Apr 05

3 Day Guide to Yellowstone National Park

Rainbow over fallsYellowstone National Park makes for a vacation that will assure you of life long memories.  I remember parts of my first trip there when I was four and have been there three more times in my lifetime.  Each trip there is special in its own way and one of the few places that my wife and I have traveled to that keeps us wanting to go back.Mom and M at Artists Paint PotsOur 3 day guide to Yellowstone National Park is designed with families in mind.  If you are looking for spending big bucks for professional tour operators to show you around the park there are plenty out there to be found.  This three day guide is geared more towards activities geared for regular people looking for extraordinary experiences.Iron Spring CreekI have divided up each day into two categories, one for the serious vacationer and one for the more laid back approach.  What I mean by the serious vacationer is the person that is up before the sun looking to get the perfect lighting for that perfect picture.  The more laid back approach is leaving the cabin, tent, or hotel room around 9 in the morning.  This 3 day guide to Yellowstone National Park is solely based on our personal experiences in the park and the research we did to get ready for our trip.  It is also written as if you are staying in the park.  Now 3 days is not nearly enough time to see everything in the park in fact 3 months would probably not be enough time to see everything.  We sincerely hope our 3 day guide will help you in your planning and like always we wish you Happy Travels!

Serious Vacationer Laid Back Traveler
Sunrise at the Lamar Valley to see some of the wildlife that has made   Yellowstone Famous including grizzly bears, bison, and wolves.  To get your hiking legs under you take the   short but spectacular hike up to Trout Lake.Visit Tower Falls to see a waterfall that would fit perfectly in some fantasy movie like the Lord of the Rings.If before lunch time head over to Mount Washburn Trail for one of the   best day hikes in Yellowstone and take the spectacular 6.4 mile round trip   trail to some unbelievable views.If after lunch and there is not enough time for Mount Washburn head   over to Mammoth Hot Springs for other worldly views. Start your day by vising the Old Faithful Lodge and Upper Geyser   Basin.  The visitor center there will   give you estimated times of most of the geysers in the area and if you are   lucky you might see some of the local wildlife walking through the area.  Make sure you take the trail all the way to   Morning Glory Pool.Then visit the other geothermal areas on the Grand Loop Road including   Midway Geyser Basin to see Grand Prismatic Spring.  The Lower Geyser Basin with its fountain   paint pots and the Norris Geyser Basin.  Who knows you might be extremely lucky and see the largest active   geyser in the world go off, but don’t beat on it.Finally finish your day at the Artists Paint pots in the Madison Area   of the park.
Sunrise at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone to see not one but two   breathtaking waterfalls.  Make sure you   take some of the trails that are around there like the Red Rock Trail and   Uncle Tom’s TrailWhen you can finally pull yourself away from those waterfall views   head south on the Grand Loop Road to Hayden Valley for Yellowstone’s other   premier wildlife viewing area.  Take   advantage of some of the roadside turnouts and watch where the buffalo   roam.Continue on south to Yellowstone Lake the largest high-altitude lake   in the continental United States and take the Storm Point Trail a 2 mile loop   to sweeping views of the Yellowstone LakeEnd up at the West Thumb Geyser Basin and see the hydrothermal   features that are on display there and take 2 Mile Lake Overlook Trail for   outstanding views of the surrounding mountainsides overlooking the lake. Use your second day as a waterfall hunting day and see some of the   many roadside waterfalls in Yellowstone.If you can make it Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone before 9 in the morning   you will have the opportunity to see a rainbow develop off of the mist of   Lower Falls.  Make sure you take some   of the trails in the canyon area of the park.    Also visit Gibbon Falls, Rustic Falls, Undine Falls, and Lewis Falls   all of them are next to park roads.If you are up to it take the short day hike to Mystic Falls from   Biscuit Basin
Sunrise at Old Faithful Geyser is the best time to beat the crowds.  Make sure you take the trail up to the  observation point overlooking the famous geyser.Once done take the trail through the Upper Geyser Basin all the way  to Biscuit Basin and Mystic Falls a 70-foot cascading waterfall.Head north until you reach Midway Geyser Basin but before you reach   the parking lot for the geothermal area go to the Fairy Falls trailhead and   take trail for a short ways for incredible views of Grand Prismatic   Spring.  Once you are done overlooking   the spring go take the short boardwalk of the Midway Geyser Basin.End your day by spending some time at the Norris Geyser Basin one the   more popular geyser basins in the park. Spend your last day on the north side of the park.  Morning is a good time for Mammoth Hot Springs   and look for the resident elk.Head east to Tower Junction and visit Tower Falls a wonderful   waterfall and take the short trail to the base of the falls.  If you are up for another short hike right   behind the Roosevelt Lodge in the Tower area of the park there is the Lost   Creek Falls Trail.Spend your afternoon all the way to dusk looking at the wildlife in the Lamar Area of the park with some luck you might see a grizzly bear and  the resident wolf pack especially if you stay until twilight.

