It is hard to name a national park that is more famous than Yellowstone. Yellowstone National Park is the world’s first national park. The park is famed for its wildlife and its geothermal features. Plus it’s a giant volcano that if and when it erupts again, it will truly change human life as we know it. Now here is the best way to spend one day in Yellowstone National Park and see just the highlights.
About Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone’ National Park is a massive 2.2 million arces. This makes it the 8th largest national park. The park was created on March 1, 1872 by Congress and President Ulysses S. Grant. Early explorers realized that the Yellowstone Basin was a treasure and need to be protected. These men fought for the area’s protection. The park has a rather colorful history. Looking back a conservationist cringes but Yellowstone paved the way for the amazing park system we have today.
The entire park sits on North America’s largest super volcano. The park spans lakes, canyons, rivers, mountain ranges, and geothermal basins. The parks is well-known for its bison, elk, grizzly bears, black bears, and wolves (re-introduced in 1995). The park provides homes for hundreds of different plants, animals of all shapes and sizes.
As one of the predominate, largest, and oldest parks, it is well developed. The park has several hotels and campgrounds spread out around the park. Some of these data back to the early days of the park. The park’s road make much of the park’s wonders reachable to the average visitor.
Getting to Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park has 5 park entrances. They are accessible by making a couple hour detour off I-15, I-90, and I-80. The park is also a great stop for people travling from Billings, Montana to Idaho Falls, Idaho. Public transport is limited to the towns outside of the park.
There are 3 airports near the park. The closet airport to the park is Yellowstone Regional Airport (COD) in Cody, Wyoming. COD is about 30 minutes from the parks eastern entrance. The other airport is in BozIf you are going to fly, the best airport is the Jackson Hole Airport (JAC) in Jackson, Wyoming. JAC is one of the most scenic airports in the world and is a 1.5 hour drive from the park’s south entrance. If you are going to fly, spend at least 3 days to a month in Yellowstone National Park.
Where to stay in Yellowstone National Park
Unless visiting in winter, make a reservation (or arrive really early) if planning to stay in or around the park. The campgrounds and hotels can fill every night from early May until October.
There are 12 campgrounds in the park. You can make reservations for 5 of them and the rest are first come-first. Check the NPS website for the open status and rough guide for which campgrounds are full (this updated every hour or so, so it is possible the campground will already be full).
There are 9 lodges in the park. These are often filled months in advance but if you want to stay in the park, it is worth checking if they have a cancellation. Some of these lodges such as Old Faithful are some of the oldest structures in the entire national park system.
Depending on your park entrance, the hotel options vary. Gardiner is located by the north entrance and has many hotel options. By the northeast entrance, is the city of Cooke City. West Yellowstone is located by the west entrance and has over 50 hotel offerings. Jackson a bit far and has Grand Tetons National Park between Jackson and the south entrance. This scenic area offers a great selection of hotels. Cody is a small city just outside of the east entrance. The city offers food and hotels.
24 hours in Yellowstone National Park
This one day guide is designed to start from the West Entrance. It can be modified to start at any entrance. This is designed to hit the highlights of Yellowstone. Do keep in mind that this is a really full day. This route is called the Yellowstone Grand Loop. It is 142 miles of road. The maximum speed limit is 45 miles per hour. Please keep to the speed limit. Every year animals such as bears, moose, and elk are hit and killed by cars. Speed kills.
- Grand Prismatic Spring
- Old Faithful Eruption and Geyser Basin
- Yellowstone Lake
- West Thumb Geyser Basin
- Mud Volcano
- Yellowstone River
- Petrified Tree
- Mammoth Hot Springs
- Roaring Mountain
- Norris Geyser Basin
- Artists Paint pots
Start early. Grab a quick cup of coffee and breakfast. It is a hour drive from West Yellowstone to Old Faithful. Along the drive, there are several sites to stop and see. Check out the half mile boardwalk thru a small thermal area called Fountain Paint Pots. Many of the geysers on this trail erupt frequently. This trail takes about 30 mins.
The first major stop is Midway Geyser Basin and the famed Grand Prismatic Spring. Midway Geyser Basin has two of the world’s largest hot spring, Grand Prismatic and Excelsior Geyser. The Midway Geyser boardwalk is 0.8 mile loop. The loop takes about 3o minutes to walk. You will pass the Turquoise Pool, Opal Pool, Grand Prismatic Spring and, Excelsior Geyser. Excelsior Geyser is dormant but when it was seen erupting in the 1800s its spray reach up to 300 ft in height. Grand Prismatic Spring is one of the most photographed sits in the park. The color of Grand Prismatic due to a heat-loving bacteria. The bacteria changes color with the heat. The orange color is the coolest section of water and the green is the hottest. The bright blue is due to the depth of the spring. It is 121 feet deep and 370 ft wide.
