Updated: Jan 4
Established in 1872, Yellowstone is the world's first national park.
Table of Contents
What should you not miss in Yellowstone National Park?
[3.5 Miles; 561 ft Elevation Gain; Loop; Difficulty: Easy]
These are hot springs at the far north entrance of the park. We drove into Yellowstone from the north, therefore, this was our first stop and along the way to our campsite. Please note, these are not hot springs for swimming.
The Mammoth Hot Springs area consist of a small town with lodging, restaurants, and tourist information. We saw lots of Elk when stopping in this town, which were freely roaming around the area. We enjoyed the boardwalk trail that takes you around the Mammoth Hot Springs as it was a great introduction to the wonders of Yellowstone. However, if you are entering from the south end of the park and have limited time in Yellowstone, there are many similar attractions central to the park that may take priority.
[2.9 Miles; 190 ft Elevation Gain; Loop; Difficulty: Easy]
This is the Geyser Basin that is home to the famous Steamboat Geyser. Steamboat Geyser is the world's tallest active geyser that shoots water up over 300 feet in the air. Other geyser's around the world have exceeded 300 feet, however, those geysers are not longer active.
In addition to seeing and learning about Steamboat Geyser, there are many other geysers around Norris Geyser Basin with varying activity. If you are lucky, you may see one of the geysers erupt in Norris Geyser Basin as you walk through this loop trail.
Fact: Steamboat Geyser is the world's tallest active geyser
[1 Mile; 101 ft. Elevation Gain; Loop; Difficulty: Easy]
This is a short, easy hike back to the Artist Paintpots. The paintpots consist of an accumulation of geysers with paths winding through for you to get up close. You are also able to climb up a small hill to view geysers at a higher vantage point, as well as, view some geysers that have formed on top of the hill. Our favorite part was seeing the mud geyser on top of this small hill. The geyser was erupting when we arrived, gurgling and randomly shooting mud up into the air.
[1 Mile; 59 ft. Elevation Gain; Loop; Difficulty: Easy]
This geyser basin is located on Yellowstone Lake, with some geysers that are even forming within the lake. This stop is a great way to start your day and get warmed up for a day of hiking and geysers. The beautiful lake background does a great job of accentuating the vibrant colors of these geysers (pictured below).
J&L Recommended: Scenic spot for photos
[5.3 Miles; 112 ft. Elevation Gain; Out & Back; Difficulty: Easy]
This is a very easy, out and back hike along a wide pathway. Keep in mind, however, that Lone Star Geyser is a hit or miss. It erupts roughly every 3 hours so you are taking a risk in seeing it erupt at the end of the 2.6 mile trail. This path is also bike friendly, so if you want to save some time traveling to Lone Star the option to bike there is also available.
We were incredibly lucky and approached Lone Star geyser at the beginning of its eruption. We were met by people who had been waiting for it to erupt for several hours. The eruption was incredible, which led to it being our favorite geyser of Yellowstone. Icing on the cake was the beautiful rainbow it created alongside the geyser as it erupted.
J&L Recommended: favorite geyser in Yellowstone (worth the gamble of it erupting!)
6. Old Faithful
[4.9 Miles; (0.7 Miles Old Faithful Loop) 357 ft. Elevation Gain; Difficulty: Moderate]
They call this geyser "old faithful" because it goes off like clockwork. Literally, there is a clock inside Old Faithful Inn that will tell you the next time it will go off. Do not make the same mistake we did and wait around for it to erupt.
Make sure you check the next eruption time inside Old Faithful Inn so that you can hike the boardwalk path and explore all of the other nearby geysers while you wait. This area has a lot of active geysers, therefore, if you spend at least an hour walking around, there is a high chance you will see at least one eruption.
Fact: As the name eludes, this geyser erupts like clockwork, making it the perfect photo opportunity.
