I know instantly, everyone who has been here before is already thinking, “What a joke, YNP can’t be done in a day, you didn’t get a good experience, you have to stay longer to soak it all in, etc. etc. etc.”
Okay, full disclosure, I gave myself 3 days to adventure through Yellowstone, 1 full day and 2 half days, but the BULK of what we did happened all in one day! Keep reading, I’ll explain.
We were headed here from Missoula, which is about a 5 hour 30 minute drive. We made stops along the way, and planned to explore YNP that evening and then get some sleep, wake up early, and really see the majority of it the next day.
Our cabin for the night, The Alpine Hotel of Cooke City, was located right outside the Northeast Entrance. (Which by the way, we absolutely loved this town and wish we stayed here two nights!)
In order to get to the NE Entrance, you pass through the North Entrance.
I did a lot of research for itineraries and feedback when I was planning our day(s) in Yellowstone, and didn’t really find anything as easy to read and clear cut as I was wanting. Luckily for me, I had a few friends who have been or lived nearby, and they really helped me plan what was worth it to see and what could be easily skipped.
I hope this blog helps your planning!
I underlined all driving times, but be sure to give yourself time to explore, hike trails, and take pictures!
Here’s a map for you too!
If you’re crunched on time, and you really do only have ONE DAY in YNP, my number one piece of advice would be to research before you go. Research the stops below, and even more hikes and trails, and see which ones most interest you. Which are MUST SEEs for you and which are you okay with skipping!
1. We entered through the N Entrance of Yellowstone and explored Mammoth Hot Springs. Then, I put our hotel in the GPS and it took us right through Lamar Valley. (I planned for us to be in Lamar Valley around nightfall to search for animals, as early morning and right before dark is when you’ll see them most!) *Lamar Valley is basically a long road with flatlands on both sides, where all the critters hang out. If you like to animal watch, bring binoculars, a scope, a chair/blanket, and spend a lot of time here! We sure did! We saw wolves, bears, moose, elk, bison, and mule deer all in Lamar Valley!
(These guys hang out right in town. Right next to the post office, on the road, by the shops and restaurants near the North Entrance. One elk laid down right in the road. All the cars had to wait until he decided to move again! Such a cool experience!)
We checked in to our hotel, ate a super later dinner, took what felt like a cat nap, and woke back up at the crack of dawn.)
One Single Day in Yellowstone National Park!
We got to Lamar Valley around 6 am to, you guessed it, to critter watch yet again! After driving up and down this road a thousand times, walking, taking tons of pictures, and following the wolf and bear researchers, I finally convinced Josh to leave Lamar Valley so we could see some other things!
Northeast Entrance- Mammoth Springs: 1 hour 15 min.
Next we drove back through Mammoth Hot Springs and down to Norris. Along the way, we admired a few of the lakes, creeks, and cliffs.
Mammoth Springs- Norris: 45 min.
3. At Norris, we turned left and headed towards Canyon Village. This was my favorite part of YNP. I recommend taking the side road called “North Rim Drive”, it’s very beautiful! Make sure you drive to check out Inspiration Point, Grand View, and Lookout Point. There are lots of picnic areas and hiking trails around here, depending on your timeline. Be sure to take “South Rim Drive” to Artist Point! Also in Canyon Village is Canyon Horse Corral, if you’re interested in riding horses!
Norris – Canyon Village: 22 min.
Artist Point – Hayden Valley: 15 min.
4. Drive south through Hayden Valley. This is another great wildlife watching opportunity, however not nearly as fool proof as Lamar Valley.
Hayden Valley – West Thumb: 42 min.
5. Next, make your way down to the West Thumb area. Along the way, if you’re following your map they give you upon entering, you’ll pass by the “Fishing Bridge”, “Lake Village”, and “Bridge Bay” areas. We opted not to stop long in these parts.
6. When you make it to West Thumb, check out the “West Thumb Geyser Basin.”
West Thumb – Old Faithful: 30 Min.
7. Turn right at the intersection, and head towards Old Faithful on your map. When you get to this part of the park, it’s geyser after geyser, and they are all pretty cool! Each one is a little different, and they all have their unique scenery! The first one you’ll pass is Old Faithful. It’s funny, this is the most well known, and probably the least aesthetically pleasing. It was cool, don’t get me wrong, but it was pretty anticlimactic compared to all the hype.
TIP: You definitely want to see Old Faithful erupt. When you’re there, pull up this website. It will show you when you can expect to see the next eruption. We used this when we were there and it was pretty spot on as far as timing goes. If you’re on a tight timetable, use this site BEFORE arriving and you can ensure that you’re not waiting there long to see the eruption.
After Old Faithful, I recommend seeing Upper Geyser Basin, Biscuit Basin, and Grand Prismatic Spring! (In that order along your route.) The Grand Prismatic Spring is the iconic colorful photo you often see! (Unfortunately for us, it was super foggy when we were here, and the colors weren’t as visible.)
Old Faithful- Upper Geyser Basin- Biscuit Basin- Grand Prismatic Spring: 25 Min TOTAL
Lastly, we headed out of the park through the West Entrance, and we stopped for pictures and interesting sights along the way.
Grand Prismatic Spring- West Entrance: 36 Min.
The next day, we did have time allotted to venture back into the park, but opted to head south to Jackson instead! With that being said, if you’re following my FULL itinerary, the Tetons are VERY close to YNP, so if you feel like you missed something and want to venture back in, you’re not too far of a drive away! Feel free to check out my other blogs, Must Do in the Grand Tetons, and A Balanced Guide to Jackson Hole.