Beyond Old Faithful—How to Visit Yellowstone National Park in 3 Days

Updated 06/19/19

If you have yet to cross Yellowstone National Park off your travel bucket list, allow us to convince you to take an all-American road trip for your next vacation. While America's first national park is a massive 2.2 million acres, you won't even need to take a weeklong vacation to see it all.

It is possible to enjoy a long weekend trip exploring the park without feeling rushed (yes, even though Yellowstone is larger than the state of Rhode Island). The 142-mile Grand Loop Road conveniently connects the park’s most iconic monuments, making it surprisingly easy to see everything from Old Faithful to Mammoth Hot Springs—even when you're on a tight schedule.

From gushing geysers and colorful hot springs to stunning waterfalls and off-the-beaten-path swimming spots, our three-day travel guide will take you to some of Yellowstone’s must-visit attractions as well as a few of its hidden gems. 

Read on to discover what to see, where to stay, and which trails to hike for a memorable trip to Yellowstone National Park.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Robert Harding/500px

Day 1

On day one, take Yellowstone’s Grand Loop Road from Old Faithful to Norris to explore the park’s gushing geysers and bubbling hot springs.

Old Faithful
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WHAT TO SEE

Old Faithful: The park’s iconic natural wonder will undoubtedly be a trip highlight. Once you’ve seen Old Faithful do its thing, take a hike to see some of Upper Geyser Basin’s other gushing geysers, like Castle, Beehive, and Grand.

Grand Prismatic Spring: With its striking colors, this spring is arguably the most photogenic destination in the park. Nearby sights in Midway Geyser Basin include Excelsior Geyser, Turquoise Pool, and Opal Pool, which are all within reasonable hiking distance from the spring.

Norris Geyser Basin: Literally the hottest geyser basin in the park, this area boasts colorful pools of thermal water. Hit one of the boardwalk trails to get an up-close view of the multicolored basins.

WHERE TO STAY

Old Faithful Inn: A great spot to stay if you want to be central to the park’s most popular geysers, this historic inn is a national monument in its own right. Built in 1903 and 1904 with local logs and stone, it set the standard for fine American craftsmanship and rustic architecture.

Norris Hot Springs Campground: Drift to sleep to the sounds of the nearby Gibbon River, and wake up to the sight of bison grazing right outside your tent at this campground.

WHAT TO DO

Old Faithful Visitor Education Center: Step inside the visitor center to learn about the geological forces behind the park’s geysers and hot springs.

Museum of the National Park Ranger: Conveniently located near Norris Hot Springs, this museum chronicles the history of the park rangers from its military beginnings to present day.

Grand Prismatic Spring
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Day 2

From Norris, head to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which is home to some of the most recognizable landscapes in the park like the Lower Falls.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
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WHAT TO SEE

Lower Falls: Hike along the South Rim to Artist’s Point or Lookout Point to see the falls from an Instagram-worthy vantage point. To see the falls from below, take the short (but strenuous) Uncle Tom’s Trail, featuring 328 steps from the top of the canyon to the base of the falls.

Hayden Valley: Spot wildlife in Hayden Valley, located just a short drive from the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

Quick Tip

Bison, elk, grizzly bears, and coyotes frequent the area, so keep your camera within arm’s reach as you pass through.

Mount Washburn: Enjoy panoramic views of Yellowstone from the park’s prominent peak.

WHERE TO STAY

Canyon Village Campground: Conveniently located within a mile of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, this is one of the park’s most popular campgrounds.

Canyon Lodge & Cabins: The rustic lodge is an excellent option for visitors who don’t want to rough it.

WHAT TO DO

Canyon Visitor Education Center: With hands-on exhibits, this center is the ideal place for the whole family to learn more about Yellowstone’s supervolcano.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
@meganbeauchamp

Day 3

After taking in the view at Mount Washburn, head north toward the Tower-Roosevelt area of the park to see the stunning Tower Fall. Then drive west to Mammoth where you’ll see picturesque hot springs.

Mammoth Hot Springs
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WHAT TO SEE

Tower Fall: The 132-foot waterfall is, in a word, stunning.

Mammoth Hot Springs: Thermal waters cascade over travertine terraces, making for an otherworldly sight unlike anything else you’ll find in the park.

Boiling River: Take a dip in one of the few places where swimming is allowed. Located just two miles north of Mammoth, Boiling River is a must-visit spot during your time in the northern part of the park.

WHERE TO STAY

Roosevelt Lodge: Located near Tower Fall, this lodge is the epitome of rustic Western aesthetics, complete with log cabins and wood-burning stoves.

Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel: The charming hotel boasts a map of the U.S. made from 15 different types of wood. Pro tip: The trout fish tacos at the hotel restaurant are legendary.

Mammoth Hot Springs Campground: A short walk from the hot springs, this campground is a great option for travelers who want to pitch a tent.

WHAT TO DO

Albright Visitor Center: Housed in one of Fort Yellowstone’s historic buildings, this museum explains the U.S. Army’s role in shaping the park.

Yellowstone National Park
@meganbeauchamp

Campsite Packing List

Teak Camp Stool
Serena & Lily Teak Camp Stool $228
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Field Notes Set of Three Notebooks $10
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Hudson Valley Camp Mug
Nicholas Newcomb Hudson Valley Camp Mug $35
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Lodge Sportmans Camping Grill
Williams Sonoma Lodge Sportmans Camping Grill $155 $116
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Special Edition Alta Hr Wireless Heart Rate And Fitness Tracker
Fitbit Special Edition Alta Hr Wireless Heart Rate and Fitness Tracker $180
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Shadow 25oz. Bottle
S’well Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle $35
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This story was originally published on August 22, 2017, and has since been updated.

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