Yellowstone National Park Itinerary: 5 Days of Exploring America’s Oldest Park

Yellowstone National Park Itinerary 5 Days

Yellowstone National Park is the first designated national park in the world and happens to be the first national park I ever heard about as a child.

I remember seeing beautiful photos of magnificent wildlife and pools of water that were so fluorescent they looked magical.

I couldn’t believe this place really existed. And if so, I promised myself I would someday make my way to it.

Turning those dreams into a reality is just one reason I am obsessed with travel. The other is that in my experience, the real deal usually lives up to the hype.

It’s not a fantasy world made up by others, it exists and it is there for us to explore.

Yellowstone is one of those places that you hope after all the planning and organizing, it will be as special as you anticipated it would be. I’m here to tell you it is as marvelous as you ever imagined!

You just have to be prepared and have a plan so you can experience the very best of the park and that’s where we come in.

Here’s a 5-day itinerary with tips and a list of can’t-miss places for your visit. Enjoy the perfect trip to Yellowstone.

Follow this 5 day Yellowstone National Park itinerary for the must-see sites, hikes, and attractions in the park. Plus travel tips and lodging suggestions. #yellowstone #nationalpark #itinerary
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How Many Days Should I Spend in Yellowstone National Park?

Yellowstone is nearly 3,500 square miles of dense forests and bucolic pastures dotted with geysers, hot springs, and mud pools.

Whether you are planning to stop in Wyoming on a cross-country road trip like we did or it is the main destination, you should plan for at least three to five days to see all the wonderful things Yellowstone has to offer.

This five-day, adventure-filled Yellowstone itinerary will get you to all the places you’ll want to experience inside the park.

The best things to see and do in Yellowstone National Park.
Riverside Geyser


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How to Get to the Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is in the northwest corner of Wyoming. Small sections spill over Montana (3%) and Idaho’s (1%) border.

Flying is the quickest form of transportation to the area with flights between 2 – 5 hours from many major U.S. cities.

Jackson Hole Airport is the closest airport to the south entrance and houses American Airlines, American Eagle, Delta Air Lines, Delta Connection, Frontier, United Airlines, and United Express.

Yellowstone Airport is the closest airport to the western entrance and only has flights on Delta Air Lines with daily connections to and from Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport in Montana is roughly 90 miles from both the north and west entrances. It serves many major airlines such as Delta, United, Alaska Airlines, Frontier, and Allegiant Air.

A vehicle is necessary to visit the park. Rental cars are then available at all airports to get you around on your trip.

In my opinion, the BEST way to get to Yellowstone is to drive. If you are from the U.S. and you have time, visiting Yellowstone is the perfect opportunity for a road trip. RELATED: BEST FREE ROAD TRIP APPS

It allows you to bring your own tent or trailer which opens up so many options inside the park. Since it is a popular destination and so large being able to camp is helpful for planning purposes.

We drove the 1,400-miles or so from Chicago on a mega road starting with Badlands National Park. It was a trip we will never forget. You can read our Badlands itinerary here if you are planning a similar vacation.

If you are interested in renting an RV from your home state, check out RVShare, one of the largest RV rental marketplaces.

Follow this 5 day Yellowstone National Park itinerary for the must-see sites, hikes, and attractions in the park. Plus travel tips and lodging suggestions.
Make sure to add Biscuit Basin to your road trip itinerary.