[3.5 Miles; 606 ft Elevation Gain; Loop; Difficulty: Moderate]
This hike starts at Biscuit Basin, where you have the opportunity to see a few more geysers. There is a smaller loop around Biscuit Basin if you want to minimize walking after a long day.
If you are excited for more, keep going to discover mystic falls and ferry creek. This part of the hike has slightly more elevation gain than the other hikes of the day, however, the view of old faithful and the waterfall at the end make it worth it.
[1.6 Miles; 200 ft. Elevation Gain; Out & Back; Difficulty: Easy]
This is an easy end to your day. It is an out and back trail that leads to the beautiful Prismatic Springs. These are the largest hot springs in the united states and the third largest in the world. The water of the Prismatic Springs has an intrinsic blue color that is hard to find elsewhere in nature.
Tip: Hiking the trail to the Grand Prismatic Spring overlook from the Fairy Falls Trail parking lot will provide the best birds eye views!
This valley centrally located within the park is worth driving through several times to increase your chances of seeing wildlife. In our experience, we have found that driving through during early evening leads to the most wildlife sightings. We drove through Hayden pass 3-4 times during our Yellowstone adventures, spotting bison every single time.
In addition to bison, there is also a strong possibility of seeing elk, moose, or maybe even bear. During the last time we drove through Hayden Valley, there was a bison walking alongside the shoulder of the road. We drove around this magnificent animal carefully and could practically touch it out of our window (but we didn't because we wanted to keep our arm).
Tip: Best area to view wildlife!
10. Mud Volcano Area
[0.8 Miles; 118 ft. Elevation Gain; Loop; Difficulty: Easy]
This is a loop trail close to Hayden Valley. The boardwalk trail offers the opportunity to wind through the geysers at various different elevations of the "cooking hillside". They call it the "cooking hillside" because the surrounding soil reaches 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
J&L Favorites: Mud Cauldron and Dragon's Mouth Spring
[2.5 Miles; 278 ft. Elevation Gain; Out & Back; Difficulty: Easy]
The canyon rim trail is an out and back trail that takes you along the rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Starting at the upper falls, you will wind alongside the cliff, opening up onto beautiful landscapes of both rock and water.
Depending on the time of year, you may also be able to do the offshoot trail, Uncle Tom's [0.6 miles out and back with 383 elevation gain]. This trail takes you down the cliff for a great view of the lower falls on a metal staircase built into the rock.
Once back on the canyon rim trail, it will lead you to Artist Point. Named after its breathtaking view of lower falls and the canyon, Artist Point provides a vantage point into the canyon that makes you feel like you are hovering above.
J&L Recommended: best views of the canyon
After exploring the south rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, we recommend driving through the north rim for a different perspective. Brink of the lower falls trail is a 0.8 mile [252 ft elevation gain] out and back trail that takes you down to see upper falls. Although this hike seems quick and easy on the way down, it is straight elevation & switchbacks on the way back up as you are climbing the cliff back to its rim. However, we found it to be worth the view of being WITHIN the canyon and seeing the volume of water rushing down the upper falls.
Where should I eat in Yellowstone?
1. Camping Food
We stopped at the grocery store before heading into the park, stocked up on bread, pasta, beans, fruits, veggies, and other non-refrigerated goods. These groceries lasted us the whole trip. For quick warm meals, we would highly recommend a Jet Boil.
Also Read: Camping Hacks
This is a cozy, cafeteria-style eatery that is centrally located within the park. You can either bring your own food and make use of the large eating space, or try some of the home-style options offered at this eatery serving American, Asian, and Italian fast food. Additionally, they also offer various tap beer and wines within this eatery.
Also Read: Glacier National Park Complete Guide
A nice café option near Old Faithful that is set up like a diner. It offers varying types of meat sausages, breakfast, as well as, ice cream. We found the prices at this diner to be decently priced considering its proximity to a main Yellowstone attraction.
