Yellowstone National Park is a place for adventure, exploration, hiking, wildlife, and inspiration. Yellowstone is without a doubt one of the most fascinating places not just in the United States of America, but in the world!
Millions of people flock to this enormous expansive wilderness in Northwestern Wyoming, and each one of them does so with good reason. Yellowstone has natural wonders you can’t find anywhere else.
What national wonders? We are talking geysers that go off ‘faithfully’ ON CUE. Other geysers that were painted vibrant colors as if with watercolors. Bubbling hot springs. Mountainous hikes with 360 degree panoramas that make you feel so powerful but so small at the same time.
And the wildlife. OH MY the wildlife. Bison, elk, bears, moose, wolves, pronghorn, coyotes, osprey, so-many-other-things-I-don’t-know-the-name-of. The wildlife will leave you sitting in awestruck wonder, watching Mother Nature’s beauty unfold in front of your very face.
We found 5 days to be a perfect amount of time to explore all of Yellowstone National Park. Of course, with a place the size of Yellowstone, you cannot cover every inch in a work week. You CAN see a WIDE variety of incredible sites, sounds, wildlife, mountains, valleys, geysers, springs, and much much more!
This 5 day itinerary is perfect for anyone looking to get a full Yellowstone experience and have the time of their lives doing it. Also, we make pit stops in Montana AND Idaho, so you’ll be able to spend time in 3 of the most beautiful states in the entire USA!
Now, without further ado, let’s get cracking on our Yellowstone adventure!
On Day 1 we are starting at the very South end of the park! Many people come to Jackson when they visit Yellowstone, and drive up from there, so that’s how we recommend it!
Note: if you are coming from the North, East, or West, we’d recommend moving these days around accordingly. Each Day includes a map, so just start with the day that has the entrance you are coming from!
Driving through the South Entrance on your first day in Yellowstone, you’ll no doubt be hungry for adventure! There are a few stops and overlooks on the drive you can and should stop at, especially if you’re sick of driving…
The first main stop we recommend is going to be at the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake! Here you’ll find the West Thumb Geyser Basin, an absolute ‘must’.
West Thumb Geyser Basin
West Thumb Geyser Basin is a huge boardwalk area that takes you through over 80 (EIGHTY!) different geysers and Hot Spring pools. The geysers and pools range in color from red to green to blue to white, and each one is bubbling to the surface from the steam heat beneath it.
While here you will see such awesome geysers as Fishing Cone Geyser, Bluebell pool, and the Black pool, our personal favorite. Whoever named the black pool must’ve been high on something or colorblind because it is most definitely bright blue.
Also, a special treat that we got while we were at West Thumb Geyser Basin, we saw a mother elk and her baby calf! These two were just hanging out around the geysers, having some lunch, munching on greens, having the time of their lives. They were oblivious to all the people around them snapping pictures at the beautiful pair.
Also at West Thumb Geyser Basin, you will have a beautiful view of Yellowstone Lake, the biggest lake in the entire park. If you’d like to you can rent a canoe, kayak, or a stand-up-paddleboard and go see the lake in a way that no one else can from the shore!
After leaving West Thumb Geyser Basin, we are heading up north to the center of the park and, you guessed it, Old Faithful! The crown jewel of Yellowstone, and in some people’s opinion the jewel of the entire National Park system as a whole.
Old Faithful is the world famous geyser that shoots over 200 feet into the air and erupts every 90 minutes on cue. Fair warning, there will definitely be a crowd there when you visit, so get there early. The crowd is there for reason, to watch one of the most incredible sites in the entire United States.
We crowded around with the other visitors, everyone with their phones ready, and waited for the geyser to erupt at the designated time. Also quick note, the times are called out on signs located all around the Old Faithful parking lot and hiking trails.
When the geyser started bubbling and the eruption started, everyone within view held their breath. All eyes were fixed on that one spout as it grew from 10 feet to 50 feet to 100 feet to over 200 feet! You will not be disappointed by Old Faithful. Of course, it will definitely be a story you’ll have to tell to everyone when you get home from your trip to Yellowstone National Park.
