The Best Way to Spend One Day in Yellowstone National Park

one day in Yellowstone
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Yellowstone National Park is probably the most iconic park in the country. With wildlife roaming everywhere and magnificent geysers, this is a park you’ll need to go to at least once in your life. Whether you have a week to spend in the area or only one day in Yellowstone, you can still see plenty.

I did a Yellowstone road trip from Seattle several years ago and was pleased to see how much I could see by driving the Yellowstone loop. I planned all my stops in advance and started my day early to make the most of my trip to Yellowstone in one day before I went on to visit Grand Teton in one day.

Based on my experience, I put together an itinerary of things to see in Yellowstone in a day. This guide will give you tips to keep in mind, places to see in Yellowstone, and a sample 1 day in Yellowstone itinerary.

This post has been updated and is accurate as of April 2021.

Tips for Spending One Day in Yellowstone

Here are a few tips to help you plan your 1 day in Yellowstone.

  • Know the road closures – Yellowstone is a huge park, so there is constant construction going on to make it better. Check the official website before you go to know about any roads you may need to avoid. (as of April 2021, the road from Tower-Roosevelt to Canyon Junction is closed for construction, and there is also construction at the north entrance and Old Faithful Overpass Bridge)
  • Start your day early – Yellowstone is one of the most popular parks in the country, so I recommend going as early as possible in the day. This will cut down on getting stuck in traffic.
  • Plan for traffic – Yellowstone isn’t as small as parks like Joshua Tree or Olympic National Park, so you should expect traffic jams at times. This means not creating a schedule that’s too jam-packed and being patient when you do get stuck in traffic.
  • Book your hotel in advance – Unless you’re traveling in an RV, you’ll likely need a hotel for the night. While there are plenty of Yellowstone hotels both in and near the park, these fill up quickly so you’ll need to book them months in advance if you come during the summer.

How to Get to Yellowstone

Yellowstone entrances

While Yellowstone is mainly in Wyoming, the park actually is in parts of Montana and Idaho as well. That means there are multiple entrances to get to Yellowstone. Which entrance you take depends on where you’re coming from on your road trip.

Here are the five Yellowstone entrances and the city and state they’re in. You may decide to enter from one entrance and leave from another (for example, I entered through the east entrance in Wyoming and then left through the west entrance in Idaho on my one day in Yellowstone National Park).

  • North entrance – entrance from Gardiner, Montana
  • Northeast entrance – entrance from Cooke City, Montana
  • East entrance – entrance from Cody, Wyoming
  • South entrance – entrance from Jackson, Wyoming
  • West entrance – entrance from Idaho Falls, Idaho

Yellowstone National Park Entrance Fees

Here are the different options for the required entrance fee you’ll need to pay for your one day Yellowstone itinerary. You can pay these at any of the five pay stations found at the entrances.

  • 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)

Can You See Yellowstone in One Day?

Yes, you absolutely can visit Yellowstone in one day! While I do recommend three days minimum if time allows, I know many people only have the time to drive through here for a day on their road trip (make sure you have all the road trip essentials before you leave).

This guide provides a sample 1 day in Yellowstone itinerary to show you the best of the park. My advice is to look through all the things to do in Yellowstone and pick out four or five that you really want to see. You can then make a quick map in Google Maps to make sure your route makes sense and you understand how long it’ll take to go on a Yellowstone day trip.

Where to Stay in Yellowstone

If you’re spending one day in Yellowstone, you’ll likely need a hotel to stay at unless you’re traveling in an RV. Here are a few places I recommend staying at.

Best Things to See in Yellowstone in One Day

Yellowstone has so many amazing natural attractions that it can be tough to decide what to fit into a Yellowstone one day itinerary. This is especially so because you could spend hours just gazing at one natural structure. Still, a day trip to Yellowstone National Park is possible if you know where to go and how to plan your trip. These are the top things to see in the area.

Visit Old Faithful

old faithful

It may come as no surprise that the Old Faithful Geyser is at the top of this list, as this geyser is an icon of Yellowstone. It’s one of the first things you’ll see as you enter the park from either the South or the West entrance.

The geyser is very viewer-friendly, with bench seating, and a somewhat predictable eruption pattern. You’ll quickly find that this is the most crowded part of your one day in Yellowstone, as almost everyone who visits puts this on their Yellowstone itinerary. One tip for visiting Yellowstone is to go here early before it gets too crowded.

There are around 500 geysers in Yellowstone – that’s about half of the entire world’s natural geysers. Most are entirely unpredictable, so while the eruption of other geysers in Yellowstone may be more spectacular, Old Faithful is precisely what the name says. 

