When you ask most people what national park is on their bucket list, they’ll likely say Yellowstone. At 3,472 square miles, the park is the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined! That’s why you’ll want to take your time exploring it, and 4 days in Yellowstone is the perfect amount of time.
I visited the park last in 2018 during a cross-country road trip and still felt like I didn’t have enough time to see everything. As I said, the park is absolutely massive and it’s easy to spend longer than you intended at certain attractions. However, I took note of all the attractions I enjoyed to create this Yellowstone 4 day itinerary that others could copy to save all the time I took planning my trip there.
In this article, I’ll give you some tips to know before visiting the park as well as exactly where to stop and the best way to see Yellowstone in 4 days.
This post promotes travel to a national park that is the traditional lands of the Apsaalooké (Crow), Eastern Shoshone and Cheyenne people. I make a formal land acknowledgment showing my respect and appreciation to the people of these lands. You can learn more about this on Native Land.
Tips to See Yellowstone in 4 Days
Read these tips first as well as things to know before visiting Yellowstone to help plan your vacation!
Best Time to Visit Yellowstone
One of the things I love about Yellowstone is you can visit it year-round! You will want to note any closures, especially during the winter, but you can find these on the NPS website.
Summer is the most popular time to visit the park, as the weather is beautiful and all parts of Yellowstone are open. This does mean traffic in and around the park and longer waits, so just keep that in mind when planning.
Spring and fall are beautiful times to visit as well, as the weather is a bit cooler but you won’t have to deal with the summer crowds.
To see Yellowstone in a different way than most photos show, you can visit during the winter and see it covered in snow. This will make for some beautiful pictures, but again make sure to check any road closures first.
How Many Days in Yellowstone National Park?
If you’re not sure how many days to spend in Yellowstone, four days is a safe choice. This gives you enough time to see all of the top attractions without feeling like you don’t have time to stop and stare at anything that looks interesting along the way.
Although it’s possible to do Yellowstone in a day, you won’t be able to enjoy all of the amazing hidden gems and smaller viewpoints around the park. The below itinerary suggestion can be done as one full 4-day Yellowstone trip or broken up into shorter itineraries if you don’t have a full four days.
Map of Yellowstone Itinerary for 4 Days
Prefer to see what stops you’ll be visiting during your four days in Yellowstone? Here’s a map of some of the main ones.
Yellowstone National Park Entrance Fees
Here are the different options for the required entrance fee at the park:
- Private vehicle – $35 per vehicle (good for 7 days)
- Hiking/biking in – $20 per person
- America the Beautiful pass – $80 (good for a year and gets you into all national parks across the United States)
Where to Stay in Yellowstone
Keep in mind that Yellowstone is one of the biggest national parks, so you might prefer to stay at a few different hotels during your 4 days in Yellowstone. You can also call one place home base and come back to it every night so you don’t have to worry about packing your things each time. Just make sure to check which side of the park it’s on to ensure it makes sense with your plans.
Hotels in Yellowstone
There are a good amount of hotels in the area to choose from, but book these places way in advance if you go in popular months (like the summertime).
- Comfort Inn at Buffalo Bill Village Resort – Cody is a great location to stay in just east of the park, and this hotel has a pool and fitness center available. (rates start at $120 per night; book your room on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
- Stage Coach Inn – This West Yellowstone hotel has a great location and bicycles for rent. (rates start at $136 per night; book your room on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
- Alpine Motel of Cooke City – This hotel is just north of the park and right on Main Street so you can walk to restaurants in the area. (rates start at $146 per night; book your room on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
Vacation Rentals in Yellowstone
Here are a few Yellowstone vacation rentals to choose from if you prefer that.
- Bison Hideaway Condo – This one-bedroom condo is only 15 minutes from Yellowstone, making it a very convenient home base for your trip. (rates start at $128 per night)
- Cabin on the River – This two-bedroom cabin is north of Yellowstone and has a fireplace, beds with memory foam, and an outdoor gas grill. (rates start at $210 per night)
- One-Bedroom Cabin – This cute cabin is perfect for two people and has a hot tub plus free Wi-Fi available. (rates start at $175 per night)
The Complete 4 Day Yellowstone Itinerary
Here is a suggested 4 days in Yellowstone itinerary based on some of the best places to see.
