What to See in Yellowstone in One Day
Make the most of your time in Yellowstone by following our expert advice.
Yellowstone National Park is almost 3,500 square miles—Delaware and Rhode Island could easily fit inside, and only 2% of the park can be viewed from the road. That leaves a lot of space for on-foot exploring; over 1,000 miles of hiking trails cover the park. So, as you can imagine, it would take weeks and months to see the entire park. For most of us, that is far from plausible, as budget and time restraints often dictate how long we can spend in the park. If you only have one day to spend in Yellowstone, you will still be able to see many of the highlights, and have an incredible experience. In this guide, we will share our best recommendations and tips for how to most efficiently explore Yellowstone in a short amount of time.
The Best Way to See Yellowstone in One Day
Yellowstone is a huge part, with many distinct areas. Each area is very unique—geysers or wildlife, and off-the-beaten path trails or boardwalks, there is something for everyone in Yellowstone. Below is a basic breakdown of the most popular attractions in each area of the park. Something is sure to spark your interest.
1. OLD FAITHFUL AREA: A must-visit area of the park, and a bucket-list item for most visitors, Old Faithful—located in Upper Geyser Basin, is famous for a reason. Upper Geyser Basin contains over 150 geysers, and in the surrounding area are Midway Geyser Basin—where Grand Prismatic resides, Biscuit Basin and Black Sand Basin, which are all worth checking out.
2. YELLOWSTONE LAKE AREA: Yellowstone Lake is the largest alpine lake in North America, and is so large it creates it’s own weather patterns. There are many hiking trails around shores of the lake, as well as peaks you can hike up to get a panoramic view of the area. Boat rentals, and kayak tours are available at the lake. West Thumb Geyser Basin is located near Grant Village on the lake.
3. LAMAR VALLEY: This is where you want to go if you want to watch wildlife. Lamar Valley is home to bison, wolves, black and grizzly bears, pronghorn and many other animals. The wide-open plains of the valley is a glimpse into the past, when the west was still wild.
4. GRAND CANYON OF THE YELLOWSTONE AREA: The Yellowstone River cuts through rhyolite rock for 20 miles, creating a spectacular canyon. Trails lead down to the river, on the North and the South side, where you can feel the power of the river as it drops down two waterfalls. The color of the rushing water contrasted against the yellow rhyolite walls is every photograph’s dream.
5. MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS AREA: Located at the northern entrance of Yellowstone, this high country is surrounded by big peaks, and is a great spot to see elk—birthing season in the spring, and mating season in the fall. The main attraction here is Mammoth Hot Springs itself, a travertine terrace that is out-of-this-world.
6. NORRIS GEYSER BASIN: The hottest, oldest and most dynamic thermal features in Yellowstone are in Norris Geyser Basin. Steamboat Geyser is the tallest geyser in the world, shooting 300 feet in the air; it has no predictability, and can go 9 years, or 5 days between eruptions. However, it has erupted more times in the last year then ever before.
Sunrise in Yellowstone
Yellowstone is impressive all day long, but especially lovely in the early morning light. As the cool air is mixing with the hot steam of a geyser, or the sun is reflected in one of the many lakes or rivers, or when the valley is slowly illuminated, shedding light on the roaming animals—sunrise in Yellowstone is a magical time of the day. Below are the best places to watch sunrise:
1. Lamar Valley: Remarkable all day long, the Lamar Valley is incredible early in the morning. The peaks surrounding the valley are gradually lit, and you are able to see the wildlife roaming around on the valley floor. Early morning is the best time for viewing wildlife, as the animals are most active when the temperature is 50 degrees or less.
2. Norris Geyser Basin: One of the best views in the park is when the cool, morning air hits the hot steam rising from a geyser. There is plenty of ways in Norris Geyser Basin to appreciate the geyser steam with the sun casting light upon the features.
3. Mammoth Hot Springs: Watching sunrise from the travertine terrace of Mammoth Hot Springs is spectacular. Again, the cool air mixing with the hot steam is marvelous, and there are many pools of water to reflect the brightening sun in the sky.
Sunset in Yellowstone
Below are the best locations for sunset in Yellowstone National Park:
1. Hayden Valley: This is a beautiful spot to view wildlife during all parts of the day, as especially at sunset, as animals become silhouettes when the sun gets low in the sky. The Yellowstone River also meanders through the valley, and provides great reflection as the sun sets. Truly a sunset enthusiast’s or photographer’s dream.