The famous geyser erupts about 20 times throughout the day, so you’ll undoubtedly be able to watch the hot water spraying high up into the air. This geyser is one of the best things to see during one day at Yellowstone and a perfect start to an exciting day full of natural wonders. 

Gaze at the Impressive Mammoth Hot Springs

mammoth hot springs in yellowstone

A fascinating series of limestone terraces, the Mammoth Hot Springs are another must-see attraction to put on your one day in Yellowstone itinerary. 

Explore the two terraced areas and enjoy scenes of the natural travertine formations. There is an upper and a lower terrace so that you can get the full view and marvel at the strangeness of nature. 

When you’ve only got one day in Yellowstone, I recommend you choose either the upper or the lower terrace, to save time. The main highlights are the lower section’s Minerva Terrace and Liberty Cap.

Minerva Terrace is what most people think of when they hear Mammoth Hot Springs. The fantastical formation is one of the most colorful and impressive mineral deposits in the park. Hot water below the earth’s surface carries dissolved calcium and bicarbonate as it rises, forming these funky terraces. That means if you see steam, it’s in the process of forming more.

Liberty Cap is a massive travertine tower. This dormant thermal cone is the result of decades – possibly even millennia – of mineral build-up. These days, it’s a pleasant testament to Yellowstone’s unique power and a great thing to see while you’re in the Mammoth area.

See the Grand Prismatic Spring

grand prismatic springs

This hot spring is one of the most phenomenally awe-inspiring sights and one of the best things to see in Yellowstone in one day. It boggles the mind, with unnaturally bright rainbow colors and impressive size.

Interestingly, those colors come from the bacteria that live in the different heat zones of the spring. Hot water bubbles up in the center and cools as it spreads. Different bacteria survive in varying temperatures, and that’s what causes the different colors. That’s also why you’ll notice deeper, more vibrant colors in summer and lighter hues in winter.

This water bubbles up from a crack in the earth, over 120 feet from the surface – that’s a pretty deep spring. It’s a central part of the Yellowstone Caldera, also known as the Yellowstone supervolcano. That’s why the water is so hot – it’s above a massive active volcano.

Visiting the Grand Prismatic Spring feels surreal, so make sure to add it to your list of what to see in Yellowstone in 1 day. It’s one of the main things to see in Yellowstone for a good reason, so be sure to tick it off on your day trip. Just keep in mind, you certainly can’t swim here! It’s not sauna hot; it’s third-degree burn hot.

Go Boating or Picnic Alongside Yellowstone Lake

yellowstone lake

This massive high-elevation lake is a beautiful sight to see while visiting Yellowstone National Park in one day. Interestingly, scientists have recently discovered that the floor of the lake is as active as the surrounding land. Here too, geysers, canyons, and hot springs are present. 

Despite this, the lake waters are usually freezing, and swimming is not advisable. In fact, Yellowstone Lake freezes over in winter, making it an additionally striking sight in the cold months. 

The lake is a beautiful place to relax and enjoy a picnic. Because of its immense size, it’s easy to find some privacy here. Enjoy lunch overlooking the lake, before heading off to your next exciting stop. 

You can also go boating during your Yellowstone 1 day itinerary. Guided trips and boat rentals are available at Bridge Bay Marina. Taking in the water view is a wonderful way to experience the peaceful, serene, and gorgeous area.

You can also visit the hotel here and rest by sitting on the rockers on the porch overlooking the lake, which is a relaxing way to spend your one day in Yellowstone.

Stop at the Morning Glory Pool

Another famous geyser is the Morning Glory Pool, named after the delicate blue flower it resembles. 

This pool has changed a lot since it was discovered. Tourists throwing trash into its blue waters for decades have clogged up heat sources. This has caused the temperature to lower, and the naturally blue waters turn bright green and yellow. 

Be sure not to litter in the area – its balance is fragile, with invasive bacteria thriving and overtaking much of the original species. Still, the thermal pool is an impressive sight to see, and certainly one you should try to fit in when figuring out what to see in Yellowstone in one day.

Go Wildlife Spotting in Lamar Valley

lamar valley at yellowstone

Lamar Valley is a beautiful stop to fit into your trip to Yellowstone in 1 day. The natural valley is full of wildlife and roaming bison, so you’ll want to squeeze this into your trip, or even tacking on an extra day.  

Found in Northern Yellowstone, this green valley provides you with an excellent opportunity to spot bison, bears, wolves, deer, and many other species. It’s not often that you can spot many of these amazing creatures so easily, particularly not in America. 