Craft beer near Yellowstone National Park
1. Bozeman Brewing Company [Bozeman, MT]
Known for their Bozone Amber Ale, this was the first brewery in the college town of Bozeman, MT. Their year-round offerings include Two O'Clock Wheat, Plum St. Porter, Gallatin Pale Ale, and Hopzone IPA. Particularly enticing for us was the Hazy Hugger (we're hazy IPA fans). This brewery has a great local vibe, and has the added bonus of free popcorn.
Also Read: Grand Teton National Park Complete Guide
2. 406 Brewing Company [Bozeman, MT]
A great assortment of beers for every taste pallet. They do a great job of experimenting with beers and switching up their tap list regularly. Most intriguing to us was the Oh Honey Ale and Peach Cobbler. We would recommend stopping by and trying a few, especially with their great prices for a pint.
Also Read: Best Craft Breweries of Michigan
3. Beehive Basin Brewery [Big Sky, MT]
Specializing in IPA's, Porters, and Cream Ales, this microbrewery has lots of character and is nestled within the mountains of Big Sky. Their culture of food trucks and dogs won us over, only accentuated by their delicious tasting IPA's.
Planning Your Trip
How many days do you need in Yellowstone National Park?
We recommend spending at least 2-3 days in Yellowstone National Park in order to complete the activities suggested in this guide. A lot of people ask how long it takes to drive the grand loop around Yellowstone. It can take 4-7 hours to drive this loop, depending on stops.
J&L Suggested Duration: 2-3 Days
What is the best month to visit Yellowstone National Park?
Yellowstone National Park is open year-round, however, the most popular months to visit are May through September. To visit Yellowstone with the best weather and minimal crowds, we recommend the shoulder seasons of April/May or September/October.
J&L Suggested: April/May or Sept/Oct
How much does it cost to go to Yellowstone National Park?
Entrance to the park is $35/vehicle and lasts 7 days. There are several fee-free days throughout the year as well!
Entrance Ticket: $35/vehicle valid for 7 days
Where should I stay when visiting Yellowstone National Park?
Hotels/Cabins: If you are not a camper, there are several lodging options in Old Faithful and Canyon Village. Both of these lodging options will put you in great locations to optimize your time at the park.
J&L Suggested Lodging: Find a great hotel deal!
Camping: [Bridge Bay Campground]
We found Bridge Bay Campground to be a wonderful choice in Yellowstone due to its central location, ability to book ahead of time, clean facilities, and more secluded campsites for tent-campers. If you would prefer to backpack instead of drive-up camp, be sure to review these permit reservation instructions ahead of time. In addition, be sure to review this backcountry camping map.
J&L Suggested Lodging: Bridge Bay Campground
Yellowstone Camping & Hiking Safety Tips
Read up on Bear Safety ahead of your trip - there are 700 grizzly bears living within the Yellowstone ecosystem (inclusive of Grand Tetons and Jackson Hole).
Before entering the park, buy bear mace within a city outside the park (Bozeman if you are coming from the north, Jackson Hole if you are coming from the south). There are opportunities to buy bear mace within the park, however, we were able to purchase it at a better price outside of the park. We used Frontiersmen and although we never needed to use it, felt it was a reliable choice.
Bring a separate set of clothes to only wear in the tent to avoid the scent of food that could be on your clothes throughout the day
Bring waterproof jackets/pants
Bring winter clothes for sleeping at night (warm during the day but drops significantly at night)
Also Read: Hiking in Bear Territory
Is there a shuttle in Yellowstone National Park?
The best way to get around Yellowstone is by car. Unless you plan on purchasing a ticket from an outside tour-group, there are no bus shuttles that take you around Yellowstone. The below itinerary was completed with a car.
Is there cell service in Yellowstone National Park?
Plan on there being NO SERVICE while in Yellowstone National Park. SAFETY TIP: learn how to download interactive maps to your phone that can give you driving, walking, & biking directions even without cellular service! Visit our Exclusive Content to learn more.