Day 1 Video
Mammoth Hot Springs
On Day 2, start off on the very north end of the park with Mammoth Hot Springs. Mammoth Hot Springs is, like West Thumb Geyser Basin, a huge boardwalk for you to walk through and see many of the unique hot springs that Yellowstone has to offer. But this one is mammoth!
No, it is not a giant furry elephant-like creature with enormous tusks. But it is an enormous and beautiful living being all its own! Mammoth Hot Springs totals a few miles round-trip through the boardwalk, but around every bend is a new site that will make the entire trip more than worth it!
The springs themselves in Mammoth have more colors than a rainbow. They say art imitates nature, and with Mammoth Hot Springs they are definitely right. Many of the Mammoth Hot Springs are a shade of red, orange, and yellow. However the blue and green hot springs provide an incredible contrast with their warm color counterparts.
On top of the vibrant colors, much of Mammoth Hot Springs is crystal white and deep black. What do you get when you mix all these together? An incredible array of colors, smells, sights, and sounds that will take your breath away as you walk through the Mammoth Hot Springs boardwalk!
Picnic (and maybe a swim!)
After Mammoth Hot Springs, we recommend that you take a picnic pit stop at the Gardiner River. This picnic area also doubles as the trail head for Boiling River, a natural Hot Springs that you can Swim in if you’re there at the right time of the season!
We, unfortunately, were not there at the right time of season and the Boiling River Hot Springs were closed because the water level was too high. However if you’re there when the hot springs are open you have to go check them out!
The Boiling River looked incredible in pictures and videos that we saw, and we were very disappointed that we weren’t able to make the trip ourselves. But we didn’t let our pouting get the best of us that day, we ended up heading north to a different Hot Springs that we could swim in: Yellowstone Hot Springs!
Here’s the perfect backpack to back everything you need for the day. Including your lunch! The bottom doubles as a cooler keeping your lunch cold and fresh for you to devour!
Yellowstone Hot Springs
Yellowstone Hot Springs is located just north of Yellowstone National Park, outside of the park in fact. This Hot Springs is private, which will mean that there is a fee to enter. For us, the fee was more than worth it, as the accommodations inside were incredible!
Let’s start with the view. Yellowstone Hot Springs is located in an enormous valley, surrounded on both sides by huge peaks and grassy mountainsides that were full of wildlife. In the distance we did see an elk and what we thought was a mountain goat, but we couldn’t be sure as it was very far away.
Second, the Hot Springs themselves. Yellowstone Hot Springs is a combination of three different pools. The biggest pool, which takes up about 80% of the swimming area, is the hot pool. This pool is kept at about 100°F and it makes for an awesome soak as you taken the view all around you.
Pool number two is the extra hot pool. The extra hot pool is kept at about 105° or 106°F and makes for a great stop in between soaks to shock your body. Speaking of shocking your body, the last pool is the cold pool. This pool is kept at about 75°, which doesn’t sound very cold, but when you’re used to 100° and 105° if you feel pretty shocking to cannonball in.
When you take all three of these pools combined you get an awesome soaking experience that we were glad to have on the day we got, which was full of rain, hail, and snow! Whatever the weather looks like, Yellowstone Hot Springs is a good idea.
Finally, number three was the shower. Anyone that’s lived the van life or gone camping for an extended period of time knows that a shower is a godsend when you need one. We got a great hot shower to clean off our bodies after our long soak in the Yellowstone Hot Springs, and we were so so grateful for it! This shower put us on the path to success for our remaining three days in Yellowstone National Park.
Day 2 Video
Day 3 starts off with our very first hike throughout our time in Yellowstone! It was a long time coming. We chose to hike Bunsen Peak as we heard that this was a hike with an absolutely incredible 360° panoramic view of the mountains of Yellowstone in the surrounding valleys. And whoever told us that was 100% spot on.
