One Day in Yellowstone National Park

steam shooting into the air from a geyser
Castle Geyser in Yellowstone National Park. Photo © Peng Zhuang/Dreamstime.

In Yellowstone National Park, rumblings of a supervolcano boil to the surface—spewing, spitting, oozing, and bubbling. Steam rolls from vividly colored pools, muddy cauldrons burp smelly gases, and blasts of hot water shoot high into the air. The cantankerous landscape gushes with spouters like iconic Old Faithful.

Throughout the Greater Yellowstone area, sagebrush prairies make wildlife easy to spot. Bison, elk, antelope, wolves, and even grizzly bears enchant visitors. Hiking trails, alpine lakes, bicycle paths, rivers, and ski trails in winter all create a four-season recreation paradise to explore.

Here’s the best way to spend one day in Yellowstone National Park:


Head to Upper Geyser Basin early in the morning to avoid the crowded part of the day. Plan to arrive by 8am if possible.

Check the time listed at the visitor center for Old Faithful Geyser to erupt, and aim to be at the arena for about 30 minutes in advance to claim a seat.

Saunter the boardwalk around Geyser Hill in the Upper Geyser Basin to see blue Heart Spring and the Lion Group of small geysers.

Tour Old Faithful Visitor Education Center to learn about Yellowstone’s volcanic activity, especially the difference between geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles.

Circle the Firehole River Loop, if time permits, to see Castle Geyser, Grand Geyser, Grotto Geyser, and Morning Glory Pool.

Stop in Old Faithful Inn to explore the National Historic Landmark.

Drive north to Midway Geyser Basin to walk the boardwalk to admire the radiant orange arms of Grand Prismatic Spring.


tree-covered earth with colorful striations at grand canyon of the yellowstone
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Photo © Jarcosa |

Picnic for lunch at the Nez Perce Picnic Area on the Firehole River.

Drive to Norris Geyser Basin to walk by Black Growler and the colorful Porcelein Basin.

Pop eastward in the car to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone to admire the Lower Fall from Red Rock Point on the North Rim, then the Upper Fall and Artist Point on the South Rim.

Continue south into Hayden Valley to spot wildlife such as bison, elk, and trumpeter swans from pullouts.


Finish the adventure at the historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel, with dinner and a walk along the lake at sunset before spending the night.

Travel Tips for Yellowstone National Park

  • This itinerary works best mid-May-early October, when most of Yellowstone is open.
  • Avoid the largest crowds by traveling outside the July-August window.
  • Make reservations for lodging and dining at Lake Yellowstone Hotel 12-18 months in advance (307/344-7311).
  • Download the NPS Yellowstone app and NPS Geyser app before you leave home due to limited cell service. Use them for traveling and checking eruption time predictions for six geysers, including Old Faithful Geyser.
  • Pack a cooler with a picnic lunch, water, and snacks. If you are hungry for lunch before visiting Grand Prismatic Spring, stop at Whiskey Flats Picnic Area instead.
  • Parking may be full, especially in summer, at Midway Geyser Basin and some overlooks at Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. You may have to be flexible with the schedule.
  • Stop to use the vault toilets at picnic areas along Lower Grand Loop Road rather than waiting in long lines at geyser basins and visitors centers.

Becky Lomax

About the Author

As a professional travel writer, Andrew Hempstead spends as much time as possible on the road, traveling incognito, experiencing the many and varied delights of each destination just as his readers do. He looks forward to spending every second summer at home in the Canadian Rockies, traveling mountain highways and hiking trails, exploring new places, and updating old favorites.

Since the early 1990s, Andrew has authored and updated more than 60 guidebooks, and supplied content for regional and national clients like Expedia and KLM. His photography has appeared in a wide variety of media, ranging from international golf magazines to a Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Museum.
Andrew and his wife, Dianne, own Summerthought Publishing, a Canadian regional publisher of nonfiction books. He is a member of The Diners Club World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy. Andrew has also spoken on travel writing to a national audience and has contributed to a university-level travel writing textbook. He and his family live in Banff, Alberta.

Becky Lomax was three years old when her parents first took her to stay with friends who worked as rangers at Two Medicine Lake in Glacier National Park. During college, Becky worked two summers in the historic Glacier Park Lodge, an easy hop to Two Medicine. She spent her days off hiking, backpacking, and climbing throughout the park.

After teaching high school writing and speech outside Seattle, she and her husband moved to Whitefish for quick access to Glacier. She worked in the park for a decade as a hiking and backpacking guide, leading many first-time visitors to Gunsight Pass, Fifty Mountain, and Iceberg Lake. She also served on staff at Granite Park Chalet, spotting wolverines and bagging nearby peaks in her off time.

Today, Becky maintains her strong link with Glacier by using her full-time writing career as an excuse to keep hiking in the park. In magazine stories, she lauds the park’s trails, historic lodges, scenic drives, wildlife, and wildflowers. She tags along with biologists in the field to radio-collar bighorn sheep and grizzly bears. She also treks annually to Grinnell Glacier to write about how climate change is melting the park’s ice fields.

Becky serves as the western writer for On the Snow, a website that provides snow reports for ski resorts. She also writes stories for regional newspapers and national magazines such as Smithsonian and Backpacker, and is the author of the bestselling Moon USA National Parks.

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