Day 1 – Grand Prismatic Spring, Fairy Falls, Old Faithful
To do Yellowstone in 4 days properly, you need to start strong. If you’re doing a proper road trip to Yellowstone National Park, make sure your car has warm clothes, snacks, water, and emergency supplies, just in case. A tent is also essential if you want to camp (make sure to read my camping for beginners tips if you’re new to it).
This first day plan includes all of the top attractions in the park. There will be some walking, and plenty of magnificent views wherever you look.
Assuming you’ve arrived in the park the night before and gotten a great night’s sleep, head out early in the morning to your very first stop. Drive to the Fairy Falls Trail Parking Lot and leave your car as you embark on a walk to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook and then to Fairy Falls.
The hot spring attracts almost everyone who visits Yellowstone National Park, thanks to the mesmerizing bright colors around its rim. These colors come from the various heat-loving bacteria (or thermophiles) growing around the edge of the spring.
When you’ve enjoyed the views of the spring from overhead, you can continue along the trail until you reach Fairy Falls, a sparkling waterfall set in the Lodgepole pine forest. Here you can dip your toes in the water or dive right in if you’re feeling warm enough.
The hike to Fairy Falls takes around 3 hours, but you’ll need to leave time to enjoy all the sights along the way. Take a picnic and plenty of water with you. This is a relatively easy walk to do, and it’s sure to get you – and whoever you’re with – in the mood for a day full of exploring.
After a refreshing morning, you’ll want to head to The Old Faithful Geyser to continue your Yellowstone itinerary for 4 days. This is arguably the most famous geyser in the park, and it’s a must-see even if you only have a day here.
It’s best to arrive early to get a good viewing spot of the erupting geyser. The area around Old Faithful is large, and you’ll find a visitors center, bathrooms, and even a gas station to fill up for the day. The geyser itself erupts every 90 minutes or so, which you won’t want to miss.
Once you’re done staring at Old Faithful’s magnificence, take some time to enjoy the rest of the Upper Geyser Basin, home to OF. This space is incredibly popular, and you’re likely to meet plenty of other travelers along the way.
You can walk about 30 minutes along the trails through the basin and find viewpoints like Castle Geyser, Tardy Geyser, Chromatic Pool, and Bottomless Pit. Stop when you reach Morning Glory Pool – around 1.5 miles from Old Faithful – for a first-hand look at the stunning natural beauty. Alternatively, you can walk the full 4.5 miles that make up the Upper Geyser Basin Loop.
The Old Faithful Inn is a great place to rest your weary legs after all the walking and exploring you’ve done on the first day of your Yellowstone National Park 4 day itinerary. You don’t have to stay at the inn, although it’s quite an attractive spot to sleep.
This log building is one of the largest in the world, and it has a cozy old-time feel inside. The stone fireplace is amazing for cooler nights, and the 100-foot-high atrium is impressive to see. You’re also likely to be treated to entrancing live music in the lobby.
There’s a coffee shop here too, and the restaurant offers a hearty meal for hungry travelers. Or enjoy the dining area at the Old Faithful Lodge Cafeteria, where you can sit and look at the geyser from afar as the sun goes down.
Day 2 – Lower Geyser Basin, Firehole Canyon Road
To plan a trip to Yellowstone, it’s a good idea to spread out the different types of sights and activities so that you’re not bored of geysers all on the same day. Luckily, there’s enough variety to keep everyone entertained for at least four days.
This second day itinerary includes some relaxing activities, as well as educational and adventurous excursions.
After breakfast, bundle into the car and begin your day traveling along Firehole Lake Drive in the Lower Geyser Basin thermal area to continue your Yellowstone National Park itinerary for 4 days. This is near Fountain Paint Pot, and it takes you past a number of smaller springs and geysers. There are also many parking spots where you can stop the car and take in the sights.