2. Grand Canyon of Yellowstone: Spots at the North and South side of the canyon provide excellent views of the waterfalls as the sun sets. Artist’s Point on the south rim is a perfect vantage point to watch the sky and the canyon light up in rainbow colors before sinking into a shadow.
Take a Hike in Yellowstone
There are over 1,000 miles of trails in Yellowstone, giving you many, many options to choose from. Yellowstone is one of the top 5 most visited National Parks in the United States, but taking just one step on a trail eliminates much of the crowd. Ranging from easy to moderately-strenuous, these trails are hand-picked to enhance your time in Yellowstone if you only have one day to explore the park. You can also read our list of best Yellowstone hiking trails. Below we have listed our favorite hikes in each of the main areas:
Best Hikes in Lamar Valley
Lamar Valley is best known for it’s wildlife and wide open spaces. There are plenty of trails to chose from in this area—all will provide incredible views and if you get high enough, impressive panoramic vistas of the valley and the surrounding mountain ranges. For best views of wildlife and wildflowers, these are the best trails in Lamar Valley:
1. WARM SPRINGS TO PEBBLE CREEK: A great way to relish in the sights of Lamar Valley is on this 10-mile backcountry day hike. It is best to do a shuttle system with one car parked at the trailhead and one at the end of the trail, or you can try to catch a ride back to the trailhead. Start the trail at Warm Springs, just west of the Northeast entrance. The trail takes you over a small ridge and into a beautiful and lush meadow. Wildflowers are abundant in spring, and Pebble Creek is flowing next to the trail the entire time. It is flat after the initial ascent, and is very quiet in the tucked-away meadow.
2. SPECIMEN RIDGE TRAIL: A 3-mile out and back hike that gets you up high, this trail gives you incredible views of the valley below. Start at the trailhead just east of Tower Junction, and follow the trail to the top of the open ridge. At the top of the ridge, head toward the outcropping, where you can look down on the valley, and the Slough Creek Valley and Absaroka Range to the north. When ready, simply turn around and descend the same way you came up.
Best Hikes Near Mammoth Hot Springs
There is more to Mammoth Hot Springs than the giant orange and white travertine terraces, although that is very impressive. Many trails in the area, take you up high and give you a view of the Gallatin Range and Yellowstone River. Below are the best trails near Mammoth Hot Springs:
1. BUNSEN PEAK: This is a 4.6 round-trip moderate, uphill trek to a panoramic view of Yellowstone’s Northern Range. The trailhead starts at a parking area, just southwest of Mammoth’s terrace. Bunsen Peak’s trail is very marked and well-maintained, and the from the top you can gaze down on the Gallatin Range, Mammoth Hot Springs and the Yellowstone River valley.
2. RESCUE CREEK: The 7.8 mile trail is best done by parking one care at the trailhead and one at the end of the trail. You can start the trail at either side—one mile past the north entrance at the parking area, or 7 miles east of Mammoth on Grand Loop Road. The trail gradually climbs through aspens and meadows, then descends into a forest and sagebrush field, the Gardner River is in the distance the entire time, until you cross it on a footbridge. There is a great chance to see pronghorn and elk in the area, and gives you a quiet chance to soak in the majesty of the mountains of northern Yellowstone.
Best Hikes Near Yellowstone Lake
Yellowstone Lake is gigantic, unpredictable, and all around marvelous. Below are the best trails for experiencing the grandiosity of Yellowstone Lake:
1. STORM POINT: Storm Point Trail is just east of Fishing Bridge, and is a simple 2-mile loop that takes you along the shores of Yellowstone Lake, and to interesting and unique thermal features on the shore cliffs. The trail provides great views of the pristine and powerful lake, and gives you a great opportunity to see birds and other wildlife.
2. ELEPHANT BACK TRAIL: This 4-mile loop trail starts at the trailhead between Fishing Bridge Junction and Bridge Bay. The trail climbs up the side of the peak, and brings you to a tremendous overlook, where you can look down on the magnificence of Yellowstone Lake. From this aerial view, you can fully appreciate how massive the lake is. When ready, complete the loop and head down the same way you came up.
Best Hikes Near Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River is a must-see, the colors of the walls of the canyon contrasted against the color of the waterfalls and river, is a majestic sight. The north and south rims provide great views, but are crowded—below are the best trails in the Canyon area for views and solitude.