Benson Peak was a 4.4 mile out & back hike that involved an elevation gain of 1,300 feet. We were warned about bears on the hike, so we will warn you that that is a possibility, however we did not see any on our journey out and down the entire mountain. If you are worried about bears, best to carry bear spray:
On top of Bunsen Peak was one of our top 3 views in all of Yellowstone National Park. The valleys spread before you like a red carpet opening up for NSYNC in the 90s. In the distance the high peaks the Rocky Mountains cut through Yellowstone national park but you’re hot knife through butter.
After hiking Bunsen Peak, we are off to a huge and powerful waterfall: Tower Fall. Tower Fall is a 132 foot waterfall that pours over on an enormous cliff-side and flows into the Yellowstone River.
You can drive to an overlook of the falls and you can hike down the stairway to the Yellowstone River where the falls end. We recommend doing both, since it is not a huge hike down, and the view at the Yellowstone River is stupendous!
However, be advised, the view is great but the smell is rancid. At this part of the Yellowstone River, you can see a huge exposed cliff side of sulfuric rock. The rock is a great shade of yellow, and it’s probably the reason that Yellowstone is called Yellowstone National Park! If you have a nose plug, might be best to bring down here.
Lamar Valley at Dusk
Leaving Tower Fall, we are going to head northeast to the northeast corner of the park. What is on this route? The Serengeti! Lamar Valley is known as the Serengeti of North America, and with good reason.
We saw at least a 100 bison roaming in the prairie, a coyote, herds of pronghorn, and even a few things we couldn’t identify! Wildlife present at Lamar Valley is the closest thing to the Serengeti that you can get in North America, and it is an absolute must on your trip to Yellowstone.
We heard that at dusk the bison cross the river to get away from encroaching wolves coming down from the mountains. We thought that this would be an incredible sight to see, so we made sure to get to Lamar Valley around dusk. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see any wolves, but we did see bison crossing the river, which was a very cool sight!
Day 3 Video
Lamar Valley at Dawn
Day 4 starts with a drive through that very same Lamar Valley, however this time we are doing it at dawn. We got out of our van and walked down into the valley at a few different places, and had a wonderful time exploring.
Sipping your morning coffee while drinking in the Lamar Valley landscape is absolutely wonderful. We even made pancakes with one of the best views in Yellowstone!
Here is the camping stove we use which is super easy to take with us anywhere and cook up a delicious meal!
Drive through Lamar Valley and soak up the incredible view as you make your way towards our next major stop in Yellowstone: the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
That’s right, the Grand Canyon. There is a Grand Canyon in Yellowstone National Park! No it isn’t this one:
It’s this one:
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone was our single favorite stop in all of Yellowstone National Park! Why? Well, a bunch of reasons:
The number 1 reason, the waterfalls! Upper Falls and Lower Falls are in our top 5 most beautiful things we’ve ever seen. Upper Falls is a 109 foot waterfall that is gushing over a cliff, feeding a pool and river that leads to the much more beautiful Lower Falls.
Lower Falls is a 300 foot behemoth that pumps, and we mean PUMPS, water. It is the largest volume waterfall in the Rocky Mountains!
Number 2, the canyon itself. The canyon is 24 miles long and over 1,000 feet tall on each side. If you look closely you can see bubbling geysers blasting through the rocks and flowing down to feed the river as well.
There are so many incredible colors from this site it will leave you speechless. The canyon itself is a mixture of red, white, yellow, and orange and looks as if it were formed by a master potter. Well, I suppose it was: Mother Nature!
Along the horizon, you’ll see the huge mountain range jutting into the sky. The valley before you is many shades of green with all the vegetation between you and those mountains. And in the sky, bright shade of blue spotted with puffy white clouds. All of this makes for a visual masterpiece that will leave your jaw on the floor for the entire time you’re at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
Reason number 3 is all of the different viewpoints and trails along the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. When we went, there were 7 open stops and we did every single one of them. Note: Uncle Tom’s Trail was closed when we were there, but if it’s open on your trip you have to do it. It looked incredible!
