If you really want to see all that Yellowstone Park has to offer, it would take you a lifetime! However, most of us do not have a lifetime to spend in Yellowstone, but in 2-3 full days, you will be able to hit most of the highlights.
There is no such thing as racing around the Park. Yellowstone has 154 miles of main highway, known as the Grand Loop Road. The general park speed limit is 45 miles per hour but in normal traffic, you will be lucky to average 30 miles per hour. Figure at least an hour of driving time for every thirty miles of distance. And if you plan to get out of your car and visit park attractions that takes at least a ½ hour to 2 hours for almost every stop. In addition, there will be any number of unscheduled stops, such as waiting for a bison herd to cross the road.
Some Highlights and How to Get There
A suggested starting point for your tour of Yellowstone National Park is to enter through the South Gate, which is approximately sixty-two miles north of Jackson, Wyoming.
Everyone comes to Yellowstone to see Old Faithful. Although, not the largest geyser to erupt in the Park, it is the most reliable regarding the time of eruption. The time of the eruption, the length of the eruption and the height of the eruption vary from year to year.
As you enter the Park, ask the Park Ranger is he has information on the expected times for the eruption of Old Faithful.
As you drive north on the Grand Loop Road, keep an eye out for wildlife. At Grant Village Junction, turn left (west) and head toward Old Faithful Village. Once at Old Faithful Village, take some time to walk around the boardwalks and visit some of the many other geysers in the Upper Geyser Basin. Include the 1.4-mile walk to Morning Glory Pool, one of the most colorful thermal features in all of Yellowstone. And do not forget to visit the Old Faithful Inn, which is the single most impressive human structure in Yellowstone.
Lower Geyser Basin / Fountain Paint Pots
Continue on north and visit the Lower Geyser Basin. The area is scattered and features regularly erupting geysers, hot springs, and a fascinating mud pool.
Norris Geyser Basin
After leaving the Lower Geyser Basin, continue north to Norris Junction and stay to the right to travel to Norris Geyser Basin. One of Yellowstone's most popular geyser basins, Norris is home to one of the Park's most popular geysers and Steamboat (the world's tallest geyser). In addition, there are several miles of boardwalks from which you can explore dozens of multi-colored thermal features.
Mammoth Hot Springs
Continue north at Norris to get to Mammoth Hot Springs. This is Park headquarters and it is filled with history. Be sure to drop by the Visitor's Center and take the time to watch a film, check out the history exhibit, and browse the upstairs wildlife museum. Mammoth Hot Springs Terrace is quite magnificent, and you really should take the Terrace Drive. Finally, be sure to look for the seemingly ever-present elk grazing on the green lawns of Mammoth Village.
You should now be at the end of a long day. If you have made reservations ahead of time you can stay at one of the in Park lodging accommodations in Mammoth or drive just a few miles further north and stay the night in Gardiner, Montana just on the outside edge of the Park.
Although a little out of the way, Lamar Valley is definitely worth the additional driving. Here you will see large herds of bison. If you are lucky, you may also be able to observe a pack of wolves, a black bear, or a grizzly. Pack a lunch and enjoy the vast scenic valley while you stop for a break.
You will have to do a little back tracking to get to Tower Fall, but the scenic drive both into and out of the Lamar Valley is well worth it. Here are more details on the Lamar Valley.
This is the most popular waterfall in Yellowstone other than the Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon. The waterfall is located behind the General Store. A short walk will take you to an overlook. If you are able, take the short, steep hike down to the base of the waterfall. (Just remember that you have to hike back UP!)
Lower Falls and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Continue south along the east side of the Grand Loop Road and close to the Canyon Village Junction you will come to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The Grand Canyon here may not be as big as the Grand Canyon in Arizona, but it is nonetheless breathtaking. The Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon, at 308 feet high, is one of the most photographed features in all of Yellowstone.
Your next stop should be Hayden Valley. You should try to arrive later in the day so you will be able to observe the abundance of wildlife that call this valley home. As you drive along this beautiful, broad valley, you are likely to see herds of bison, scattered elk and once in a while, a grizzly bear.
It is advisable to have planned ahead so that you can stay the night inside the Park in this general area.
This is the largest high-altitude lake in the lower 48 states, and it is breathtaking in grandeur. As you follow the long shoreline both west and south, you will see snow-capped mountains rising across the lake. On windy days, ocean-like waves break onto the shore. Be sure to visit Lake Village and walk through the Hotel. This would be your last day in the Park so take the time to sit on the porch of Lake Lodge and take in the view.
West Thumb Geyser Basin
This geyser basin features some interesting thermal features, including several, which are in Yellowstone Lake itself. It also offers a good view of the Lake. If you want to take a last look around (up close and personal) several hiking trails begin at the basin, and bison, elk and bears frequent the area.
You have now completed a loop of the Park and can exit back out the South Entrance. You will see many other places to stop and investigate along the way, so the time between the sites noted here will vary and you can certainly change your plans at any time. The most important thing is to remember to slow down and enjoy the many wonders of Yellowstone National Park.
Go on a Sightseeing Tour of Yellowstone to see it all.