Tips for Visiting Yellowstone National Park

    • Plan ahead. Yellowstone is a popular destination with limited facilities. Reservations open up May 1 the prior year for summer, and March 15 the prior year for winter.
    • Pack a sturdy pair of women’s hiking shoes or men’s hiking shoes, whichever applies. I prefer trail runners or hiking shoes that don’t cover my ankles since it tends to rub, but if you prefer hiking boots, make sure to pick a durable and breathable pair like the one I link to. 
    • Bring a good day pack to carry lunch, snacks, and water for your daily hikes. 
    • Get up early! Be up and out by 8 am and you will not have a problem with parking or crowds.
    • Respect the animals and their space. Do not approach them. And absolutely never turn your back on an animal to snap a selfie and always be alert.
    • Everyone should be cautious but if traveling with children, be especially careful around the hydrothermal areas. It is NOT a playground.
    • You will have no cell service so download a Yellowstone map, itinerary, and any other necessary information beforehand.
    • Download National Parks by Chimani. It is a free app that has detailed guides, including GPS-enabled maps that can be used offline.
    • Always wear layers. The weather can and does change often especially when hiking in high elevations.
    • Always add extra time for driving. Yellowstone is HUGE and very busy in the summer season.
    • Bear safety:
      • You must stay 100 yards or more away from bears or any wild animals in Yellowstone.
      • Try not to hike alone and always make noise when walking especially when turning a corner. You can play music, wear a bear bell, clap your hands, and/or yell out every once in a while.
      • Purchase bear spray before arriving to give you peace of mind. *Note: you cannot fly with bear spray so purchase only after arriving if coming by plane.*
      • Ask rangers about bear activity in areas before hiking.
      • Be aware that bears, like most animals, are more active at dusk and dawn.
      • Food should always be stored in vehicles or in bear-proof canisters or lockers.

Related: What to do if you Encounter a Bear

Follow this 5 day Yellowstone National Park itinerary for the must-see sites, hikes, and attractions in the park. Plus travel tips and lodging suggestions.
Black Bear in Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park Lodging

Take your pick of lodging choices in the area, anywhere from romantic inns to basic tent sites. There are options for any type of traveler but the key is to book early.

Yellowstone has twelve campgrounds and only five take reservations. The rest are first-come, first-served.

Lodges book up fast but have cancellations often so periodically check the website for openings.

I would recommend splitting your time between two places since Yellowstone is so large.

We camped in Grant Village for the entire time and in hindsight, we would have rather spent a few days in the southern and northern region separately.

Do not miss the Old Faithful Inn on your visit to Yellowstone.
Old Faithful Inn

Lodging Options near North Entrance Outside the Park

Lodging Options near North Entrance Inside the Park

  • Roosevelt Lodge ($$$)
  • Mammoth Hotel and Cabins ($$$)
  • Pebble Creek Campground ($)
  • Slough Creek Campground ($)
  • Indian Creek Campground ($)
  • Mammoth Campground ($)

Lodging Options Inside the Park Centrally Located

  • Lake Hotel ($$$)
  • Lake Lodge ($$$)
  • Canyon Lodge ($$$)
  • Canyon Campground ($)
  • Norris Campground ($)

Lodging Options near South Entrance Inside the Park

  • Grant Village Lodge ($$$)
  • Lewis Lake Campground ($)
  • Grant Village Campground ($)

RELATED: WHAT IT’S LIKE TO CAMP AT GRANT VILLAGE CAMPGROUND

Lodging Options near West Entrance Outside the Park

Lodging Options near West Entrance Inside the Park

  • Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Inn ($$$)
  • Madison Campground ($)

Rent an entire cabin on Airbnb. Get a $65 credit when you book your trip!

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Follow this 5 day Yellowstone National Park itinerary for the must-see sites, hikes, and attractions in the park. Plus travel tips and lodging suggestions.
Grand Prismatic Spring, One of the top 10 things to do in Yellowstone National Park.

10 Best Places in Yellowstone National Park – DO NOT MISS

See below for a Yellowstone map that you can download for your trip. 

    1. Old Faithful Geyser
    2. Old Faithful Inn
    3. Riverside Geyser
    4. Morning Glory Pool
    5. Grotto Geyser
    6. Grand Prismatic Spring
    7. Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
    8. Bison in Hayden Valley
    9. West Thumb Geyser Basin
    10. Mammoth Hot Springs
HOW TO USE: To view the layers and see the names of the places on the above map, click the tab in the top left corner. You can select the check marks to show or hide certain layers. If you select the icons on the map, you will get more information about the point of interest.
HOW TO SAVE: If you select the star icon, you can save the above map to your Google Maps account. To view it, open Google Maps in desktop or on your phone, select the menu button, go to “Your Places,” scroll to the right to Maps, and you will see this map.
Follow this Yellowstone itinerary 5 days for the must-see sites, hikes, and attractions in the park. Plus travel tips and lodging suggestions.
Bubbling Geyser at Yellowstone National Park

The most searched Yellowstone itineraries range from 3 to 5 days so if you are looking for only a Yellowstone 3 Day Itinerary, ignore the hiking day 3 section and combine days 4 & 5 (skipping the Beartooth Highway scenic drive) since you only have time for the highlights. 