The next stop is the world famous geyser – Old Faithful. The cone geyser is part of the Upper Geyser Basin. In total 60% of world’s geysers are located in this one square mile in size. Over 150 geyser are active in the area. The most famous is Old Faithful. She erupts every 44-125 minutes with a 100-130 foot column of water. There is a very nice clock in the Old Faithful Inn that will tell you how long until the next eruption. While in the Inn, check the expected eruption times as well. Several of the other geysers are predictable. If possible enjoy a roughly 3 mile trip around the upper basin and visit Morning Glory pool, Castle Geyser, Riverside Geyser and Grand Geyser. Plan on spending at least two hours here.
Fun Fact – Old Faithful has erupted over a million times since Yellowstone became a national park.
The next stop will be West Thumb Geyser Basin on the shores of Yellowstone Lake. Yellowstone Lake is a massive freshwater lake. The water from West Thumb drains into the lake. Even with all that warm water entering the lake, the lake is only about 45F during the summer. West Thumb is the smallest of the geyser basins. It does has Abyss Pool and Fishing Cone. The boardwalk is about a mile round trip. Plan on spending about 3o minutes.
Work your way along Yellowstone Lake. If you brought your own lunch, stop at any of the picnic areas along the lake. If not, stop by Lake Hotel for lunch at this historic inn.
After lunch head to the Mud Volcano. This area is very active. The Mud Volcano is no longer very active, but it does have a history of spraying mud everywhere. One can also visit the raging Dragon’s Mouth. This small feature is always emitting steam and the sloughing of water can be heard. Black Dragon’s Calderon is an active mud pot with boiling mud. Plan on spending less than 20 minutes.
Keep driving towards the Yellowstone River. The drive will take about an hour from the Mud Volcano. At the Yellowstone River, take time to explore both the south and north sides of the Grand Canyon. Start with the South Rim, Take the short hike out Uncle Tom’s Trail for views of the lower falls and to see Red Rock Point. Head of to Artist Point for more views of the canyon.
Head over to the North Rim. Stop at the Upper Falls and another view of the lower falls. Then head over to Inspiration Point. All the stops include a little bit of hiking into the canyon. Plan on about two hours to explore the area and to do some hiking.
Take a quick side tour on your way to Mammoth Hot Spring to visit the Petrified Tree. This tree makes the history of life, death and volcanoes in Yellowstone. The area has been thru a cycle of growth to only be killed off by the volcanoes of Yellowstone for almost 50 million years. The Petrified Tree is a reminder of those ancient forests. This is a quick visit.
Mammoth Hot Springs is a historical area built at the base of Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces. Take a quick stroll around town to see buildings dating back to 1890’s. After checking town, head over the the Terraces. There is about 1.75 miles of boardwalk to walk and 150 hot springs to see. The Terraces are made from limestone deposits and rise about 300 feet. The hot water is the underground drainage of the Norris Geyser Basin. Check out the colors and the calcium carbonate formations in the area. Plan on 1.5 hours to explore the Terraces and town.
Next stop is a quick visit to check out the Roaring Mountain. This hillside of steam vents sounds like a dragon ready to emerge from the mountain. Spend a few minutes listing to the sounds and learning about this mountain.
The last major stop is Norris Geyser Basin. Norris is a hottest of the basins. The average water temperature is higher here than anywhere else in the park. Norris is home to the largest geyser in the park. Steamboat Geyser is an erratic geyser in terms of major eruptions. As of June 18, 2018, it had 10 major eruptions since March 15, 2018. The March 15 eruption was the first major eruption since September 3, 2014. The major eruptions can be up to 300 feet in height. There are frequent minor eruptions to 10 to 50 feet.
As you head back to West Yellowstone, stop by and visit the small artist paint pots. These small paint pots. These can be skipped if you are hungry and ready for dinner in West Yellowstone.
How do you plan on spending your one day in Yellowstone National Park?
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Jennifer has been obsessed with national parks as a child. This Tennessee native spent her childhood exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and traveling with her parents to National Parks and around the Caribbean. She is always planning her next adventure and is ready to see the world while trying to visit all 59 National Park (*She is ignoring the hunk of concrete that just became a national park).