Grand Prismatic SpringRemember that you are in wild country and it can be dangerous if you do not use common sense and sound judgment. Not only are the animals wild but so is the land and getting too close to either can make a great vacation go sour and even be deadly real quick. Animals will protect themselves, their area, and young while the geothermal areas are fragile and dangerous so stay on assigned paths. If you use caution and are prepared Yellowstone will be a great life experience and please leave it just as you found it so the next person can enjoy. Happy Travels!!!

To see our reviews of things to see or do in Yellowstone National Park click here

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  1. Dien

    I just found your website and I really love it. The stories, the pictures…all are wonderful!!! I wish I could travel a lot like your family.

    By the way, we, a family of 4 (me, my wife, two sons 10 and 4 years old living in California) will visit Yellowstone the first time ever in mid June. I think your guide for laid back traveler here is very helpful for us. Can you give me some advices about our plan?

    – the first day, we will start at Flat Creek Inn, Jackson, WY. I will get up early to take sunrise pictures of Grand Tetons Park at Oxbow bend, Schwabacher landing, Mormon row, but my family may only start leaving the hotel at 9:00 am. We will skip Grand Tetons (or just stop at Colter Bay a little bit) and head to Old Faithful Geyser. Can we arrive at Old Faithful Geyser at 1:00 pm if we stop at West Thumb Geyser for about an hour? My goal for the first day is seeing the geysers. We plan to stay there for at least 2 hours to see the Old Faithful Geyser and the Inn. Then, we will stop at Fountain pain pot, then head to West Yellowstone to check in at Yellowstone Lodge. I want to take the Fairy Falls trail to see the Grand Prismatic spring from above, but I think there may be not enough time and my children may not handle the steep hill. What is your opinion about that? Should I leave my family at Old Faithful Inn a little bit longer, then I just take the Fairy Falls trail myself and pick them up later?

    – 2nd day: We will start at 10:00 (I don’t think my children can get up early b/c they tend to stay very late at night) and go to Yellowstone Canyon. My goal for today is the Canyon and Hayden Valley. I not sure if we can take the Uncle Tom’s trail (I really want to do it) but definitely will stop at most of view points. Then, we will go to the Fishing bridge to see Yellowstone Lake (may skip it if too late), then come back and stop at somewhere along Hayden Valley, hopefully can see some wild animals.

    – 3rd day: We also will start at 10:00 and head to Mammoth Hot Springs. This is the goal for today. If we have time or if the children get bore quickly, we will go to Tower Falls (a lot of driving, right?), or go back to see Norris Geyser.

    Once again, thanks a lot for sharing such wonderful stories, pictures and experiences.

    1. Kenny and Karen

      Hope you enjoy your trip to Yellowstone it is a great family spot. The best advice I can give you is to stop by a visitor center and talk to a park ranger about the type of vacation you want. They are the experts in the field and can give you some great advice about how to spend your 3 days in the park.

      Yellowstone is much bigger than you would think and if I remember right speed limit is around 45mph so you might have to add a little bit more time for traveling. So you probably will not make it to Old Faithful by 1:00 especially if you plan on seeing Oxbow Bend, Schwabacher Landing, and Mormon Row which all are worth seeing by the way.

      Personally I would see the things you want to see in the Tetons and as you head north to Yellowstone visit Lewis Falls quick stop along the park road followed by West Thumb and which will probably be most of your day and catch Hayden Valley towards dusk (best time to see wildlife) which will probably take a full day to do those things.

      As far as Fairy Falls and walking up the hill that is a personal choice I have seen young kids make the hike, I carried my 1 and half old daughter up, but not knowing you are your kids I do not know if it would be suitable for them. It is steep and rocky so it is slippery but like I said I have seen other young families make the hike up.

      Day 2 I would see all the geysers on the Westside of the park from Norris Geyser Basin to Old Faithful area. It is a lot of geysers, hot springs, and paint pots so hopefully the kids do not get bored.

      Day 3 would visit the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone along with Mammoth Hot Springs, Tower Junction (Tower Falls), and out to the Lamar Valley (best spot to see wildlife) which all of them are in the northern area of the park so makes for a good day in Yellowstone without a bunch of wasted driving time.

      In my opinion Yellowstone is once in a lifetime trip so try to get the kids up early so you can beat most of the crowds especially at places like Old Faithful, Lower and Upper Falls, and Mammoth Hot Springs and have a little bit more time to see the things you want to see.

      You really cannot go wrong in visiting Yellowstone just know that no person can see it all in one trip. Just make sure you visit Mammoth, Upper and Lower Falls, Old Faithful, and the Lamar Valley and you should end up with some great pictures, memories, and fun experience.

      Hope this helps. My wife Karen and I wish you a safe trip.
      Happy Travels!!!

  2. Dien

    thanks a lot for your very helpful advices! After reading it over and over again, now I am thinking about staying one more day….if I could. Oh, I can’t wait longer!!! Thanks again for your responding.

    1. Kenny and Karen

      No problem…We hope you enjoy your trip

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