Some of the viewpoints to look out for include:
- Firehole Spring
- Botryoidal Spring
- Pebble Geyser
- White Dome Geyser
- Pink Cone Geyser
- Bead Geyser
- Firehole Lake
- Black Warrior Lake
The road is 2 miles long, but you’ll want to carve out enough time to be able to stop and see whatever catches your eye. Pack in a few flasks of coffee and breathe in the fresh morning air as you watch the stunning geysers and admire the hot springs.
Note: Firehole Lake Drive is closed during winter. If you’re traveling to Yellowstone in the colder months, you could do the Fountain Paint Pot walking trail instead.
A 17-minute drive away from Firehole Lake Drive, you’ll find Firehole River. Although the best way to reach the river is to drive on Firehole Canyon Drive – a one-way road going in the direction you’re coming from. So you’ll need to drive up the main road a bit to turn off onto the scenic route.
It’s worth it, though, which you’ll see when you reach the swimming hole on Firehole River. This is one of only two places in Yellowstone National Park that has the right temperature for swimming. So if you’ve packed your swimming clothes, be sure to bring them along for this stop.
There are changing rooms on the road, where you can leave your car before descending the stairs to reach the small rocky beach. There’s space to sit and watch the swimmers and plenty of water to dip into.
Another stop-off on Firehole Canyon Drive is Firehole Falls. This 40-foot waterfall sits in between 800-foot thick canyon walls made from lava flows. You won’t need very long here, but it’s definitely worth the stop before making your way to the next item on your 4-day Yellowstone itinerary.
Madison Amphitheater is less than 10 minutes away from Firehole River. This is the ideal spot to do some stargazing while you’re spending time at Yellowstone. The space offers a central area where many visitors can come and quietly view the Milky Way overhead. There are also organized events and stargazing walks that you can take part in for no extra cost.
While here, you may just be lucky enough to spot a few of the park’s animals too. Just remember to pack in a flashlight so you can see where you’re walking in the dark. You’ll need very warm clothes because it can get colder than you’d think, and warm drinks and snacks are a good idea too.
The theater is right next to the Madison Campgrounds, so if camping was on the agenda when you were planning a trip to Yellowstone, this works out perfectly.
Day 3 – Norris Geyser Basin, Mammoth Hot Springs
Two days of non-stop thrilling adventure may lead you to believe that you’ve seen all the best parts of Yellowstone. However, this Yellowstone National Park itinerary still has so much more to offer.
The stops on today’s plan are a little further apart from each other, but luckily, there’s so much to see in between each destination. So don’t be in too much of a rush; if you see something fascinating, stop and take it in before continuing on your way.
If you’ve spent the night at Madison Campgrounds, you have a 25-minute drive to your destination this morning – Norris Geyser Basin. Before you reach this spot, it is highly recommended that you make a pit stop at the Gibbon Falls viewing area. There’s also Blood Geyser to view on the way when looking for how to see Yellowstone in 4 days.
When you reach Norris Geyser, there is plenty to keep you busy for an entire morning and possibly longer. A must-visit here is the Norris Geyser Basin Museum which showcases exhibits on geothermal geology.
The basin also has a 2.9-mile-long loop trail. You can walk this trail and enjoy the sights of Porcelain Springs, Sunday Geyser, and Little Whirligig Geyser. The trail is also home to Steamboat Geyser, which will occasionally erupt and delight those fortunate enough to bear witness to it.
Do the full loop, or plan according to the springs and geysers you want to see the most. This is another spot in Yellowstone where you’d be smart to bring along something to eat and drink.
The next leg of the journey is a 40-minute drive from Norris Geyser Basin to Mammoth Springs. You can, again, stop at places like Frying Pan Spring, Bijah Spring, and Fort Yellowstone Cemetery to stretch your legs and make the distance seem less tiresome.
You’ll hopefully arrive in Mammoth just before lunchtime and can grab a bite to eat at the Mammoth Dining Room, which is open between 11:30 am and 2:30 pm for lunch. There’s also a gas station and a general store, so you can refill gas as well as snacks and water while you’re here.
However, the main attraction is the Mammoth Hot Springs, and one of my favorite I saw during my 4 days in Yellowstone National Park. These springs have an upper terraces area and a lower terraces area. You can hike both of these or simply do the lower one if you’re short on time. The lower terraces area will take you about an hour to hike – not counting the time you need to soak in the magnificent views.