- North Rim: Brink of Lower Falls, Red Rock Trail, Lookout Point, Grand View Point, Inspiration Point
- South Rim: Upper Falls Viewpoint, Uncle Tom’s Trail (closed when we went), Artist’s Point
Our 2 favorite stops of all 7 were Artist’s Point and Brink of Lower Falls. Both have unique and incredible views of Lower Falls and the surrounding area of the park.
At the brink, you will literally be at the point where Lower Falls flows over the cliff and into the Grand Canyon before you. The best part is that on a sunny day there will be a rainbow formed right as the water mists over the falls!
Artist point is very famous in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone for being the most beautiful viewpoint. That’s why all the artist go there! So you should too…
Day 4 Video
Grand Prismatic Springs
Day 5 we are starting at the West entrance of Yellowstone. We actually start in West Yellowstone which is a city in Idaho! We were extremely excited about day 5 because of the pictures that we saw on Instagram of the Grand Prismatic Springs!
The Grand Prismatic Springs is pretty unbelievable in account of its size and the sheer number of colors in it. It is named correctly, it is basically a liquid prism!
To get to Grand Prismatic Springs we started at the Fairy Falls trailhead. This trail has a hike up a hill which has an overlook over the biggest prismatic spring you’ll ever see in your life.
There are a few reasons to do the overlook hike instead of the boardwalk around the springs. First off, the view is better in our opinion from the overlook. Second, there’s much less people. The boardwalk at the springs itself is packed full of everyone from tourists to locals, campers to tour buses, even a few motorcyclists!
Once you’re finished soaking up the blues, reds, yellows, whites and every color under the sun at Grand Prismatic Springs, let’s continue on to Fairy Falls. Fairy Falls is a 200 foot waterfall that makes for a beautiful end to your trip in Yellowstone National Park.
Although we did not see any real fairies there, this place felt like a wonderland all its own. We found that it was very fun sitting in view of Fairy Falls, reminiscing about all of the incredible adventures and unforgettable memories we had in our 5 day tour of Yellowstone National Park.
Day 5 Video
We were able to find free campsites outside Yellowstone National Park at every entrance. And if you’ll remember, we went through the South, North, Northeast AND the West Entrance to the park! Free camping at every stop.
We found our free site on iOverlander, the app we use to find free camping in National Forests across the United States and Canada!
When hiking high miles, a good hiking shoe is important to give you support and keep those feet fresh! We absolutely love ours. They are waterproof and get us through the toughest hikes!
The most important thing to remember when you hike: WATER! We love this bladder because it is big enough to get us through long hikes and is very affordable!
While you’re exploring you are going to want to capture these beautiful sites. We use the canon t6 and every photo in this post was taken using that camera.
If you want to get in some of those photos we recommend using a tripod and the timer on your camera to capture the perfect image. Here is the one we use!
When hiking in Yellowstone National Park you should carry bear spray and have it easily accessible at all times. We saw a ton of bears during our time here! Although we never felt scared or threatened by them, since these animals can be unpredictable it’s best to have it along! We HIGHLY encourage you to purchase it before you go. It’s way more expensive once you get there.
Our propane camping stove is the best for making delicious and nutritious meals while on the road! We are able to eat healthy meals while traveling rather than zipping through a drive through and making some poor decisions.
Don’t forget the propane for your camping stove!
This is our favorite hiking backpack because we can fit all our camera gear inside and the bottom is a cooler that keeps our lunch cold and fresh!
Just throw this Yeti ice pack in the cooler and you are all set!
We truly hope you enjoyed our 5 day itinerary seeing the best sites that Yellowstone National Park has to offer. We went hiking, swimming, driving, and walking. We saw geysers, springs, pools, rivers, mountains, valleys, waterfalls, canyons, and of course we can’t forget about the wildlife. We saw black bears, coyote, osprey, elk, deer, moose, bison, pronghorn, marmots, and some other crazy birds. And we could’ve seen grizzly bears and wolves, but we didn’t get lucky enough.
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