Ready to uncover one of the most legendary national parks in the U.S.? Brace yourself because we’re about to go on a journey into the heart of Yellowstone National Park. This place is like nature’s most spectacular canvas, teeming with awe-inspiring wildlife and stunning geysers. While you could easily spend a week here, not everyone has the time, so here’s my guide on how to spend one day in Yellowstone based on my last trip there.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I absolutely love exploring new national parks. As many as I’ve been to, Yellowstone was surprisingly not one of the first I did. However, a friend was getting married in South Dakota in 2018, and my husband and I decided to drive there instead of flying to visit some new areas.
I’m an avid road tripper, so I absolutely loved our Yellowstone road trip from Seattle that we did. I spent an exhilarating, albeit long, day exploring every corner of the iconic Yellowstone National Park. 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 visiting Grand Teton in one day (where they have some amazing Grand Teton hikes to explore).
But don’t worry, if you’re seeking a more leisurely day out or have young adventurers joining the journey, I’ve also included some less intense yet equally rewarding spots that promise not to skimp on the views. Moreover, if your time is limited, my specially curated one-day Yellowstone itinerary will be particularly beneficial.
So, let’s get started. Grab your binoculars, pack your snacks, and prepare to plunge into one of my all-time favorite U.S. national parks with this comprehensive guide on how to make the most of one day in Yellowstone National Park.
This post was first written in 2018 and last updated in May 2023.
Tips for Spending One Day in Yellowstone
This guide provides a sample 1 day in Yellowstone itinerary to show you the best of the park. I advise looking through all the things to do in Yellowstone and picking 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.
- Know the road closures – Yellowstone is a huge park, so constant construction is going on to improve it. Check the official website before you go to know about any roads you may need to avoid.
- 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, get better parking spots, and allow you to see more. I went at 7 am and didn’t regret it at all.
- Plan for traffic – Yellowstone isn’t as small as parks like Joshua Tree or Olympic National Park, so you should sometimes expect traffic jams. This means not creating a schedule that’s too jam-packed and being patient when you do get stuck in traffic.
- Know there is limited cell service – I only got service in select parts of the park, so it’s important to map out your route in advance. You can pick up a paper map at the visitor’s booth to help plan your trip.
- 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.
This post promotes travel to a national park that is the traditional land 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.
How to Get to Yellowstone
While Yellowstone is mainly in Wyoming, the park is actually in parts of Montana and Idaho. That means there are multiple entrances to get to Yellowstone, and 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
If you do want a longer itinerary, I have a 4 days in Yellowstone itinerary to check out as well!
Yellowstone National Park Map
Here’s a more interactive map to visually see where I recommend stopping.
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 after driving through Yellowstone in a day:
- 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 above the north Yellowstone entrance and is an affordable place to stay for the night. (rates start at $146 per night; book your room on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
You also have options for vacation rentals, although they won’t be right in the park.
- Prismatic Spring Condo – This one-bedroom condo is about 15 minutes from Yellowstone, which is rare to find. (rates start at $199 per night)
- Riverfront Cabin – This two-bedroom cabin is about 30 minutes north of Yellowstone and has a fireplace, beds with memory foam, plus an outdoor gas grill. (rates start at $210 per night)
- Adorable Cabin – This cute cabin sleeps up to eight people and has a hot tub plus free Wi-Fi. (rates start at $219 per night)
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 Yellowstone.
Visit 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, and 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 viewer-friendly, with bench seating and a 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 – about half of the 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. This is a must-see in Yellowstone in one day that you’ll want to put on your trip.
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.
Make sure you have your America the Beautiful Pass! For only one price, you can visit all the national parks over and over throughout the year. I renew mine every year.
Gaze at the Impressive Mammoth Hot Springs
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 to get the full view and marvel at the strangeness of nature.
When you’ve only got one day in Yellowstone, I recommend choosing 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 park’s most colorful and impressive mineral deposits.
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, and 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
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 its 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, which causes different colors. You’ll also 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. This was probably my favorite thing to see in Yellowstone due to all the colors.
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
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 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 was one of my favorite places to stop, so I highly recommend putting this on your itinerary when visiting Yellowstone National Park in one day.
This pool has changed a lot since it was discovered. For decades, tourists throwing trash into its blue waters 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 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. I wanted to spend hours here just watching the wildlife walk around the hills, but unfortunately, my schedule didn’t allow it.
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.
Visit West Thumb Geyser Basin
This basin was the first part of the park that was ever written about, and it seemed to make an impression on the explorers of the early 1800s. People used to come here on a stagecoach from the Old Faithful area and then be at a crossroads. They could stay on the uncomfortable stagecoach to continue on or jump on the steamship here to the Lake Hotel.
This area used to be thriving with a gas station, cafeteria, and campground, but now it’s one of the most beautiful places to stop during your one day in Yellowstone, as its backdrop is the equally stunning Yellowstone Lake.
Photograph Tower Fall
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 go on one of the many Yellowstone hikes 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 Fall is an impressive sight because of more than the rushing water, and 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
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
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 area’s history. Volunteering 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. The ranger I spoke with said he’d been waiting years to be stationed here, so it’s worth talking to the one on duty while you’re here, as they’ll likely have plenty of fun things to tell you.
Sample Itinerary for One Day at Yellowstone
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 arrive. 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.
You can also choose to have a more leisurely day and only do the north part or south part of this itinerary so you won’t be as rushed. I advise you to pick the top few attractions you want to see during your one day in Yellowstone National Park and plan your trip around that.
- 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 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.
Other Things to Know for Spending One Day in Yellowstone National Park
What’s the Yellowstone National Park entrance fee?
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 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 do Yellowstone in a day?
Yes, you absolutely can visit Yellowstone in one day! While I 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).
Can you drive Grand Loop Yellowstone in one day?
Yes, it is possible to drive the Grand Loop in Yellowstone National Park in one day, but it will be a very long day, and you’ll need to be selective about what you stop to see. The Grand Loop is approximately 142 miles long, so keep that in mind
How long does it take to drive through Yellowstone?
Driving through Yellowstone without stopping takes about 4 to 7 hours due to the park’s 45 mph speed limit and potential traffic from roadwork or wildlife.
What is the most beautiful entrance in Yellowstone?
This answer is up for debate, but I think the South Entrance is the most scenic due to having to drive through Grand Teton National Park first. That way, you’ll see two national parks in one day (although you should take at least one day for each if possible).
Here are a few more tips to enhance your visit.
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.