In visiting the first national park in the United States, you’re stepping into one of the most diverse and spectacular spaces in the country. Yellowstone National Park is by far one of the most popular parks in the U.S., and for good reason. Powerful geysers, colorful hot springs, wildlife, and more all await visitors upon their arrival in the park. As you’re planning your trip to this iconic national park, there are a few places you should make sure are on your 3 to 4 days in Yellowstone itinerary.
Keep reading for a compilation of everything you need to know when planning your 4-day Yellowstone National Park itinerary. We’re hitting on duration, destinations, and breathtaking sites throughout the park that you won’t want to miss.
How Many Days in Yellowstone?
Yellowstone is a huge national park. There are countless features and areas to explore. If you’re wondering how many days to spend in Yellowstone, three to four days is the minimum amount.
With 3 days in Yellowstone, you’re going to be able to see a good portion of the Park’s highlights and have enough time to explore them. If you can spend 4 days in Yellowstone, this will give you more time to dig deeper and enjoy America’s oldest national park even more!
A three-day or four-day itinerary are both packed solid with activities. If you can make it happen, it’s ideal to spend even longer in the park as there’s always more to explore in Yellowstone.
Yellowstone is a popular national park with lots of things to do, but it can be hard to decide between visiting here or other nearby parks, such as Yellowstone or Glacier or even Yellowstone or Grand Teton. If you decide to visit Yellowstone, make sure you budget enough time.
Getting To and Around Yellowstone
Yellowstone is located in the northwest corner of Wyoming, with parts of the park extending into Montana. If you’re visiting from far away, the nearest major airport is Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport. Here you can rent a car to drive throughout the park. There are several main entrances to the park where you’ll be able to purchase a park pass, one per vehicle.
The main entrances are each near a major section of the park, so try to create a trip that begins in the area of the park you reach first to save yourself some driving time.
The North Entrance is closest to Mammoth Hot Springs, West Entrance is closest to the geyser basin, South Entrance is closest to Grand Teton National Park, East Entrance takes you to Yellowstone Lake, and the Northeast Entrance is nearest to the valleys known for their wildlife spotting. Plan your 3 to 4 days in Yellowstone itinerary accordingly.
The best way to see Yellowstone National Park is by car. There is no public transportation throughout the park, so having a car at your disposal for transportation is necessary. This is especially true if you visit any of the valleys known for wildlife sightings. The roads are easily accessible and marked with clear signage.
If you need to rent a car for this trip, you can browse Rentalcars.com which shows prices from many car hire suppliers. Alternatively, you can look at renting an RV or campervan from Outdoorsy which could be a good option if travelling to Yellowstone from further away such as from Denver or driving from Seattle.
Yellowstone experiences a dramatic change between seasons. While visiting any time of year grants you exceptional views, you should make sure to pack accordingly. A visit in winter warrants winter boots, a large jacket, and other supplies to keep you warm.
You might also consider bringing tire chains or installing winter traction tires on your vehicle. Summers are comfortable and warm. Pack comfortable walking shoes, as you’ll be spending a lot of time on your feet exploring the various hot spring and geyser areas, and clothes you’re comfortable moving around in.
Lodging in Yellowstone comes in several forms. During the summer months, you should consider camping in one of the park’s many fitted campgrounds. Make sure you book a campsite as far in advance as possible.
Yellowstone is a popular national park and campgrounds fill up months in advance. If camping is not your desired overnight accommodation, consider staying in a yurt or lodge instead. You can also choose to stay just outside the park for a slightly more affordable option.
3 to 4 Days in Yellowstone Itinerary
Keep in mind that your Yellowstone itinerary can be as personalized as you want. The places highlighted here are suggested favorites throughout the park to inspire your trip planning. Yellowstone has a little something to offer everyone and you should take advantage.
Day 1 – Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Hot Sping & More
West Thumb Geyser Basin
Kick off day one at the West Thumb Geyser Basin and you’ll be hooked on Yellowstone. Located along Yellowstone Lake, there is a great contrast between the sprawling lake and steaming colorful pools of water side by side.
Some of the area’s most impressive features lie close to the lakeshore: Abyss Pool and Black Pool. Both pools are vibrantly blue and deep, inspiring their names. The Fishing Cone, also known as Hot Spring Cone, is another favorite feature of the West Thumb Geyser Basin.
Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin
After exploring the West Thumb, head over to the postcard image of Yellowstone National Park: Old Faithful. This geyser was discovered in 1870. It drew attention because of its predictable and frequent eruptions, unlike other geysers in the park.
You can sit back and relax on the porch of the Old Faithful Lodge while enjoying these regular eruptions. Don’t leave the area when you’re done at Old Faithful. Stay to explore the Upper Geyser Basin. The Sponge Geyser, Castle Geyser, Beehive Geyser, and much more all await your discovery.
Midway Geyser Basin
The Midway Geyser Basin might have few hot springs, but the ones it does boast are huge. Here you’ll find the Excelsior Geyser, a 200 by 300-foot crater that pushes out over 4,000 gallons of water per minute.
There are a variety of hot springs, ranging in size, color, and temperature. Walk the boardwalk through this geyser basin to enjoy its impressive sites. Don’t forget to pay a visit to the Grand Prismatic.
Grand Prismatic Hot Spring
You’ve most likely seen photos of the Grand Prismatic Spring. It’s one of the most well known and impressive hot springs in the entire national park.
Grand Prismatic is the largest spring in the park and third largest in the world, you most likely won’t be able to see the opposite side through the steam while visiting. The pool’s water travels 121 feet to reach the surface. It’s a cannot-miss site in Yellowstone National Park.