If you do plan to visit Lamar Valley during your 1 day in Yellowstone National Park, pack in a pair of binoculars. You have a good chance of seeing wolf packs in action, or a bear ambling along the Lamar River. You could even see a bald eagle soaring through the sky.

Photograph Tower Falls

yellowstone vacation grand canyon

This beautiful and accessible waterfall is a lovely place to stop along your road trip around the Yellowstone loop. It’s just off the Great Loop, making it a quick and easy addition that can only add to your experience.

You can hike along one of the trails in the area, or simply see it from the viewpoint, just 100 yards from the parking area during your one day at Yellowstone National Park.

Tower Falls is an impressive sight because of more than the rushing water. It’s actually the interesting columns and towers formed through cracked lava flows that draw in visitors. You’ll see the waterfall plunging 132-feet from the striking formations – an awe-inspiring sight. 

Go Swimming or Fly Fishing at Firehole River

one day in yellowstone traffic

If you enjoy trout fishing, you’ll never find a more exciting place to enjoy the sport. Fly fishing among three of the most active geyser basins in the world is a unique experience. 

Dodge hot springs as you stroll along the bank of the river, finding your perfect spot. You’ll be fishing for rainbow and brown trout while looking out over an area filled with wildlife and thermal features.

Keep in mind that the heat gets nearly unbearable in summer, so fly fishing is accessible only in spring, winter, and fall. 

The more popular alternative – particularly in summer – is to go swimming at Firehole. It’s not hot, so don’t be too disappointed. But it’s a lovely place to take a dip. You can swim along a section of the river, exploring the water’s crevices and jutting rocks. There’s no lifeguard on duty, but it’s a fun and safe spot.

Visit the Museum of the National Park Ranger

museum of the national park ranger

One of the more unique things to do during your Yellowstone day trip is to stop at the Museum of the National Park Ranger. This is one of only several soldier stations left from the early 1900s.

The small museum shows you what an old ranger bunk room and cabin used to look like, which I found fascinating. You’ll also see dozens of old pictures of how the park used to look. You will also see how difficult it was to be a ranger back in the day.

I spent quite a bit of time here during my one day in Yellowstone, as the park ranger was very excited to tell me about the history of the area. To volunteer in this spot is one of the most coveted spots out of all the national parks in America. You have to be a retired park employee to be here and get on a list in hopes you’ll be called for a few weeks to be stationed at the ranger station.

Sample Itinerary for One Day at Yellowstone

1 day in yellowstone bison

Can you really visit Yellowstone in a day? Of course you can! Your itinerary will depend on what you want to see most and how much time you have to spend there. I would recommend setting out early to give yourself as much time as possible to explore the otherworldly area.

You can choose between the stops above to make your perfect Yellowstone itinerary. However, this itinerary suggestion is one of the best ways to set up your day to fit some of the national park’s most celebrated attractions. 

The itinerary is based on entering through the Yellowstone South Entrance, so how you adapt will depend on where you’re arriving. Even the Yellowstone loop you’ll be driving is picturesque enough to be worth the visit!

As you can see below, this route will take you about seven hours without stopping or hitting traffic. That means you’ll have a full one day in Yellowstone but still be able to take breaks and walk around.

yellowstone loop map
  • Early morning – Arrive at opening time and watch Old Faithful erupt during your one day trip to Yellowstone National Park. Check opening times before visiting; these depend on the season as well as the day. 
  • Mid-morning – Go boating on Yellowstone Lake, or have a picnic with coffee on the lakeside, settling into an exciting day.
  • Noon – From the late morning to noon, explore the natural habitat of Lamar Valley and spot local wildlife.
  • Afternoon – Visit the Tower Falls, before driving on to Mammoth Hot Springs, where you can spend a few hours exploring and admiring the impressive natural structures.
  • Late afternoon – Stroll around the Morning Glory Pool and Grand Prismatic Spring; remember to bring your camera for these incredible natural wonders.
  • Evening – Have dinner in Canyon Village or at one of the lakeside lodges before heading home.

Spending one day in Yellowstone is always worth it, no matter how busy your trip may be. Whether you just see a few main attractions or make a long Yellowstone day trip out of it, you’ll be glad you did at the end of the day.

The Best Way to Spend One Day in Yellowstone National ParkThe Best Way to Spend One Day in Yellowstone National ParkThe Best Way to Spend One Day in Yellowstone National ParkThe Best Way to Spend One Day in Yellowstone National Park

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