Yellowstone Itinerary Day 1 – Southwest Section

Begin the day exploring the largest active volcano system in the world. What, you didn’t know the creepy fact that the entire park virtually sits on top of a supervolcano?

It’s time to find out what a supervolcano can do!

Spend your day in the southwest side of the park, read here about our day near Old Faithful. Arrive as early as possible, Old Faithful is a must-see for any visitor so it is usually filled with tourists.

Except when you arrive early! Get there by 7:30 am, and your experience will be a pleasant one.

Follow this 5 day Yellowstone National Park itinerary for the must-see sites, hikes, and attractions in the park. Plus travel tips and lodging suggestions.
THE BEFORE: Old Faithful in the Morning
Follow this 5 day Yellowstone National Park itinerary for the must-see sites, hikes, and attractions in the park. Plus travel tips and lodging suggestions.
THE AFTER: Old Faithful in the Afternoon

First, stop in at the Visitor Center to find out the next eruption time and plan accordingly. It blows every 80 – 90 minutes so if you have time beforehand, watch the short film in the theater as an introduction to the park.

Don’t expect much as far as graphics, the NPS needs to update their films but it is informative.

Then either before or after the explosion –depending on time -walk the Upper Geyser Basin.

The area is home to the largest numbers of active geysers in the park and in the world. Stay on the boardwalk and walk past luminous hot springs and bubbling geysers, some just inches away from your feet.

Afterward, when you are done with the Upper Geyser Basin walk, head over to the Old Faithful Inn.

Do not miss the Old Faithful Inn on your visit to Yellowstone.
Yellowstone Itineraries: Do No Miss the Old Faithful Inn

Built in the early 1900s, it is considered the largest log structure in the world. There’s that “in the world” phrase again. Noticing a trend yet?

Once inside see if you can spot the massive stone fireplace, railings made of pine, and iron clock.

The architecture is rustic yet elegant. It’s like an adult designed the coolest tree house a kid could imagine.

Here’s where you want to eat lunch.

The Inn has a deck on the second floor with a perfect view of Old Faithful. Not only can you get a great view with a seat, but you can also bring in your own snack or lunch. They also have a bar around the corner on the inside if you want to order a drink.

It’s time to get back in the car and head just a few minutes north to Black Sand Basin. The trail is only ¼ of a mile long with overlooks at the Cliff Geyser, Emerald Pool, Sunset Lake, and Rainbow Pool.

Next is Biscuit Basin, three miles north. It’s another short walk with a few springs and geysers: Sapphire Pool, Jewel Geyser, Shell Geyser, Avoca Spring, and Mustard Spring.

If you are ready for a little hike, continue at the end of the boardwalk to Mystic Falls. The 2.5-mile round-trip is moderate with a slightly steep climb to the falls. It’s a nice short walk with a rewarding waterfall.

*REMINDER: It’s your first real hike in Yellowstone, don’t forget to bring bear spray on the Mystic Falls hike.*

Next up, is one of my do-not-miss places, the Midway Geyser Basin. Here, you’ll find the Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in the United States and the third-largest in the world.

Yellowstone Itinerary Day 2 – South and Central Section

By now, you may be tired of seeing geysers – or maybe not – but don’t let that deter you from visiting West Thumb Geyser Basin. The boardwalk runs right along the lake with spouts bubbling underneath in the lake. The water is gorgeous, crystal clear with a rainbow of colors showing off sporadically.

Yellowstone Itinerary for a summer road trip to Wyoming.
The surreal landscape of the West Thumb Basin in Yellowstone.
Yellowstone National Park is huge! Make sure you have a plan and itinerary for getting around to see everything.
Yellowstone Trip Planner: Do Not Skip the West Thumb Section of Yellowstone

Take the 1-mile drive up to the Lake Butte Overlook where you’ll see sweeping views of Lake Yellowstone. Be careful though, this is where we saw our first grizzly bear!