1. RIBBON LAKE AND CLEAR LAKE: Begin this 5.8 mile hike at the south rim of the canyon. Take in the colorful views from the rim from Artist’s Point and continue along toward Point Sublime. Turn here at the junction and follow signs for Ribbon Lake and Clear Lake. A backcountry geyser basin resides here, and is just as incredible as Upper Geyser Basin or Black Sand Basin, but much less crowded. You will reach another junction, where you can head out and back to Ribbon Lake—you may witness a giant sandhill crane or moose out here. Then continue back on the trail to the beautiful and pristine Clear Lake, a marvelous blue color, with fumaroles along the shore. The trail loops around to Uncle Tom’s Point, where you can take the South Rim Trail back to your car.
2. SEVEN MILE HOLE: Journey to the bottom of Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, all the way to the river on this trail. The trail takes you through the colorful canyon and past many thermal features and deposits you at the rushing Yellowstone River—where you can feel the force of nature that carved this majestic canyon. Unlike the viewpoints at the rim of the canyon, you will most-likely have this area to yourself. It is 9.8 miles round-trip and moderately-strenuous.
Best Hikes for Geysers
Yellowstone might be known best for it’s impressive geyser eruptions. These are the best trails to experience the greatest geysers in the park:
1. MYSTIC FALLS: Start on the boardwalk of Old Faithful, passing the most notable geysers in Upper Geyser Basin, and continue on the trail pointing you to Biscuit Basin. You will be hiking through the lodgepole pines, and will be deposited across from Biscuit Basin. Start the boardwalk here, past the majestic Sapphire Pool and Jewel Geyser, to the back of the basin. There is a sign pointing you to Mystic Falls, follow the trail through the lodgepole pines on the historic Continental Divide Trail. After one mile, you will reach Mystic Falls, a rushing 70-feet cascade. You can head up to the Fairy Creek Trail overlook and take in the expansive vista. When ready, head back down the way you came, and start back to Upper Geyser Basin.
2. LONE STAR GEYSER: The largest backcountry geyser in Yellowstone, Lone Star Geyser is a must-see. Following the Firehole River, the trail is 2.4 easy miles to the geyser. The trail meanders through a dense lodgepole pine forest, until you reach a clearing, where the giant Lone Star Geyser appears and stands tall. There is plenty of space and shade to wait for the eruption, which occurs about every 3 hours, and lasts about 45 minutes in total. The best part about it is the solitude you will experience, compared to the crowded boardwalks of other geyser basins. When you are ready, turn around and head back the way you came.
Food and Other Attractions
There are many places to eat in Yellowstone National Park. Each of the main area have dining facilities or general stores for snacks. Grant Village, Canyon Village, Mammoth Hot Springs, Tower-Roosevelt and Old Faithful have facilities for eating.
These dining facilities get busy during lunchtime, and if you are interested in being out in nature, it may seem inconvenient to wait for a table. A great option is going to the general stores in any of these areas and purchasing picnic supplies. There are so many places around the park with picnic tables and bathrooms for you to enjoy your lunch in nature. Just don’t feed the squirrels.
Join a Guided Hiking Adventure
Yellowstone National Park is home to some of the most epic and amazing hiking vacations in the world. Wildland Trekking offers trips with the best of Yellowstone: geysers, waterfalls, views, wildlife, solitude, adventure and fascinating natural and cultural interpretation.
Guided Yellowstone treks are all-inclusive which covers permits; local transportation (excluded on certain tours); meals; equipment; safety systems and professional hiking/wilderness guides; all of which allows visitors to maximize their time in Yellowstone and focus entirely on enjoying the Park.
YELLOWSTONE ADVENTURE TOURS
- GUIDED BACKPACKING ADVENTURES: these are for people interested in an authentic Yellowstone adventure away from the roads and crowds.
- LLAMA TREKS: on these innovative trips, guests hike with light day packs and camp near in stunning backcountry locations.
- INN-BASED PACKAGES: these tours are all-inclusive packages with lodging, amazing daily hikes, expert guides, meals, transportation and more!
- CAMPING-BASED HIKING PACKAGES: camping-based hiking packages provide all-around hiking experiences of Yellowstone on wonderful outdoor vacations.
- DAY HIKE TOURS: maximize your day in Yellowstone on a fully guided, award-winning hiking tour on one of the Park’s best trails.