We’re going to suggest that you take an hour’s drive now, from Mammoth to Lamar Valley. Before you reach this gorgeous valley, though, I recommend a late-afternoon snack stop at the Lava Creek Picnic Area.
Just be sure to reach the valley before sunset. This valley boasts unimaginable wildlife scenes, and the best times to come are either early sunrise or late afternoon sunset. As the light fades, you’ll be able to watch the wildlife in their natural habitat and capture magnificent photos to take home.
This is another time to make sure you have a jacket ready so that you can put it on as soon as the sun starts to go down. To spend the night, you have Lamar Buffalo Ranch, just a 7-minute drive from the valley viewpoint. Or Roosevelt Lodge, which is just under 30 minutes away from Lamar Valley.
Day 4 – Grand Canyon, Hayden Valley
Even with a well-planned Yellowstone itinerary, four days still might not seem like it’s enough. So on the very last day, it can be tempting to fit as much as possible into your day. You don’t want to rush yourself and miss out on beautiful sights, though.
So here is a full but manageable suggestion on the best way to visit Yellowstone on your fourth day. Prepare for amazing discoveries in Yellowstone Park and, if there’s time, one last majestic sunset.
No Yellowstone vacation is complete without visiting the park’s very own Grand Canyon. This is a 20-mile-long canyon with great viewpoints along the rims. It will take almost 2 hours to get from near Lamar Valley to the canyon rims, so it’s best to start your day early.
Start your viewing of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone at the Brink of the Lower Falls, which is a must during your 4 days in Yellowstone. This steep trail is 0.7 miles long and rewards visitors with amazing views of the canyon. Other must-see viewpoints along the canyon rim are Artist Point and Inspiration Point. Spend your morning at the pace you prefer, and use these viewpoints to get a whole lot of photos.
Note: A large part of Grand Loop Road, between Tower Fall and Canyon Village, is closed for a 2-year construction project. This is scheduled to end in May 2022, which will mean a much shorter driving distance for this part of the trip.
About 20 minutes from the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is Hayden Valley. This is slightly smaller than Lamar Valley but still offers incredible views of the wildlife that call the national park home. You’re likely to see a herd of bison, elk, a few grizzly bears, and possibly a pack of wolves. The overlook has space to pull the car over, and there are information boards on some of the animals you can see.
When you’ve had your share of wildlife viewing, take a 5-minute drive to Mud Volcano. Those with sensitive noses will not want to exit the car in this spot, but if you can handle the smell of rotten eggs, it’s an interesting sight to see.
These springs have a mix of hydrogen sulfide gas and mud, and the result is not very pleasant to the nose. There are numerous smaller mud springs to view in the area, as well as the mud cauldron.
If you’re up for a hike, you can do the Mud Volcano Trail and stop off in a quiet spot for a picnic. There’s also LeHardy Picnic Area a few minutes away for those not too keen on staying at the mud volcano.
If you’re able to spend one last sunset in the park, you’re going to want to head to Yellowstone Lake, a 10-minute drive from the Mud Volcano. Here you can spend the evening watching the sun go down as you stare over the lake, although if you arrive early enough, you can take a boat tour on the water before it gets too dark.
There is also the Fishing Bridge for anyone who wants to spend some time with their rods in the water. The lakeshore has a general store and a lake ranger station. This is a great place to reflect on your time and gather yourself up before leaving this magical park.
Both the lakeside hotels can offer you a warm meal and a comfy bed to rest up before heading back home in the morning. Stay in the Lake Lodge, enjoy dinner in the lakeside dining room, and use the free Wi-Fi to plan your trip home. The other option is to book into the somewhat more romantic Lake Yellowstone Hotel for a bubble bath and a quiet evening in the lobby in front of the fireplace.
If you still want more after all of that, you can check out how to spend one day in Grand Teton, which is just south of the park. I have a post on the best hikes in Grand Teton National Park to check out if you’re interested.
Whether you choose to copy this itinerary or create your own for your 4 days in Yellowstone, you’ll have a blast exploring one of the most popular national parks in the country!