You will then be exploring the central section of the park today, you read more details here on our visit to the Grand Canyon region of Yellowstone River.

The 1,200-foot deep canyon cut deep in the soaring rocks will cut deep into your heart as well. It is picture-perfect.

Follow this 5 day Yellowstone National Park itinerary for the must-see sites, hikes, and attractions in the park. Plus travel tips and lodging suggestions.
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Then take the 24-mile drive along the river stopping off at a few – or all – of the seven overlooks to view the spectacular Upper and Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

Most of the scenic viewpoints are short walks but are steep. If you decide to take in the sights at each one, it is about seven miles total of walking.

For lunch, there are many picnic areas to choose from along the route or stop in Canyon Village’s cafeteria or dining room.

Plug your nose and take a detour to the smelliest part of Yellowstone at Mud Volcano. You’ll find the air reeking of sulfur while you take the short trek to Dragon’s Mouth Spring.

Yellowstone Itineraries whether they be a 3-day to 5-day should include time to watch wildlife. But always be respectful when observing wild animals. Stay far from them and never attempt selfies!
A wild bison in Yellowstone National Park.

Hayden Valley, between the upper and lower falls, is considered one of Yellowstone’s best areas to see wildlife and is next on your Yellowstone itinerary. You may find yourself snapping photos of a herd of bison, packs of wolves or a lone grizzly bear.

*Tip: Don’t forget to bring your binoculars!*

Yellowstone Itinerary Day 3 – Hiking

Yellowstone National Park

Today, get out of the car and explore on foot one of the best hikes in Yellowstone:

  • Mount Washburn Trail: 6.4-mile strenuous round-trip with incredible panoramic views at the lookout.
  • Fairy Falls Trail: 5-mile easy trek to a cascading waterfall.
  • Purple Mountain Trail: 6-mile moderate round-trip with wonderful views of the valley below.
  • Avalanche Peak Trail: 5-mile round-trip strenuous steep hike along a ridgeline.

Another option is to head over to another national park, check out this Grand Teton National Park Itinerary, as a side trip if you are tight on time or combining the two while you stay in Yellowstone.

TIP: If you are looking for a Yellowstone 3 day itinerary, skip this day of hiking. 

Yellowstone Itinerary Day 4 – Northeast Section

If you want a good chance of spotting some of Yellowstone’s most elusive wildlife like grizzlies and wolves, Lamar Valley is a prime location.

Start your day early and bring your binoculars because there’s also a possibility you’ll see badgers, pronghorn, bald eagles, deer, bison, or coyotes.

Bison herd in Yellowstone National Park.
Don’t forget your binoculars!

Afterward, include a drive to Tower Fall on your Yellowstone upper loop itinerary, the most popular waterfall in Yellowstone behind the falls at the Grand Canyon. You can either take in the views from an overlook or head to the base of the fall on a short but steep half-mile hike.

Then, stop at the Roosevelt Lodge Historic District which includes 130 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Have lunch at the family-style restaurant at the lodge or find a scenic picnic spot.

After lunch, take a detour outside the park, I promise you will not be disappointed. Beartooth Highway, considered one of the most scenic drives in the United States, is right outside the northeast gate.

Take a side trip outside the northeast gate of Yellowstone to drive the scenic Beartooth Highway.
Beartooth Highway

Follow U.S. Route 212 between the gate and Red Lodge. The National Scenic Byways All-American Road is 68 miles of hairpin turns and breathtaking landscapes. Some have claimed it to be”the most beautiful drive in America.” It has definitely earned a spot on our top 10 list.

TIP: If you only have 3 days in Yellowstone, skip the scenic drive and combine days 4 & 5. 

Yellowstone Itinerary Day 5 – Northwest Section

The first thing on the agenda this morning is Mammoth Hot Springs. This part of Yellowstone is extremely congested so again, make sure to get up and out early.

The drive out to Mammoth Springs is different than what you’ve been seeing so far on the trip. Big boulders on each side of the road will guide you into the area.

