a year in advance to get a room!

How much does it cost

There is a $35 fee per vehicle or a $20 fee per person without a vehicle, both are valid for 7 days. If you make National Park hopping a priority, make sure to check out the American the Beautiful Pass – $80 for the year and included entrance to over 2000 sites!

What are the trails

After reviewing the various things to see, there are clearly three areas of the park that are grouped together to make up the perfect itinerary – sometimes these trips make themselves! When you look at the map that I starred with things to do, this allows the trip to make itself by focusing on the groupings.

Geysers

The geysers, such as Old Faithful, are probably the thing that comes to mind when thinking of Yellowstone. With over 500 geysers in the park, that makes Yellowstone the national park with the most geysers and these timed eruptions are sought after by visitors. Luckily, the most popular ones that you can see are clustered together in one portion of the park so you can stop at multiple geysers quickly.

The Grand Canyon

I had no idea there was a section called “The Grand Canyon” sitting in Yellowstone but when I saw some of the stunning pictures of this area, it was easy to make this a must stop. There are so many viewpoints along this part of the river and they are accessible by car and  What I like most is that almost all of these viewpoints are accessible by car or by hiking so you can mix and match along the way.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Where there are geyser there are usually hot springs close by! Nearby is the famous Roosevelt sign at the North entrance of the park in Gardiner. There are also areas around Boiling River and Firehole River with hot springs that allow for swimming.

Then there are Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley that fold beautifully into the itinerary. These areas of the park are expansive and where it is best to spot animals, including buffalo, bison, bears, elk, eagles, and wolves. There are lots of places to stop along the road to get a good glimpse of the wildlife. Best chances of seeing the animals is around dawn or dusk so best to stick visiting these on the beginning or end of your day.

Based on the duration of the hikes and the proximity to each other, here is how I would structure a 3 day itinerary. The closest airport is Glacier Park Airport and from there is less than an hour drive. As with most 3 day weekends, I like to fly on Thursday after work to get the most out of the three days at the destination.

Activity
Day 1 Afternoon Flight 
Evening Drive to campsite
Day 2 Morning Mammoth Area and Lamar Valley:

Gibbon Falls, Norris Geyser Basin, Tukuarika Falls (1 mile), Mammoth Terraces Area, Undine Falls Viewpoint, Wraith Falls (0.5 mile) Lamar Valley (animal sighting! Best dawn or dusk), Dunraven Pass – Mt Washburn Trail (4.5 miles)

Afternoon
Evening Swing back to Lamar Valley

Relax at campsite

Day 3 Morning The Grand Canyon:

Inspiration Point Viewpoint, Grand View Viewpoint, Lower Lookout Point (stairs to landing), Brink of the Lower Falls (stairs to landing), Brink of the Upper Falls Viewpoint – Cross the River – Uncle Tom’s Trial to Upper Falls Viewpoint, Artist Point 

Hayden Valley (animal sighting! Best dawn or dusk), Mud Volcano, Storm Point Trail (2.3 mile loop), Yellowstone Lake

Afternoon
Evening Swing back to Hayden Valley

Relax at campsite

Day 4 Morning Geyser Day:

West Thumb Geyser Basin Trail, Old Faithful, Old Faithful Inn, Morning  Glory Pool, Fairy Falls, Grand Prismatic Spring, Fountain Paint Pots, Firehole River

Afternoon Drive to airport
Evening Flight home

I wouldn’t necessary commit to doing the trails in this order but the groupings are what is important. I would prioritize the best condition day do to the longer hike around The Grand Canyon area. I also would not want to commit to the longer routes on the last day of the trip, which is why I chose the Geyser day for departure day. I would be stressed out about missing the flight in case it is a bad hiking day and it takes longer to complete. And do not forget to check the National Park website frequently for check road and trail status as it can change.

I did not include a food section in the itinerary because most of the food here is trail snacks and lots of water! There are several grocery stores in town to stock up for hiking.

  • Running Bear Pancake House
  • Cafe Madriz
  • Old Faithful Dining Room
  • Corral Hamburgers
  • Tumbleweed Cafe
  • Wild West Pizzeria
  • Firehole BarBQue

Also, if you stay at Under Canvas they have a tent for meals and to-go food. Most of the lodges in the park also have their own dining room as well.

If you have been to Yellowstone National Park, let me know what I missed and what your favorites are!

Don’t forget to check out all DESKRIB itineraries here!

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