Day 2 – More Geysers & Hot Springs
Lower Geyser Basin
On day two, continue your journey through the park’s thermal sites by starting at the Lower Geyser Basin. Here you’ll find an array of hot springs and geysers. There are two trails you can choose from to explore the area: Morning Mist Springs and the Quagmire Group or Sentinel Meadows.
Make sure to visit the nearby Fountain Paint Pots, where you’ll find several vents pushing through thick mud. The SIlex Springs and Celestine Pool are two popular hot springs.
Norris Geyser Basin
Norris is known for being the oldest and hottest geyser basin in Yellowstone. It’s located outside the caldera that composes Yellowstone and on the intersections of some major faultlines, making it one of the most active areas in the park.
The most popular attraction is the Steamboat Geyser, also known as the tallest geyser in the world. However, it only erupts once every 5 to 21 days. You can explore both the Back Basin and Porcelain Basin while here.
Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs was created over thousands of years as calcium carbonate flowed from the ground and hardened. Today, these stark white travertines cascade down the hillside, pouring steam and boiling water from their cracks.
Like Norris, Mammoth Hot Springs is located outside the caldera but is fueled by the same geothermal energy that powers the rest of Yellowstone. While visiting the area, keep an eye out for elk resting in the travertine hot springs.
Boiling River Hot Spring
The colorful hot springs throughout the park look enticing to jump in, but their intense temperatures prevent it. However, there is one place where you can soak in water heated by the Yellowstone caldera.
The Boiling River is where water from a large hot spring feeds into the Gardner River, mixing the river’s cool water with the spring’s boiling temperature to create a pleasantly warm section. A portion of the river is blocked off by a rock wall to create small soaking pools aside from the river’s rapids.
Day 3 – Tower Falls, Lamar Valley & Blacktail Plateau
This 132-foot waterfall is tucked back in a canyon yet easily accessible. Iconic photos of the waterfall show the pinnacles that stand above where the waterfall begins to cascade down. They were formed by a lava flow that cracked and parted as it cooled.
If you’re looking for an easy hike to warm up on day three, this is it. There is a paved trail leading 150 yards to an overlook of the waterfall.
If spotting wildlife is a favorite activity of yours, a visit to Lamar Valley should be high on your Yellowstone itinerary. The best time to visit the valley is in the early morning or late evening as this is when most animals are out searching for food.
Keep your eyes peeled for elk, bears, coyotes, and bison throughout the valley. You’ll want to have your binoculars and camera ready. Make sure to drive carefully as animals frequently dart across the road.
For a drive that’s off the beaten path (literally), check out Blacktail Plateau. This 6-mile one-way dirt road zigzags through the backwoods and meadows of the Mammoth Hot Springs region.
It’s another great opportunity to spot wildlife in action, but without the crowds you’ll most likely find at Lamar Valley. Make sure you research the road conditions ahead of your visit and bear in mind that RVs, buses, and trailers aren’t allowed.
Day 4 – Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Mud Volcanoes & More
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Your fourth and final day in Yellowstone begins with a visit to one of the park’s most iconic destinations. The yellow-tinted walls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone inspired the park’s name. Here is where you’ll find the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River.
You can hike along the rim of the canyon, but make sure to walk carefully and wear good hiking shoes as there are places where there’s no trail barrier.
This expansive sub-alpine valley is another favorite destination for wildlife spotting in Yellowstone National Park. The valley floor is an ancient lake bed. Here you’ll find buffalo, elk, wolves, coyotes, and grizzly bears.
Like Lamar Valley, make sure you visit in the early morning or evening. If you want to catch the wildlife and avoid the crowds, try the morning. Anticipate running into traffic if you visit in the evening.
Yellowstone is filled with vibrant and colorful pools, but it also has boiling pots of mud. The mud volcanoes contrast the tranquil hot springs with their brown, smelly, and bubbling mud that nearly blend in with the landscape if it weren’t for the steam and bubbles.
The Sulfur Caldron is a favorite–a site you’ll smell before you see. A walk through the mud volcano area during your 4 days in Yellowstone NP will round out your entire trip to the park.
Yellowstone Lake is the largest high elevation lake, sitting at 7,733 feet above sea level. It has 110 miles of shoreline for you to explore. The historic Yellowstone Lodge sits right alongside the lake and provides a quiet resting place after a long day of exploring the park. If you want to experience the lake up close, consider rowing or kayaking.
Where to Stay Near Yellowstone
If you’re spending 3 days in Yellowstone or if you have time for 4, then you’re going to need to find a great place to stay that’s located close to the national park. If you’re on the hunt for a great accommodation option near Yellowstone, have a look at these suggestions:
Bentwood Inn – This luxury hotel is a fantastic option if you’re looking for a place to stay that is within easy reach of Yellowstone National Park. Located in Wilson, WY, they have countless plush rooms on offer, breakfast included each morning, and they even offer wine and cheese for guests in the evenings. Click here to see their availability
Yellowstone Park Hotel – Located in West Yellowstone, Mt, this mid-range hotel is an excellent choice. Located close to Yellowstone NP’s western entrance, they have a number of great rooms available and even have an on-site swimming pool. Click here to see their availability
Private Rental – A private rental — like this condo close to the Park’s west entrance — is a great option if you’re after a bit of privacy or want your own self-catering option while visiting the national park. There are countless properties to choose from that will suit most budgets and tastes. Click here to browse private rentals near Yellowstone!
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Yellowstone hotels!
Your time in Yellowstone National Park will be well spent no matter how you structure your days. It’s most important that you craft a trip that fits with your interests. Take this route as inspiration while creating your 3 or 4 days Yellowstone National Park itinerary.
Are you planning a Yellowstone itinerary? Have any questions about visiting this national park? Let us know in the comments!