Follow this 5 day Yellowstone National Park itinerary for the must-see sites, hikes, and attractions in the park. Plus travel tips and lodging suggestions.
Elk near Mammoth Springs

If you want to see wildlife, you are almost guaranteed a sighting of elk near Mammoth Springs. The grass was full of them grazing away and we even saw a few walking along the street.

Here, you can take the boardwalk to the Terraces, uniquely layered calcium deposits left over from the hot springs.

Follow this 5 day Yellowstone National Park itinerary for the must-see sites, hikes, and attractions in the park. Plus travel tips and lodging suggestions.
Yellowstone Trip Planner – Add Mammoth Springs Terraces to your itinerary
Top things to see in Yellowstone Park include Mammoth Springs Terraces in the Northwest Section.
Mammoth Springs Terraces in the Northwest Section.

Then explore the Historic Fort and Lodge all while keeping an eye out for those roaming elk.

If you are interested in hiking near Mammoth Springs:

  • Bunsen Peak: 4.6-mile moderate round-trip with a 1,300-foot climb.
  • Wraith falls – 1-mile easy short hike.

Norris Geyser Basin is where you’ll find the world’s tallest active geyser, Steamboat Geyser. Its eruptions are far and few between but you’ll spot some gurgling.

The valley is home to some of the oldest and hottest pools in the park with temperatures above 200 degrees.

*Tip: For a fun adventure head over to Boiling River near Mammoth. It is one hot spring you are allowed to swim in.*

Other National Park Itineraries

What would you add to this Yellowstone National Park itinerary? Tell us in the comments below!

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Discover the best things to do and see in this 5-day Yellowstone National Park itinerary.

The ultimate Yellowstone National Park vacation itinerary: where to stay, what to do and tips for your visit.

15 Responses

  1. Lydia

    The Yellowstone national park is on my bucket list for a while now and your article whetted my appetite, David and Angela! An exceptional itinerary which I hope to put to use. Is it possible to find some good accommodation nearby?

  2. Cindy Baker

    Your photos of the park are amazing. I had no idea that it was the first national park in the world or that the landscape was quite so otherworldly. I hope to visit in the next few years, and will definitely make use of this detailed guide.

  3. Mohana Das

    Yellowstone is such an amazing place and your photos show that. Everything is so surreally colourful! I’d love to visit someday!

  4. bye:myself

    I wasn’t aware that the Yellowstone Park is that big and that there is this much to do. Enough for five days….amazing. Well my stay would probably end the moment I met a bear…although I find them very cute, I’d be terrified. Same goes for the Bison. Are the just walking around like that?!

  5. Jing

    The Yellowstone National Park is very colorful, photogenic and naturally unique. I am glad that it has maintained its natural beauty over the years. I hope to visit here, someday, too.

  6. Amy

    Fantastic itinerary, and I think 5 days is a perfect amount of time. When we went I was blown away by how massive Yellowstone is, and how much there is to see, so having a plan for coverage is a must. Our favorites were the Grand Canyon region, Lake Butte Overlook, the terraces and of course Grand Prismatic!

  7. Meagan

    I legitimately can’t pick which part of Yellowstone gets me more excited. Several of our national parks have been on my bucket list for some time, but seeing things like Biscuit Basin and those elk grazing in the middle of everything just bumps this up even further. Thanks for all the great practical info, too!!

  8. Carmen Edelson

    I actually didn’t know it was America’s oldest park! I can’t believe I have yet to go. I think my entire family would enjoy exploring and camping in these amazing natural landscapes.

  9. The Travel Bunny

    This is a very comprehensive guide. I really appreciate the tips on getting prepared for bears. You mentioned you had a first encounter, so there must have been several. How did they go?

  10. Jillinda

    This itinerary was so detailed and so helpful! I did have a question for you. What time of year did you take this trip?

  11. John

    Having guidance is essential thank you, useful site. I will be entering from the North in a 20 foot camper for my 5 days, (camp site info), and departing the south. Not so easy to reverse your tour, for example to get to Old Faithful at dawn. I will be arriving late September so weather may affect me. And finally, I learned in Yosemite the benefit of a bus tour first for a glimpse of stuff before going it alone, do you have any recomendations?

  12. Elizabeth Mize

    Great info! I do wish you had added places to stay near each of the itinerary days.

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